As human beings trying to follow Jesus, there is usually some kind of disconnect between what Jesus said and what we actually do. Nowhere is this disconnect greater than in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and it is this disconnect that Randy Harris tires to correct in his book, Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount.
Straight away, Harris begins by telling his readers the conclusion: “the Sermon on the Mount is full of hard teachings, but at my core I believe Jesus wants us to live out these teachings, however imperfectly.”
The belief that Jesus’ teachings, especially his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, stand as a way life should be lived and not merely as philosophical discourses of a humanistic ideal run throughout Harris’ work. This makes Harris’ work stand out among other writers who study the Sermon on the Mount. The goal of the book is not to fully exegete each passage but to give an explanation that leads into practical application and Harris firmly fulfills this goal. The end of each chapter contains a “Discussing What Jesus Says” section with questions for personal or small group study as well as a “Doing What Jesus Says” section with challenges aimed at putting Jesus’ words into practice.
Harris, a professor at Abilene Christian University, writes in an engaging style with a good mix of personal stories. Occasionally he gets a little repetitive but never tedious.
I found great insight in this book, especially within the second chapter and the final chapter. In the second chapter, Harris dives into the Beatitudes. I, along with many others, have thought and taught that these are commands- attitudes to strive after- but Harris speaks about them in an eye opening way. He writes, “It’s funny how we really haven’t paid very much attention to the first word because we have tended to tread these first words of Jesus as commands rather than blessings…But Jesus is not giving commands here…the first thing he does is offer blessings to the people who are there” (28).
When we teach in our churches, are we beginning with commands? “Do…” “Stop doing…” “God wants…” Instead perhaps we should begin by offering blessings to people and love them the way Jesus loved them.
Throughout the book Harris speaks of the Sermon on the Mount being a life to live out and he gives discussion points and ways to enact the Sermon on the Mount throughout. However, the way he closed the book in the final chapter truly sets the example that Jesus’ words should become a part of who we are. In the final chapter, he tells the story of Tau Chi Alpha- a religious order on the Abilene Christian University campus that strives to live the principles of Jesus, especially the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount. Students join this group to become radical about their faith and develop that faith in a community of others who are attempting the same thing and will hold them accountable. As I reflected on this chapter, I became convinced that that group of students is probably closer to the true Church of Jesus than many of our churches.
Living Jesus is a work of encouragement and reflection. It is a work that can challenge an individual, a small group or an entire church. I enjoyed the journey that Randy Harris brought me through as I read and reflected on the words of Jesus and how far I fall short of doing what Jesus has called me to do.
(c) Ryan Vanderland 2012