Friday, November 9, 2012

Jesus a Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

So why another biography of Jesus? This one is different. The authors call his book a theography. They tell the story of God's interaction with humanity through the life of Jesus. They do not write about the details of Jesus' life. They write about the narratives, symbols, metaphors, and signs that are pictures of God touching humanity through Jesus.
Sweet and Viola believe all sixty-six books of the Bible are woven together by a story line – the story of Jesus Christ. So their theography begins with creation and ends with the consummation. They suggest that reading the Bible through a christological lens changes the way we see and approach the entire Bible.

The authors use a great deal of symbolism in this book. Some of it, I think, is be beyond normal literary use. They write, “Jesus refers to Himself as a bird.” (26) The reference is Luke 13:34, “ often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings...” I think the simile is gathering and protecting, not that Jesus is likening Himself to a chicken!

They frequently have uncommon interpretations of Scripture (at least ones I've never heard before). They say Eve was formed on the eighth day. They then relate Eve to the church (as Adam prefigured Jesus). She is a new creation. She came out of Adam, as the church came out of Christ.
The garden of Eden is compared to the temple of Israel, with much imagery related. They have relied heavily on Hebrew tradition for this, “ the Hebrew tradition the temple and the garden are different ways of talking about the same reality.” (207)
They suggest that Canaan (the Promised Land) does not represent heaven but the kingdom of God (warfare required).

The section I found the oddest was that on stones as metaphors. They list several places where stones were used, the first: “to guard the entrance to the garden of Eden: a stone.” (79) They then relate that to the resurrection account. “When Mary found the empty tomb in the garden, she found the stone had been rolled away (metaphorically, the stone guarding the garden of Eden)...” (83) They list no footnote so where they got this idea is beyond me. Later, they write, “In Genesis God told Cain that a sin offering would be placed at the door of the garden.” (83) The footnote is to Gen. 4:7. They must be reading a Bible vastly different from any I have. Mine says “sin is crouching at your door” and nothing about the door of the garden. (NIV)
And then something else that just seems beyond normal was the short section on aroma. “The psalmist said that God can smell a proud person from a long way away: 'The proud He knows from afar,'” (232) The reference is Psalm 138:6. The NIV says He “sees them from afar” and says absolutely nothing about smell.

The authors include a great deal of conjecture and imagining. They imagine all the things Jesus remembered while carrying the cross (pp. 234-236). To me, that is the height of presumption and arrogance, to think they know what was in the mind of Jesus during that time. The very idea of a human putting thoughts into the mind of Jesus makes me tremble.

Ultimately, I had trouble with this book. I thought the initial idea, that the entire bible was Jesus' story, was great. But as I read through the book, there were just too many odd ideas, too many conjectures, too many connections imagined in the minds of the authors where none appears on the surface. I didn't like their relying so much on Hebrew tradition, as if non-biblical Hebrew writers were as inspired as the writers of the Old Testament. I don't think Hebrew tradition should carry the same weight as the biblical text.

But I do like their conclusion: “In short, the message of the gospel is this: Jesus Christ is Lord (world ruler), Savior, the fulfillment of the entire First Testament (including the Adamic commission, the prophets, the priests, the kings, the sages, the temple, the sacrifices, the land, the Law, the promises, and the entire story of Israel), and the Resurrection and the Life.” (307)
I just wish they had done a better job of presenting the evidence for their conclusion.

To read a free sample chapter, go to (Offer ends Dec. 31, 2012.)

Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University (NJ) and Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Fox University (OR). He contributes to online resources and is rated highly influential in the world of social media. He has written numerous articles and more than fifty books. See more

Frank Viola is a popular conference speaker and the best-seller author of numerous books. He also writes a popular blog. See more at and

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 419 pages (including 83 pages of footnotes).

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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