JESUS NOW AND THEN
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
by Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould
SPCK £9.99(0-281-05499-1); Church Times Bookshop £9
THE STORY WE LIVE BY: A reader’s guide to the New Testament
by R. Alastair Campbell
Bible Reading Fellowship £12.99 (1-84101-359-5); Church Times Bookshop
THE OTHER day I was asked to recommend, for someone going to theological
college, an introduction to the critical issues involved in studying the New
Testament. I am often asked this kind of question and find it difficult to give
a straightforward answer. There are plenty of books that might meet this need,
but everything depends on the students’ starting-points. Are they novices in
theological thought? How have they read the Bible in the past? What else do
they read: history, literature, social or natural science? Or are they, for
preference, cinema enthusiasts?
The two volumes under review might be possible choices, but with some
reservations. Care is wanted in discovering what particular needs they set out
The volume by Burridge and Gould is virtually a transcript of the lecture
series at King’s College, London University, which was designed for those who
are not studying theology, but wish to earn the Associate qualification (AKC):
“the course had lectures in divinity and theology at its heart in order to help
students relate their other academic studies to the Christian faith and to the
world around them.”
The book by Campbell is based on mid-week lectures that he gave at West
Croydon Baptist Church, and refined in Nepal at the International Church in
Kathmandu. It offers “the kind of information about the Bible that ministers
meet in their training, but which they rarely feel able to share with their
Be careful not to misread the title of the first book,
Jesus Now and Then. It is not an intermittent Jesus for which Burridge
and Gould are arguing, but rather for a consistency between Jesus’s own
self-consciousness, the New Testament accounts of Jesus, and the later
Christological debates. For many modern scholars, this would seem to be an
optimistic and controversial claim.
The case is made in chapters on the historical Jesus; critical approaches to
the Gospels; four portraits of Jesus distinctively characterised by the signs
of the four Evangelists; the relationship between Jesus and Paul, and what Paul
thought of Jesus; other New Testament views of Jesus; the early Church and its
moral teaching, worship and doctrinal debates; and modern understandings of
The earlier chapters, in particular, are most engagingly written, with the
kind of repetition that is a good teaching technique; there are suggestions for
further reading, and text boxes that function like overhead transparencies or
Powerpoint slides. But, sadly, there is no index.
Given the effective use that is made in the introduction of Hollywood
representations of Jesus, it is a pity that the book was published before Mel
Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ could be included.
R. Alastair Campbell aims to provide “readable and satisfying” answers to
questions about the New Testament writings: “How did they come to be written?
What do they say to us today?” and to do so in such a way that the reader is
able to “see the New Testament as a whole”, and not fragmented. He offers a
guidebook to the New Testament, room by room.
His structural image is the storyline: the Creed is a story; the Gospels are
four versions of the story of Jesus; the Church’s story is revealed in Acts and
in Paul’s letters; the apostolic letters and Revelation show what it means to
live by the story; the Old Testament (selectively Abraham, Moses, David, the
exile and the Servant of the Lord, Daniel and the Son of Man) is the story
behind the story; and all this becomes our story.
Campbell copes with the divers-ity of four Gospels in terms of
portrait-painters — for example, the portraits of Churchill at Chartwell, or
the different uniforms selected by theological-college principals for their
formal portraits. He also uses two versions of an anecdote about Spurgeon and
the lamplighter, showing not only differences in detail, but more importantly
in the moral of each story. The reader should respect the lesson of each
Gospel, and not strive to harmonise them.
This is a guidebook that relies on such verbal illustrations, and offers
some independent ideas. It has five pages of endnotes, but, again, it has no
Dr John M. Court is Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Theology and
Religious Studies, in the University of Kent at Canterbury.
To place an order for either book contact