Gomes was one of my favorite professors at Harvard, largely because he was just such a joy to listen to. The best way I can explain his speaking skill is that my parents went to hear him give a talk during a parents' weekend at Harvard, after which my dad told me, "He talked for an hour and a half, and it felt like five minutes!"
I enjoyed Gomes's lectures so much that, after taking a course of his during the fall semester of my junior year, I audited his spring term course despite the fact that I had no interest in the subject matter. (The name of the course, just to give you an idea of how disgusting Harvard can be, was -- I'm not kidding -- The History of Harvard and Its Presidents.) Gomes is an old-school lecturer, and he speaks in what I've often called an affected (and inimitable) pseudo-British accent.
Now, I don't agree with all of Gomes's theology, but I have a great deal of respect for him, so I was very interested when I saw his new book the other day. Here's what the dust jacket had to say:
"Jesus came preaching, but the church wound up preaching Jesus. Why does the church insist upon making Jesus the object of its attention rather than heeding his message? Esteemed Harvard minister Peter J. Gomes believes that excessive focus on the Bible and doctrines about Jesus have led the Christian church astray. 'What did Jesus preach?' asks Gomes. To recover the transformative power of the gospel—'the good news'—Gomes says we must go beyond the Bible and rediscover how to live out Jesus' original revolutionary message of hope:
"'Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace, and I warn now against cheap hope. Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is the more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don't turn out all right and aren't all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us.'
"This gospel is offensive and always overturns the status quo, Gomes tells us. It's not good news for those who wish not to be disturbed, and today our churches resound with shrill speeches of fear and exclusivity or tepid retellings of a health-and-wealth gospel. With his unique blend of eloquence and insight, Gomes invites us to hear anew the radical nature of Jesus' message of hope and change. Using examples from ancient times as well as from modern pop culture, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus shows us why the good news is every bit as relevant today as when it was first preached."
Obviously, I can't extrapolate the whole message of Gomes's book from this brief summary, but I have a few thoughts on what this blurb suggests (keeping in mind that the blurb may just reflect the publisher's over-sensationalized spin). It's true that many Christians would do well to pay more attention to the radical nature of Jesus' teachings. We should always be trying to better understand and live out all that Jesus taught. But I don't like the suggestion that there must be some trade-off between focus on Jesus' message and Jesus Himself. Because Jesus was more than a teacher; He was God incarnate. He didn't come just to teach us the way; He is the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. That's a pretty important aspect of Jesus' message, if you ask me.