Two Books to Prepare You for Easter

February 24th, 2011

Does Good Friday get forgotten? 24 Hours that Changed the World and The Jesus Inquest: The Case for and Against the Resurrection of the Christ focus on the events of Christ's last day and will challenge and inspire individuals and small groups alike.

24 Hours That Changed the World

Reviewed by Shane Raynor

Kansas pastor Adam Hamilton provides yet another well-researched multi-purpose piece for the local congregation, 24 Hours That Changed the World (Abingdon Press). In this book (and related DVD study and devotional book), he brings his moderate evangelical perspective to Holy Week, more specifically, the last day in the life of Jesus. The book actually takes readers from Thursday through Sunday, but the focus is indeed on the time leading up to the Crucifixion.

The copy on the back cover encourages readers to experience the final events of Jesus along with him, and 24 Hours certainly offers that. Hamilton pulls this off with a good balance of background information, commentary on the biblical text itself, and just enough questions to nudge readers to participate in this experience with him. And the questions really do make you think. Some of them even get personal. For example, when Jesus is arrested, Hamilton asks readers whether or not they think Judas ultimately receives forgiveness for his betrayal. I imagine some lively small group discussions will be triggered by that question alone.

Adam weaves in his travel experiences to the Holy Land, often to great effect. His description of walking on the stairs from lower Jerusalem to upper Jerusalem barefoot (the same stairs Jesus walked on) really stuck with me. His account of hearing a rooster crow while sitting on the Mount of Olives thinking about Peter's denial of Christ also painted a vivid mental picture for me as I was reading. The companion DVD (sold separately) featuring Adam on-location in Jerusalem provides supplementary videos for study groups wanting to follow Christ's footsteps and experience accounts from the book visually. (Videos are also part of the new Vook edition, an enhanced e-book.)

Hamilton is the king of "what if," and he asks some fascinating questions. For example, what if only two or three members of the seventy-one member Sanhedrin had spoken up and questioned whether putting Jesus to death was truly the right thing to do? I'm sure I've wondered that myself on some level, but 24 Hours sparked my imagination and had me thinking of how things would have been different had that been the case. And with the author, I too wondered whether I might have gone along with the Sanhedrin had I been in their situation. And along those lines, which prisoner would I have freed, Jesus or Barabbas? It's easy to make the right decision from our modern-day vantage point, but it might not have seemed so clear had we been the actual people in the Biblical accounts.  Hamilton makes readers imagine themselves as the characters in the stories, and he confronts them with some tough decisions.

In the chapter dealing with the torture and humiliation of Christ, Hamilton states what should be obvious to Christians but isn't pleasant to think about: There's something deeply wrong with us. And considering some of the atrocities of the 20th Century (and really modern examples like the torture that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison) we realize that the old Virginia Slims ad got it wrong. We haven't come a long way, baby. In fact, left unchecked, human beings are still capable of all kinds of evil.

With 24 Hours, Adam Hamilton continues to demonstrate why he has been successful in ministry at the Church of the Resurrection. His teaching is thoughtful, he engages Christians and seekers on both an intellectual and a spiritual level, and he shows why the Bible is relevant to 21st century believers. And like his previous books, this one will work well in congregations across the theological spectrum.


The Jesus Inquest

Reviewed by Eric Van Meter

Author Charles Foster puts the resurrection of Jesus on trial, examining a mountain of evidence from both Christian and non-Christian perspectives in The Jesus Inquest: The Case for and Against the Resurrection of the Christ (Thomas Nelson).

First published by Monarch books in the UK in 2006, The Jesus Inquest continues the arguments surrounding the New Testament’s historical accuracy that raged in the wake of The Da Vinci Code and The Jesus Family Tomb. Although a Christian himself, Foster puts the burden of proof on those who believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, and challenges them on several fronts.

Foster begins with questions about Jesus’ death and burial, questioning if Jesus actually died via crucifixion in the first place and, if he did, whether the unconventional burial depicted in the gospels is likely. He then moves to matters of the empty tomb. He points out the strange discrepancies in resurrection appearances recorded in the gospels, from the silence of Mark to the overtly theological stories of John. Finally, he discusses what the early Christians—particularly Paul—might have believed about bodily resurrection, and how those ideas developed.

With each topic, Foster divides the argument into two parts. First, the prosecutor “X” sets forth the case against traditional Christian belief, often citing inconsistencies in the gospels. “Y” then answers the charges. Both sides use the New Testament as a primary source, and both draw on well-known authors like Albert Schweitzer, N.T. Wright, and C.S. Lewis for help in making their case.

In the end, Foster sides with those who profess Jesus’ physical resurrection. The book’s epilogue states his opinions, although he ends with a reminder that each person has to determine the weight of evidence on his own.

With his background in law, medicine, and theology, Foster brings a tremendous amount of expertise to his subject. His book is thoroughly researched and carefully prepared, sprinkled with dry humor and shaped by his keen intellect.

As a balanced examination of questions surrounding the resurrection, however, The Jesus Inquest is limited by its own structure. The trial format allows the author to present a wide variety of doubts about Christian claims, but prevents him from following any one argument to completion. From the Christian side, the argument is just that: an argument. The defense of facts becomes a purely intellectual exercise, ignoring the practical aspects of a belief in resurrection.

Still, Foster’s organization of material does have an upside. He avoids, for the most part, the defensive tone that plagues some Christian apologists. Although he states his bias in the introduction, he does an admirable job of presenting the non-Christian view as forcibly as the format allows.

The Jesus Inquest will be a helpful read for those beginning to explore the last decade’s challenges to Christianity, or those who question the intellectual integrity of believing in the physical resurrection of Jesus. As for whether the book might actually convince someone to become a Christian, the jury is still out. But, given the author’s stated aims, the nudge toward more careful deliberation may be the best possible outcome.

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