“I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ easily the most dominant figure in all history.” — H. G. Wells.
Since my wife Shannon is on staff with InterVarsity, she occasionally receives free books from InterVarsity Press. She received a recent package of books on Saturday, but since she had just left for 9 days in Nigeria, I decided she wouldn’t mind if I opened it for her.
What did I find?–Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (the book, not the person) written by Mark L. Strauss.
Several close friends said, “Dave, IVP just sent me this book about Jesus. They stole your idea! You should get a cut.” While I appreciate their concern for me and my intellectual property, the whole “X Behaving Badly” meme predates me by a long time. (I wrote God Behaving Badly which came out in 2011.)
Strauss uses the Wells quote at the beginning to show how everybody loves Jesus, which is sort of the problem. Most people (except Old Testament professors) think that God in the Old Testament is the one who behaves badly, while everybody loves Jesus.
But as Strauss shows, there’s a lot of problems with what Jesus says and does. We all know about him over turning the money-changers tables, but he also cursed a helpless fig tree, he sent a herd of pigs to drown in the sea, he encouraged people to cut off hands and pluck out eyes, he spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture, he told his followers to hate their parents. Jesus appears to be judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry. Jesus really did behave badly. How do we make sense of this Jesus?
If any of these behaviors of Jesus are problematic for you, you should definitely check out Strauss’ book. The tone is similar to that of my own in God Behaving Badly, casual academic, for a general audience. I appreciated his relevant comments about the Greco-Roman background to the Gospels. He brings his scholarly insights to bear in a light, engaging manner, without overwhelming you with footnotes and references. He tells personal stories, where we get a glimpse into his family and a sense of how engaging he must be as a teacher. I really enjoyed reading it.
I must confess that it took me longer to figure out the cover of the book than it should have. I just didn’t imagine the table looking like that.
Which story about Jesus do you find the most troubling?