(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The book of Hebrews (13:8-9) declares, “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday and to day and for ever.” That may be true in a theological sense, but every century of the Christian era has re-created Jesus according to its own character, collectively giving him kaleidoscopic variety. Jaroslav Pelikan addresses these developments in Jesus Through the Centuries, which examines the meaning of Jesus for culture and civilization in general.

Pelikan did not intend this book to be either a biography of Jesus or a history of Christianity as an institution. Instead, he believed that this study of the interpretations of Jesus throughout the Christian era would illuminate both the nature of Jesus and the mind of each century. He was concerned, however, that at any time, interpretations and understanding of Jesus could, and did, become too caught up in the moment. “There ought to be somebody who speaks to the other nineteen centuries,’’ he said in a 1983 interview with the Christian Science Monitor. ”I’m filing a minority report on behalf of the past.’’

In Jesus Through the Centuries, Pelikan maintains that, for every age, the person, sayings, and deeds of Jesus have represented an answer to fundamental questions about human life and destiny. According to Pelikan, those fundamental questions are best revealed through the artistic images prevalent in a given age. Images of Jesus, reflecting the ideas of poets,...

(The entire section is 455 words.)