Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Miles’s investigation of Jesus startles the reader by making strange (what literary critics call defamiliarizing) the doctrine of the incarnation. Although Christian dogmas have long seen Jesus as a human incarnation of God, elaboration of Trinitarian doctrine usually keeps God and Jesus separate as well. Miles does not. Everything that God has thought, said, or done carries forward into the consciousness of Jesus, and Jesus acts and speaks as if he were reacting to his previous manifestations in the Hebrew Bible. As Miles puts it:Jesus being God Incarnate, all of God’s earlier words were Jesus’ words as well and may—indeed, must—be taken into account as evidence about his character.

Because Miles understands Jesus as arriving on earth with a pre-formed consciousness and memory, he engages aspects of Jesus’ character that do not often appear in Christian theology. Among these, for instance, is the question of whether the Crucifixion is tantamount to God’s committing suicide. If Jesus/God had the power over life and death, as he claims in John 10, then his death must be self-inflicted. It matters little what the Romans or Jesus’ fellow Jews intended; God can do what God wishes. This suicide/deicide starkly points to the central feature of Miles’s work, a feature captured in the “crisis” of the title. The New Testament story of Jesus functions as a narrative of inner conflict in which God is forced, either by himself or by external events, to reformulate his patterns of behavior.

By examining the New Testament only through the lens of the character of God, Miles necessarily omits many facets of the New Testament that Christians hold dear. He has no interest in personal application of the text or its meaning for a religious congregation. The book, therefore, ignores Jesus’ teaching on these matters. Shorn of its theological qualities, the canon looks strikingly different and even distorted. This distortion, however, allows Miles to sidestep some of the distracting issues that historical and theological interpretations often present as blinders to reading the text. Miles has made plain that the concept of “the Word become flesh” (John 1:14) provides the framework—consciously or unconsciously—for almost all subsequent readings of the New Testament, and his literary acumen delves into the incarnation with a keen perceptiveness that complements theology and history.