The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems a simple story and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible story books which will provide the story to children. But as you dig deeper, even a children’s story you’ve heard many times over reveals layers of significance you never considered.
I’m currently reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. While this isn’t meant to be a book review, I’m not sure the book lives up to its own expectations on this and other fronts.
I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.
In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.
The seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:
“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”
“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.
“I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Baby Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.
“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.
“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’
The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.
The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.
Probably more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture. I am also a strong believer in owning Bible reference material, and I opened the pages of this book fully expecting it to fit into that category.
But instead, I found myself drawn into consideration of matters I would consider secondary issues, and often found my head spinning with the overall complexity of the issues under examination.
Can we know too much? In terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.
Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.