Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: Uncovering the Life of Jesus

Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote Uncovering the Life of Jesus: Six Encounters with Jesus from the Gospel of Luke as a guide "for anyone who is genuinely seeking; who has honest questions and who wants to find out about the real Jesus," (p. 5).  This book is a very quick read at just 59 pages long.  Each chapter has a set of questions and a blank area for notes to help the reader reflect on the ideas presented.

It's commendable that Ms. Pippert writes out the Scripture referenced in each chapter.  This is an important part of witnessing and sharing the Gospel because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, (Rom. 10:17).  Nevertheless, the author's language when explaining the biblical text and asking thought-provoking questions not only implies that man can decide to "accept Jesus", but it also encourages the reader to read himself into the biblical text. 

Ms. Pippert recalls her own experience about reading the Bible and says that she "couldn't reject something that [she] had never examined," (p. 5).  She goes on to say that "it's impossible to make an informed decision without first investigating the evidence."  However, in Ephesians, God tells us that He chose His elect and predestinated them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5).  There is no offer of salvation in the Bible.  The call from John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul is to repent and believe.

In addition, the Bible is "written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name," (John 20:31).  Therefore, to rightly handle God's Word, believers should not read themselves into the text, but they should see Jesus in all that is written from Genesis to Revelation.  Ultimately, the Bible is about God, not man.

This book describes six biblical encounters with Jesus.  The narrative accounts included by the author show the divinity of Jesus Christ through His acts of healing and forgiving and describe His crucifixion, death, and post-resurrection appearance.  In Chapter 5, Ms. Pippert looks at the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  She also talks about sin and how "the judgment for our sins fell on Jesus instead of us," (p. 49).  In her conclusion to this chapter, she questions the essence of man's problem and provides an answer by quoting John Stott:  "The essence of sin is substituting ourselves for God," (p. 50).  This definition of sin is sorely lacking and too narrowly defined; self-idolatry is just one aspect of sin.  According to the Baptist Catechism Question 17, "Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God, (1 John 3:4)."  Without a right understanding of sin, there can be no godly sorrow that works repentance to salvation, (2 Cor. 7:10).

In Chapter 6 the author describes the resurrection of Jesus, but specifically looks at the biblical text regarding His post-resurrection appearance.  While the eye-witness accounts of Jesus are important, it is His resurrection that should be in focus when explaining the Gospel (1 Peter 1:3).  Therefore, the biblical texts she references do not flow into a clear picture of the redemption and propitiation accomplished by Jesus Christ.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is succinctly summarized by the Apostle Paul: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures," (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Finally, Ms. Pippert ends her book like she began by encouraging the reader to place himself within the biblical text and promoting her man-centered view of salvation.  She states that Jesus' resurrection fulfilled the prophecy of Isa. 53:5-6 and leaves the reader with these questions on page 59:  "Suppose you witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus.  Then suppose the risen Lord appeared to you, just as he did to his disciples. What do you think he would say to you?  How would you respond?"  This is not the Gospel.

Because of Ms. Pippert's synergistic approach to salvation, I would not recommend this book as a witnessing tool for the unbeliever to read, nor for the believer to share.  However, if you want to treat the Bible as just another piece of literature, then it's an adequate resource to learn about the historical Jesus.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.