Like a few other NT scholars, I am participating in a blog tour of Bruce Fisk’s new book, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jesus: Reading the Gospels on the Ground (Baker Academic, 2011). There’s even a “hub” site for the tour. I’m grateful to Baker for the copy of the book and the invitation to participate.
So here are some thoughts about the book.
First of all, Fisk has produced a fun book; it feels real, alive, current without being over the top. It’s written in the form of a journal about “Norm’s” trip to the Holy Land to find Jesus and keep his faith intact.
Second, there is serious scholarship here. The extended journal entries are interspersed with email correspondence with the professor who first challenged Norm’s simplistic understandings, attractive sidebars with significant quotes from key scholars and others, and tables–many tables–showing the similarities and/or differences between this account of Jesus and another or between some aspect of Jesus and a parallel scriptural or extra-scriptural source. The correspondence is often like the outline of a lecture, and the tables like classroom handouts. All of this works for the serious reader/student, even though it’s probably too much for someone who thought they were getting a fun and friendly overview of Jesus and the “Holy Land.” It is more like an intro to Jesus and the Gospels text–deceivingly simple in its format, quite thorough in its treatment of the key issues. From John the Baptist to the resurrection of Jesus, most every topic of significance is addressed.
Third, although Fisk has a leaning, even a sub-textual agenda, there are no easy answers here. “Norm” is not naive, and he is open to hearing even the most radical Gospel criticism, but he can also offer his own come-backs. Under and in the voice, and experience, of Norm we hear a voice that says, “Inquiry is ultimately good for faith, and yet historical investigation has its limits, both in what it can tell us and in how it ‘improves’ our understanding of the narrated Jesus of the Gospels.”
At the end of the book, Norm seems content to have better understood the issues, the dissimilarities and tensions, and is able to rest in the splendor of a many-faceted Jesus who cannot be fully understood or pinned down, yet whose presence in the world continues in people and communities that have been shaped by his story.
So how might one use this book? I suppose it would work well in a course on Jesus, or the Gospels, or NT intro, if not as the main book on Jesus and the Gospels, certainly as a good supplemental text. It makes the key issues come to life, both because they are addressed honestly and because they are addressed “on the ground.” (As a frequent leader of study tours, I am all for on-the-groundness in biblical studies.) The book would also be good reading for anyone seriously struggling with critical questions about Jesus and the Gospels, and it might be a good antidote for those who have had a radical introduction to the subject that seems to leave no place for faith.
Finally, a word about and to Bruce Fisk (whom I do not know personally): as others have said, you make many of us wish we had written this kind of book, yet it seems to me that only someone who had had such a journey could actually do it. Well done!