Every Sunday Christians attend worship. They pray to God, invoke the name of Jesus, offer their praise and prayer, and many break the bread of the Eucharist which is often referred to as the Last Supper. However, I bet most Christians do not have the foggiest idea that Christians long ago actually fought about who Jesus was. Yes, you heard correctly. There were debates, divisions, political wars, and blood spilled over the nature of Jesus and his ministry.
If you want to learn more about this intriguing part of Church History than look no further than Philip Jenkin's latest book, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 Years (Harper One, 2010).
Jenkins is a full time professor at Penn State University and the author of numerous books on Christian history and culture. His writings and essays have also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe.
Jesus Wars is written with a historians eye for detail and in the vein of a good story, after all, Church history is filled with intrigue, wars, debates, and arguments. Jenkins offers his readers insight into the history that led up to the great Jesus debates of the fourth can fifth century, namely: Nicea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. The book is woven around the basic theme which opens the book, a phrase from the gospels as Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"Was Jesus just a human being who had a divine vocation? Was he a "super human" with super natural powers? Was he solely divine who appeared to be human? Who was this Jesus anyway?
Since Jenkins is a Church historian his many years of teaching students provides him with the many questions that people have on their minds. He has a fine writing style and like a good teacher you feel like he is talking right to you, a trait which I wish all writers had!!
However, while reading Jesus Wars I kept asking myself, so what? Much of what Jenkins offers is already located in various Church history books. I didn't find much new in this book, other than the fact that Jenkins brings ancient texts to new light. Perhaps this is why Jesus Wars is so important, not for the fact that Jenkins is offering some new theories or ideas about Jesus but that he sheds light on the ancient Jesus debates and the various fights between bishops and emperors and between countries and nations.
When I finished this book I realized that the Jesus debates have not stopped, they are as fresh as ever. Christians across the globe are still arguing and fighting for the "correct" understanding of Jesus.
The statement that Jenkins uses to open the book is asked of us today, "who do you say that I am?"
What would you answer?