Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review of James S. Woodroof’s “Famous Sayings of Jesus”

One thing I enjoyed about attending the 2012 Pepperdine Bible Lectures was getting the opportunity to chat with the authors. James S. Woodroof, a nice-looking elderly man from Tennessee, had come out of retirement to write a little devotional titled Famous Sayings of Jesus: Timeless Teachings for Today (2012) and was marketing it as a resource for children’s Bible classes. I picked up a copy and, recently, finished reading it.

The book is really two bound together, one on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) and one on the parables. In the first, Woodroof’s stated goal is to present the well-known “Blessed are the…” verses in what he calls “relationship language,” in effect translating Christ’s statements into easy-to-digest instruction for how believers are to interact with others. For example, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7) becomes a lesson on being willing to forgive others. “Blessed are the persecuted” (v.10) becomes a lesson on tolerating unjust treatment. These might seem straightforward, but as I thought about it, my Sunday School teachers never really explained what it meant to be “poor in spirit” (v.3), one who “mourns” (v.4), or “meek” (v.5) in such a way that left me as a child with a clear understanding of what God expected of me. Woodroof turns the oft-confusing passages into lessons on humility, confession, and putting others first over our personal “rights.”

Despite the topic’s apparent suitability for children, the book’s target demographic seems to be older readers, who’d better relate to the author’s personal stories and World War II illustrations. I was surprised not to find a single example taken from Old and New Testament stories. (Maybe one sneaked by me, but I doubt it.)

In part two, Woodroof appeals to his readers to reconsider the role of grace in Jesus’ parables. I’m not read up on the controversy over grace within the Churches of Christ – I was raised Christian Church, and we talked about grace – so I had some difficulty following the author’s very sketchy discussion on the topic. His goal is to convince Christians to pay more attention to the themes and structure found in the parables, not defend his own views, but a footnote directing the reader to other books on the subject would’ve been helpful.

All in all, I wish the second part on parables had been fleshed out more. The unified book is an illusion, and the smaller-than-average margins, making it difficult to read, are a testimony that each part could’ve been published on its own. Add the crowded look, inconsistent formatting, and typos, and the book seems like a rush job. Few will probably read it, which is unfortunate because there are some real gems inside.

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