Series: The Jesus Way #7
Published by Herald Press on February 23, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Theology
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Who was Jesus? And what does it mean to follow him?
Nancy Elizabeth Bedford helps us consider the identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Learn about the incarnation, how Christians have understood Jesus to be both human and divine, and what his radical teachings and ministry can mean for us today. Find out how Christians through the centuries have understood who Jesus is and explore communal and individual practices for following him.
The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith delve into big questions about God’s work in the world. These concise, practical books are deeply rooted in Anabaptist theology. Crafted by a diverse community of internationally renowned scholars, pastors, and practitioners, The Jesus Way series helps readers deepen their faith in Christ and enliven their witness.
The Jesus Way is a series of short, introductory volumes of Anabaptist theology. I happened upon them by accident, having been introduced to the publisher, Herald Press, through the work of Drew Hart. Whether you’re new to the faith or stepped in it since childhood, whether you’re a lifelong Anabaptist, new to the tradition, or simply looking for a fresh perspective, these books provide a conversational discussion of many of the foundation of the faith.
In Who Was Jesus, Nancy Elisabeth Bedford pens a simple yet revolutionary introduction to Jesus of Nazareth. Most importantly, Bedford does a great job of setting Jesus in his location. She provides context for Jesus’s ministry in terms of the religious and political atmosphere, as well as the competing Jewish and Roman cultural milieus. Understanding this context helps inform us about several aspects of Jesus’s ministry, the response to him, and the relationships that he had with those around him.
Bedford clearly presents Jesus as both God and man, devoting a chapter to Jesus as the Incarnate One, then following it with a discussion of his ministry as prophet, teacher, and healer. Most powerfully in this section, she emphasizes the need to read the New Testament “from below,” or with the perspective of an oppressed people. She writes that if we come to the text from a perspective of authority and power—like we often do in the West—then we will likely “defang the powerful, liberating message of Jesus” by privatizing it. This emphasis on the social aspect of Jesus’s ministry is what stands out the most, and what is often missing in introductory discussions of the person of Jesus in most evangelical texts.
I also appreciate that Bedford does not get so bogged down in theology that she misses the story. In seminary, we had a whole semester of atonement theory—the various theories of how Jesus saves us that have been developed throughout church history. Instead of highlighting one (which is usually substitutionary atonement), Bedford encourages readers to see Scripture as presenting atonement in metaphor and story.
Throughout the text, important or confusing terms are bolded with definitions provided in a concluding glossary. Every bit of the text is thoroughly thought-out and well-stated, leaving Bedford’s intentions crystal clear. While some may take umbrage with the focus on the social elements of Jesus’s ministry, it’s this section that makes the book distinctly Anabaptist and unique from many other introductory studies.
This is a series I highly recommend and will be implementing as curriculum within my church for teenagers, new members, and new believers.