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Book Review – The Passion of Jesus Christ

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The Passion of Jesus Christ was rushed to press in time to be available for the release of Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ. The book sold some two million copies, though many of these were through a promotion that provided the book at cost when purchased in bulk. Many churches gave the book to those who expressed interest in learning more about Jesus in the aftermath of the movie. Those who are familiar with my book reviews will know that I have struggled with Piper’s books in the past – not on the basis of content, but on the basis of Piper’s writing style. These people may be glad to know that this is the first book by Piper that I have enjoyed from cover-to-cover.

The Passion of Jesus Christ provides fifty reasons why Jesus suffered and died. Piper is careful to look beyond the cause to see the purpose in Jesus’ death. Where the movie focused on how Jesus died, and the media frenzy examined who killed Him, this book looks past the controversy to show the purposes behind His death. The author lists fifty reasons, each backed by Scripture and explained in some detail.

I was unsure as to how to read this book. Usually a book begins with an introduction and then works toward proving a thesis. In this book Piper provides fifty equal points with no real progression from one to the next. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to the order of their presentation and there is no sense of moving towards a dramatic conclusion. I believe it would make an excellent basis for a devotional book. Reading all fifty chapters, one after the other, did not provide a lot of time to ponder each of the purposes behind Christ’s death. In fact, with the addition of a short meditation to each chapter, and perhaps a prayer, it would be a devotional book.

Doctrinally (or perhaps editorially), there were a few small concerns. For example, the title of chapter thirteen is “To Abolish Circumcision and All Rituals as the Basis of Salvation” but of course the rituals and circumcision were never the basis for salvation. There is also an odd statement on page 79 where Piper writes, “Becoming a Christian means death to sin. The old self that loved sin died with Jesus. Sin is like a prostitute that no longer looks beautiful. She is the murderer of my King and myself…Sin, the prostitute who killed my friend, has no appeal, she has become an enemy.” While becoming a Christian does, indeed, bring death to sin, to say that sin no longer has any appeal is to deny what every person’s nature begs for every day. We have been saved, and we are dying to sin, but it still lives within us, constantly trying to draw us back to our old ways. If only sin did not look so appealing! There were a few more minor concerns, including a rather odd view of “the futility of our ancestry” in chapter 28.

Generally this is a good book and one I can recommend to Christians. I am not sure that it makes a very useful resource to give to unbelievers or those who are interested in learning more about Jesus. The doctrine is heavy (which is not a bad thing), and as I indicated before, there is little progression through the book. I doubt many unbelievers would read past the first few chapters. Still, buy it for yourself, read it, and enjoy it. It is well worth your time.

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