With some added thoughts.
This is by far the most frequently recommended book I’ve ever read, meaning, I have probably bought a couple dozen copies of this book and given them to friends and family. I’ve had discussions about this book with those who have read it and belong to the same church as I do, those who belong to other Christian faiths, as well as those who consider themselves agnostic. Regardless of religious believe, all seem to hold this book with similar respect.
This book changed my entire understanding of who Jesus Christ was. This book, I believe, has made me more kind, thoughtful, and humble when it comes to who this man was that we believe is the Savior of the world.
I consider myself a religious person. I was born and raised in a Christian home where we read scriptures centered around Jesus Christ. I went (go) to church every Sunday when not under quarantine and listen to lessons about Christ, his life, and his teachings. Even with all of this, my world view and entire understanding of who he was as a person was blown up (in a good way) after reading The Jesus I Never Knew.
The author, Philip Yancy, was also raised in a Christian home, albeit a different denomination than mine, and describes going to Sunday School as a child/youth and seeing pictures of the beautiful Savior with deep brown eyes, soft, flowing brown hair, a smooth, pleasant face and soft, straight-toothed smile. As the author learned more about the life of the Savior, Yancy began to realize that Jesus was nothing like these pictures depicted him.
Jews at the time were deeply entrenched in traditions and a culture that had evolved over thousands of years. The Pharisees were set on holding to the letter of the law and placing culture above charity, love, and God. Jesus came and torn down centuries of long-standing culture, culminating in his crucifixion.
Jesus was not the beautiful specimen that the paintings make him out to be. He wasn’t tall, strapping, chiseled, and clean. Isaiah describes him as “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 52:2).
Jesus was a political rebel, a religious revolutionary, and at times, a blunt vehicle of truth who would cut to the crux of God to some, and speak in confusing stories to others. He felt emotions. He cried. He laughed. He became frustrated with his closest friends. He became angry. He felt betrayal.
After reading this book, Christ became much more real to me, if that makes any sense. Yancy’s words help illustrate how quick I am to judge others based on incorrect perceptions of Christian teachings. Yancy persuaded me to step back and internalize the overall point of Christ’s mission and focus on helping people rather than looking for what they are doing wrong.
What I enjoy most about this book is the author’s ability to show you the historical relevance of Christ during that time. The author’s research and citations of historical events that must be taken into consideration when deciding who Christ really was. We tend to look at history through a modern-day lens. This prevents us from comprehending important aspects of the stories we read about history, and Christianity is no different.
Yancy takes you through Roman rule and laws in place at the time that influence the people’s behavior.
He highlights who the different religious groups were and their beliefs (Pharisees, Sadducees, The Sanhedrin, Zealots…). He describes where he would likely fall given his current outlook and asks you do to do the same. The first time reading this book, I would totally be a Pharisee (not a good thing).
He explains political forces existing within Judaism.
He explains geographical areas and customs. Back then, even in a relatively small area (although large if you don’t have cars), there were certain stereotypes of people living in Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth, etc.
All of that comes into play and is significant, like when Nathan asks, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” There’s a reason why Nazareth is in Nathan’s doubtful question.
What doctrines did Christ confirm and establish?
What policies did Christ eliminate and implement?
What cultural practices did Christ condemn?
Most importantly, which of his teaching and doctrine have we twisted and morphed into incorrectly interpreted cultural problems?
Look, I’m just a guy trying to stumble his way through life and find cohesion between what I believe and what I observe. I think kindness and love are the answer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also have firm beliefs. If you’re anything like me, give this book a read.
5 stars? 2 thumbs up? 10/10?
Buy it here: The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey