Book Review--Jesus: A Theography, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (Thomas Nelson, 2012)
For anyone unfamiliar, Leonard Sweet is a theology professor, best known for his two books which I understand to be an intellectual framework behind the megachurch flavor of Christian groups, Aquachurch and Soul Tsunami (I say that I believe in that, personally, not ever gotten around to reading Soul Tsunami). Frank Viola has written a group of books that could be described as an intellectual framework behind the housechurch flavor of Christian groups. When it comes to organizational structure, this appears to be going in opposite directions, but, over time, Sweet and Viola met, and wound up collaborating on Jesus Manifesto in 2010, with this being their second collaboration. The word "Theography" is a combination of "theos" the word that meant "God" in the Greek that the New Testament was written in, and "biography", emphasizing the idea of the attempt being to write a biography of Jesus from the perspective of Jesus as God come to earth, who has a history both before and after his days as a person on earth.
Now, I have to state that, over time, I have heard many Christian leaders say and do things that only seem correct when viewed from our cultural context, but do not fit the original cultural context of the writings of the Bible and actions of God's people of those days. Therefore, I have a fondness for all teaching that puts the original context in proper perspective. To that degree, possibly my favorite learning tool is the two volume, IVP Bible Background Commentary. I am willing to say that I would put this book next in line in speaking to this part of Christian knowledge.
The two books are extremely different, though. Bible Background Commentary is written like a dictionary, with the comments connected to specific Bible verses in order of book, chapter, and verse, with each comment disconnected from the previous and next comments. Jesus: A Theography covers specifically those facts having to do with Jesus, from before creation to the Final Judgement, understood in the widest form possible, and written in literary, as opposed to reference, form. Further, as with George Barna & Viola's Pagan Christianity, this is written in a language that an average adult can understand, but with copious footnotes, as would be done for a theological or other book written to the highest level of intellectuals. Unlike Pagan Christianity, which was written as a criticism of all kinds of status quo structures in the modern believing/evangelical Christian church and defense of very different ways of doing things in the early church as being what was taught by the apostles and in the Bible, which demanded copious footnotes of all kinds of historical and theological sources, most footnotes in Jesus: A Theography are just scripture references done in the style of an intellectual work, as opposed to being inserted in the text as is the case with most popular Christian books.
Therefore, this book, in literary form, connects a large amount of related statements, analogies, prophecies and literary illusions that appear in various parts of the Bible which look forward to Jesus from the Old (referred to in the book as First) Testament, or look back from the New (or Second) Testament's Acts to Revelation to the Gospels and previous. The basis for this is the standard Christian concept that Jesus, as God, was before creation and continues through eternity future in community with the Father and Spirit. Therefore, nothing He did on earth was an accident, but was connected to His communication to man in times past and future.
As such, to the unbelieving person who is not open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the whole book probably would come across as the construction of an elaborate house of cards. To the believer, this will be extremely helpful in realizing how such a wide variety of situations throughout the Bible are interconnected together to communicate His truth to us. Further, it is done in a readable style for those who are more attuned to read things written like a story. Particularly, as various flavors of the church have come to realize over the past century that leadership is a function of gifting, not academic accreditation, this type of writing is highly useful to leaders who have not had the opportunity or received the direction to have buried themselves into just studying theology for a period of time.