Encounters With Jesus: Unexpected Answers To Life’s Biggest Questions, by Timothy Keller
It is interesting to see the way that a writer handles the wealth of material that he is writing about when it comes to the Gospel message. To what extent does an author wish to write thematically, or to give a harmony of the Gospels, or to focus mainly on one Gospel to follow it’s point of view and perspective. In this particular case, the author has chosen the Gospel of John and its approach to frame his stories of various encounters between Jesus Christ and various people. It should be noted that not every important encounter is portrayed, and sometimes as book like this is notable for its absences as much as what is present–we find here no discussion of the festival of dedication, no discussion of the lessons of the man born blind, or any discussion of the Feast of Tabernacles and its continued importance for believers. That said, it is not fair or just to merely view a book for what it is not, however much we might wish it to be otherwise. The question is what this book is, and like the author’s books in general, this is a good book that manages to have a lot that is worthwhile to say about the encounters with Jesus we read mostly in the book of John.
This book is a short one at about 200 small pages that I read during the course of a lunch break at work. After a short introduction the book is divided into ten chapters. The first chapter examines Nathaniel as a skeptical student who is somewhat abrasive, after which the author compares John 3 and 4  to look at Jesus’ behavior toward both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well (2). Then the author talks about Mary and Martha’s grief over the death of Lazarus and Jesus’ anger at death that few translators seem willing to tangle with (3) before looking at the complexities of the Wedding Party of Cana (4). After this there is a discussion of Mary Magdalene in the garden after the resurrection (5) and Satan as the great enemy of believers and Jesus Christ Himself (6). There is a Trinitarian discussion of the two Advocates (7) as well as a look at the obedient master (8). Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of the desire of John and James of Zebedee to be at right hand of Jesus Christ and how this contrasts with Jesus’ place at the right of the Father (9) and a discussion of the courage of Mary to bear scandal as a result of her pregnancy with Jesus Christ (10).
Admittedly, this book is not perfect. It could have been made longer and better by focusing on aspects that the author did not wish to handle, for whatever reason, through a discussion of the Holy Days and other matters of biblical practice. The author’s argument for the Trinity based on the discussion of the Advocate of the Holy Spirit is extremely weak, but not terribly surprising either. After all, any Presbyterian or Evangelical writer in general is going to need to prove his (or her, but usually his) bona fides through a discussion of the Trinity when dealing with any sort of doctrinal work. That said, this book does a very good job at pointing out aspects of the Gospel of John that many people would read over without thinking about. With a proper recognition of the book’s shortcomings and flaws and my wish that the author would have written even more than he did, this book does offer some significant aids to properly understanding the context of John and some insights that its stories contain that are relevant for our own time. And that is worth celebrating and appreciating.