‘Jesus A Theography’ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola: a book review

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it is only right to warn you not to read this book just prior to going to bed – here’s why:

I was very happy to receive my copy of Jesus a Theography from Amazon. I had pre-ordered it months before and was glad that it finally had arrived. I had read a previous collaboration by Sweet and Viola called Jesus Manifesto, an important book about restoring Christ to supremacy and sovereignty in the church, and I wanted to compare the two books. So, as is my habit, I set aside a half an hour to read before going to bed, and Jesus a Theography was the book of choice. Mistake. By the time I got to page 8 in the first chapter my heart was pounding so hard that I had to get up, go for a walk, pray, think, write and try to settle myself down. It was as though the book were digitalis, a medicine used to stimulate the heart.

How did this happen? Well, I was clearly unprepared for the power of the premise upon which Jesus a Theography is based, that being that Jesus is the subject of all scripture, not just the prophecies of the Old Testament, and 90% of the New Testament (which, by the way, the authors call The First and The Second Testaments). Viola and Sweet are not only referring to the typical Messianic texts and psalms in their book. Their intention is to show ”how the Jesus story recapitulates and replays major biblical dramas and narratives of the Hebrew scriptures,” and that, “ Jesus repeats, embodies, fulfills and completes the story of Israel in Himself.”  That is a thrilling point of view, and the cause of my pounding heart, I believe.  It is also one that requires scrupulous scholarship to present well. The authors state in the introduction, “..we are not writing this book for scholars but for the general Christian population. At the same time, we have provided endnotes for the benefit of scholars, academicians, and curious minds who wish to see the sources that have influenced some of our conclusions and delve into them deeper.” I appreciate all those endnotes, as I am among the curious. I also truly enjoyed the Appendix which lists The Post-Apostolic Witnesses, those who, in their body of work, have come to the same conclusion about Jesus and the scriptures as Sweet and Viola. These are old friends such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, Chrysostom, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, and Mears; and current teachers, preachers, philosophers and writers are also listed, including N.T. Wright, J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, John Piper and Norman Geisler, and many others.

More than the research and resources that support this book, I love the sheer beauty of the story of Christ Jesus as it appears in the pages of Jesus a Theography.  The book takes us from Christ Before Time to The Return of the King, featuring events of Christ’s life told with so much power and glory that there were times I had to cover my eyes and say with David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, I can’t take it in.”  Psalm 139:6

So, you are warned: be prepared to deal with a fully awakened and pounding heart when you read Jesus A Theography. But what a happy warning! For one whose heart has perhaps grown somewhat  slow and sluggish in a relationship with Christ, a little digitalis in the form of a book may be just exactly what the Great Physician ordered.

8 thoughts on “‘Jesus A Theography’ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola: a book review

  1. Digitalis–that’s so funny. But it really is amazing that the truth of Christ can be at the same time a simple story we grasped as children and also such a deep mystery that decades later different angles of light can continue to reveal additional facets! Is the book out on audio?

    • That is exactly what I was trying to say, Tracey! It’s as though I learned something completely new about a loved one, and it is so astonishing that it takes my breath away – which I am still trying to catch, by the way! I will read JAT again, I think, maybe next summer, and I will go through it a little more slowly. It is very worshipful. I didn’t see that the book is in an audio format; it is available through Kindle for $9.99, and in hardcover for $12 something. Thanks for reading the blog and commenting, Tracey!

  2. I just downloaded my copy of the book today and have been reading it for about 4 hours now. I found your blog out of curiosity. I was wondering who gets to be quoted in a book written by Sweet/Viola via a FaceBook posting? Interestingly, you live in Zimmerman and my wife and I live in Elk River. What’s more, I’ve spoken a few times at your church, albeit a dozen years or so ago. Blessings.

    • HI Curt ~ Thanks for visiting and commenting on the blog.I hope your reading of Jesus A Theography draws you closer to the One the book, and the Book, is about.
      I really don’t know why Dr Sweet quoted that Facebook posting. I have absolutley no credentials in anything related to theology; I am not an elder or a deacon in our fellowship. It is very true that Dr Sweet quotes a lot of people – thinkers, writers,artisits, pastors, techno geeks, farmers and regular folks; both the usual and the unusual suspects.
      I took a quick look at your blog, too, and really like your focus on the idea “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” I met a woman once who came to know the Lord later in life. After a couple of years of following Jesus, she realized that the ‘abundant life’ she had been waiting for was the life she was already living in Christ. She woke up one morning saying, “This is it! This is it!”
      My husband and I have been attending Bethel in Princeton for about 10 years,so I am sorry to say we missed getting to hear you speak when you visited.
      Thanks again for stopping by the blog.
      Great times ahead!
      Teri

    • HI Ben ~ Thank you for reading and commenting on the review of “Jesus A Theography”. One of the things that I forgot to mention in the review is how seamless the writing is; by that I mean that even though two people wrote the book, you will not be aware of that as you read. You might recognize Frank Viola’s writing style, or Leonard Sweet’s use of metaphor, but no time/space in the book is given to “I, Frank, say this…”or “I,Leonard,contend that…” The abscence of the “I” word added to the beauty of the book, to my way of thinking. Another reviewer (whose name I can’t find right now,or the link to her wonderfully written review would be included) said that “Jesus A Theography” is a book which causes one to worship the Lord Jesus; she is absolutely correct.
      Thanks again for stopping by the blog, Ben ~
      Great times ahead!
      Teri

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