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Knowing Jesus (James Alison)

[Note from Rowland: Here’s a book I must read some time]

Review on Amazon.com By Ihar Ivanou –

This book, though not big, is not an easy-swallowed work, rather it demands being read and thought through very carefully. Just as with any really good theological text, it challenges the reader to re-consider again and again his/her most fundamental beliefs and ways of doing even obvious things.

James Alison disturbs the reader with a simple, but unusual for a Roman Catholic author, question: What does it mean to know Jesus? Looking for a non-superstitious answer he explores the experience of the apostles, the experience of the death and resurrection of Christ. Alison says that the resurrection gave them an awareness of a non-resentful and non-violent God, forgiving and therefore enabling us to overcome our fear of failure (whatever it may be) and to follow someone who ended in failure. Then, following (i.e. imitating) Jesus is a practical learning of not being violent, i.e. casting out no one, especially in the name of God. Even more, it is a discovery of oneself as someone who is hopelessly contaminated by violence. This discovery, together with the very particular picture of God given us by Jesus, brings a liberating understanding of being forgiven and enabled to forgive and to bring peace, love, and creativity, rather than to participate in rivalry, hypocrisy and hatred. Alison is convinced that the experience of a real (radical, in his words) ‘knowing Jesus’ must have public consequences of change in ways of relating.

My own experience is that Alison’s writings provide an excellent source of learning to be a sincere and determined Christian. If you are encouraged to read this intelligent book, do not overlook the very good foreword by Rowan Williams and the questions after each chapter – they are no less challenging than the text itself. If you find Alison’s style somewhat heavy going at the first reading, start with the last chapter – a more practical one, and then jump back to the beginning. This book is worth spending time on.


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