Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus
John Ortberg. 2012. Who Is This Man? Unpredictable Impact of an Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
John Ortberg’s new book, Who Is This Man?, is a biography focused on the unexpected influence Jesus has on the many spheres of our lives. Ortberg writes:
“After his disappearance from earth, the days of his unusual influence began. That influence is what this book is about…Normally when someone dies, their impact on the world immediately begins to recede…Jesus’ impact was greater a hundred years after his death than during his life…after two thousand years he has more followers in more places than ever.” (11).
Talk about influence. Most of us would be happy if our parents and/or kids listened to us.
Ortberg has an eye for details and for things contrary to expectations, either today or in ancient times. For example, in evaluating Jesus as a leader, he outlines his strategy for influencing people. Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, he writes:
“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in. We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.” (107)
Huh? Who would have thought that a group using this strategy would even survive the first century, let alone influence anyone.
John Ortberg is the pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California which is part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO), a new denomination formed in 2012. According to the foreword written Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, this book started out as sermon series. The book is written in 15 chapters, including:
- The Man Who Won’t Go Away,
- The Collapse of Dignity,
- A Revolution in Humanity,
- What Does a Woman Want?
- An Undistinguished Visiting Scholar,
- Jesus Was Not a Great Man,
- Help Your Friends, Punish Your Enemies,
- There Are Things That Are Not Caesar’s,
- The Good Life Versus The Good Person,
- Why It’s a Small World After All,
- The Truly Old-Fashioned Marriage,
- Without Parallel in the Entire History of Art,
- Saturday, and
- Sunday (5).
These chapters are preceded by a foreword and acknowledgments, and followed by an epilogue and references. I was first exposed this this material in a men’s group discussion where we viewed the DVD. There is also a separate study guide.
Ortberg is Well Rounded
Ortberg is surprisingly well read drawing on details from a range of resources ancient and modern. For example, describing a bit of his own background from a psychologist’s perspective he writes:
“The quickest and most basic mental health assessment checks to see if people are ‘oriented times three’: whether they know who they are, where they are, and what day it is. I was given the name of Jesus’ friend John; I live in the Bay area named for Jesus’ friend Francis; I was born 1,957 years after Jesus. How could orientation depend so heavily on one life?” (11)
He observes that each of his 3 orientations (who, where, and when) were influenced directly by Jesus. Pretty good influence for someone who lived 2,000 years ago!
One of the chapters that impressed me the most was the chapter called: Saturday. Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter is starting to be celebrated as a religious holiday in itself—I often wondered why. Ortberg describes these 3 days as a typical 3-day story with a specific form: day 1 starts with trouble; day 2 there is nothing; and day 3 comes deliverance. The problem with day 2 is that you do not know if day 3 is coming—faith is required. Saturday is the only day in 2,000 years when not a single person on earth believed that Jesus was alive. It’s only on the third day that you know you are in a 3-day story! (175-177) Next year I think that I will look for a Saturday service to attend.
John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man?, offers a fresh description of Jesus, his thinking, and his life. Most Christians today have heard too many bland accounts of Jesus for our own good—so much so that we have trouble hearing God’s voice in these accounts. Ortberg’s insights come in explaining Jesus’ context so artfully that Jesus’ radical contribution is more obvious—Jesus steps out of the picture frame into the room with us. This is the kind of book that, after reading a couple chapters, you will want to buy copies for your family and friends. In other words, drop what you are doing and read this book.
As a writer and publisher, I immediately picked up on the absence of footnotes in this book. References are given in the back of the book sequenced by chapter. However, there are no footnotes or endnotes indicated in the text itself. Actually, I liked this style of referencing because the text flows more naturally with fewer distractions.
 Other 3-days stories that he mentions are: Abraham (Gen 22:4), Joseph (Gen 42:17-18), Rahab (Jos 2:16), and Esther (Est 4:16).