Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant, 2006.

My systematic theology professor mentioned this short little book last year, as he tried to make sense for us of the relevance of the study of the historical Jesus to systematics.

The professor likes this book because it moves beyond the insipid WWJD crap that seems all too prevalent these days, and I like that about it too. Wills tries to get a sense of who Jesus is, and what he was saying. Wills answers return time and again to the idea of “heaven’s reign,” and he wrestles with the various parables to explain both how wondrous such a vision is, as well as how different it is, how difficult it is to wrap one’s mind around it.

My problem with the book is that, in many ways, it’s simplistic. The gospels are smushed together to create one story: from that story Wills extracts his conception of heaven’s reign, and builds a theological framework. The gospels, though, are both simultaneously one story and four-plus stories: they’re about God, and his interaction with us, but they have different concerns and say different things about who Jesus is. How can any worthwhile semblance of Christology be built without acknowledging that fact, and without showing an attempt to grapple with that difficulty?

I like the focus of the book; I like many of Wills’ conclusions. I’m looking forward to reading the book he wrote immediately afterwards, What Paul Meant. But I’m not expecting much more than a couple of hours of mild engagement. What I’m really looking forward to finally reading is my untouched copy of Wink's The Powers that Be.