The Jesus Who Surprises: Opening Our Eyes To His Presence In All Of Life And Scripture, by Dee Brestin
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Multnomah/Waterbrook Press. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This is a book I wanted to like more than I actually found myself liking in the course of reading it. The author is most familiar to Christian audiences for her writings about the friendships of women, and this book is clearly aimed at a mostly female audience, although to the author’s credit she does (correctly) assume that at least some men will read it, which is more than I can say for many other female Christian authors. In many ways this book suffers a bit for me because the author is attempting to show that Christ can be found in the entire Bible and so the Old Testament is worth the reader’s attention, and that is not something that strikes me as particularly novel or unusual. The author comes off as one of those suddenly woke writers of the Bible that finds it necessary to address the Old Testament and that is old hat for me, not surprising or daring or unusual in the least. I suppose the author cannot be blamed for that, but it certainly made this book far less novel than it likely will be for many other readers who are less familiar with the Hebrew scriptures.
This book is a bit less than 250 pages and is divided into three parts and thirteen chapters with various additional material. The author begins this book with a discussion on how to use this book and bible study, an optional get-acquainted Bible study, and then a first chapter that looks at Jesus’ encounter with the believers on the road to Emmaus (1). After that the first part of the book looks at the story of Jesus and believers in the law, with chapters on God’s dancing (2), severity (3), overcoming Satan in this world (4), a false dilemma between religion and the Gospel (5), and the plotline of the Bible (6). The second part of the book ten looks at the psalms, with chapters on authenticity as a path to intimacy with God (7), the surprising fruit of suffering (8), learning how to pray from the Psalms (9), and a royal wedding song (10). The third part of the book ten contains chapters on the prophets, namely how we must be undone before we can be transformed (11), the songs of the servant (12), and a look at how the best is yet to come (13), after which the book contains hints for group facilitators and lesson-by-lesson facilitator notes.
One of the more striking aspects of this book, and not necessarily in a good way, is the way that more than half of the book appears to be made up of the Bible study questions where the author tries to get the reader to flesh out the material of the book, making this book a bit fluffed up from what it would be like if it just contained the author’s own thoughts. The book is also not free of typos that indicate the author’s limited understanding of the Bible passages she is trying to teach the reader about (page 60 contains a particularly egregious example where the author mistakenly comments on Cain’s blood crying out for justice to God rather than Abel’s). Overall, this is a book that contains much that will be unfamiliar to many mainstream Christian readers but will not be particularly surprising or new for those who have been studying the whole Bible for decades. Additionally, the author appears to believe that it helps her credibility to quote a lot of other mainstream Hellenistic Christian thinkers about the Bible, even though many of those writers minimized the Hebrew scriptures in their own faith and teaching. Frequently the author appears more interested in preserving her orthodox card than in actually teaching what the Bible says about the family or law of God.