The Forgotten Jesus and the Trinity You Never Knew
Reviewed by Dr. Graham McFarlane, BA Course Leader and Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology, London School of Theology.
This is an intelligent book on the story and meaning of Jesus. It is the kind of book you would want to give to someone not only searching for the truth of the Christian faith but who can also carry a good read. It is the overflow of the author’s PhD thesis but it is not an academic tome. Rather, it embodies what the late John Stott demonstrated in his own teaching ministry – deep thinking in order to produce simple teaching. As the author reminds us, his desire is not to produce abstract and propositional thinking but a narrative – a story – about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is located in the here and now – of 21st century discrimination baked in the furnace of human selfishness and self-interest – and the need for a solution. That solution is Jesus, the one sent by the Father and empowered by the Spirit. As such, then, the story of Jesus is inextricably connected with the identity of the Father who sent him and the Spirit who enabled him. What is so refreshing about this book is that the missional imperative of the gospel is brought back into its proper setting – not surprising given that So is Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.
The book falls into 4 clear sections. Three centre on Jesus with a final look at the Trinity and human society. We are firstly introduced to Jesus the Teacher. Here So unpacks a series of antitheses concerning human life, sexuality, marriage, truth and peace. With these he demonstrates the radical and uncompromising nature of Jesus’ teaching. What I liked specially about this section was the fact that So ties the content of Jesus’ teaching with the question of authority: Jesus can teach with authority because he is sent from and by the Father. However, and very helpfully, So takes the reader further – to Jesus the Practitioner. Here the reader is exposed to several aspects of the practical dimension of Jesus’ teaching, whether in healing, the kind of people he mixed with, his view of Sabbath, how he related to the outsiders and children. Again, So does not pull any punches about the radical nature of Jesus’ praxis – put bluntly, it offends the religious, and especially those in religious leadership. Little has changed.
Next, So develops the character of Jesus. He is the Humble Servant. Here the reader is taken through the inner motivation and character of Jesus. First, we look at Jesus and his temptations and his identification with a needy humanity around him. Then we move into a very clear and helpful presentation of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Again, what makes So a good read is the fact that he makes all this meaningful and direct. Anyone looking for a good resource for a series of group studies would be hard pushed to find a better place to look – think ahead – Lent groups! This book will be a great help.
Finally, the book ends on an exploration of the identity of the God whom Jesus reveals. What I particularly appreciated about this section is the way in which Damon sets the story of God the Trinity in the human need he unpacks in his introduction. It is a humanity that needs to be freed – freed from its own moral referencing, its insatiable self-interest, its disregard for the poor, and its constant conflicts. This is the mess in which the gospel takes root and shape. This is the context of mission. This is what church is all about. And this book is a timely and helpful push for those concerned enough to read it that there is indeed a Jesus who has been forgotten in today’s pluralistic and relativistic world and a Trinity that has definitely never been known by many.