Instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”
David Baker: ‘Becoming the Son’ is a novel that offers a unique encounter with Jesus that remains grounded within the margins of the Gospel accounts. The reader will discover a man more human than what they expected and more similar to themselves than what they dared to imagine. The novel is written in the first-person and in so doing prompts deep intimacy with the character. Readers tell me that this intimacy has made for a ‘safe place’ in which they found themselves engaging new possibilities about a Jesus with whom they could finally identify.
My spiritual journey began deeply embedded in fundamentalist Evangelicalism where the humanity of Jesus was unwittingly de-emphasized in favor of the ethereal Christ. I believe this is an unfortunate error that is present in many Christian traditions and has caused great harm. One of the devastating effects of missing the full-blown wonder of the Incarnation is for Christians to depreciate their humanity and the humanity of others. On that account, we despise our weaknesses, are disgusted by our imperfections, ashamed of our failures, embarrassed by our fears, and awkward in our sexuality.
I wrote this book so that readers might be encouraged as they recognize their own humanity in the humanity of Jesus. My hope is for them to experience the gift of the Incarnation through the imaginative power of a fictional encounter. My sincere belief is that readers will be comforted in finding a Jesus who was exhausted and irritable, uncertain and fearful…like them.
They will be inspired by meeting a Jesus who faced temptation, enjoyed happiness, suffered loss, endured disappointment, found hope, and felt stress…just like them. They will laugh and cry, eat and labor, listen and speak…as if they were him. In the end, I believe the novel can help readers reclaim what is lovely and good about who they are, and feel the grace and love of Jesus Christ who…though he did not sin…was ‘like them in every way.’ (Hebrews 2:17)
Yes, I’m glad you said He never sinned. He was certainly human and tempted at all points, yet “without sin.” So if He was irritable or frustrated, He didn’t lash out in the flesh as fallen humans are inclined to do. That said, this next question is hugely important to me as I believe it strikes at the heart of who Jesus is, both human and divine. Do you believe that Jesus is God in flesh? That He is divine as well as human as the creed say and as most Christians throughout the ages have taught?
Yes and without reservation. I agree with the historical creeds including the Reformed confessions on this point. Jesus was God in the flesh, fully human and fully divine, the Word Incarnate. My concern in writing the book is that this mystery inclines us to not go as far as we might in more fully appreciating the depth of God’s self humbling as per Heb 2 and 4.
Explain the title. Wasn’t Jesus the Son of God eternally? Why is the title “Becoming the Son”?
David Baker: A very appropriate question! For this purpose, ‘becoming’ is about the emergence of what is rather than a change from one thing to another. We are told that Jesus ‘grew in wisdom’ (Luke 2:52), and so we know that his life was one of change…of emergence. For example, I’m not convinced that he knew his own identity while in Mary’s womb, or in the manger. Therefore, he must have learned who he was over time. And so the story I tell is his experience in actualizing his identity. To put it another way, Jesus’ life on earth was a matter of becoming who he already was. I would add that we, too, are in the process of ‘becoming’ who we already are (as children of God), and so I thought the idea was important to capture.
Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.
David Baker: I’ve written a number of other novels but I can’t compare any of them to this one. To be honest, I was terrified for much of the four years it took me to write it, and I felt very much alone. Every day I begged God to de-motivate me if I was on a false track. Instead of de-motivation, however, I felt compelled to press on. Scenes, insights, characters, etc., flew to my keyboard from seemingly nowhere. I tell the story of ‘my’ rainbow in the epilogue, but suffice it to say that I believe the Spirit sat patiently with me the whole time. This is not to say that my work is without error, but I believe any errors some may find are not so egregious as to upset the Kingdom!
I must mention one interview that made a huge difference. After struggling with trying to imagine a character arc for God, my wife urged me to call the young artist/mystic, Akiane Kramarik. Our time together was awesome, but it was she who settled the issue of the divine arc. “Oh that,” she said. “Jesus just became who he already was.” Bingo.
Further, I received helpful guidance and instruction from many others, including former professors at St. Andrews and a patient historian in Nazareth. Beyond that, I would say that the painful lessons of my own spiritual pilgrimage found their way into the story by whatever mysterious way ideas move into words.
How is your book different from the other stories about Jesus?
David Baker: I think readers will find a Jesus whom they simply did not expect. They won’t find a speculative fantasy about Jesus and a secret wife, or a Jesus who makes clay birds come alive as a child. Evangelical readers will be surprised to find a Jesus who is discomfortingly human while at the same time a Jesus who is consistent with the Gospel accounts. I think it is this commitment to Jesus’ authentic humanity AND canonical respect that sets ‘Becoming the Son’ apart.
Give us two or three insights from the book that would be helpful to Christians.
David Baker: First, taking a moment to think about what it means that Jesus experienced everything in life that we do can change everything about how we value our relationship with him, with others, and with ourselves. Second, our imaginations are gifts to help us discover meaning. We should explore the Bible with our imaginations fully engaged with the Spirit as we wander over and between the words, opening the spaces for possibilities! Finally, we are loved AS we are by a God who was happily willing to become just like us.
What do you hope readers will walk away with after they finish your book?
David Baker: I probably am repeating myself, but I really hope readers will close the book filled with encouragement, knowing that they are loved in spite of their many imperfections. I hope the wounded among them will feel healed by an encounter with the God-Man who understood pain and sorrow; I hope the curious will be more interested in who this Jesus could have been…interested enough to open the Gospels for themselves. And I hope self-assured readers will be challenged to reconsider the Jesus whom they think they have tamed.
Good to hear. What have been the controversial parts of the book for evangelical Christians? State the objections and your responses.
David Baker: Many of my critics have not read the book but react to the title and subtitle. I’ve already addressed the title, but a few words regarding the subtitle (‘An Autobiography of Jesus’) are necessary. Let me say as clearly as I can that I do not now nor have I ever thought myself to actually be Jesus. The work is fiction and the title was never intended to be taken literally. However, to my surprise, some have taken great offense at my perceived hubris and to them I can only say that I salute their passion to defend Jesus’ honor.
I chose an autobiographical approach because it is the literary device that most intimately connects the reader to the main character. Further, I believe that Christianity is unique in inviting something of a blurring of identities between ourselves and our God. Paul speaks often about ‘Christ in us,’ (Galatians 2:20), and Jesus said, ‘I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you’ (John 14:20), etc. Our faith is replete with language of union, and so I did not think it disrespectful in a fictional work to explore how that might feel.
A second objection was my use of ‘She’ for the Holy Spirit. In fact, it was a deal breaker for my agent. I used a footnote to offer my rationale, but in a nutshell, it seems to me that Genesis 1 (where ‘male and female’ were made in God’s image) makes room to acknowledge the female aspects of the Creator. Given the role of the Spirit and the masculine titles for Father and Son, ‘She’ became the best candidate.
A third objection—and frankly the most concerning one–was laid on thickly by one of my editors, a highly regarded editor in Evangelical publishing. His complaint was blunt: “No Evangelical publisher will touch this because you made Jesus too human.” He had confirmed my suspicions but his words stopped me in my tracks nonetheless. In response I answer that it is not that Jesus can be made too human, but rather that we are not human enough. Indeed, much of Evangelicalism does not seem to grasp what it means to be human in the first place. It is a serious issue worthy of much discussion.
Other complaints center around my literary license with Gospel stories or the addition of new ones. I appreciate concern about faithfulness to the text. Indeed, it was in the forefront of my mind. The question that arises for me is what that faithfulness looks like. I answer that I, like most pastors and teachers, have taken thoughtful liberties. We simply do not have every detail of the stories we do have, and we know from John that lots more happened. So I answer that we have sacred space for informed imagining. Faithfulness to the text ought not preclude re-imagining possibilities (within a framework that is too complex to go into here.) Let me just say that my standard throughout the book was to include only what did happen or plausibly could have happened according to the biblical accounts and/or historical sources. Therefore, the reader will find nothing intentionally contrary to Scripture.
Thanks for answering my questions. Personally, I don’t feel comfortable referring to the Holy Spirit as a “She” mainly because (1) the Scriptures don’t do this, and (2) throughout the history of the Church, the Spirit was either referred to as “He” or just “the Spirit” (neutral to gender). But other people’s mileage may vary, of course. Thanks again for the conversation.