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The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus

Drawing a clear line between what Christians want from faith and what God wants from us

By Sara Jewell

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?
By Peter J. Gomes
(HarperCollins) $28.95

“When Jesus came preaching, it was to disturb the status quo,” writes author Peter J. Gomes. This is the Harvard professor and minister’s third book in his The Good Book series, and his message is radical and transforming — though he claims it is not new. He provides example after example of how Christians modify the real message of the New Testament to suit their needs but expresses the hope that we will come to see it as a gospel of hope, not of fear.

Gomes draws a clear line between what we as Christians want from our faith and what God wants from us: “The commandment to love God means that we must love all whom God has made, even those different from ourselves, and disagreeable to us.”

In addressing our fear-based religion, he devotes an entire chapter to the effects of Sept. 11, 2001, and makes the claim that God would want us to be compassionate, not courageous. He also takes a strong stand against homophobia, stating more than once that divorce is more of a threat to marriage than homosexuality and pointing out that Jesus himself condemned only divorce and never mentioned homosexuality.

Gomes’s view of the Gospels is one of hope and potential for a new way of Christian living, the way Jesus meant us to live. Gomes is actually saying that the status quo — in Jesus’ time and ours — is not what Jesus wants for us. In the chapter titled, “What Would Jesus Have Me Do?” Gomes says the onus isn’t on Jesus (“What would Jesus do?”) but on us to live up to our full humanity. Jesus wants us to act as we should, not as he did, and Gomes points out repeatedly this means to love God and love your neighbour.

The only drawback to having a long-time academic write this book is that the storytelling lacks the passion and persuasiveness needed to inspire mass action on the call to hope and change that Gomes claims is the true purpose of the Gospels. This is unfortunate because his writing is conversational, not heavy, and his ideas are simple and convincing. Gomes’s message is powerful, but the low-impact writing squanders the potential to reach enough people to initiate radical transformation.

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