New Testament scholar Ben Witherington interviewed me on my book, Jesus Manifesto (written with Leonard Sweet). Ben’s questions were different from other interviews I’ve done on the book. Consequently, there’s information here about the book and its content that doesn’t appear anywhere else. Therefore, I’m republishing it on this blog. Hope you enjoy it.
Ben: Why did you and Leonard write the book? Give us the storyline behind it.
Frank: For years, Len and I have both shared a burden and concern that Jesus has been getting short-changed. Right or wrong, we have felt that He has all-too often been eclipsed by other “hot” topics and subjects.
It’s rather easy for any of us to get excited about and major in things that are related to Jesus, while Christ Himself gets left out in the cold. Jesus becomes a mere footnote, a slogan, a logo, or a stamp of approval to some other religious or spiritual pursuit. (Elsewhere I rehearse my own journey of chasing spiritual “things” instead of the Lord Jesus Himself.) So we felt burdened to do a project together that would not only give Christ His rightful place . . . that would not only exalt Him beyond the stratosphere . . . but that would also unveil His breathtaking Person in ways that would re-introduce Him in a powerfully fresh way, encouraging people to hunger and thirst for Him and Him alone. We realized that this was a monumental task that was beyond our capacities, but we felt God put it on our hearts. The content of the book first appeared as a short 2,400-word online tract last year. It later developed into a 200-page book which released in June.
In short, Jesus Manifesto seeks to bring together the teachings of Jesus on the kingdom of God, the earthly ministry of Jesus, the atoning work of Jesus, and the Person of Christ into one enormous whole in the context of knowing Christ today as our indwelling Lord as Galatians 2, Colossians 1, and Romans 8 describe. The book is not just a reminder that Jesus Christ is supreme and the very substance of our faith, but it’s an attempt to re-present His stunning greatness in such way that our hearts are captured by Him, through Him, and to Him.
Myron Augsburger, the former president of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, once said:
“I believe in justice: but I am not a preacher of the gospel of justice, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to justice. I believe in love, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of love, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to love. I am committed to peace, but I am not a preacher of the gospel of peace, but the Gospel of Christ who calls us to peace. I believe in the value of the simple life, but I am not the preacher of the simple life, but of the Gospel of Christ that calls us to the simple life. Let us beware of the ultimate plagiarism of borrowing some great concepts from Jesus then running off proclaiming these concepts and not sharing the Christ that empowers these concepts.”
Those words sum up the message of the book pretty well.
Ben: What do you hope will be accomplished by it?
Frank: Our hope is that the Spirit of God would take the message of the book and press it upon the hearts of every reader, bringing us all to our faces in the presence of so great a Christ. That we would make Christ and Christ alone our chief pursuit, our chief love, our chief passion, and our chief obsession. That God would heal us all of the “Jesus Deficit Disorder” that plagues so many believers today. Len and I wept as we wrote various parts of the book and read one another’s parts. So we desire for others to be touched the same way.
In C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian, Aslan tells Lucy, “Every year you grow, you will find Me bigger.” This was one of our aims in writing the book – to present to our hearts a greater view of Christ. Thus our words in the final pages: “It is with a burning heart for Jesus Christ and a guarded jealousy for His preeminence that we have written this book. We have written it for Him and to Him. We trust that it has been by Him and through Him.”
Ben: What have the reader reactions been so far?
Frank: The vast majority of people who have written to us have said all-too kind things about it. Those interested can read some of the letters and reviews we’ve received from people who were touched and helped by it, as well as endorsements by Christian leaders who resonated with the message. For us, they are hugely humbling.
The main criticism has come from those who felt we didn’t go into anything practical. There are no “how to steps” in the book. This is a valid criticism actually, because (right or wrong) we deliberately did not want the work to be a recipe book. So we steered away from “add water and stir” language or steps. We felt that this would draw attention away from the very message we were seeking to communicate.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best when he wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
These words explain quite well what we were attempting to do in the book. We wanted to present the Lord in such a way that readers would be smitten by the sight of His glory and long for Him. Or to put it in the words of two songs that we quote in the book:
What has stript the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.
The look that melted Peter
The face that Stephen saw
The heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw
And . . .
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Despite our shortcomings and limitations, Len and I wrote Jesus Manifesto to stir the hearts of God’s people with the sight of peerless worth—the very sighting that has deeply moved our own hearts. We believe that out of this will flow everything else.
BW: What was it like writing this book with Len and who wrote which parts?
Frank: While our writing styles are different, Len and I have one thing in common that made the collaboration particularly enjoyable. We both make heavy use of metaphor in our writing. Among other things, Len is largely known for inventing new terms and using a single metaphor to describe a particular idea.
My writing is often peppered with word pictures that are intended to create images in the reader’s mind. I like to paint with words. So both of us had fun smithing word images together. For this reason, each chapter of the book is built around a single metaphor that serves as an image depicting some aspect of the glories of Christ.
If I can use a music metaphor, writing the book was like composing an album together, hammering out each of our tracks on the anvil of Scripture and the English language. As we edited each other’s chapters, we sought to enhance what the other person was attempting to communicate. “Writing chemistry” was present, and instead of dragging one another down, we helped bring out the best in one another’s writing.
Some have observed that the book falls into the literature category, since it meshes escalating prose and poetic rhythms. It tries to communicate to both left and right brains simultaneously. But more, we seek to direct the message to a person’s heart and spirit. We want people reading it to be stirred in their hearts rather than just nodding with their heads. So it blends elements of devotional literature, teaching, and challenge.
As to who wrote what, here’s the breakdown (I’m continuing the music metaphor):
Introduction and Chapter 10: Len sings one half and I sing the other half.
Chapters 1,2,3,8,9: I sing lead and Len sings harmony; he also sings a few solo stanzas here and there.
Chapters 4,5,6,7: Len sings lead and I sing harmony; I also sing a few solo stanzas here and there.
Afterword: Paul of Tarsus sings with some minor tweaking to the lyrics.
Readers can learn more at www.theJesusManifesto.com if they are interested.
Thank you for this interview, Ben. I really appreciate your contribution to the body of Christ.