John Dickson, an Honorary Associate in the Department of History in Macquarie University, unfolds the myths and the religiosity that often blurs the image of Jesus. Dickson explores the many roles and identities that are given to Jesus, healer, teacher, Christ. “A Spectator’s guide to Jesus” is a book dedicated to discovering the truth to the most controversial religious topics, from Jesus’ replacement of the temple, his divineness, meaning of his death and his words and deeds that inspire.
In the first chapter, “How we know what we know about Jesus?” Dickson discusses the certainty of Christianity, mentioning the various ancient manuscripts of Jesus from the Greco-Roman references, to the writings of the New Testament. Dickson then comes to discuss the plausibility of the Bible. Since Paul and Mark had independently offered similar descriptions of Jesus’ life and teaching, and because we know these sources are not copied from each other, we have to assume their information was both early and widely known.
After proving the encounters of Jesus as extremely likely events, Dickson’s main concern in the second chapter, “His words and their impact” is emphasising on Jesus’ words of the Christian character of sex, marriage, prayers, wealth, food and body, caring for those in need, loving enemies and divine mercy. The words of Jesus as mentioned in the Gospels, impact on the way humans should live their lives and have an understanding for humanity.
Dickson confronts the problems for society believing in miracles since they occur only in small-minded children’s tales. In Chapter 3, “The deeds that baffle,” Dickson explains Jesus’ stunning miracles as a preview of God’s coming kingdom. Dickson argues that if one was to see that there were no forces in the universe other than the observable laws of nature, then a matter of uncertainty will occur. While if one believed in the miracles of Jesus, the whole puzzle would be completed.
In Chapter 6, Dickson explores the human nature of ignoring the rules that God had set up for us, we tend to modify these rules to suite our own preferences. It is in this chapter that Dickson explores the role of Jesus, to overcome the wrongs of this world on behalf of God and also represent God as a loving creator. An example of Jesus’ role is explored in the previous chapter (4), where Jesus and God had saved the Israelites from the tyrannous Egyptian invasion, under the command of the famous Pharaoh Ramses II.
Dickson points out in Chapter 7 of Jesus’ death and resurrection which had borne divine judgement for all those who accept his hand of friendship. Jesus’ openness towards sinners was a deliberate sign of God’s grace unlike the Jewish way of rejecting non-Jews. Jesus’ preaching declared that his suffering and scandalous social life embodied grace in a tangible way. Through his meals with the undeserving, he sought to demonstrate the friendship with sinners he believed God so keenly desires. Jesus’ acting as a replacement of the temple in Chapter 8 not only suggests a mere religious radical, but the thought of allowing the whole community to embrace the Messiah.
Chapter 9, “The meaning of his death,” as Dickson once again assesses, is the aim of Christ’s mission. Christ had died for us to win God’s forgiveness, “cancel his judgement and guarantee us a place in his kingdom.” Chapter 9 is a follow on from Chapter 5 which described the significance of Jesus’ title. Dickson tells of the importance of the title ‘Christ’, an Anglicised form of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which had endowed his divine authority as ‘saviour’, rescuing people from divine judgement. Dickson also explains the significance of the traditional Passover themes of ‘blood’ and ‘forgiveness’ of God’s people. God’s judgement would fall upon the lamb (Jesus) so that it might pass over ‘sinners’.
Chapter 10, 11 and 12 shows the importance of Christ’s resurrection which had shaped the Christian belief of the afterlife. Christ rising to life is central to the biblical faith and not merely because it marks out his life as a unique moment of history, but because in it God shows he is willing and able to breathe a new life where there is currently death and disorder. Dickson then makes the comparison between ‘The Great Caesar’ who conquered a massive empire with the imperialness of Jesus. Nonetheless, Dickson emphasises the fact that God is more significant than Caesar, every empire will pass into oblivion while Christ’s kingdom reigns all and forever.
In Chapter 12, Dickson talks of Christs and God’s divineness. The letter from the Roman administrator Pliny to Emperor Trajan in AD110 indicates Jesus’ oneness with the almighty, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God.”Dickson uses irony in the last chapter. For centuries, the church has been seen as the preacher and basis of knowledge for the Christian faith, but Dickson questions the church’s battle for power, land, and welfare over the preference for the lowly and contrasts this with Jesus’ non-violent and dutiful service towards humanity.
The Epilogue portraits a follower of Jesus’, one who must endure the shame and unworthiness as a sinner, but in the end, “All earthly empire will pass into oblivion while the kingdom of true Caesar reigns all.”Assessment of the book’s strength and weaknessesI particularly enjoy the concept of this novel being written for the average person; not a scholar novel. It allows the average person to understand and interpret for themselves where Christianity really lies upon, not the cliché, inaccurate summaries. As Dickson pointed out, “studying the life of Christ is like dropping half-way through a conversation,” you can become mislead and often criticise the faith when you have only heard part of the big story. But in “A Spectators guide to Jesus,” Dickson offers detailed background knowledge to conflicts, events, other religions, Old Testament and Gospel references.
The author makes many comparison of the events associated with Jesus, an example was Joe Louis, the professional boxer. “The lads knew they were messing with the wrong person,” this situation is similar to what we have done to Jesus as Dickson indicates, “We laughed at him and harassed him for being different and we would never have realised we were wrong till we saw the Son of God through our own eyes.” I find it extremely easy to interpret the events and concepts associated with Jesus when Dickson relates it to modern day events.
I see this book as a spectacular outline to the purpose of human existence, however, there are weaknesses. An atheist reading this book would easily see the weakness to Christianity, “If humans are so unwilling to believe these days, and if God is so great than how hard is it for him to appear in front of everyone?” Dickson should have considered the significance of the Holy Spirit which continues to prove the presence of God (Chapter 3). On other occasions, Dickson seemed to be too irrelevant. In Chapter 6, Dickson first discusses the human preference to modify rules, he then tells of our lack of compassion for others.
Nonetheless, “A spectators guide to Jesus” remains to be an incredible book through its inspiring words and debate on the man from Nazareth.
Reflection of the books contents to the concerns of the reviewerIn Chapter 2, Dickson shows a selection of teachings of Jesus. A practical implication that captivated me was one of Jesus’ teachings, “Love for enemies.” In Luke 6:27-36, it spoke, “Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” I can see myself relating with this passage. In year six, a student confronted me and yelled curses at me. I responded with fat insults about him.
I instantly felt the pride and rise in self-esteem. But the next day, I saw the kid had become depressed and outraged as a result of my insults. I felt bad. The following week, a different kid yelled insults at me, but this time I didn’t curse back, instead I told him that we could be friends and there is no point in being enemies. Ever since that day we became good friends. I see there being no need for hatred. What can you lose from being nice? You can only gain from being a kind and wise person, similar to the character of Jesus that Dickson depicts through historical sources. If everyone respects their enemy, the world would be a better place.
Another way in which I felt the book had related to my beliefs was Dickson’s view on the meaning of Jesus’ death, implying that there must be a God which controls everything. I really don’t see our purpose to life through science. Everything around me is so perfect, from the smallest creature on earth to the biggest stars in the sky. I don’t have to be a genius to spot the missing puzzle, the question to human existence lies nowhere but the fact that there is a God who had created everything, we became sinners and his son Jesus had saved us from Divine judgement, according to Dickson (Chapter 3).