ick James’ Jesus Without Religion reminds me of not so many sermon series preached from the pulpit over a several week period. This is both its strong suit and its weakest link. Seeking to provide an unvarnished look at the life and ministry of Jesus, James tries very, very hard to present a Jesus divorced from the ordinances (i.e. religion) that have come to surround his teachings. He gives a picture of Jesus with “no dogma, no politics, no moral at the end,” according to the book’s jacket.
The answers about Jesus, according to James, are in the context. In his own unconventional way, James recalls the specific contexts that color Jesus’ story, bringing forward this man you’ve heard so much—and so little—about. The problem with Jesus Without Religion is James’ “unconventional way” fails for trying too hard and breaking the flow of the book. If I wanted to sit down and have a conversation about Jesus with someone—a conversation that would likely get interrupted by childish jokes and lackluster illustrations that always fall far short of what I’m actually trying to communicate—then I’d find someone to sit down and have that frustrating conversation with. I don’t want or need that in a book.
The book also fails in that James does a poor job of defining the ‘religion’ that he is trying to divorce Jesus from. He seems to be playing off the notion that many people have a favorable view of Jesus but an unfavorable view of religion (in particular, Christianity), assuming that everyone operates with the same definition and negative experience with religion. This is a dangerous assumption at best, failing to realize that religion is not a manmade construct, but rather certain unalterable truths that God has communicated to man about himself.
Where James excels, however, is in his ability to put things in laymen’s terms for people. While each argument he makes is hampered by intermittent breaks for anecdotes, he still does well in his ability to bring out the context and the history of the situation(s) in which the reader of scripture finds Jesus. As many people tend to read the Bible with a thoroughly postmodern set of lenses, James helps many people realize that Jesus was a living, breathing human being who had to deal with things like time, space, culture, family, enemies, etc. He provides the whole story of Jesus in a relatable format for seekers and new believers.
While Jesus Without Religion is touted by Intervarsity Press a great tool for evangelism, it should be stressed that it is not going to work for everyone, nor is it exhaustive in nature. This book is more like “Apologetics 101,” suitable for high schoolers and young college co-eds.
–C. E’Jon Moore
Review title provided courtesy of Intervarsity Press