Jesus: His Life and Ministry. By Derek Prime. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995. 280 pp. Paper, $10.99.
Written with the lay person in mind, this book gives an overview of our Lord’s life and ministry. Its best features are the many helpful tools the author has included which equip the reader to “dig deeper” on his own and thus assist him to research many of the key events in the life of Christ further. The most important of these tools is a dictionary of Bible words, names, and places (= the last 107 pages of this 280 page work). The meditation verses and review questions that Prime has compiled and included at the end of each chapter are another nice feature.
This reviewer’s observations of the body of the book will be limited to three main points. First, this work is a surprisingly brief and quite cursory survey of the life of Christ (with only about half of the book devoted to this).
Second, it seems strange—in light of the declaration on the back cover that the book takes one “step-by-step through Christ’s walk on earth”—that the material is presented topically rather than chronologically. This arrangement could easily mislead those readers who are not already familiar with the basic chronological framework of the life of Christ, because the author has placed many key events out of chronological step. For a self-titled “survey,” the arrangement seems jerky at best and misleading at worst. For example, one reads about Christ’s miracles in chapters three and five, His parables in chapter six, His calling of the first disciples in chapter seven, and finally His cleansing of the temple in chapter eight.
Third, beyond any weaknesses in organization, GES members will find even more problematic Prime’s theological content as he expounds the life of Christ. The author directly espouses a Lordship Salvation position throughout, and this is especially apparent as he explains such key terms as repentance, faith, Lordship, and discipleship.
In discussing repentance Prime states that when offering salvation, our Lord Jesus “called for a change of mind about sin and a radical change of direction of life—that is what repentance is” (p. 93). Prime goes on to affirm that only those “who believed the message, and who gave proper evidence of repentance” could know that God had truly forgiven them (p. 96). This reviewer acknowledges that while repentance does involve a change of mind about sin, seeing it as God sees it and recognizing the penalty that it carries, it does not necessarily include a commitment to a radical change of lifestyle.
The author’s Reformed theological bias is equally revealed in his unwarranted assumption that the terms believer and disciple are essentially synonymous. He describes our Lord’s basic evangelisticinvitation thus: “Jesus’ call to come to Him is a call to discipleship” (p. 119). Along these same lines, Prime’s understanding of Christ’s interaction with the rich young ruler (Matt 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; and Luke 18:18-30) as a normative evangelistic call seems to be influenced by John MacArthur’s similar treatment of these pericopes in The Gospel According to Jesus (pp. 77-88). GES members will recognize that while the call to follow our Lord as a disciple (as defined in the Synoptic Gospels) does demand a costly commitment of self-denying obedience, that is not an inherent part of the simple “faith alone” terms of the Gospel (see John 3:16-18 and Rom 4:5) and can in fact be heeded by a regenerate believer at points subsequent to regeneration.
Being targeted for laymen, this work succeeds in being written in the kind of non-technical language that will be readily understood by the average Christian. While it does contain many helpful aids, in this reviewer’s opinion it is dangerously replete with theological error. It is not to be recommended to new believers or to doctrinally uninformed Christians. Other books on the life and ministry of Christ without the erroneous theological baggage, such as The Words and Works of Jesus Christ by J. Dwight Pentecost or A Shorter Life of Christ by Donald Guthrie, are much superior.
Thomas F. Harves
Tanglewood Bible Fellowship