(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Garry Wills opens by making the bold assertion that Christ was not a Christian and that if modern Christians seek to emulate his behavior in the manner of What would Jesus do? bracelets, they are ignoring the fact that they can never truly be like Christ because they are not divine. He points out that if one seeks to understand what Christ would have humans do, one must look at his words and deeds and then attempt to understand them in the context in which they occurred. The best source for these deeds are the Gospels, because they were written most contemporaneously with his actual life. He also notes that many modern theologians cleanse the Gospels of the descriptions of Jesus they find unappetizing, and these are chiefly his very radical statements about religion. Jesus was, Wills believes, adamantly and often violently opposed to the formalized religious structures of his day, so much so that the religious leaders who recognized the danger he posed to them conspired to have him killed.

Wills follows Jesus’ life chronologically, beginning with the Annunciation to Jesus’ childhood status as displaced person, on the run from Herod. Wills remarks that Jesus probably was educated by religious radicals, as he would not normally have enjoyed any education at all, coming from a working-class home. Jesus’ connection with John the Baptist confirms his association with radicals who were seeking to reform what they viewed as a dissolute and corrupt church. Wills interprets the testing of Jesus in the desert by Satan as a metaphor for his entire spiritual education and the assumption of his mission. He overcomes the temptations put before him and is ready to take up the heavy burden of bringing salvation to humanity.

When Jesus began his ministry, he took as his followers those who were social outcasts or from the working classes, people who were explicitly outside the power structures of their day. He purposely associated with those who were despised and unclean according to the dictates of traditional Judaism. Wills comments that all Jesus’ miracles were performed in times and places where they could...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Chesterton, G. K. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Ft. Collins, Colo.: Ignatius Press, 1986. Traces through his three major works the development of Chesterton’s theology, which was extremely influential on Wills’s thought.

Guardini, Romano. The Essential Guardini: An Anthology of the Writings of Romano Guardini. Edited by Heinz R. Kuehn. Chicago: Liturgy Training, 1997. Includes excerpts from Guardini’s major works, grouped by subject. Gives a general overview of his beliefs regarding Christ, which strongly influenced Wills.

Holan, Angie Drobnic. “What Garry Wills Means.” St. Petersburg Times, November 12, 2006, p. 12L. Examines Wills’s views as revealed in What Jesus Meant and What Paul Meant (2006), a work that disputes Saint Paul’s reputation as a misogynist.

Wills, Garry. Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2000. Summarizes Wills’s basic beliefs regarding papal authority, as well as the crucial difference between religion and true faith.

Wills, Garry. Why I Am a Catholic. Boston: Mariner Books, 2003. Answer to those who inquired about his devotion to the Catholic faith based on his earlier book Papal Sin. Explores ideas about Jesus’ true intentions.