I’m always on the look out for good books and particularly books about theology, so when I saw Brazos Press Facebook post seeking reviewers for Bruce N. Fisk’s book, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground, I thought why not? I get a copy of a book in exchange for a review.
I was chosen to participate in the blog tour and in a few days my copy of the book arrived. I read the glowing cover blurbs which talked about how this book introduces the reader to modern New Testament scholarship- historical, literary, and theological in an unusual and engaging way. Encouraged by these opinions, I began to read.
The Author’s Preface begins,
This is the story of Norm, a precocious college graduate, who journeys to the Land called Holy to learn whether he can follow Jesus and study him at the same time, and whether curiosity will make him a better disciple, or no disciple at all. Norm is a figment but his predicament is real. Indeed, it’s normal –especially among students who have read their way into the world of religious studies…
Well this sounds good.
I read a little more,
Many of Norm’s exploits are adapted from my own (mis)adventures in the Middle East. Others are made up. I leave it to the reader to decide where history stops and legend begins… As for Norm’s close encounters with modern scholars, they are, each one, entirely fabricated. I have shamelessly placed words in the mouths of contemporary figures like Dale Allison, John Crossan, James Dunn, Bart Ehrman, Scott McKnight, John Meier, Ben Meyer, Jonathan Reed, and Tom Wright.
He’s writing about the search for the historical Jesus and modern Biblical scholarship by using a fictional character and putting words in the mouths of scholars? How are his readers to know where fiction ends and fact begins? Especially if they skip the “Preface”? I had trouble imagining how this approach was going to encourage people to engage serious Biblical scholarship.
Honestly, I set the book aside for a few days, well really a couple of weeks. Then because I promised to write a review, I picked it up and started reading.
In spite of my earlier misgivings this is a very good book. In fact, I encourage you to read it. Norm, the fictional student whose published journal of his middle east “pilgrimage” we are reading, is curious, sincere, and likable. Somehow Fisk manages, via Norm’s journal, to engage history, the New Testament, the tensions and realities of the modern middle east, Biblical scholarship, and a few other things- all in one book.
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus does not cover every aspect of New Testament studies nor exhaustively examine the New Testament. That is simply not possible in a book this size. What Fisk does do is pick certain topics, miracles for example, and seriously consider what the biblical text says, what ancient sources tell us and what NT scholars say. He doesn’t necessarily have Norm resolve the issue of whether miracles occur or not, he does have Norm explore possibilities. But via Norm’s questions, research, and conversations; both real and imagined; the reader gains a more complex and rich appreciation of what Jesus said and did and how the early church thought about Jesus’ words and deeds.
Fisk does not give us hard and fast answers to every subject he has Norm examine. He leaves space for the reader to draw their own conclusions. More importantly via Norm and his journal, Fisk models a way for believers to embrace- or at least live with- the tensions and the questions serious engagement of the Bible can raise . And as if that’s not enough, he also manages to juxtapose the Gospels and their historical context with the current day tensions and realities of the middle east.
A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus is a readable, accessible, intriguing, and one of a kind introduction into New Testament scholarship that is well suited for use in local congregations. The text is well footnoted and there is a lengthy bibliography for readers who wish to read more. And I suspect not a few readers will be inspired to read more. I can imagine college and adult groups enjoying this book and engaging in lively discussion with Norm and with each other.
You can enter to win a book package from Baker Academic, here. The contest ends October 08, 2011 @ 06:22 am (EDT)