(Image: G. K. Chesterton in 1931)
That headline’s a paraphrase. What author and columnist John Zmirak actually said about my book Too Good to be False (just out on Kindle!) was this:
For months I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen that one of the best books on Jesus’ character I’ve ever read is your new book Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality. I’d say it comes in second behind Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, and ties with Robert Hugh Benson’s The Friendship of Christ. Those two books have something in common: they were written in the Victorian/Edwardian era.
His two other favorites listed there were published in 1925 and 1912, respectively. What can I say butFl, “Wow. I have no idea what I’m doing being mentioned in company like that, but thank you. I hope it encourages people to read and know Jesus better!”
Granted, John’s a friend and colleague of mine, but he’s an honest one. Witness his earlier admission, written after he read the print edition of Too Good to be False, that he’d always found Jesus “irritating.”
Religious teachers told me I should “make friends” with Jesus, and remember that He was fully human as well as divine. Reading His words in the Gospels, I didn’t want to be His friend. I found Him bossy, enigmatic, and often confusing.
He added then, “What I like about Gilson’s book is that he doesn’t try to gloss over or explain away the unsettling aspects of Jesus’ personality. No long explanations here about ‘cultural differences’ or ‘the rhetoric of the time.’ Instead he emphasizes the fact of Christ’s utter uniqueness.”
Taking Jesus’ Differences Seriously
I like that John liked that. I like how he has grappled with Jesus’ character. He deals with the difficulty of Jesus saying things like, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Or the way Jesus never asked anyone’s opinion except to correct them on it. Or the fact that he always knew it all.
John Zmirak says, “I couldn’t understand why the apostles followed him, nor blame the Pharisees for walking away when he insulted them.”
Maybe those are questions good questions “shouldn’t ask.” I asked them anyway. They weren’t just John’s questions; I raised them, too, in Too Good to be False. An honest look at Jesus’ life reveals all kinds of things that could have kept people from wanting to follow him. Yet they did.
And they kept and millions or billions more have kept on following him, long past his death on the cross, centuries after his death on the cross. Why? What was it about him? His resurrection certainly stands at the core of any answer we might give — except his disciples followed him before that.
No, Really: Why Did They Follow Him?
For some it was the goodies he offered. That’s another paraphrase. Jesus said in John 6:26-27,
Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.
They got an amazing meal out of him. Yum. Maybe he was kind of a spectacle at that stage in his ministry, too.
Even as he identifies their self-seeking motivation, he challenges them with the outrageous claims that he can give eternal life, and that the Father has set his seal on him. And if that wasn’t enough, by the end of the conversation he’d told them, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. … For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54, 55). Okay, seriously, now; would you follow someone who spoke that way?
Peter saw it, and so did Jesus’ other close followers: Jesus acted and spoke unlike every other religious leader because he was unlike every other.
You and I know about the Lord’s Supper. We have a good idea what he was talking about. They hadn’t heard of it when he said it that day, and they didn’t know what he meant by it. For a first-century Jew this talk of drinking blood would have been even harder to take than for the rest of us: They zealously avoided even animal blood, in obedience to food laws in the Torah.
He Alone Is Worthy
Is it any surprise that many left him after that (John 6:66)? The disciples stayed; and one of them gave the answer that explains the enigma we face here. Why did anyone follow Jesus? Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter saw it, and so did Jesus’ other close followers: Jesus acted and spoke unlike every other religious leader because he was unlike every other. Not just better, not even just a good bit greater, but absolutely, massively, transformatively unique among preachers, teachers, and leaders.
“You alone have the words of eternal life,” said Peter. Only Jesus. And only he could be the Holy One of God.
Jesus was different, and he remains different. I devoted almost half of Too Good to be False to exploring his difference. Every other book focuses on what Jesus did; I focused on what other great leaders do, and Jesus didn’t. This is what Biola University Distinguished Professor J. P. Moreland called “the brilliance” of the book, and led both Sean McDowell and Frank Turek to say there was something surprisingly new in Too Good to be False, even after all these centuries of so much study of Jesus.
Read, and Meet Jesus in a Whole New Way!
Don’t think, though, that a study of what Jesus didn’t do will leave you empty. In my case it left me speechless with wonder and worship. He is, for example, the only man of power in either history or imaginative literature who never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit. That tells us he loved like no other person either in history or in imagination; in fact, it shows us how no one else even comes close to living his kind of love.
I’m thankful to John Zmirak for seeing some of this, and for saying it again as the book comes out on Kindle this week. (It actually released on Kindle a month ago, but on a separate Amazon page no one could find, so it hardly counted until now.)
And I encourage you to take the opportunity now to see Jesus in a way you’ve never seen him before. Read my whole interview with John if you need a further intro to the book. Then purchase and read Too Good to be False. Meet Jesus in ways you’ve never seen him before. And wonder about him. And worship him.
Image Credit(s): Flickr/Levan Ramishvilli.