(Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI) 2012. 202 pages of text. 17 pages of references. Forward by Condoleeza Rice.
I enjoyed Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
It is an overview of the areas of life today affected by the life of Jesus Christ. The areas Pastor Ortberg considers are the value of children, women’s rights, slavery, education, leadership, forgiveness, health care, separation of church and state, marriage and art. The undergirding concept is that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a small town in Israel. He worked for three years in the region of Galilee as an itinerant rabbi who travelled from town to town, teaching and performing miraculous healings and displaying signs and wonders. He was revolutionary in his time. He caused people to think about God, themselves, their religion and others in new ways. Two thousand years later we are still trying to understand his teachings.
John Ortberg includes quite a few quotes from Aristotle, Winston Churchill, St Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, William Shakespeare, Origen, Pliney the Younger, the bible, Plato, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, G.K. Chesterton, ancient Roman laws, Dallas Willard, Tertullian, Tacitus, Plutarch, Caesar Augustus, Thomas Cahill, and many others. I enjoyed the quotes from famous people. The author compares quotes of famous people, which were popular concepts in their day, to Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ teachings are still relevant and challenging to us today.
The author also includes interesting statistics. I had not heard before that so many girl babies were abandoned at birth, that the biblical population was affected. Pastor Ortberg claims that during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were 1.4 million men and 1 million women alive. Why were there 400,000 more men? Because baby boys were preferred over girl babies at that time, too often new parents would leave girl babies outside to die of exposure. Eventually the population ratio reflected that value of the time.
Forgiveness is another topic Pastor Ortberg discusses. He quotes Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” among other contemporary Greek and Roman sources, to point out that forgiveness was not valued in the Greco-Roman world. Forgiveness was seen as a sign of weakness. People in those days valued strength, military might, power, wealth and beauty. John the Baptist taught the ministry of repentence. Jesus taught the ministry of reconciliation and the necessity of forgiveness. These were radical concepts in their day.
My favorite quotes from this book are:
1) “Aristotle’s ‘”great-souled man” is extremely proud. He despises honors offered by the common people…He indulges in conspicuous consumption, for “he likes to own beautiful and useless things, since they are better marks of his independence.” Incidentally, he walks, slowly, has a deep voice, and a deliberate mode of utterance.’” (page 74)
2) “In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center 2000 years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there. They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayer was a curse. People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them. ‘Docimedus has lost 2 gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.’ No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.” (page 87)
None of the 2000 prayer tablets asked Zeus or Bacchus to bless their enemies and forgive them. People didn’t pray for forgiveness for enemies to Zeus.
3) “Leadership, says Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.” (page 102)
4) “To that world, the movement of these followers of Jesus was ‘like Churchill’s description of Russia: ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods.” (page 130)
5) “Luther in turn deeply influenced composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who would begin each work by writing “J.J.”—Jesu, Jusa, “Jesus help me” –on his manuscript. (It is a universal prayer for all writers, but often they wait until they are desperate. I’m praying it right now.) at the end of a piece, he would write three letters—S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)—that meant “To the glory of God” on all his music. (page 158)
I recommend this book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. It took me about a total of 5 hours to read.
I would like to read more of John Ortberg’s books. His books include:
The book review of Who Is this Man? originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 11, 2013.