May 5, 2015

Closer Look

62 1 7
Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, His Message, His Passion (2 volumes)

William G. Johnsson, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, Maryland, and Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, 2015; 151 pages, volume 1; 194 pages, volume 2; US$14.99 for set; softcover.

But for the fact that William Johnsson met the Subject of this two-volume formidable study as a teenager, and has remained faithful to Him for more than six decades—teaching, preaching, writing, and living Him—his writing ease and style may have taken him to a place among New York Times best-selling novelists.

As an accomplished, polished, prose-in-poetry writer, Johnsson, a longtime former editor of
Adventist Review, turns his personal commitment to Jesus and his scholarly pursuit in New Testament theology into this easy-to-read, perceptive, powerful, and persuasive history of the life and work of the greatest Man who ever walked on this earth. Sorry, not just the Man, but God who became man.

Johnsson’s prologue sets the tone of his work: “Jesus. All our hopes, for this world and the next, center in Him. Our best joys, our highest aspirations, our cleanest motivations, spring from Him. Every other name will pass away; His, never” (vol. 1, p. xiii).

The conclusion offers a confession and a question: “The story goes on. . . . The story has no end, can have no end. . . . The question that faces each of us . . . is this: Am I part of that story?” (vol. 2, p. 193).

The transition from that confession to that challenging question occupies the author for nearly 350 pages. Johnsson does not hesitate to raise hard questions: Is Jesus real—His birth, crucifixion, resurrection? Are the Gospels reliable? Is He what He claimed to be—sent by the Father to accomplish the mission of the Father? Is Jesus the Man for all people and for all time? If so, why is He misunderstood or misinterpreted in the course of history? Why should His demands be so absolute—everything or nothing at all? Why is He the world’s greatest teacher and only hope for fallen humanity? These and many more questions are dealt with clearly, honestly, and perceptively, presenting the reader a convincing mosaic from history, archaeology, and, above all, the Gospels.

The four Gospels form the bedrock of Johnsson’s study. The second volume on the teachings of Jesus is a gold mine for evangelists and pastors who want to preach on the great verities of the gospel: What did Jesus teach about God, Himself, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of heaven, grace, discipleship, the Sabbath, eschatology, prayer, power, sex, and money? Each discussion is a moving message that unravels both the mystery and wonder of the good news that He is and that He brought to ensure human redemption.

That central theme—Jesus
is the Savior of the world—remains the core message of the book. One will be poor for not reading it, and poorer still for not being part of the story of Jesus.

John Fowler, former associate director of the General Conference Education Department, is currently an editor-at-large for Adventist Review/Adventist World magazines. 

62 2 3I AM THEY

The banjo strummed, Stephanie Kulla sang, and I was sold. In a world of reverb-soaked guitars and often-bordering-on-maudlin emotional melodies and lyrics, I Am They broke through the homogenous sound of modern worship music with a joyfully unignorable sound like, well, like a banjo.

Here are three reasons you should check out
I Am They, a six-member Christian contemporary group that caught my attention and held it through a whole album:

Singable without sacrificing content. These songs work well in a worship service or around a campfire. And with lines like “You brought me to the desert, so You could be my water,” this is not the word salad of some worship songs.

Very fresh sound. Sure, I love reverb-soaked guitars and think that themes like the cross of Christ deserve all the emotion we can muster when we sing in church. But the acoustic guitar, banjo, bass drum, and tight three-part harmonies of these songs are a fresh addition to the existing songs already used in churches today.

Joyful music. The album’s more reflective songs will inspire you. But here too is modern worship music that made me feel truly joyful. Maybe it’s the banjo, but every time I listen I want to be singing it in church with gusto. For me, the album’s best is track 5, “The King of Love,” a modern rendition of the classic hymn. Even if you buy only this one track on iTunes, I will have rendered you a worthy service by bringing it to your attention. Tune in at iamthey, and happy listening!

Jeffrey Carlson is chaplain of Auburn Adventist Academy and worship pastor of Fletcher Seventh-day Adventist Church, Fletcher, North Carolina, United States.