Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 04/20/2009 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. An enjoyable look at Jesus Christ's post-Resurrection utterances.
Christian books written about Christ’s final (pre-crucifixion) seven words are legion. A simple search of the key words seven words Christ on Christianbook.com’s online catalog reveals seven books concerning this topic on the first search page alone. But among the search results is one lone book that stands out on account of a different adjective modifying the noun words – not last, but next.
Shane Stanford’s book, The Seven Next Words of Christ: Finding Hope in the Resurrection Sayings, was conceived on the basis that “many have made their way back to a local church during the Lenten experience only to find a loss of focus following Easter.” After making this discovery, he “suggested to [his] congregation that, after the Resurrection, the work has only begun.” The work Stanford refers to, of course, is the continuous delving into the work, life, and person of Jesus Christ. His point in the book is to demonstrate that hope can also be derived from the accounts of the interim period between the Resurrection and the Ascension.
Those readers expecting a full-blown theological treatment of Christ’s post-Resurrection utterances may be disappointed. Stanford’s book is not an expository work, but a book whose primary audience is one “searching for a deeper connection or reconnection to Christ.” It is mainly a meditative work. While Stanford allows that “the composition of each encounter [in which each of the seven post-Resurrection saying were uttered] deserves deep debate and instruction,” his purpose in the book is simply to share from his own journey as a haemophiliac and as a person living with HIV. This is a subjective book, and more than forgivably so: “I learned several miles ago that I cannot separate my love of Jesus from personal experiences. Actually, I believe no one can. To that end, please bear with me.” And it is not hard to bear with Stanford. His prose is fluid and his thoughts are deep, even if a statement here and there made me go ‘hmm.’ This can be ascribed to Stanford’s background in the United Methodist tradition, which has produced such stellar writers as Bishop William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas (now in the Episcopal Church). While I wouldn’t subscribe to much of their Wesleyan theology, their contribution to Christian literature has been rich.
Each chapter follows roughly the same pattern. First Stanford presents the post-Resurrection saying of Christ he wants to explore in the chapter, and then introduces a real-life case study related to the passage of Scripture. He returns to the Scripture passage to elaborate, and then either carries on with the same case study or introduces a new but similar one. He wraps up each chapter with a few closing thoughts, again centered on the biblical passages he is working with. Stanford’s gifting and training as a preacher is evident, and he obviously relishes that role, as he indicates a few times in the book.
The previous paragraph referred to the real-life stories as ‘case studies,’ but I want to be very clear that these stories are far more than fodder for a Christian living publication. Truth be told, Cecilia’s story in the chapter about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Christ in the garden reduced me to tears. It was at once gritty, shocking, beautiful, and supremely redemptive.
Study questions are included at the end of the book, which could be helpful for small groups. But I would recommend using a ‘meatier’ book such as William Barclay’s We Have Seen the Lord! (Westminster/John Knox) or Peter Trumper’s Breakfast on the Beach (Evangelical Press) alongside Stanford’s book. That said, I did find Stanford’s book to be an OBB (open Bible book), encouraging me to check back often to the original biblical text.
As mentioned, this is a very personal book. Its recurrent theme is how fragile we are – and how fragile our faith can be as well, especially when faced with tragedies of unprecedented scale and effect. While it should not be mistaken for a theological treatise on Christ’s post-Resurrection utterances, The Next Seven Words of Christ does its job as a brief meditation on those passages between the Resurrection and the Ascension that are so often glossed over.