This review is done in participation with a Zondervan blog tour. Thanks to Zondervan for providing me with a copy of Michael Williams’ book How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens.

When I first heard about this book I was a bit hesitant about it. Let me tell you briefly why. During the Love Wins fiasco I was reading a book by Sharon Baker called Razing Hell. In that book she encourages readers to read the Bible through “the Jesus lens.” (59-60) Baker notes that when Jesus was reading the Scripture in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-21) he did not finish the quote from Isaiah 61:1-2. The part he left out was “and the day of vengeance of our God.” This, she observes, is a significant omission because it demonstrates that Jesus wanted to read the Bible through “the lens of peace and redemption rather than violence and vengeance.” (59) This “’Jesus lens’ helps us see that God in Christ interrupted the cycle of violence with divine love, seeking to reconcile and restore rather than punish and retaliate.” (60) The Old Testament is a substandard ethic when compared to the way of Jesus. Jesus shows us a better way. It is through this lens that we should rethink “everything you’ve been taught about God’s wrath and judgment.” (The subtitle of Baker’s book)

So when I heard about Williams’ book I was cautious about what it would say.  My concerns were quickly alleviated as I read Williams’ book. Williams and Baker are miles apart. The intent of Williams is not to drive a wedge between the Old Testament and New Testament but to rather help the reader see the “overarching theme of each book” and how this theme finds its ultimate focus in Jesus Christ. (10)

The layout of the book is fairly simple. Williams offers the theme of each book of the Bible, a memory passage, a brief analysis of the book through the Jesus lens, some contemporary implications and he concludes with some “hook” questions for further discussion. I was asked by Zondervan to pick a book or set of books to focus on for this review. My choice was Joshua – 2 Chronicles. I will start with some general observations and then offer some individual assessments of the particular books I chose for review.

My first impression was that the discussion of the Biblical books was far too brief. After some thought I realized that if they were much longer it would probably not be as user friendly and the more intimidated a person is by the size of the book the less it will sell. The discussions are not meant to be commentaries but rather brief introductions to the general theme of the book and on that level that are very well done. The theme for Joshua, for example, is “God uses Joshua to lead his people to victorious rest in the Promised Land.” (33) This is helpful because the reader is advised to understand the book as it stands on its own within the Biblical canon. Each book has a theme which is independent of the Jesus lens which should be appreciated by readers. Too often I think readers of the Bible don’t see any value in some Old Testament books unless we see how Jesus is in it. Thus we end up with some contorted symbolisms for each piece of the tabernacle as a representation of Jesus.  And while we don’t find that sort of thing in this book I’m afraid it may nurture some of that mentality. Reading Joshua through the Jesus lens we find Williams observing that Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua and that, like Joshua, Jesus fights “alongside his people and is himself the God who brings them ultimate victory.” (34) Also, “just as ultimate rest for the Israelites involved real struggle on their part, so ultimate rest for believers today involves struggle.” (35) In Judges we find the Jesus lens teaches us that the deliverers that God raised up were flawed and temporary but the ultimate deliverer, Jesus Christ, “has no flaws” and “his rescue of those who believe in him is complete and everlasting.” (39) In Ruth we find that God provided a redeemer for Naomi and through the ancestry of this redeemer we will find the redeemer “for all those whom God adopts into his own family.” (43) From 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles we find Jesus as our exalted king “who allowed himself to be overpowered by early rulers” but who now has authority over heaven and earth.  This same son was exiled from the Father’s love while on the cross and in so paid the price for our sins. But as the exiles were provided with hope for a return to the land so we too have hope and the possibility of a deeper relationship with him because of his supreme kingship.

This quick sketch shows the potential for this book as an aid in a small group study or for a devotional reading of the Scriptures with Jesus as the ultimate focus. I have, however, just a couple of concerns. The Jesus lens interpretations that Williams offers are done reading the book as a whole. How do we take this to the next step down? Is the story of David and Goliath read through the Jesus lens mean something like Jesus conquers the Goliath’s in our lives? In other words what interpretive rules should we employ in determining how to read a passage through the Jesus lens? At times it appears to be simply a theological construct based on some imaginative connections between the OT story and Jesus. Is there a right and wrong Jesus lens? I think the book could have been immensely more helpful with a chapter addressing some of these kinds of questions.  I want to know what grounds these kinds of interpretations so that they don’t become nothing more than the creations of my own imagination.  Perhaps it is my own jaded past but I’ve seen abuses of the Biblical text all in the name of finding Jesus. I applaud this effort by Williams to offer some sanity to this kind of endeavor but as a “guide to Christ-focused reading of Scripture” I am less than satisfied.