Sometimes books come along that make you think, make you laugh, make you want to read excerpts out loud to the person in the next room. I just finished a quick read of Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears new book Vintage Jesus and was not disappointed. I typically enjoy books that are both intellectually stimulating and engaging; I also like to find books I can give to just about anybody. Yet such works are rare. I think I found another one to add to that short list.
Vintage Jesus, is...well, about Jesus. No surprise here. The book is a treatment of the person and work of Jesus Christ written very much for a contemporary world which is ever interested in the man reared in Nazareth long ago. The author of the work is primarily Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle WA. He is joined in this marvel team up by Dr. Gerry Breshears professor of theology at Western Seminary in Oregon. The book is the first in a partnership between the Resurgence Theological Cooperative and Crossway Books. The two organizations hope to produce a new line of books entitled "RE:LIT" which will espouse biblical faithful and theologically driven content written for today's world in a relevant way. Yes, very nice.
The book was taken from a sermons series that Driscoll preached at Mars Hill Church of the same name. The structure is pretty simple - 12 chapters each with a different focus about the Scriptures teaching about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Dr. Breshears is a theological partner in the work and does a great job closing each chapter with theological questions and answers regarding some issue taken up by the chapter. It is both rigorous in treating the subject matter but at the same time remaining highly accessible.
The greatest strengths of the book is its diversity and usefulness to life and ministry. I will cover the books diversity first and then make a comment on its potential use in ministry. I will then comment on a couple of specific content items which I particularly enjoyed.
It is diverse in that it meets several goals rarely attained in the same volume. First, it is funny and enjoyable to read. Now I "get" Driscolls humor and tend to vibe with it so the enjoyability will have something to do with getting Mark's humor and style. Though it is certain that some may find the language choices curt or pedestrian, I just found it funny. Second, the book is a serious work in biblical Christology. The range covered in the short chapters is very wide, though not comprehensive. It shows a great mastery of Christological controversies in church history as well as a good grasp on the history of Christian thought. In the first few chapters you will see quotes from Pamela Anderson on one page and then discussions of various trinitarian heresies (dynamic and modalistic monarchialism anyone?). The book will serve as a great introduction to Jesus and sound theology about him. Third, it is diverse in that it communicates as a work of positive Apologetics. The real Jesus is the best defense against the posers and the biblical Jesus (or Jesus according to Jesus) is shown off in the book. Finally, the book is well researched and documented with copious footnotes in every chapter. Now a large amount of the references are due to the choice to put biblical references in the notes, but their are serious sources cited and consulted in Vintage Jesus.
The glaring strength of this book is that you can likely give it to anyone under 35. My partners in crime at Inversion have echoed that so many of the books aimed at young adults today are lightweight, many times emergent crap. Many books we love do not easily connect to the flow of younger folks. We love John Piper books and thankful for his ministry to the twenty something crowd, but sometimes Desiring God can intimidate the neophyte a bit...and we are big time on reading in our ministry. In this book we have a work that can be studied in groups, handed to a non Christian friend and one that will actually make some folks laugh along the way.
Last, the book had content which I love as it speaks of the wonderul Savior God and King Jesus Christ. The opening chapters are very clear about the tension with Jesus being fully God, fully Man in one person. I love the Chalcedonian theology and it is on display in relevant terms in Vintage Jesus. I also love the unique perspective of Jesus as the Prophet, Priest and King foreshadowed in the Old Testament. A theological observation that John Calvin gave the church is very helpful in understanding Jesus' ministry and how Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments. Sexy stuff. The list of OT prophecy and NT fulfillment will be helpful for the budding evangelists and apologists out there - the coming of Jesus just was not a coincidence of time and place, but rather the very providence of God. The great chapter on the atonement and death of Jesus is timely as every generation reacts to "God died for you" and you can't save yourself. We much prefer programs of self salvation. Chapters on the resurrection and on Jesus uniqueness compared to other "saviors" (his quote of Stephen Colbert is revealing of the views in our age) again have great value for conversations with those who have questions. Finally the book calls people to worship Jesus - which is the whole point of the gospel. God making rebels worshippers of the triune God through the work of Jesus.
I did not find too many terrible weaknesses to the work, but two small ones stood out. The first one I felt reading the book came up right from the beginning. As I said above I really get Mark's humor and particularly enjoy it. Yet a few times I felt it was too frequent and a bit too much. Personally, I am fine with the content of the jokes but they could have been spaced out a bit more at times. When something feels overused it can distract a bit from the flow of the work. My counsel to Mark would not be to tone it down, though others certainly would give that counsel. My thought would be save some for later so that the humor doesn't loose its saltiness. The use of a bit more subtlety and timing would have been helpful.
The second weakness did not affect me but may be felt by the casual reader. There are many references to people and ideas which are not explained and may fly over some peoples heads. Ironically this could take place both on the pop cultural level and the historical/academic level (I love the list of Christological heresies - even listing Eutychianism). There are some that may just not know who some of the people quoted and referenced are. I don't think this takes anything away from the book, it is not distracting, but some may wonder who some of these people/ideas are.
Two final comments are needed. One thing is certain about Vintage Jesus - uptight funnymentalists will not like the tone of the book...this has already been observed in the comments on Tim Challies' review. Many will struggle reading some of the terms used by Driscoll; terms like shagging and knocking boots are so far from many Christians' vernacular. Yet there are people today that would look at the terms “knocking boots” and “shagging” (which is a British term for sex popularized in America by the Austin Powers movies that non Christian people are very familiar with) as so uncontroversial. If you spend significant time with real non Christians you will find that there are other terms used for this activity that are much, much more offensive (and I would say actually profane). But writing like this should provoke discussions about language and why we do or do not use certain words and phrases. I think the discussion itself is needed as some go too far and some need to loosen up a bit. Finally, Bible discarding emergents and theologically liberal Christians will not like the exalted Christ and biblical focus, but I will only say this is a book about "Vintage" Jesus not "Reinventing" or "Reimagining" Jesus. Selah.
Dr. Breshears and Mark Driscoll have produced a fun book that also has real meat and substance. It is no wonder it has drawn endorsements from some of the best evangelical theologians (Grudem, Ware, Packer), an ultimate fighter, a music producer and a Disney executive. It is that diverse. More than anything I left the read loving Jesus more and for this I am personally thankful. I highly recommend Vintage Jesus to read and give away to friends and neighbors of every belief and persuasion. Highly recommended.