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I am excited to share my book review of “The Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fisherman, Soldiers, And Prostitutes To Transform The World” by Robert J. Hutchinson.
Robert is an award-winning writer and author who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, moved to Israel to learn Hebrew, and earned a graduate degree in New Testament. Hutchinson’s previous book “Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth is an overview of recent archeological finds and new developments in biblical scholarship that are calling into question much of what skeptical scholars have assumed and asserted about Jesus over the past two centuries.
Learn more about Robert at his web site.
I sit with the Jesus of my faith during my centering prayer practice. I love to learn more about the historical Jesus: the human Jesus. What can we know about his human actions? What was it like for Jesus to grow up in his small corner of this world?
Let me share some new things that I learned in this wonderful book.
What will we learn in this book?
“What did Jesus do and say, in as little as one year and a maximum of three years, that could possibly have had such an impact? How did the community he somehow gather together so quickly – made up of semi-literate fisherman, prostitutes, tax collectors, wealthy widow’s, day laborers, and even Roman soldiers – give birth to the spiritual revolution that became Christianity? This book is an attempt to answer that question.”
This book is nicely divided into four parts:
- The Road To Jerusalem
- The Beginning of Persecution
- The Expansion of the Jesus Movement
Rival Armies and Bandit Militias
“As a child, Jesus likely hid with his friends and family as rival armies and bandit militias marched by on the main roads just a few hundred yards from Nazareth.”
“This indicated that the Jews at this time prepared for the upcoming war by fashioning underground places to hide. This is the political and military background to the gospels that is lost on most people today.”
Jesus grew up in a very volatile corner of the world. The Roman Expire was in charge. Over the last six centuries the Jews lived under brutal domination: Babylonians, Persians, the Greeks and now the Romans. (In fact, the Jews were self-ruled for only a brief period: 164 – 63 BC.)
The Jewish people were under a tremendous tax burden. They were taxed by both the Romans and the temple administration in Jerusalem. These taxes left the majority of the country to live in severe poverty. Civil wars would often break out against the Romans. The Roman response was harsh: execution, woman and children sold into slavery and those who led the rebellions were crucified.
I agree with Robert. I think what it was like growing up during this volatile period is lost on most people today.
Kingdom of God
“What Jesus actually meant by “the kingdom of God” has been a source of debate among scholars across the academic and religious spectrum.”
“But in recent years, even many secular new testament scholars have rejected the idea that Jesus was an end–times prophet proclaiming the imminent apocalypse.”
“So what was Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God? According to the records we have, when Jesus spoke about the kingdom, he said it was “good news” (Luke 4:43), “like treasure hidden in a field” (Matt. 13:44), not bad news. He compared it to a wedding feast, not a cosmic Artillery barrage (Matt. 22:2-14).”
This changes how we think about Jesus. This changes how we live. We are not to live waiting for the end times. Jesus wants us to enjoy and celebrate life right now. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was not only in the midst of us but it was within us.
Jesus was the temple of God. When Jesus was crucified, died and resurrected, he left us a helper, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit lives within each one of us. The Kingdom of God continues to survive and expand within each one of us. Unfortunately, many of us fail to recognize this. This hidden treasure is closer to us than we imagine. It is within us.
“But no one drank this blood! Drinking blood was condemned in no uncertain terms by the Torah, and was considered one of the abominations of the pagans.”
“Yet here Jesus was saying this wine was his blood and his followers were too….drink it? Why?”
This was shocking news. The lamb’s blood was passed from priest to priest in the temple and poured on the alter. It was not drunk. To drink blood was condemned by the Torah. It was considered an abomination of the pagans (Gen 9:4).
I think this is also lost upon us too. Something new has happened. A new era has begun. I think many of us take this for granted as we partake in communion with the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. We eat the body of Christ. We drink the blood of Christ. This is powerful! Christ is within us. We are each the temple of God.
“Christians are so accustomed to the story of Palm Sunday – of Jesus’ joyous entry into Jerusalem – that many forget what a profoundly dangerous and subversive act his arrival in Jerusalem actually was.”
Yes, this was indeed a dangerous and subversive act. Jesus was a threat to the Jewish council leaders and Romans. They needed to ensure their control and power over the masses to maintain their interests.
Jesus knew that his journey into Jerusalem was risky. It could get him killed. Jesus decided to bring the kingdom of God to the heart and center of Judaism. The heart and center did not want to hear it. It threatened their control, interests and power.
What does this dangerous and subversive act tell us about Jesus?
Jesus was a man on a Spirit filled mission. Jesus must have been extremely brave, calm, compassionate, confident and wise. As Marcus Borg would say, Jesus was a Spirit filled man. He let the Inner Spirit lead and guide his actions. He was in God and God was in him. He and the Creator were one.
“Through his followers, he created self – perpetuating “cells” of his kingdom movement throughout Israel, each with the mission of establishing new communities.”
“As a result of Jesus’ wise planning, demographers is estimate the kingdom movement grew at a rate of about 40% per decade. Within two years, the few dozen men and women had grown to more than 500, then to 3000. Within a decade, the community could have numbered many tens of thousands. Within 300 years, it was 35 million. Today, it’s about 2 billion.”
Our job is to continue this Kingdom movement. The kingdom movement is an inclusive movement filled with empathy and compassion. We are the future “cells” of this kingdom movement.
I encourage you to check out The Dawn of Christianity.
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I just finished Sacred Compass by J. Brent Bill and Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley. I am currently reading The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within by Christine Valters Paintner.
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David Frenette’s book The Path of Centering Prayer reenergized the Centering Prayer tradition with its fresh insights and teachings. Centering Prayer Meditations: Effortless Contemplation to Deepen Your Experience of God is a wonderful companion audio program created to be equally rewarding as a stand-alone guide – gives listeners an immersive resource to learn contemplative prayer, step by step and in the moment. With clarity and compassionate presence, Frenette explains the essential principles of this contemplative practice for both new and seasoned practitioners.
I use a Prayer Rope after each Centering Prayer Sit.
Centering Prayer is a silent prayer practice that can move you toward a profound relationship with the Spirit of God within. It is a way of praying that opens the door to the Divine Indwelling—the ground of our being. With Centering Prayer, Father Thomas Keating and his colleagues Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler and Father Carl Arico present the first online course in this method for deepening your intimacy with God and ultimately consenting to the presence and action of the Divine in all aspects of your life.
The early Christians, teaches the Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault, were afire with the spirit of Jesus, inspired fully by his teaching of a total transformation of consciousness. How do we reclaim that fire today? On Encountering the Wisdom Jesus, this brilliant author and dynamic Episcopalian priest presents her first full-length audio course about rediscovering the Master of Wisdom. Twelve immersive sessions cover: the parables as wisdom tools; Jesus’s teachings about kenosis (or self-emptying: a path as radical today as it was 2,000 years ago); Jesus as tantric master; Centering Prayer, an approach to meditation as Jesus lived it, and much more. (Based upon her book, The Wisdom Jesus.)
Since the time of the Desert Fathers in the third century, Finley begins, Christian mystics have practiced meditation as a way of opening to the direct presence of God in daily life. Legendary seekers such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Meister Eckhart explored how meditation can lead us beyond the closed horizon of the ego, to an interior and holy refuge that is always available to us. On Christian Meditation, James Finley offers a gentle introduction to this all-transforming way of life, and the ever-deepening realization of oneness with Christ it leads us to. (Based upon his book, Christian Meditation.)
Check out my review of Christian Prayer Methods by Dr. Philip St. Romain.
Prepare to be immersed in the 1st Century A.D. context of the life, work, teachings, and actions of Jesus. Check out Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright. Enjoy an article I wrote about one of the lectures on the Beatitudes.
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