A response to: Bradley Jersak. A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way. Whitaker House, 2021. 287pp.
This is a most helpful, even liberating, guide to reading the Bible with Jesus as the center. Bradley Jersak, a theologian and pastor who has traveled a fascinating path from Pentecostal fundamentalist to Eastern Orthodox with a stint among Mennonites, draws on his own evolving experiences with the Bible. Jersak presents us with an approach that walks the line between the authoritarian literalists on one side and the cultured despisers on the other side, and he provides an empowering and enlivening understanding of the Bible as witness to the healing path of Jesus.
The entire Bible witnesses to Jesus
Jersak calls his approach to the Bible “the Emmaus Way,” referring to the story in Luke 24 following Jesus’s resurrection. The risen Jesus encounters two his disciples walking on the road from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. They don’t recognize him, taking him as a stranger to the area. They share their grief at Jesus’s death until he finally reveals himself and tells them not to grieve, that what happened was totally in line with message of the Bible. That is, the Bible—all of the Bible—points to Jesus as its center.
So, Jersak presents an approach where we take Jesus at his word and read the entirety of the Bible in light of Jesus’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection. When we do so, we will find the Bible come alive as a life-shaping guide to wholeness, generosity, mercy, and creativity. In harmony with Jersak’s message that the Bible is about joyful living, the writing style of A More Christlike Word is engaging, humorous, accessible, and encouraging. We learn a lot about Jersak’s own checkered journey of moving from a narrow, fearful reading strategy to his present open-hearted, welcoming, and gracious approach.
While the book has a popular, easily understood tone, it is also grounded in serious scholarship and perceptive theological and historical analyses. We learn a lot about the Christian tradition, including strengths and weaknesses of various prominent reading strategies over the centuries. We also learn a lot about the content of the Bible itself. Jersak’s sense of how it all fits together allows for differences within the canon in the context of an overall harmony. And, crucially, this overall harmony gives a positive, generous, life-giving message of God’s mercy embodied in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.