Thursday Review: A Year of Living Like Jesus

A review of Ed Dobson, A Year of living Like Jesus, Zondervan, 2009
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A few years ago British comedian Tony Hawks hitch-hiked around Ireland with a small fridge in response to a bet. The book he wrote of his adventure, Round Ireland with a Fridge [purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US], became a best-seller.

When I first picked up A Year of Living Like Jesus I took against it. The heavily bearded cover picture didn’t help. What a gimmicky idea, I thought. But then I wondered if I had positioned it in wrong category. Maybe I shouldn’t view this as a serious book on discipleship, but a Christian equivalent of Round Ireland with a Fridge. A quirky, semi-humorous book that also raised important issues for an audience that would never read The Ordinary Hero. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

So I gave it to my administrator Cari to read. Here’s her review …

How to summarise and review this book? I have found this book exciting to read and to use the cliché, ‘hard to put down’. Ed Dobson is a very engaging writer who seems to self consciously interweave an eye for the humorous in the mundane with a theological sobriety. Heralding from a deeply conservative Christian background (he is the pastor emeritus of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids and his family were recent immigrants from Ireland where they were part of the Plymouth Brethren group), I sense that Dobson enjoyed the adventure of pushing the boundaries of where a biblical faith could take him. In the course of the year, his journey takes him to the ‘expected places’, for example he significantly increases his commitment to prayer and scripture, he fasts, he seeks to honour the Shabbat and he draws alongside Jews to experience their festivals and rites. His journey also takes him to bars, to rosary beads, to wearing tassels on his clothes (‘one of the major problems in wearing the T-shirt with the tassels occurs when you go to the bathroom … there’s nothing like having wet tassels in your pants!’ 56) and to a kosher diet.

Dobson was inspired to begin this journey by a book he read called ‘The Year of Living Biblically’. This is a book authored by a nonreligious Jew who spent a year seeking to strictly adhere to the Biblical (Old Testament) commands. Dobson is saddened that although he may have started a journey towards God in this year, he certainly didn’t seem to ‘find’ God. He reflects that ‘as I read the book, I was deeply convicted by the fact that someone had taken the Bible seriously enough to attempt to live it out.’ After reading this book, he says that he wondered ‘what if I were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously?’ (12)

The concept of the book (and the front cover, with a picture of Dobson in his full beard) is clearly gimmicky. Dobson delves into risky waters by commenting on the American presidential election and by flirting with certain Catholic and Orthodox ideas. I am sure that much of the selling power of this book will have come from this gimmicky and controversial façade. However, I personally (and surprisingly!) found this book a stimulant to seeking to follow Jesus with a more open mind and a greater zeal.

Let me (Tim) add a closing comment. Much of the time it feels more like an attempt to live like a first century Jew than to live like Jesus. There’s remarkably little reflection on the ethical teaching of Jesus which is surely what you expect to be central to an attempt to live like him. So, for example, rather than living a cross-shaped life, Dobson describes how he feels wearing a wooden cross around his neck – something Jesus didn’t do! So I wouldn’t read it as a serious book on discipleship. But you might give it to an unbelieving friend and see what conversations it provokes.

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