Book Note: Robbins' 'Who Do People Say I Am?' @eerdmansbooks

Vernon K. Robbins, Who Do People Say I Am? Rewriting Gospel in Emerging Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). (Amazon.com)

If you are searching for a book that introduces gospel literature, canonized and non-canonized, so that the relationship from one presentation of Jesus to another is made evident, this is the book. Vernon K. Robbins' Who Do People Say I Am? argues that, "As the portrayals of Jesus in the Gospels grew, early Christians blended concepts together in ways that created new, emergent structures for thinking and talking about Jesus." (5) Over the course of an introduction, a conclusion, and twelve crisply written chapters Robbins helps the reader to see "hear" the conversation between early Christians as they attempt to answer a question that is attributed to Jesus: "Who do people say that I am?"

People say many different things. We receive a variety of Jesuses from the early Jesus Movement/Christianity. In chapters 1-2 (for full chapter listings visit the Google Preview) Robbins examines themes from Q, most specifically Jesus as a coming figure, associated with John the Baptist, preaching the Kingdom of God, and engaging in table fellowship with "sinner" as well as the enigmatic title "Son of Man" and what this tells us about early interpretations of Jesus. Chapter 3-5 present the Jesus of the Synoptics: a suffering messiah figure; a gospel Torah, neo-Moses; a spirit-anointed prophet. In Chapter 6 the exploration of the Gospel of John centers on what has come to be called the "Eucharist" ritual and how this gospel complicates our understanding of it with Jesus' self-identity as bread, his claims that spirit gives life while flesh does not, and the institution of a foot-washing ritual rather than a meal.

In chapters 7-12 Robbins explores the Infancy Gospels of Thomas and James, the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, and Judas, and the Acts of John. Each piece of literature imports the gospel tradition into a new context. In doing so it attempts to address new questions and concerns. What is salvation? Did Jesus provide secret knowledge? How does Jesus relate to Israel's god and the Hebrew scriptures? If Jesus was a god how could he have a corruptible human body? Did  Jesus die on the cross or should we speak of two Jesuses? What was Jesus like as child? 

This book would serve as an excellent introductory text book to gospel literature. It can be used for undergraduates, seminarians, and in some church settings as well. I marveled at the ingenuity of early Christians as they attempt to rethink and represent Jesus in ways that allowed Jesus to be relevant to their context. This is done today. We have many Jesuses in books both scholarly and popular. We continue to revisit the "meaning" of Jesus as he relates to slavery, sexuality, feminism, war, economics, and so much more. We speak of how he'd feel and what he'd say about homosexuality, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and nomination of Mitt Romney for President, immigration policy, etc. Robbins' valuable work shows us that this goes back to the beginning. We have always been trying to figure out who Jesus is and what he would tell us in any given situation.

I received this book courtesy of Eerdmans in exchange for an unbiased review.