The Last Lessons Of Christ: Living By Faith In An Age Of Despair, by Daniel Sweet and Andrew Gilmore
[Note: This book was provided by Reedsy Discovery for the purposes of review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
In reading a book like this, where there are many hundreds of very similar books that encourage devotion to God and a life of inspirational faith that allows one to overcome struggles as well as to avoid the moralism trap by which people attempt to earn salvation through obedience, the obvious struggle for the writer(s) here is to find something new and striking to say that hasn’t been said a million times before. These particular authors frame their discussion of the last lessons of Christ by looking at the book of Luke in the period before the arrival at Jerusalem where a variety of incidents provide some worthwhile insights for readers. This focus on Luke is both a strength and a weakness, a strength in that it provides a focused part of the Gospels for readers to focus on and a weakness in that other Gospel passages for the same period of time are not included in a thoughtful harmonization that would provide even more material to work with.
This short book of less than 200 pages begins with a preface and an introduction that discuss the problem of how to live when darkness seems to be winning. After this there are a series of ten lessons taken from Luke 17-19. First, the authors point out that genuine faith defeats darkness (1). After this they remind us that Jesus will return to end the darkness, so we had best get busy (2). This leads to the encouragement for the reader to persist in faith through the darkness (3). Lesson four brings with it the perverse idea that religion is not the solution (4), which comes dangerously close to an expression of the false ragamuffin gospel. This naturally leads into a somewhat antinomian discussion of stop working for what we cannot earn (5), along with a call to abandon all to follow Jesus (6). The author then moves on sounder territory with a reminder that faith leads to extraordinary outcomes (7) and that the Gospel overcomes darkness (8). The author then closes with lessons on faith always producing (godly) action (9) along with a reminder that Jesus death destroys darkness (10). After this there are acknowledgements, some information about the authors, and various ways for the reader to connect with the authors.
There are at least two areas in which this book could have been significantly improved. For one, the chronology and itinerary of Jesus’ last few months would have been greatly improved had the authors taken the effort of harmonizing the passages in Luke that they had focused on with with those passages starting with John 10 that show Jesus Christ as having been present in Jerusalem for the festival of dedication as well as having a significant ministry in Perea that the authors appear to gloss over rather quickly. The second and more important improvement would have been to recognize that the New Covenant involves the writing of God’s laws in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8, for example), allowing us to obey God through faith rather than through a misguided attempt to earn salvation, which would have given the authors an opportunity to celebrate the way that the Holy Spirit leads us into obedience through faith where our lives show the godly fruit of obedience without the arrogance that comes from believing that we have earned our salvation. This is a far more promising (and biblically accurate) approach than to engage in antinomian attacks on law and religion that make it appear as if religion and law themselves, rather than the hardness of heart of unredeemed and rebellious mankind and the spirit of rebellion that works in humanity are the true enemies of the genuine believer.