[BOOK REVIEW]: Banned Questions About Jesus | Christian Piatt
In Banned Questions about Jesus, Piatt and company seek to tackle some of the toughest, most “keep-you-awake-at-night questions” pertaining to Jesus.
The questions range from important theological queries of Jesus, his essence, and mission (“Why would God send Jesus as the sacrificial lamb?”) to idiosyncratic and slightly comical questions having to do with the more mundane or every day aspects of Jesus’ life (“Did [Jesus] have sexual fantasies and desires?”). The multiple answers to each question seemed to me to run the gamut of helpfulness, but though I at times found myself scribbling my own disagreements with respondents in the book’s margins, I suppose that was at least in part intended by the contributors. The questions and answers presented in Banned Questions about Jesus are meant to be wrestled with.
A great strength of Banned Questions is its “round table” format. The book is comprised of fifty ‘banned’ questions and each question is treated by a handful of contributors. There is typical overlap between responses to a given question, and this is to be expected (for, how many different answers can be given for a question about the Shroud of Turin? Everyone agrees it’s a fake!), but the real strength of the format is shown when the answers to a given question differ.
One example of this is found in the answers to “Why did Jesus cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (49-53). In the four responses, readers are confronted with multiple interpretive options to choose from: perhaps Jesus’ words are meant to give strength to Christians who feel abandoned by God; perhaps God, in Christ, really died on the cross; or maybe the whole thing serves a higher literary and theological function. In emphasizing the plural nature of interpretation in our postmodern world, as those answers exemplify, the contributors to Banned Questions have done their readers a great service. In many cases, there is not simply one answer for what to do with a given biblical text or theological issue; instead, there are many options on the table, and Banned Questions quite often highlights this plurality.
The options presented in the book to various questions range from quite persuasive and helpful to the unpersuasive and at times bizarre. But, just as the world often presents a cacophony of competing voices on a given subject, some of which clarify while others muddy, likewise do the answers in this book present both clarifying and muddying answers—and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Readers will not always come away from questions feeling as though the issues have been finally and fully resolved, but they will walk away knowing that there are different, perhaps even new, ways of talking about the issue available.
Banned Questions about Jesus serves as a good entry point into all sorts of Christological issues, and works well as an example of how such discussion should happen: openly, honestly, and in the round. I would recommend this book be read in small groups to further facilitate the discussions that Banned Questions about Jesus really only begins to open up. Christian Piatt and his panel of responders should be commended for beginning discussion(s) and presenting a mostly helpful in-road towards answering the “banned” and taboo questions that concern the central object of Christian faith, Jesus Christ.
Reviewed by Daniel M. Yencich for the Engelwood Review of Books.
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