The Portraits of Jesus and the New Illiteracy

An Introduction and Overview

By Gerald Borchert, Ph.D.

Gerald BorchertMy newest book, The Portraits of Jesus for an Age of Biblical Illiteracy (Smyth & Helwys, forthcoming in January 2017), grows out of a series of lectures which I delivered at a Methodist Conference Retreat for pastors and other ministers. The subject at that time was communicating the message of Jesus in an age of biblical illiteracy. Because of the response, I have expanded the earlier lectures into a book which is designed for Christian leaders and seminary students. It is concerned about the adequate communication to parishioners of the Christian gospel as it touches people who are not well-versed in the messages and implications of the New Testament.

The writing of this work has been an exciting one for me as I have sought to put my years of teaching the NT as well as practical theology (e.g., worship, homiletics, counseling) into a helpful synthesis so that the multiple perspectives of the NT can become more clearly perceived by contemporary readers. I have been concerned that many of my theology students have a very truncated understanding of the New Testament. And I have found that a number of ministers wrestle with related problems so that much teaching in our faith communities is more in the form of sound bites and often lacks an adequate contextual framework for communicating the full implications of the messages. Understanding the framework of the biblical books is essential to adequate application and appropriation.

One unique aspect of this work is that it links each Gospel portrait of Jesus with at least one other work in the NT. This method enables readers to perceive the fact that there is an integrated portrait of Jesus in each book which can then be related to portraits in other books. Discovering this reality can assist readers in bringing focus to the living messages in the NT. Gerald BorchertMoreover, I believe that this methodology can help to uncover significant personal and community implications which authentic commitment to Jesus entails. In addition, it challenges pastors and teachers (by example) to learn how to develop an overall understanding of an author’s purpose and argument in a NT book. Such a process should foster in ministers a holistic pattern of how to articulate and communicate for their parishioners the point and structure of each book so that biblical pericopes will not be viewed simply as snippets of divine wisdom delivered from some place outside our present reality.

What I have provided are examples of my methodology—in perhaps for many a new way—as I have related Mark to 1 Peter and indicated how such an understanding impacts our perceptions of Jesus. Then I have linked Matthew with Hebrews and Luke naturally with Acts. In dealing with Paul, I have used texts from three stages of his work: the beginning of his ministry (Galatians), the mid-point (1 Corinthians) and I have selected a later letter (Colossians) as well.  In dealing with John, I have purposely linked the Gospel with Revelation to show that the thought processes in both books are really very closely related even though the formats of presentation seem to be so different. Finally, I close the work with some brief conclusions and suggestions on how to carry this study forward in terms of further developing patterns of study for worship and for communicating (preaching, teaching and witnessing) the messages of the New Testament.


Editor’s Note: The January 9-10, 2017 IWS Worship Seminar by Jerry Borchert, The Portraits of Jesus: Models for Worship and Mission Renewal, will be based on this book.

About the author

Alumni Director, Practicum Professor, and DWS graduate.