Understanding Jesus: Five ways to spiritual enlightenment

This work is an invaluable tool for ordinary Christians, in helping to reinforce the intellectual underpinnings of biblical faith in Christ. It will also be a challenging read for agnostics who are prepared to interact with the historic data with an enquiring mind.

Kevin Moss | November 2012

By Peter S Williams - (2011) Milton Keynes: Authentic

Understanding JesusPeter S. Williams (the Philosopher, not to be confused with Peter J. Williams, Warden of Tyndale House, Cambridge) is a remarkable young man. It is not that this volume covers anything radically new, but what the author manages to do is marshall a huge amount of extant data and insight, into a conceptual framework which makes it easy to engage with. One of the real strengths of his writing is that he manages to take his own high-level familiarity with the academic issues and source texts, and translate this material into a format which is immediately accessible to the rest of us. So many academics write in a way that appears designed to baffle and confuse, and perpetuate the gulf between the academy and normal people - but Peter has the rare gift of bridging that gap, and thus delivering solid food for those who really want to understand who Jesus actually is.

an invaluable tool for ordinary Christians

The author provides a five-fold construct for understanding Jesus after he has, first of all, helped to build sufficient credibility for the biblical testimony to Him. The five tiers of his case are:

  1. Jesus' self-centred teaching
  2. Jesus' dynamic deeds
  3. Jesus' resurrection
  4. Jesus and fulfilled prophecy
  5. Jesus and contemporary experience

If one was to be critical of the treatment, one might complain that it would be helpful to have 'more' material in support of each point, but that would be to miss the strength of Williams' argument - each tier provides enough data and reasoning to take one on to the next step. Each element of the case that the author presents to help us understand Jesus is therefore sufficient on its own, but more importantly, is sufficient when viewed cumulatively with the other elements.

interacts thoughtfully with the key philosophies which frequently drive the suppositions and worldviews of atheism

This is an excellent contribution to this core challenge of Christian belief: who was/is Jesus? Williams' background helps him to interact thoughtfully with the key philosophies which frequently drive the suppositions and worldviews of atheism. You'll find a helpful consideration of Hume's arguments against miracles, for example - which leads (when uncritically applied) to a scientific or historical methodology which absolutely precludes the possibility of the miraculous (thus eliminating even an open-minded consideration of Christ's resurrection). There's some really useful interaction with the philosophical engines driving liberal theology and higher criticism. There are extensive quotations from the writings of leading atheists, demonstrating the range of opinions and conflicts between them when it comes to how they deal with the historical Christ. Each chapter is helpfully structured, and at the end of each there is a list of additional reading resources, many of them online.

Overall, the book is a delight. The prose is unpretentious but utterly clear and unambiguous. The author is not averse, where needed, to rephrasing an important point in different ways in order to hammer home its significance. This work is an invaluable tool for ordinary Christians, in helping to reinforce the intellectual underpinnings of biblical faith in Christ - and I will certainly be recommending it to those who are active in their local churches, especially any who are involved in communicating the Gospel. It will also be a challenging read for agnostics who are prepared to interact with the historic data with an enquiring mind.

This book is available for purchase on Damaris.org

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