A thoughtful reader of the Bible sometimes finds it hard to reconcile the Christ portrayed in church with the one we read about in Scripture. The Jesus of the Bible acts so strangely. His words are stranger still. The values and strategies that shaped his ministry seem counterintuitive, if not completely contrary to the spirit of the modern age. It is a wonder we feel so comfortable talking about him, not to mention speaking for him. Perhaps we are too comfortable. Could it be that we have missed something?
In Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus, Derek Cooper and Ed Cyzewski observe that in the Gospels, "Jesus consistently defied people's expectations of what the Messiah would be and do." This was the majority of those who heard Jesus. The authors characterize these "unfollowers" as "rather indifferent, not choosing to follow or oppose Jesus but always grateful for a free lunch or a nifty miracle story." Although he did not initially identify with them, Cyzewski credits the Bible's non-followers of Jesus as a surprising and much needed source of insight into his own spiritual life. "Years of studying the people who got it right only resulted in convincing me that I was right" he explains. "Studying the people who got it wrong provided the most effective insight into the flaws of my own heart."
Unfollowers focuses on "the people who got it wrong" in the Gospels and invites us to see these familiar stories in a new light. When we see ourselves in their stories we are able to better understand their reaction to Jesus. We also begin to see ourselves more accurately. We would like to think that if we had been present when Jesus taught and performed miracles, we would have been among the few who believed. But this is probably not the case. The authors want us to consider the possibility that we might have responded to Jesus with skepticism, disappointment, and even outright rejection. In the process, they propose to deconstruct our view of Jesus. This is necessary because our tendency is to "imagine that Jesus looks just like and wants the same things as us." But the book's real objective is to deconstruct the view we have of ourselves. Or if not to completely deconstruct it, at least provide us with a needed reality check.
Stories About Us
The book directs our attention to the unfollowers of the Gospels in the hope that it will close the distance between the lives we live and those we read about in Scripture. Cooper and Cyzewksi do not want us to view these biblical accounts as stories about religious or irreligious people who are now long dead. They want us to understand that they are stories about us. The specific events and people in the life of Christ are used to highlight our own spiritual problems. John the Baptist shows us the folly of projecting our own expectations into God's plan for our lives. The townspeople of Nazareth cast a light on the shadows of our ambivalence toward Christ and reveal that we expect too little from God, despite all our affirmations of faith. The Pharisees expose our tendency to exclude others, along with our tendency to judge them based on the "external markers of religious devotion" that we have set.