I Just Saw Jesus: The JESUS Film — From Vision, to Reality, to the Unimaginable, by Paul Eshlemen with Carolyn E. Phillips
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press in exchange for an honest review.]
In stark contrast to the vast majority of books I receive from this particular publisher, this book was not for a particular blog tour for a particular week-long period, but rather came with the instruction to read and give a fair review as soon as possible. In looking at the book and its remarkable content, it is easy to understand why. The reader of this book short book of 180 or so pages, with some excellent photographs of the film-making process included as well, will likely have at least a few thoughts about this book. My first thought upon reading the book, and the author’s discussion of its immense success, was: “How come I’ve never heard of this film before?” Until I remembered that at least one family member of mine had, at least at one time, the VHS copy of this thirty-five year old film about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ taken from the Gospel account of Luke, which is admittedly not the most obvious source I would have used, as the combination of Matthew and John is far more likely, and contains notable details like the crown of thorns that the Gospel of Luke pointedly does not include, and has been the source of considerable controversy for the film with some Christian audiences.
In terms of the contents of the book, the book combines several threads together, the point of which becomes clear at the end. Like many of the other books from this publisher , much of the book consists of enthusiastic and possibly miraculous examples of divine providence through the decidedly independent showing of the Jesus film in unlikely places like a warrior camp for the Masai, decidedly Muslim villages in Indonesia, or remote and decrepit villages in South and Southeast Asia from India to Thailand, as well as to refugee camps and villages of “unreached” peoples in obscure corners of North America. The book has an episodic nature, discussing first one of the more dramatic stories of the film’s impact in Africa, then going back to pick up the thread of narrative of the production and financing of the work, the efforts taken to dub the film into as many languages as possible to use the movie as an aid to evangelism, and some of the dramatic stories of the brave people who took the film out to remote villages and neighborhoods racked by war in places like El Salvador and Lebanon, some of whom saw divine protection and blessing of their efforts, and others who suffered for Jesus’ sake, paying a price for seeking to proclaim a part of the Gospel in dangerous situations.
The end of the book leaves the reader with a call to support the efforts of Campus Crusade for Christ in showing the film to audiences which have yet to see it, to engaging in short missionary trips, to download the film on their smart phone via scanner codes in the book itself. For readers who are already predisposed to cheer on the message that Jesus Christ has offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and wishes for all to repent of their wicked ways and turn their hearts in obedience to Him, this book is certainly an encouraging account. Nevertheless, many readers will likely be left with quite a few questions and nagging concerns after finishing this book. With the praise of the book’s massive impact in opening the door to evangelism efforts among Western secularists, tribal shamanists, Muslims and Buddhists, and those for whom Christianity is merely an ancestral identity and not a token of a personal relationship with God, the reader is left to wonder about how the massive number of people whose curiosity and interest was piqued by the film will be led into deeper understanding and obedience, since God does not wish to be honored by our lips, but by our deeds through a heart filled with love for God with all our strength and might and a love for others as ourselves. Likewise, the reader is left to wonder about the cross-currents between efforts at missionary work abroad and the disastrous and precipitous decline of practical Christianity within our own society and the rise of insecurity and violence within our larger world. This is a book that can be read quickly, but which provokes thought and reflection that continues after the book is finished.
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