Published by Broadleaf Books on June 6, 2023
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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What would Jesus see if he looked at the world around us today?
In these pages, Aaron Rosen, one of the world's leading experts on art and religion, tackles this question by considering Jesus as a visual thinker. He invites readers to use their imagination to explore with him how Jesus saw, what he saw, and why it is important today.
Rosen brings a fresh lens to the Gospels, informed by his experience as an art curator and scholar, as well as his life as a practicing Jew married to an Episcopal priest. He examines Jesus's eye for spectacle, his strategies for attentiveness, and his tools for discerning truth amid the flurry of false appearances.
As Rosen applies Jesus's unique ways of seeing the world to key challenges facing society today, he taps a surprising trove of examples drawn from art, current events, and popular culture. At the core of Jesus's ministry, Rosen finds, is a call to look at our world--especially those who are most disadvantaged--with radical empathy. In a time when our eyes have grown weary and unfocused, Rosen argues, Jesus offers us the chance to see the world with renewed vision, focused on those who need us most.
I read this book a few weeks ago, but as I sit down to write this review rockets are flying between Israel and Hamas and over two million people—many of them children—sit on the brink of destruction with thousands of innocent civilians already dead. It brings a new perspective and a new challenge to What Would Jesus See: Ways of Looking at a Disorienting World. The world is disoriented more than ever (or is just that we are now more attuned to it?) and the centering perspective of Christ—the teacher who said to love your enemies—is the key to flourishing.
This is a unique book. Aaron Rosen isn’t a Christian. He’s a practicing Jew married to an Episcopal priest whose academic specialty is on the intersection of art and religion. Rosen obtained a Ph.D. from Cambridge in 2008, writing his dissertation on art history and Jewish imagination. He’s taught at Yale, Oxford, and Columbia and written several books on the intersection of art and religion. And it’s through that lens that Rosen encounters the radically compassionate Jesus.
At the beginning of What Would Jesus See, Rosen explores the perspective of Jesus by reviewing some of the best-known stories of the Gospels especially as they relate to visuality—to the philosophical and cultural context of sight and seeing. Rosen comments on Jesus’s use of artistry and visual symbolism in his ministry. Going deeper into the book, Rosen explores Jesus’s example of retreating to solitude and engaging in introspection in order to clear out the clutter of the world. He talks about the importance of discerning truth and engaging in the perspectives of others.
It’s all a very artistic—almost mystical—perspective that draws in theology, sociology, art, and even autobiography to create an engaging, if occasionally abstract picture of how to look at the world the way Jesus did. The word that keeps coming back to me about this book is reflective. For me, it made me reflect on interfaith dialogue and the universal value of Jesus and his teachings. But such a wide perspective does mean that the book is often short on practicalities. It shows us how to view a disorienting world, but not how to respond. Then again, Rosen never claims to offer a response. Perhaps simply through inviting readers to view the disorientating accurately, What Would Jesus See then leads us to the next and more popular saying What Would Jesus Do?