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With My Own Eyes Paperback – June 30, 2017
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Again and again, With My Own Eyes catches the edge of something that every preacher has struggled to articulate, from the prophets to Mary Magdalene to today: the breathtaking newness of Jesus Christ. Here the novel's structure, episodic and shifting in perspective, serves the content admirably. While Hammer of God is a powerful read, it perhaps suffers a bit as a novel from lack of continuity. The Gospels are better ground for this sort of thing, as at their center stands one who, though humbly residing in human flesh and human words, exceeds every description. Giertz intentionally leaves the disciples' reports of resurrection appearances a confused matter, unable to quite agree on how many men were at the tomb or the precise sequence, their minds and speech simply overawed by circumstance. The disciples' encounters with Jesus gradually become the reader's own, which is in fact how it has always been since the days the stories were first told. "With My Own Eyes" --Mbird.com --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Those words. A simple sentence. Here on this page it is unremarkable. But in its context, this line is as stunning as it is short. The wonder, the dread, the emptiness, the impending terror, the uncertainty, the confusion, the nagging sense that something significant is happening in Christ's last meal with his disciples captured in a literary image embossed on the reader's mental canvas.
Bo Giertz brings the reader into the room with Christ and his disciples in "With My Own Eyes", available now in an updated English translation by Lutheran pastor Bror Erickson. Part devotional, part commentary, part exegesis, part historical fiction, and part sermon, "With My Own Eyes" is a series of 40 snapshots of Christ's life chronicled from the eye-witness perspective of a silent participant in the events of Christ's life as it comes to us from the gospel writers.
Erickson's labor to make "With My Own Eyes" available in accessible English couldn't be more timely. Giertz's approach to the text is a refreshing change from the white noise from years of evangelicals scouring the pages of Scripture for timeless truths. While the stories from the gospels are written in the style of historical fiction from the perspective of the participants in the stories, Giertz has been faithful to the intent of the original authors in his interpretation.
Moralism is a blight in the American pulpit. No denomination, no association, no church size, no theological strain is immune. It's everywhere, every Sunday morning. In our pulpits, life coaches give us valuable lessons to navigate the complexities of life using Bible stories to inspire us to be our better selves.
Moralism is fueled by a narcissistic need to glean life principles from the Bible as if it is an ancient IKEA manual meant to give us the instructions necessary to build good, moral lives as we live the American dream. Such an approach to the text is aided and abetted by the American pulpit, with pulpiteers who've long been taught that the best way to provide instructions of the Authoritative Life Guide is to bridge the text from the 1st century to the 21st century audience by finding some universal principle in the story that is relevant to our felt needs.
Building that kind of bridge in the sermon highlights one of the major homiletical problems in the pulpit today: abstraction from the original setting. Such a practice breeds moralism. The text becomes whatever we want it to be. Even those who believe they are allowing the text to shape them too often interpret it and preach it in ways that are foreign to the original author and his congregation.
In "With My Own Eyes", Giertz confronts our moralism and shatters it. No, not by giving us a new 12-step approach to reading the Bible. He demonstrates for us. Giertz inverts the bridge, taking the audience back into the 1st century and placing us into the events of the text. After all, this is our drama, this is our story, this is our storyline as a redeemed people.
You see, the reader isn't simply a silent participant. In giving firsthand accounts of events in Christ's life, Giertz invites the reader to participate with the original actors in the stories. From the shepherds on a Bethlehem hillside, to the tax collector Matthew's home, to the meal in that upper room, Giertz unpacks the text in a way that compels see ourselves in the story with our destiny tied to the One who at the center of the drama on the stage. "With My Own Eyes" provides the sermonizer with a homiletical (even hermeneutical) model to emulate.
These 40 glimpses place the reader into the sights, sounds, and smells of the drama. In them, we see Jesus, we hear Jesus, we "feel" Jesus who is the living Gospel to us and for us. We are participants living in the grand drama of redemptive history needing Christ to be who He is for us in these snapshots. "With My Own Eyes" provides the sermonizer with homiletical (even hermeneutical) model to emulate.
No longer an abstract moral principle, Christ gives himself to us. This doesn't mean Giertz has inscribed Holy Writ. But he does challenge us to return to the gospels and read them and interpret them as Christ for us in our brokenness and shame and desperate need for Him to be Him.
When Christ died, we died. When Christ arose, we arose. This is our confession. This is also our story, unfolding on the pages of Scripture. Christ's story is our story. The drama of redemptive history has not been revealed to provide us with moral lessons. It gives us life. It is here that we feed on Christ. Thus, "With My Own Eyes" is inviting us to the feast. Giertz challenges us anew to read, to hear, and to comprehend the Gospel story as our own.
"The cup stood empty before him on the table."
See the cup. See the Savior. With your own eyes.
Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a review copy of the new translation by Bror Erickson.
What Bo Giertz has done in With My Own Eyes is offer us another perspective. Not another Gospel, of course, nor merely a harmonization of the four we have, but a retelling of the story of Jesus through the eyes of a disciple, a bystander, or sick person being healed. Giertz whisks us away from our 21st century homes and offices to plant our feet on 1st century Israelite soil. We see what those first disciples saw, smell what they smelled, hear the rumors they heard. We get inside their heads, rehearse their traditions, feel their fears. He has a way of lending so much color and depth to the narrative that we are swept into it. He opens up the Gospel story in a way that I've never seen done before.
Bror Erickson, in translating this book, has given to the church a treasure of immense worth. Giertz continues to be a voice we need to hear in the church today. And, thanks to this book, we will.
This is a remarkable book. There are at least two major fronts that a novelization of the Gospels can fail on - as a kind of commentary on the biblical text (which it surely must be, in one way or another) and as a story - but Giertz is compelling on both. I can't comment on how the book would read to one not very familiar with the Gospels - I suspect it would be of value, but that isn't my background, so I'm only guessing. However, to one who knows the Bible, familiar episodes are repeatedly made strange. Making a page-turner out of such well-worn material is not easy - and even less easy to do it while offering a professional preacher new insights into passages he has studied at length.
Giertz's prose is realistic and descriptive - as the title implies, the book goes out of its way to paint a picture of what these scenes might have been like. Land, weather, plant life, and the customs of the people are rendered vividly. There is real sadness and real excitement in these pages. The translation reads smoothly and feels modern - one does not get a hint that the book was written in anything but English.
After finishing, I immediately recommended the book to my wife, and I am certain I have not read it for the last time.