We Don't Really Understand JesusWe just pretend to
A few months ago, I conducted a survey of people on Facebook. I didn't ask questions about the entire Bible, but only the life of Jesus. I wanted to see how much people really knew about Jesus and his background.
I asked them 10 questions, such as "How many siblings did Jesus have," "Why did Jesus call himself the 'Son of Man'", "Which town did Jesus live in", etc. The average score for the people was 37%. This test was evenly distributed between male and female, and the age and racial mix was proportional to the population.
America has been flooded with Christianity since the first European settlers arrived. Today we have churches on every corner. I can find a dozen churches within a half-mile radius of my house. Everyone has a Bible somewhere in the house. We have federal holidays commemorating the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can turn on the TV and have multiple options for Christian programming. We can turn on the radio and instantly find Christian music.
On a multiple-choice test. (By the way, most of the participants were Christians.)
And that's not a Bible test; the Bible is a big book. No, it's a Jesus test. The same Jesus many of us pray to. That means that 63% of what we think we know about Jesus is wrong. We are more likely to be wrong about Jesus than right.
This tells me that people are only answering according to what they heard, not what they know. If I had a close friend who gave me information about him (his life, his family, his motives, etc,) and I couldn't answer 60 or 70% of his questions correctly, wouldn't he be right to question if I was really his friend at all? It would reveal a shallowness in our friendship.
So when Jesus talks about the judgment, is it any surprise when he says, "Many will say to me, 'Lord, we ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.' And I will answer, 'I don't know you... Depart from me!'"
What we are dealing with in America today is called Biblical Illiteracy. If you've ever heard of Computer Illiteracy, you would think of someone fumbling around on the computer, clicking all the wrong things, messing up the computer's files, constantly asking what this thing does, and becoming frustrated when websites are slow to load... only to find out that they didn't press Enter.
Biblical Illiteracy is also a problem, but it doesn't get a lot of attention because there are no visible consequences for not knowing the Bible. Not knowing computers might cost you a job. Not knowing the Bible, though, does have real-world consequences, on top of eternal ones:
- Misinformed Christians may advocate for or against policies that cause harm to people, while thinking they did the right thing.
- Non-religious people may lash out at the Christians for doing harm to them, and be less receptive to the Gospel, unaware that the Christians misunderstood the Bible.
- Non-Christians may themselves misinterpret the Bible in their attempt to repudiate Christians.
- New Christians may misinterpret the Bible and misapply it, causing avoidable problems in their lives.
- Misinformed Christians may fail to properly balance some scriptures with others. Those other scriptures might counterbalance the first ones, and might provide necessary context or nuance.
- Worst of all, the mass-majority of people will be hopelessly unprepared to stand in front of Jesus to be judged. "I don't know you, depart from me" is a phrase he will frequently say, and a lot of Christians will hear it, too.
We must understand that knowing Jesus is critically important. But how can we know Jesus better and understand God better when we're busy with the issues of life from day to day? How can someone understand God and not have to give up their life and become a theologian or a monk?
I've Got a SolutionAnd you can't find anything like it anywhere else
There are lots of books about Jesus. LOTS of 'em. So why is this book special?
When I look around at the Christian books available on the life of Jesus, I still feel like something's missing...
Those books offer valuable information and insight into the life and world of Jesus. I won't deny that. But I also find myself asking, "Where's the rest of it?" I feel like there's more that's not being said, and I'm not the only one that feels this way. Christian readers also have this hunger.
What I mean is, the Christian books on the market now do not do a thorough enough job of presenting Jesus to people. I position my book as the "one-stop-shop" for Introductions to Jesus. I mentioned how I wrote The Novel Gospel with the Chinese audience in mind, thinking this book may be their one time significantly interacting with Jesus.
But I also thought, "Since they don't know much of anything about Jesus, how could I best introduce them to Jesus, as if for the first time?" Thinking back to my Christian experience, I lacked that comprehensive resource. But I eventually pieced it all together. Perhaps you had a similar experience.
Here are the different types of Christian books and resources I've seen on the market. Each serves its own purpose, but I didn't find that one-stop-shop. So I had to create it.
|The Novel Gospel||Group Bible Study Tools||Jesus Narratives||Inspirationals/ Testimonials||Commentaries||Devotionals|
|Easy to Read||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Maybe||Yes|
The current Christian books on the market suffer from these trade-offs:
- In order to be readable and brief, some stories of Jesus' life are abbreviated, or only a few key stories are selected, leaving off a great deal of his teachings (which may or may not be subject to the author's personal biases, which we all have). So readers wind up knowing only one aspect of an issue, not knowing that Jesus had more to teach them about that subject.
- In order to be objective study tools, some commentaries omit the author's personal life experiences that illustrate the essence of the doctrine their trying to teach. This leaves people in avoidable confusion about how practical that Scripture is in their lives today. They may walk away discouraged about living the Christian life, because it seems too hard, because they don't see an example.
- In order to drive home a life lesson, some books rely too much on personal experience, and do not adequately justify them in the Scriptures, leaving people inspired, but potentially misinformed about the context of a Scripture. They may misapply a Scripture in their lives, and do harm to themselves or others.
- In order to be scholarly and accurate, some commentaries weigh readers down with citations and side-info that break up the flow of reading. This makes the books inaccessible to the average reader, when in all honesty, the book could've been written in an easy-to-understand manner, and the average reader would've been able to follow.
All-in-all, while I draw a great deal of wisdom from these books, they each have their shortcomings. The Novel Gospel is not flawless. It's long. It's interesting, but it will require a time investment to get through it. If that's not your cup of tea, I recommend you get the Audio Version. (I recommend the Audio Version regardless; it's easy to share with loved ones.)
In this book, I employ the "NIX Model" to explain Jesus to readers. And as I go through the life of Jesus, combining all 4 Gospels into one chronological story, I will walk you through the story of Jesus as he peels back the curtain on his identity. How do you think you would have responded to him if you were a 1st Century Palestinian Jew? You'll find out.
The NIX Model
N - Narrative. The full story of Jesus is given in a chronological format, since that is the way we Westerners think. The narrative is complete, and I left no story of Jesus out of the book. You'll see everything he did and read everything he said. No biased omissions.
I - Interpretation. The scholarly work of interpreting what Jesus said and did is a constant area for growth. No one has all the answers. But the answers that I've come across will be given. I don't just get my interpretation from the Bible, but also from outside the Bible, like the language, the culture, the history, the geography. I have found that when I understand the outside of the Bible, it helps me better understand the inside of the Bible.
X - Experience. Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, going to a private college in West Michigan, and living deep in the heart of the People's Republic, I have seen the hand of God on my life, and those experiences are affirmed by what God has said in the Scriptures. I would be robbing you of the ability to connect the dots if I didn't open up and share the life God has given me.
So in offering The Novel Gospel to you, I am hoping to radically transform your life by really reaching through the pages, heart to heart. Below, you'll find three categories with specified information for you, and why getting this free ebook should be a no-brainer.
Which Category Best Fits You?
Newcomers and the Inexperienced
I want to prep you for the Christian life, and give you the insight you need to make an impact for God's Kingdom. So I wrote The Novel Gospel to teach you the details of what Jesus is like, and why we should model ourselves after him. In the military, new recruits go through boot camp. It is not a long, slow process; it's quick-hitting, and it's hard, both physically and emotionally.
I'll be blunt: The sad truth is most people will go to Hell, not Heaven. Don't believe me? It came straight from Jesus' mouth. So I don't want you to think that blending into a crowd of churchgoers will be enough to get into Heaven.
I need you to be real and committed to following God. And if you want to follow God and get out into the world and impact it for God's Kingdom, I need you to know the most important things about God and the Bible. Click on the tabs below to get the specific information about Jesus and the Bible, and how The Novel Gospel addresses your needs as a newcomer to the faith.
Since The Novel Gospel takes a chronological approach to the story of Jesus, this opened up some new opportunities to tell the story of Jesus in a unique way. Here's what I mean:
- I had to combine the stories and sayings of Jesus into one full story. And since there are 4 Gospel accounts of his life, I had to sift through them and organize them so that their events lined up nicely. It's not a perfect work, but I believe I have captured 95% of everything Jesus ever said or did in one neat package. And because of that, I can now walk you through the life of Jesus as he slowly reveals himself to his disciples and the Jewish people. This gives you the opportunity to react to Jesus in real time, just like the Jews of his day. Would you have believed in him if you were seeing him in the flesh? Find out.
- I didn't stop at the Gospel accounts. You see, Jesus lives forever, and was there at the creation of the world. And after his resurrection, he ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God. What do you think that scene was like? And what do you think he has planned for the world that he just redeemed? What's he doing right now? We're going to cover all of that in The Novel Gospel.
- Not only am I going to give you the story in an easy-to-read format, I'm also going to explain the world around Jesus. We're going to explore the geopolitics of his region at the time, so that we can get a full picture of the life of Christ. We will see the humanity of every major character in the life of Jesus, so that we can also see ourselves, and make the necessary changes in our lives. And we'll also explore the controversial statements Jesus made and why he said them. We're not going to leave any stones unturned.
Here's what you need to know about the Bible:
- It is not a single book, but a collection of writings from a 1500-year span, compiled into one book. The way its books are arranged in the Bible are according to subject, not according to chronology. All the books of Moses are in the first section; all the Gospel accounts of Jesus are in another section, and so on.
- Thinking of things chronologically is a Western concept. Of course, a beginning-to-end narrative existed long before Westerners placed it on a pedestal. But in other societies, it was just used to facilitate the story-telling process. A lot of Middle-Eastern stories have a circular pattern of starting at one point, going on a long journey, and coming back to the original point. Many narratives in the Bible, and the Bible as a whole, follow this pattern.
- The Bible is LONG. When I was young, I noticed that whenever I picked up a Bible, the pages were really thin. That's because there would be too many pages in the Bible for it to be comfortable to carry if the pages were as thick as normal books. Now, in the Bible, there are truckloads of information. Some of it is interesting, like the story of Gideon, but other parts are best left to geologists and historians, like genealogies (family bloodlines). Other parts have prophecy or poetry. Getting to the main story of Jesus would make you skip 2/3 of the entire Bible, and in that time, you will have passed over a lot of context and helpful information.
- I wrote The Novel Gospel to get you to the point of the Bible (Jesus), while also filling you in on the important backstory. My book will help you understand the Bible better, but I would never want anyone using my book as a substitute for the Bible. The Novel Gospel is your springboard to understanding the Bible better, but you have to put in the work of sitting at God's feet directly.
Evangelists and Longtime Believers
If you've been in church for a great length of time, I imagine there are times when you get a little bored and say, "I've heard this before." So what drives you to continue to grow? Do you still feel like you are growing? Is there really that much more to learn?
The typical answer to that question is, "Of course there is more for me to learn. God is unsearchable. I'll never stop learning about Him." But do we really believe that? Or is it just the "right" answer?
When is the last time a question has shaken you to your core? When is the last time you have questioned God? That discomfort you get when you question God is part of the growing process, when you can experience God in a new way.
By coming to China, I have been faced with more questions than I can count, and a couple have shaken me to the core. The questions went far beyond just curiosity about doctrine. Questions about God's inclusiveness, His definition of justice, these kinds of questions made me really have to think.
What I came to realize is that I had many of these same questions, too. But I just didn't zero in on them until I was confronted by my Chinese friend. I had an answer prepared, but it bounced off my friend like a ball. My answer was unsatisfactory.
As a longtime believer, you've surely had conversations with someone who wasn't convinced by your answers. These situations are frustrating and sometimes bewildering. So here is how The Novel Gospel is going to benefit you.
Not only is The Novel Gospel written in fresh, everyday language, but it's also written from an uncommon perspective: from a young, black man. It's not going to feel the same as many Christian books you pick up, and the information inside is going to come at the topic from a different angle. Note these differences:
- When an older white man speaks, the whole world is expected to listen; he's seen automatically as an authority figure. When a young black man speaks, he has to have some kind of force behind him to be heard or risk being disregarded. (I'm not assigning blame, but I'm saying this is modern reality.)
- Because white men are over-represented in the Christian book sphere, many people are accustomed to what most Christian books will say. The books become somewhat predictable. With a black writer, the perspective changes; black Christians tend to incorporate more experiences and testimonies than our white counterparts, and we speak from a position of comparative disadvantage. For instance, if you ask two people what it's like to live in Southern California, you're likely to get two very different answers if one is poor and another is rich.
- When a white person publishes a book in America, they don't have to fight especially hard for credibility. When a black person does it, they have to have an incredible experience to even get noticed, and then 'wow' the audience with his content, or risk being relegated to the Black/Urban section of the bookstore, effectively out of the conversation.
So needless to say, I've got something to prove in writing this book. But it's not just a black/white thing. Remember, there's a Chinese version of the book, and this book was originally meant for them.
In China, the government is run by the Communist Party, which is officially Atheist. You would be weeded out of the party if they found out you were religious. The government also tightly controls publication (and I myself must submit to their rules). As such, the society is taught to distrust religion. That doesn't stop everyone from believing in some kind of supernatural power, but they're probably much too busy trying to acquire wealth for themselves and their family.
What does this mean? It means my book might be the only religious book they pick up. So I've got to give them everything they need to know about God so that they can start to know Him and seek Him. (Bibles are tough to find.) But in America, most Christian books are published with the expectation that customers will read more than one book, as well as the Bible, because everyone's got one somewhere.
This means writers won't feel compelled to put everything they know in a given book. They know people will read a different book to supplement their knowledge if they are interested. But for me, this book is my one shot with China. So I can't hold anything back.
Since I can't hold anything back, I have to answer their underlying questions. And to do that, I needed more scholarly research. I needed to know the culture of Chinese people, as well as the culture of the Jewish people in the Bible. There is no room for hiding from people's pressing questions, nor was there any room for easy platitudes that don't really help anybody. The people are going to get the "raw Jesus".
And now you can get it, too. I'm going to give you insight you don't expect, and make the people feel more human, so that you can know how their faith (or lack thereof) impacts their life, and how your faith can impact yours.
With every question, there is really an underlying question. For instance, when I was in high school, my friends and I were seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We were convinced that Scripture clearly states that Christians will receive the Holy Spirit, with speaking in tongues as the evidence. So we prayed, and waited, and praised, and prayed some more.
When I didn't receive what I was looking for, I was confused why. I thought maybe I didn't understand the Scripture properly. I thought maybe there was some hindering sin in my life. So I cut them out as much as I could, and tried again to receive the Holy Spirit and the overpowering experience of speaking in tongues.
When a message was taught about speaking in tongues, one Chinese person asked plainly, "If we don't speak in tongues, are we going to Hell?" This one Chinese Christian just asked the central question I had been trying to figure out. He zeroed in on the key question in 30 minutes. But it took me 10 years to realize that this was my question all along.
In the Church, there is a culture. And within every culture, there are taboos and blind-spots. And that taboo for me was, "Don't question your salvation. You were saved by grace through faith. It's a gift from God."
I basically was not facing the central question, but the outer questions. With The Novel Gospel, I'm going to drill down to the central question as best as I can. No topic is off-limits. There are no sacred cows. There are no questions that we will avoid. And because of that approach, you're going to be stretched, and you will grow. This book is written from a faith perspective, so I will explain where my views come from. But there is value in the discomfort. I want you to embrace that. There is more yet to learn about your God.
Ever try giving a Bible to someone? Did you give them specific instructions on what the most helpful parts were? Have you ever worried that they might get confused and just put the book down forever? Are you concerned that by itself, the Bible isn't an ideal evangelism tool?
This is an issue that I faced also in my evangelism days in Chicago. I'd have to stock up on Gospel tracts that people actually wanted to take, I'd have to point out specific Scriptures that would help them understand God, and I often had to answer questions about the Bible.
And let's say that the person I talked to became a Christian, and they wanted to learn more about God. Of course they're going to read the Bible, but I was always concerned that they would get stuck on some hard part, or run into one too many boring parts and just give up.
The Novel Gospel is a tool you can use to empower your friend or family member to know the major things about God. But it doesn't stop there. I turned the four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) into one chronological story. All the teachings of Jesus are presented. All his actions, his healings, his ministry are given in detail, and to top it off, I also include commentary about the events of Jesus' life, so that every reader can be built up with all the knowledge they need to get started in their Christian walk.
I made the story chronological because I want you and your loved ones to experience Jesus as his disciples did. I want you to ask yourself what you would have said if you were with him as he was doing these things. (I'll admit, I would have been slower to believe in him, but the miracles would have eventually convinced me fully.)
When I included the commentary, I wanted to take time to explain the context and culture of what was happening in the Scripture. But I didn't want to stop there. I also wanted to add some color to the picture by including personal experiences that illustrate how I experienced God in His words. People need to know that the Word of God is alive, and that God's words affect us today. They also need to see that even we Christians have questions and difficulties following Jesus.
Lastly, The Novel Gospel helps readers establish a new way of life. A worldview is upheld by multiple assumptions and beliefs. When one leg is knocked out, it still stands. But if all legs are knocked out, the worldview collapses. This is why Atheists and religious people are so frustrated when debating each other, because they work so hard to take out just one leg, neglecting the others.
If I'm going to approach a nonbeliever and tell them about Jesus, I also have to tell them about a new way of life to replace the one they would be letting go. It's dangerous to destroy someone's worldview without effectively building back a new one. The Novel Gospel helps reader build that new worldview.
Truth-Seekers and the Curious
Confusion is one thing that I have observed both in America and in China when it comes to faith. And there are lots of questions people have about God. Some have questions that would honestly push them to either believe or reject the concept of God. Others have already rejected Him for reasons only they can articulate. Still others would follow God by default, but for their own reasons have not decided to follow Him yet.
In reality, there are three types of Skeptics:
- People who believe in their mind, but don't follow God in their daily life
- People who are very turned off by religion, and perhaps hostile to it
- People who have lots of unresolved questions, and won't decide until they get answers
The Novel Gospel's approach is different. I understand that you have concerns. So I wrote this book with you in mind. I don't just dump information on you. I weld together life experiences and alternative interpretations where appropriate to show that there is room for debate in some areas. For instance...
"2 Ayes, 2 Nays." Below is an example of beliefs that may or may not be prerequisites to being a Christian. This list just shows that we believers have questions, too. And maybe your seeing the debate may give you closure and clarity about your beliefs, too.
Required Beliefs: 1) Belief in the divinity of Jesus is a Scriptural requirement. 2) Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is also a Scriptural requirement.
Unrequired Beliefs: 1) Belief in a 6-day Creation is not required. 2) Belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible (specifically Genesis 1-12) is not required.
This group believes in Jesus by default, but for whatever reason does not follow him. I suppose they think they will get around to it one day, but not today. Or tomorrow. The Bible is pretty clear that this is a risky position and not worth the potential loss of eternal life. The Novel Gospel will show that it is both wise and beneficial to follow Jesus now, rather than to wait indefinitely.
But beyond that, I want to present Jesus in a different light than what most are accustomed to seeing. By seeing Jesus in that way, readers may find that they really didn't know the real Jesus, and may now want to follow him for the rest of their lives.
This group has really been burned by religion, or has likely seen the terrible actions taken in the name of religion. That pain and frustration is real, and many times warranted. Ask any Muslim who is disgusted by terrorism being done in the name of Islam. When you know that the actions of a few may reflect poorly on the many, one of the most helpful things people will try to do is show the true nature of their belief system.
In The Novel Gospel, I want those who are hostile to religion or to the Bible, or to Jesus directly, to have a chance to see Jesus from a different angle. Perhaps my experience as a young black man has influenced my views, and that may affect how God comes across in my book. One criticism I make of the Christian publishing industry is that too often, the voices of older white men drown out the voices of other demographics of Christians, whose voices need to be heard. In those different voices, you can hear something you never knew about God.
So my request is simple: If you're part of this group, I welcome you to hear me out. And I welcome your input also. No judgment, no anger. Just an honest conversation.
For instance: Why does evil exist if God is good? Is there any real proof of God's existence? Was the world really created in 6 days? Why does God send people to Hell? Why were human beings created?
In short, I want to help you connect the dots and see that faith in God does not require you to stop asking questions. Rather, the honest questions help you see and understand God more.