Surprised By Jesus Surprised By Jesus
His agenda for changing everything in AD30 and today

Tim Stafford
ISBN 9781844741410 (1844741419)
IVP, 2006
£8.99

Category: Christian Life & Discipleship
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

It's happened.

Just when you thought it was safe — just when you thought Evangelicalism was going to survive untainted, that the Evangelical Alliance's swing to the right on the atonement debate had secured things from the left-wing lunacy of the likes of Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren, suddenly IVP, that great bastion of Evangelical Truth, has jumped on board and proclaimed the Kingdom of God!

It's here, in black and white in a bright orange jacket, like a Belisha Beacon blazing over a zebra crossing. So is it safe to cross now? Can Evangelicalism make it to the other side? What is this "agenda for changing everything", as IVP put it, this "truth that could change everything", as Brian McLaren puts it? It's nothing less than the Gospel message itself: the Kingdom of God being proclaimed for a new generation in the way that first generation, the original twelve disciples, would have heard it!

Stafford — like Chalke and McLaren — acknowledges his indebtedness to the scholarship of N T Wright, Bishop of Durham, with his emphasis on rediscovering Jesus in his historical/cultural context as a first century Jew. Here's a brief excerpt as Stafford reflects on the impact of this rediscovery:

...as a result of seeing Jesus more clearly, I see my life—and human life—as deeper and grander. I see myself not as an isolated individual, a religious consumer who gets pleasurable spiritual experiences through Jesus. Rather I see myself bound into his family, joining in his astonishing flesh-and-blood mission to redeem the cosmos. I am part of a four-thousand-year-old movement that has outlasted empires and will, in the end, assume the administration of everything.

How I see Jesus is not a small thing, not a matter of my "spirituality." Rather it is a matter of life—my own life and all life on the planet. To see Jesus clearly and fully is ultimately to see everything. It is the transforming core of vision. "In your light we see light" (Psalm 36:9).
(pp.15-16)

So I'm going to be bold and say YES! I think we're going to make it through, folks! I suspect the folks at IVP may not like this next bit, but it's just like Evangelicalism's once perceived arch-enemy, N T Wright's predecessor at Durham, David Jenkins, put it: "God is. He is as he is in Jesus; therefore there is hope"! Jesus gives us hope. And in this book Tim Stafford explores that hope, shows us the way, stands there in the middle of the crossing in that bright orange jacket and waves us across.

Tim, what can I say? Thank you! This is the book that Evangelicalism has been crying out for (though it may not have known it was crying out for it). As you so rightly point out, there has been a tendency to see Jesus outside his historical and cultural context — and in seeing him like this we've missed the plot, we've become lopsided, seeing the distant vision of Kingdom Come but failing to see it in the here and now, failing to grasp its implications for us as a global society today.

Tim, you've made me want to leap around the room dancing and singing — I want to run out into the street and shout for joy, for Jesus, for God's Kingdom, for the sheer delight of it all! A rock-solid Evangelical writing radical revolution for a rock-solid Evangelical publishing house: it's almost enough to bring me back home, back to my Evangelical roots. Like, totally wild!

But I'm scared for you as well, Tim: not everyone's going to like this. You've probably seen the angry responses to Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke. They're going to give you the same treatment, the treatment the Pharisees and other conservative religious leaders of his day gave to Jesus. So hang on in there, brother: you're in good company. Dangerous, very dangerous — but good, so good.

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Table of Contents
1. The Deceptively Familiar Jesus
2. Why Repentance? For What Sins?
3. Joining People Who Disappoint You
4. Jesus' Temptations
5. Jesus' Message--and Ours
6. The Kingdom of the Improbable
7. Preaching for a Movement
8. The Radical Center
9. Works of Power
10. Praying
11. Warning
12. Going to Jerusalem
13. Symbolic Language
14. Gethsemane
15. The Risen Lord
16. Resurrection Life
Discussion Guide
Acknowledgments
Notes
Name and Subject Index
Scripture Index

Phil Groom, July 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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