The Tough Sayings of Jesus by Michael Kelley (Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Tough Sayings of Jesus by Michael Kelley (Review)

Guest post by Amelia Freidline

I don’t know if this is a trait intrinsic to women or just to me, but when I first received the Tough Sayings of Jesus leader kit, I evaluated the packaging. This study is produced by an imprint called “threads,” so I thought the-felt-and-embroidery look of the box and the study booklet was a clever way to reinforce their goal of “piecing life together -- one experience at a time …” (courtesy of the back of the box). So after I finished admiring the packaging I opened the lid and pulled out the book.

Okay, I admit that I kind of thought, “What do you mean by 'tough?'” when I read the title, and when I looked at the table of contents and saw what stories they were using, that thought came back to me. The rich young ruler. The Canaanite woman. The unforgivable sin. Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Yeah, I knew all of those fairly well after 20 years of hearing and reading them.

Because I’m so familiar with these accounts, then, I grew to appreciate Michael Kelley’s take on the situation. He sets up each session with a modern-day anecdote related to the New Testament account he’s going to explore. When he talks about the Scripture passages, he doesn’t just let you go with what there is to see on the surface. He explains the Biblical and historical contexts of those passages and the underlying political, religious or social currents that influenced people’s actions.

For instance, Mark says that the rich young ruler ran up to Jesus and knelt down in front of Him. So imagine with me for a moment that you’re King George II of England, and you hear about some guy named Whitefield who stands on a stump and yells out sermons to people for hours at a time. Are you going to rush up to him (on foot, no less) and kneel in the mud at the base of his stump? Probably not.

According to Kelley, neither would the young man in the Gospel of Mark. He had wealth and power, and therefore had a reputation to keep up. He wouldn’t run somewhere and then throw himself down in the dirt at the feet of a wandering preacher unless he had a darn good reason for doing so. I won’t steal Kelley’s thunder by telling you the rest of that story, but throughout the four sessions he explores the contexts of the scriptures in such a way as to renew your outlook on what’s happening and why people reacted the way they did to Jesus’ words. Sprinkled in the margins are also some definitions, quotes, verses or thoughts to go along with that week’s topic and provoke further thought.

At the end of each section are some activities designed to further what you’ve learned from that week’s session. While some might be helpful, others seemed silly to me (e.g., “Break a commonly accepted rule in life this week. For example, use a fork to eat soup.”). There are also videos, songs and audio files to accompany each session. The videos were both funny and disturbing and would make good discussion-openers.

I had some trouble with the audio supplements, however. I couldn’t get any of the e-mailable audio files to work (the first song played, instead), and the music didn’t really add anything for me. This, however, could be more a problem of conflicting musical tastes than anything else. There were a few typos throughout the text, including a rather unfortunate one near the end that distracted me from Kelley’s train of thought (“Jesus has called us to lose your lives” -- great, thanks). That brings me to the title.

I don’t like it.

And the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. It’s called The Tough Sayings of Jesus. The word “sayings” really bothers me. I think of “sayings” in the context of “the sayings of the Buddha” or “the sayings of Joseph Smith” (although I guess that’s the Book of Mormon). In other words, nice thoughts which just possibly might contain some truth, but definitely not the inspired Word of God. I’d probably substitute “words” for “sayings” in this case.

On the whole, however, I enjoyed the study. If I had a five-star rating system, I’d probably give The Tough Sayings of Jesus a 3½.

[Amelia Freidline is a journalism major and aspiring copy editor who lives in the Kansas City suburbs. She has visited seven foreign countries and hopes to learn at least five more languages before she dies. When she grows up she hopes to own a bookstore after the style of Eighth Day Books or Christopher Morley's Parnassus at Home.]

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