Dr John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (Australia). He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins.
Reviewed by Mark Sooy, an associate editor of the Worldview Church.
In preparation for teaching a course on Gospel Literature, I was given John Dickson’s book, “Life of Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters.” The book, along with the accompanying DVD, has been a refreshing look into this Man we call Jesus, who we also know to be the Author and Creator of life itself. Dickson is unapologetically orthodox in his faith, yet discusses the person of Jesus in a way that brings new light to the reality of who He really is.
This study’s purpose is “to provide the inquiring, the skeptical and believers alike with an opportunity to explore Jesus’ life and to consider its significance for today” (p. 175). I found this to be the case as I read and considered Dickson’s fresh approach to the subject. I think it fits this purpose well as I prepare to teach college underclassmen, but also relevant in ongoing discussions that I have with atheist friends and skeptics, as well as well-meaning but uninformed believers.
Dickson has arranged the book, as well as the DVD, in six parts that discuss the framework of Christ’s life and covers many of the modern questions about His deity, His miracles and His claims. His use of historical data, along with quotes from both secular and Christian scholars, makes his arguments and ideas a potent resource for the dialogue that Christians should be having in today’s culture.
Part 1: God’s Signpost. This section explains Jesus as a “tangible sign of God’s interest in our world.” Not only does Dickson deal with the big question of God’s existence, but he shows how Christ is one of the ways in which God has interacted personally with the world – and why. He demonstrates that Jesus is not only a significant person in history, but a vital part of God’s intentions for the world that he created, as well as the humanity he desires to restore.
Part 2: Christos. Under this title Dickson explores the “identity of Jesus and His critique of ‘religion.’” As can be expected, he shows the reality of Jesus the Man while at the same time unraveling the arguments against Christ lifted up by those opposed to Christian teaching. He reveals a true picture of Jesus and dispels many myths and misconceptions about who He really is.
Part 3: Kingdom Come. Here Dickson takes on “Jesus’ vision of the future and it relevance now.” Although it may seem from this title that he has not shown the relevance of Christ in today’s world, in fact Dickson shows His relevance page after page. In this section, he is specifically noting the redemptive activity of Jesus. He considers Jesus in the historical context of other teachers, as well as His miracles during His earthly ministry. In this respect, Jesus is also relevant now for the redemption He continues to offer those who respond in faith.
Part 4: Judge and Friend. As Dickson considers the ideas of “Jesus’ thoughts on ‘religious hypocrites’ and ‘rotten sinners,’” he spends time debunking another list of misconceptions about Jesus and both his teachings and his life. He notes that Jesus often taught about judgment, but of the self-righteous as opposed to the sinner. In addition, he taught forgiveness for the sinner and showed in His ministry the reality of God’s grace and mercy to those in need.
Part 5: Cross Examination. In this section on “Jesus’ death as the source of life,” Dickson reveals a clear picture of the reality and scourge of crucifixion in the ancient world. His treatment of its history is short but well done. Beyond that, he discusses the reasons for the death of Jesus from many perspectives – political, social and religious. He also gives a clear explanation of how Jesus viewed His own death.
Part 6: The Resurrection. Finally, the matter of the resurrection is raised. “How could it happen? What does it matter?” These are the questions that Dickson raises and answers in another example of clarity and brevity using historical commentary and an analysis that reveals a balanced perspective for this core element of Christian teaching.
Overall, I highly recommend this treatment of the “Life of Jesus” by John Dickson. I can see the benefit of this study in any small group setting, whether the participants are believers, skeptics, doubters, or any combination of those interested in seeking a greater understanding of Jesus and His life. This is one I will keep in my library.
You can purchase Dickson’s “Life of Jesus Pack: Who He Is and Why He Matters” through the Colson Book Store. Purchases help financially support this ministry.