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A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age by Glen Harold Stassen (review)
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A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age Glen Harold Stassen Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. 280pp. $25.00

Glen Stassen’s A Thicker Jesus addresses how one can find a solid ethical identity that provides a framework and path in a rapidly changing world. Stassen begins by considering what those who have stood the test of history, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karth Barth, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day, among others, have in common. He effectively argues that the common thread among these great leaders of resistance is a “thick” exegetical understanding of Jesus Christ that is implemented in daily life through incarnational discipleship. Such a “thick” interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth is rooted in Christian realism rather than Platonic idealism, meaning that incarnational discipleship does not attempt to apply lofty ideals to reality but is deeply involved, following Jesus of Nazareth, in historical struggles. Stassen then argues that this type of ethic can address all of the problems posed to ethics and faith in “a secular age” outlined by Charles Taylor’s book of the same title.

Stassen’s framework of incarnational discipleship in a secular age addresses each of Taylor’s seven problems through a tapestry of argumentation that includes history, biblical exegesis, the tradition of Christian ethics, science, and politics. The work is critically engaged with historical figures in Christian ethics and current voices in the field. Stassen contributes a unique voice to the conversation by drawing upon his experiences with science as a trained physicist and with politics through his father’s gubernatorial career. Where many chose critical engagement with the natural and social sciences or with theological and biblical interpretation, Stassen does both. He approaches physics, politics, and economics with theological rigor, drawing upon traditional theological claims and offering his own critique and adaptation. Stassen, in his typical style, draws extensively on the Christian Scriptures. However, he does not simply reference numerous verses but further enhances the complexity of his argumentation through careful exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount, which he is known for, and of the Gospel of Mark.

Stassen’s careful examination of the Sermon on the Mount and Mark offers the reader a picture of the particular understanding of Jesus that Stassen argues needs to be “thickly” interpreted; nonetheless, the book does not address [End Page 200] the consequences of other interpretations of Jesus being made “thicker” and the ethical dilemmas of such interpretations. To his credit, Stassen draws on several womanist interpretations of the cross as suffering in solidarity with the oppressed. But what about womanists who claim that any value placed on the suffering of the cross might lead to the excuse that the suffering of the oppressed is, in fact, redemptive suffering? Does a “thicker” interpretation of the cross necessarily address this problem?

Overall, Stassen’s contribution to the field cannot be understated. He insists on addressing social problems on their own terms in the language of history, politics, economics, and science; he also rigorously engages theological and biblical ethics when such things have gone out of fashion in social ethics. As an added bonus, Stassen is clear in his call for pluralism and multiple ethical approaches while at the same time offering a rich account rooted in an interpretation of Jesus for Christians.

Sarah A. Neeley
Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver