The varieties of religious experience -
JESUS CHRIST: THE JESUS OF HISTORY, THE CHRIST FAITH BY J.R. Porter Oxford University 240pp.
With impeccable millennial timing, Oxford University Press has produced a handsome, valuable, and thoroughly accessible new book, "Jesus Christ: The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith."
Its splendid art reproductions and text by J.R. Porter are a trenchant reminder, if any is needed, of the immense impact of one life on 2,000 years of religious and cultural history - the carpenter of Nazareth become "Christ Pantocrator, ruler and redeemer of the universe."
It would almost be enough to own this book just for its visual content. The quality of some of the images, especially the mosaics, is good enough to spark a pilgrimage to see the originals. This is no coffee-table book, however. What will ultimately sustain a reader's interest is Porter's engaging text.
Jesus' story has no equivalent in human history, but, Porter notes, he "is a figure seen through the eyes of the early Church." All our information is filtered through people who never had direct contact with him. And, adds Porter, their "view of his significance was, crucially, shaped by their belief in his physical resurrection."
At the end of the 20th century, fresh controversy has surfaced around the question, "Who really was Jesus?" How accurate are the four New Testament gospels? Can we look to them for reliable information about either the Jesus of history or the Christ of faith? Porter's response seems to be, Let's put everything on the table that the gospels, history, and modern scholarship have to say about Jesus - and then take stock.
Wisely, Porter has grounded the entire presentation in the content of the gospels. "One of the most assured results of modern New Testament scholarship," he writes, "is that the evangelists provide virtually all that we know about Jesus, and that therefore we can approach him in no other way than through the gospels."