‘Following Rabbi Jesus: The Christian’s Forgotten Calling’
By Rob Birks, Major –
“We read to know we are not alone.” These words are spoken by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who portrays C.S. Lewis in the 1993 film, “Shadowlands.” Yet, most likely, the great Christian author never uttered or wrote those words. The credit goes to William Nicholson, the film’s screenplay writer. As a paraphrase of them, referring to Commissioner Phil Needham’s new book, “Following Rabbi Jesus: The Christian’s Forgotten Calling” (Wipf and Stock, 2018), I offer this: We read this book and the gospels to know we are not alone—Jesus is with us (as are those who accompany us on our discipleship journey).
I should say at the outset that this is less a review and more of a recommendation. Needham’s spiritual insight, ministry experience and literary prowess always combine to ensure that his books are good for the reader and glorifying to God.
In this work, Needham trips through the gospels in search of the life Jesus lived—a life he calls his followers to live. The sad truth is many Christians purport to know the gospels, but that knowledge is largely based on dusty flannelgraph lessons and the lyrics of tired Sunday School choruses. Some, who are familiar with the content of the gospels have, as author David Gushee asserts in his foreword, “evaded Jesus’ teaching and ignored his example while fixating on personal salvation and theological disputes,” which has led to “misdirected Christianity” and “malformed Christians.” Rather than wasting a lot of words bemoaning this travesty, Needham offers a way out—one we would all do well to take. It’s a way of life. It’s the way of Rabbi Jesus. We are all on the same page (or, at least in the same chapter) when it comes to immersing ourselves in the Good News and living it out faithfully in ways that speak of the inviting, inclusive, incomprehensible love of Jesus. This book serves as a kind of field guide for those of us on that adventure.
The section and subsection titles alone are brilliantly intriguing—Jesus on Becoming: Finding Holiness in our Humanity (A New Place to Stand & A New Way to Live); Jesus on Loving: Finding our Center in the Great Commandment (Our Beloveds & The Art of Loving); and Jesus on Witnessing: Finding our Calling in the Everyday (The Cultivation of a Life & The Influence of a Life). Each chapter within each subsection is only a few pages, but chock-full of biblical references, personal insights and practical questions and suggestions, all designed to help the reader contemplate and enter into the life he or she was created to live. In the appendix, Needham includes a document, The Importance of the Jesus of the Gospels. This piece should be read first, as the author suggests in the book’s preface. It will aid greatly in the reader’s experience and edification. Additionally, a separate study guide has been created to help the follower think and talk through and live out the book’s directional advice.
Anyone who is attracted to Christian discipleship, but does not yet have it mastered, should read this book deliberately and thoughtfully. (By the way, if you have mastered Christian discipleship, you haven’t.) This book won’t make disciples, but it will remind true followers of our calling to do so more biblically, more authentically, more aware of others and more focused on Rabbi Jesus.
Major Rob Birks is the author of “Someone Cared: Prose and Prayers Inspired by the Poetry of John Gowans” (Frontier Press, 2015) and “Orsbornagain: A New Look at Old Songs of New Life” (Frontier Press, 2013).