Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, a book review

Never before has a book intrigued and confused me so much—except perhaps the works of C.S. Lewis. Walter Wink is undoubtedly on par with Lewis in the depth, richness and profundity of his thought.

The concepts addressed in Wink’s final book, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human, are nothing short of revolutionary to common Christian paradigms. At the same time, Wink preserves, promotes and honors the integrity of Sola Scriptura (only scripture). His words  cause the everyday, lay-believer to critically rethink all that he has simply assumed about God and God’s relationship to man.

Just Jesus begins with a number of small, almost incidental essays; unrelated chapters showing the development of Wink’s theology over time.These seem to employ circular thought to convey fairly insignificant events. But perhaps, by the time one hits the meat of the book (in my opinion) on page 77, all of these were necessary to provide context, a means of understanding how Wink came to these conclusions.

Two points in particular provide a veritable feast for spiritual mediation. I will be mulling over and chewing on these truths for years to come. First, is Wink’s explanation and endorsement of Biblical nonviolence. The second point, which informs the whole book and I imagine all of Wink’s life, is this: God is Human.

At one point or another, I think all Christians have chafed at the commandment to “do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44). We’ve found Christ’s words unpalatable: to offer our shirt to the man who steals our coat, or to offer to walk two miles with the man who forced us to carry his load for one. (Matthew 5:40, Matthew 5:41)

In this book, Wink invites the reader into a classroom of college students where he taught on the subject of biblical nonviolence and uses these passages for support. He explains that in first century Palestine, under Mosaic Law, a creditor could haul a debtor into court and demand his coat as collateral for an unpaid loan.

As Jesus told this story, most of His audience were the poor. Likely, many of them had even experienced this humiliating ordeal. Then Jesus went a step further than The Law, suggesting that the debtor offer up his shirt also. Considering the clothing of that time, this would have left the poor man completely naked.

Wink explains Jesus intent:

“Put yourself in the debtor’s place and imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand and your underwear in the other. you have suddenly turned the tables on him. You had no hope of winning the trial; the law was entirely in his favor. But you have refused to be humiliated, and at the same time you have registered a stunning protest against a system that spawns such debt. The creditor is revealed not to be a “respectable” moneylender but to be a party in the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution.” (pg. 79)

After expositing the story of walking a second mile, Wink concludes, “From a situation of servile impressments, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice.” (pg. 81)

Far from endorsing impotent passivism, Jesus is essentially suggesting unconventional warfare; win the argument by retaining self respect and the power of choice. I finished that chapter dumbstruck. How had I never seen those passages so clearly before? Then, I came to Wink’s essay, “Ezekiel’s Vision”.

I could only do this chapter a pitiful disservice in my attempt to relay all of Wink’s wisdom. It is here that the significance of the title is revealed. Wink’s “struggle to become human” was the consummate mission of his life because:

“And this is the revelation: God is HUMAN…It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our humanness, we can only dream of what a more human existence and political order would be like, but we have not yet arrived at true humanness. Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness—which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”

Doesn’t this incite your curiosity as to why Jesus referred to Himself as, “The Son of Man”? Wink reveals that a more accurate translation is, “The Son of The Man”. What does this mean?

There is much to ponder in this fascinating book, Just Jesus: My Struggle to Become Human. The concepts are deep and the prose are wordy. However, if we are called as Christians to meditate on God’s Word day and night, Wink’s final work is an excellent resource to inform that pondering.

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