Review by Stephen Witmer
Perhaps you’ve wanted to give a non-Christian friend something to read about Jesus but don’t know what. A gospel booklet felt too short and simplistic, but a full-length book seemed too long and demanding. You wanted something more robust than a tract and more readable than a tome.
In this excellent new book, Carl Laferton fills the gap. At 64 pages, Original Jesus is a quick read; I read it in one sitting, in about an hour. It is warm, engaging, and sometimes funny, with old truths stated in fresh ways. For example: “There’s nothing you have done that is so bad that you can’t ask for a place in [Jesus’] kingdom. There’s nothing you have done that is so good that you don’t need to ask” (51). Or, describing Jesus’ death on the cross, “Jesus lost everything so that he could give everything” (43). An introduction and invitation to a beautiful and creative Jesus ought itself to be beautiful and creative.
Seven short chapters highlight inadequate views of Jesus: good teacher, distant God, freedom fighter, intolerant judge, religious rule-keeper, tragic failure, children’s story. Drawing mainly on the Gospel of Luke, Laferton, senior editor at The Good Book Company, presents the “original Jesus” over against these misconceptions and shows why he matters for people today. To take one example, the chapter on “good teacher Jesus” shows from Christ’s stilling of the storm in Luke 8 that while he was indeed a good teacher, he was also much more: “There’s only one category big enough for a man who can tell wind to shut up, and order waves to behave. God” (12). I found particularly helpful chapter 5, “Religious Rule-Keeper,” which looks at the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (or, in Laferton’s retelling, the bishop and the con man) in Luke 18. The difference between these two men is not their goodness but their approach. Laferton writes, “The bishop approaches God offering all he’s done. He knows he’s good. The conman approaches offering nothing. He knows he’s bad” (36). The final section of the book gives readers suggestions about how to respond to what they’ve read, together with brief thoughts on the reliability of the Gospels, the possibility of miracles, and the truth of the resurrection.
Carl Laferton. Original Jesus: What He Really Did and Why It Really Matters. Bloomington, IN: The Good Book Company, 2014. 64 pp. $3.99.