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Friday, March 23, 2012

Review of "Taking Jesus at His Word" by Addison Hodges Hart

It is refreshing to read a meditative work born out of life experiences. Although written for Christians and non-Christians alike, Addison Hodges Hart's Taking Jesus at His Word  will appeal most to people who already believe in the message of Jesus.  Jesus is presented as a teacher, but also as Lord.  Every chapter reads easily.  This is not to say that Hart has softened the message of Jesus.  Rather, his writing style invites readers to sit and ponder the words of the Messiah.

And yet we have much more than introspection.  There is also a call to action.  Some readers may be off-put by the pragmatic leanings of Hart.  From my perspective, this is one thing I agree wholeheartedly with the author about.  Orthopraxy in its proper context is always appropriate. 

On the other hand, I do have my methodological concerns with the book.  Throughout, there is an implied approach to hermeneutics and exegesis with which I do not agree.   My concern is not that Hart, or any other author, agrees with my own approach to these subjects.  Instead, I am concerned when a meditative work, focused on the words of Jesus, unnecessarily inserts these concerns into the text.  For example, Hart dismisses the possibility of the historical background of Jonah. The issue of Jonah's historicity is a completely unnecessary addition to this book.  Jesus may or may not be using an implied typology in Matthew 12:40- "For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights." There are a number of opinions on the relationship between Jesus and the historicity of the book of Jonah. Glossing over the subtle differences in opinion from Christian traditions does an injustice to Hart's project.  He has engaged in partiality and division. Although this may have been unavoidable in some instances, there are several cases in which he makes this methodological mistake.  Probably the biggest one comes in the first appendix. Instead of allowing the Gospels (and Jesus) to speak in their own voices, he adds his belief that all the Gospels were written after 71 AD.  In another work, this would not necessarily be a problem.  In this work, it is distracting and confusing given the fact that footnotes and other scholary apparatus are (correctly) not included. This book would have been even better with the divisive elements left out of it. 

Given these methodological considerations, I would still give a  recommendation of Taking Jesus at His Word.  In particular, Christian leaders may find this book refreshing and inspiring in its attempt to take seriously the words of Jesus. Hart leaves us no doubt that Jesus intended his followers to actually follow, not just give him lip service.  Discerning leaders may want to make use of the study questions in the back and use this as a starting place for Christian practice.  

Thank you to the publisher for my early review copy. 


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