Longtime Harvard professor and pastor Peter Gomes says his latest book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, isn't at all what its racy title suggests.
"Any of you who are looking to buy this book in the hope of filling out the particular genealogy of Jesus or the continuing relationships with Mary Magdalene ... or John, for that matter, I'm sorry to disappoint you," Gomes says.
On the contrary, the "scandal," according to Gomes, is the lack of attention to the gospel, even among those who consider themselves to be faithful Christians. The author argues that people tend to focus too much on who Jesus was and what he would do when "the question should be, 'What would Jesus have me do?'"
Gomes chides "religious conservatives," because, he says, "What is there to conserve? We haven't got there yet."
But as in each of his previous books, which include two bestsellers — The Good Book, published in 1996, and Sermons, published in 1998 — he steers away from the polemics of either the right or the left, seeking from his perch in the middle to make the Christian religion more relevant to people's lives.
Ordained as an American Baptist minister, Gomes has served in Harvard's Memorial Church for nearly four decades. He is an eloquent — even mesmerizing — speaker for whom the Gomes Lectureship at the University of Cambridge in England was named. He was featured in the 1999 premiere of Talk magazine as one of "The Best Talkers in America: Fifty Big Mouths We Hope Will Never Shut Up."
In The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, Gomes doesn't pretend that following Jesus' teachings would be easy.
"It may be scandalous," he says, "if we actually tried to apply it in our communities ... to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love our neighbors ... those are dangerous things."
This reading of The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus took place in November of 2007 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.