Published by Zondervan on April 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Theology, Christian Life
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In the West Jesus is usually seen through one lens, that of Western reasoning and linear thought. As the world becomes smaller and more people are brought to our door, a broader view of Jesus is needed, one that can be grasped by Easterners and can penetrate the hearts and imaginations of postmodern Westerners.
In Seeing Jesus from the East, Ravi Zacharias and Abdu Murray capture a revitalized gospel message through an Eastern lens, revealing its power afresh and sharing the truth about Jesus in a compelling and winsome light. Incorporating story, honor, vivid imagery, sacrifice, and rewards, Seeing Jesus from the East calls readers, both Eastern and Westerns alike, to a fresh encounter with the living and restless Jesus.
I owe a lot to Ravi Zacharias. It was his books—Jesus Among Other Gods, first and foremost—that kindled an interest in apologetics that continue to this day. As a teenager, I spent hours on a lawnmower with a headset plugged into a cheap mp3 player filled with his podcast/radio programs Just Thinking and Let My People Think. Ravi taught me how to be a Christian, and intellectual, and a Christian intellectual. Seeing Jesus from the East—barring any posthumous collections—will be his final book.
It is only fitting that Seeing Jesus from the East, coauthored with RZIM VP Abdu Murray, is Zacharias’s final work. He had long resisted writing such a book, believing Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes to be all that was needed on the topic. It was his protégé and friend, Nabeel Qureshi, who finally convinced Ravi to write this book.
Ravi was right, in a way. Bailey’s work still stands as the most comprehensive volume on the topic. Seeing Jesus from the East tackles some of the same cultural issues and portions of Scripture that Zacharias and Murray cover, but with a slightly different frame of reference, really focusing on the philosophical mindset that undergirds Eastern thinking and tradition.
Unfortunately, soon after work on the book began, Qureshi was given a terminal cancer diagnosis and could not complete the manuscript. Abdu Murray was brought in as coauthor, and though Murray’s voice is rich and informative throughout, I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that this was Nabeel’s book to be written.
Seeing Jesus from the East is divided into nine chapters: five from Ravi and four from Abdu. I’ve resisted the urge to offer a summary and reflection on each chapter. I found myself writing so much that there was no need for me to repeat second-hand what you could get first-hand from the book. Each chapter is rich, meaningful, and full of insight often hidden to a Western mind.
At the heart of the book is the belief that Jesus and his teachings bring a synthesis to the Western and Eastern minds. The Eastern mind has an affinity for story; the Western mind an affinity for truth. The Western mind may see an Easterner’s defense of belief to be anecdotal. The Eastern mind may see a Westerner’s defense of belief as dispassionate and disconnected. But in Christ, we have a grand story that invites tests for truth. From the preface:
Jesus is never simply Eastern or Western, though, but the Savior of the whole world. Children hover around him, yet teachers of the law are spellbound in his presence. His reasoning is global; his stories local; his visitation is transcendent; his message is personal; and his implications are eternal.
Under the foundation of Gospel as story, Ravi and Abdu begin to fill us in on the plot twists and character development modern Western readers might have missed. Murray, in particular, talks about the honor-shame culture inherent in the East and how it serves as a driving force in every Easterner’s decision—particularly religious decisions. He also offers an outstanding chapter on the parables of Jesus and how our perspective of them changes through an Eastern lens. Ravi regales with stories, poetry, and pathos, all serving to flesh out the truth claims he’s making about the Gospel. What I love in his style is that he can tie culture and Christ together so well to show that there is a unique longing for what Christ brings, whether secular or religious, Western or Eastern.
There’s nothing in Seeing Jesus from the East that will vastly change your thinking (if you are, like me, already an evangelical Christian). But it will take you deeper. The Western mind needs knocked out of its Europeanized notions of Christianity. The modern Eastern mind needs to understand how Christianity is uniquely tied to their background and culture.
Too often, Christianity is understood as “the white man’s faith”—both by Westerners and Easterners alike. To the Easterner, particularly those from a Muslim background, Christianity is distinctly Western and American and therefore “other.” To the Westerner, particularly those from an American evangelical background, Christianity is distinctly Western and American and therefore “mine.” Seeing Jesus from the East seeks to show the flaws in both of those statements, calling the West and the East, the Christian and the non-Christian, to a greater understand of who Jesus was—and is.