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Round death and rising in 80 pages  

10 February 2017

Peter Anthony finds that less is more in two short guides

Why Did Jesus have to Die?
Jane Williams
SPCK £3.99
Church Times Bookshop £3.60


Why Believe in Jesus’ Resurrection?
James D. G. Dunn
SPCK £3.99
Church Times Bookshop £3.60


IN THE hustle and bustle of our world, people seem not to want to read long books any more. As we increasingly digest information through sound-bites and Twitter’s gnomic aphorisms, pocket-sized guides to important questions seem more and more popular.

This new series of short guides tackles some of the big questions of Christian theological debate. SPCK has done well in attracting a terrific range of widely respected academic theologians, and has succeeded in that most tricky of tasks — getting them to write in an approachable and understandable idiom.

James Dunn’s guide to the resurrection is quite simply an exposition, through the lens of historical critical analysis, of the evidence presented to us by the New Testament concerning the resurrection of Jesus. It is not a philosophical or doctrinal examination of what resurrection might be or why we might choose to trust in such an idea. Neither is it rhetorically apologetic in the sense that it does not seek to convince the reader absolutely of something presented as an overwhelmingly clear truth.

It simply proposes the New Testament’s assertions about Christ’s resurrection as the kind of reasonable and trustworthy evidence you would expect such an event to produce. Dunn’s ultimate verdict is that choosing to believe in the resurrection is a perfectly rational — and possibly the most satisfactory — response to the evidence of the New Testament.

Jane Williams tackles the question why Jesus had to die. She begins by sketching out five broad models for understanding the Cross. These are presented as “overlapping pictures” rather than alternative accounts of the atonement. The last chapter is the most interesting, in which she asks what these models tell us about ideas such as God’s justice, his responsibility, questions to do with wrathful desire for blood, and the ways in which Jesus acts on our behalf and in our place.

Williams presents the Cross as the place where that complex range of competing paradoxes and conundrums are held together in a way that both is a mystery beyond our understanding and yet reveals God, effecting meaningful action in his creation which substantially changes our relationship with him.

Less is clearly more when it comes to this series of short guides to key questions of Christian faith and practice. These authors are to be commended for having fitted so much into just 40 pages each.

The Revd Dr Peter Anthony is Priest-in-Charge of St Benet’s, Kentish Town, in north London.

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