Jesus: A Theography | Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

Cover of Jesus: A Theography

Jesus: A Theography is based on a bold assumption:

The sixty-six books of the Bible are woven together by a single storyline. … It’s the story of Jesus Christ. … Every bit of Scripture is part of the same great story of that one person and that one story’s plotline of creation, revelation, redemption, and consummation. (ix-x)

This is a presupposition I happen to share (along with Karl Barth and many other Christian theologians). This idea serves as the foundation for the greatest strengths and weaknesses of this book.

My frustration with the book struck early and flows directly out of Sweet & Viola’s hermeneutic. They attempt to uncover details about Jesus by mining all 66 books, confident that “the Holy Spirit often had an intention in Scripture that went beyond its author’s present knowledge” (xvi). They boldly follow the style of interpretation that the New Testament writers did when reinterpreting the Old Testament in light of Christ. This leads to some assertions that, at best, are a stretch.

One example of this is the schema Sweet and Viola create to relate the days of creation to Jesus. In their understanding, the third day of creation (dry ground and vegetation) points toward Jesus’ resurrection because of mere numerical synergy and the mention of “life”. While I appreciate the desire to relate the Old Testament to Christ, these sort of stretches feel more like Dan Brown code than legitimate foreshadowing.

Now that my frustration’s out of the way, I do have to praise Sweet and Viola for the sheer number of poignant connections and insight they display. Here are just a few to whet your appetite:

  • “Eternal life is the life of God’s new age that has broken into the present one. It is Christ Himself in the Spirit” (157).
  • “You can’t worship a book when the Founder didn’t give us a book, only Himself and stories from others about Him” (178).”The ultimate issue in the universe is over who will be worshipped” (284).
  • “What Torah is to Judaism, and the Qur’an is to Islam, Jesus is to Christianity.” (300)
  • “In the first-century Roman world, however, the word gospel was used to describe the announcement that a new emperor had taken the throne” (306).

These insights are the result of many theologians whose ideas have been assimilated into the book. The footnotes take 83 pages, and that’s after 21 pages spent reviewing the lives of various “Post-Apostolic Witness,” from Augustine to Tim Keller.

This book will spark your sense of wonder at the glorious interconnectedness of scripture but some of the interpretive leaps may drive the theologian in your life crazy in the process.

—Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).

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