Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions
Read a number of books by a particular author, and eventually you predictably anticipate a tone and recurring themes. Timothy Keller has written enough books to place himself in this category. With persuasive rhetoric, he’s rationally explaining the Christian faith: often to seekers, sometimes to believers who are encouraged by his prose --- not too rigorous, not too facile, not terribly technical, not overly anecdotal, but sprinkled with literary illustrations and philosophical quotations.
"I personally liked best the last two chapters, not exactly in the 'encounter with Jesus' category but thought-provoking reads nonetheless: about the ascension and its meaning, and about the angel’s announcement, the Annunciation, to Mary --- that she was the one chosen to carry and birth the Christ Child."
Here, in ENCOUNTERS WITH JESUS, Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (originally meaning Manhattan, but now with more geographically diverse campuses), delves into gospel accounts of Jesus as he’s relating to his first-century contemporaries: Nathanael, called a “skeptical student,” being drawn to discipleship; Nicodemus, discussed alongside the Samaritan woman, “the insider and the outcast” finding identity and freedom in Christ; Mary and Martha, sisters grieving the mortality of their brother; the Cana characters, celebrating an unnamed couple’s wedding; and Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the Easter resurrection. The book title clearly hooks to these first five chapters as a unit.
Chapters 5 through 10 broadens out in its definition of “encounters” and its scope: Jesus’ wilderness temptation introduces Satan and the problem of evil; his Last Supper promise of “another advocate” provides a platform for discussion of the Holy Spirit, our helper; and the Garden of Gethsemane agony brings us to Christ himself as a model of obedience.
I personally liked best the last two chapters, not exactly in the “encounter with Jesus” category but thought-provoking reads nonetheless: about the ascension and its meaning, and about the angel’s announcement, the Annunciation, to Mary --- that she was the one chosen to carry and birth the Christ Child. That final chapter, aptly titled “The Courage of Mary,” connects Mary’s subsequent visit to her older cousin Elizabeth to the still-evident, universal need for community support, input and discernment. The last paragraph of the book is memorable.
Don’t worry, it’s not a plot spoiler --- there’s so much more in the earlier pages --- but it speaks: “Mary was a nobody who became greater than everybody, simply because God came to her and she responded in the humblest possible way. She reasoned, she doubted, she surrendered, she connected with others. You can, too.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on March 24, 2014