(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In 1996, Jack Miles wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning work entitled God: A Biography. In that work, he constructed a character analysis of God, based strictly upon a literary study of the Hebrew Bible. He gleaned from the text of the Bible a dynamic and complex deity, and his literary analysis of God’s character, because it shunned dogmatic concerns of Judaism and Christianity, proved provocative. In Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God, Miles turns to the New Testament and the character of Jesus. As he did in God: A Biography, Miles analyzes the character of Jesus, based on the New Testament texts alone. The sequel forms a continuity with the first work, however, because Miles takes seriously the claim that Jesus was God incarnate. Therefore, the complexity of God’s character in the Hebrew Bible is brought forward in toto, into the person of Jesus as well.

The book divides into four chapters—“The Messiah, Ironically,” “A Prophet Against the Promise,” “The Lord of Blasphemy,” and “The Lamb of God”—presented in roughly chronological sequence, each chapter focusing on a particular characteristic of Jesus Christ. Although he refers to many New Testament books, Miles primarily uses Gospel passages. Because the Gospel of John is the Gospel most emphatic about Jesus as the incarnation of God, it functions as the outline for most of Miles’s work.

In his first chapter, “The Messiah, Ironically,” Miles highlights passages from the early chapters of the Gospels, especially John. In these passages, Jesus and others make claims for his status as messiah, but their understanding of “messiah” is so strange that it becomes an ironic title. For instance, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” and Jesus himself uses the image of a bronze serpent to expound on his status. The second image, drawn from Numbers, was an object used to heal the people of Israel from an attack of poisonous snakes sent by God himself. These two animal symbols demonstrate that God has dramatically and...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Madsen, Catherine. “Jesus Saves Face.” CrossCurrents 52, no. 1 (2002): 131-136. A review that focuses on Miles’s treatment of irony.

Wood, James. “God, Interrupted: Revisiting the Life of Christ.” New Yorker 77, no. 35 (November 12, 2001): 122-125. Explores the book as a study of theodicy.

Wood, Michael. “Nobody’s Perfect.” The New York Times Book Review, December 23, 2001, p. 8. A critique of Miles’s literary reading, centering on Miles’s lack of attention to authorial presence.