The Way of Jesus has an evocative subtitle :to repair and renew the world. This is not what I would call ‘inspirational’ writing, in terms of genre. It is written by a scholar in a scholarly way. Having studied theology, this does not in itself faze me, but I confess I struggled to get through this book.
Chilton presents his book as looking at the prophetic Jesus, with some reference to the Lord’s prayer (although that theme is not held up – see later comments). He also looks at other religious figures such as Lao Tsu, Gandhi and Krishna, to look at how they shared a sense of the prophetic resources Chilton talks about in this book.
I found some parts of this book interesting, particularly when they discussed a specific part of the scripture and brought in wider cultural understandings and symbols of which I had not previously been aware. He makes some appealing statements, for example describing religious communities as ‘villages of hope’, so has the ability to craft an engaging way of writing.
However, I found some of his remarks very speculative, making statements about Jesus and his life where there was no basis. I don’t mind speculation if it is presented as such: when authors ask me to humour them by making a suggestion about what they thought may have happened, I willingly listen to their idea. I struggle when speculation is couched in scholarly language which implies the author is presenting opinion as pure fact.
That was my personal niggle! But I think the main reason I struggled with this book was a failing of planning and structure. Chilton addresses seven ‘prophetic resources’: soul, spirit, kingdom, insight, forgiveness, mercy, and glory. But the main theme is not strong enough throughout the book – although the introduction, and to a lesser extent the last chapter, attempt to tie it all together, to me it felt like disparate parts. As such it feels like you are reading thoughts on a variety of topics, occasionally going off on an interesting tangent.
I felt it simply does not hold together. This is a shame as he does have the ability to provoke interest – but falls down by not having a strong enough overall thread. ‘To repair and renew the world’ is a wonderful, evocative subtitle. But he only really mentions these concepts at the beginning and the end, and does not make the connection throughout.
Personally, I found Chilton a funny mixture of someone very interested in what scholars call the ‘Historical Jesus’, particularly in the original Aramaic, while having also a strong interest in Gnosticism. I confess I found something lacking in this book as I read, and really had to concentrate for the sentences to even take root in my mind. Nevertheless, there were points where he genuinely captured my interest.
This is my personal experience; I have read other reviews which think it is fantastic! But as this is an extended blog post of a shorter review, I felt able to share some more personal feelings about it. There was a certain emptiness to it…perhaps due to the fact that the theme was so fluid and hidden. I honestly don’t know. But I found myself getting frustrated with it.
I will perhaps in future dip in and out of this book, but had to make a great effort to read it ‘all the way through’.
I received this book free from Alban Books for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.