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Book Review: “The Year of Living Like Jesus”

November 22, 2009

The Year of Living Like Jesus: My Journey of Discovering What Jesus Would Really Do
by Ed Dobson
2009, Zondervan
9 out of 10

Usually when I look at the back of a book and see something like “Evangelical pastor Ed Dobson had a radical idea…”, I think “Oh, no!” But this time, I gave it the benefit of the doubt for two reasons:

First, the foreword is by A. J. Jacobs, the guy who wrote The Year of Living Biblically (which was actually Dobson’s inspiration for his own journey and book). Jacobs is himself a “secular Jew”, not at all an evangelical Christian. As a Christian, I have to admit that I still have a hard time with the more conservative elements of my own faith group, and the term “evangelical” more often than not refers to just these folks, but not always. So if A. J. Jacobs found the book interesting, maybe it wasn’t as “conservative” as I would have guessed.

Second, the cover of the book is a photo of Ed Dobson with his long “Jesus beard”. The man’s smile is disarming and his eyes are warm and inviting. I can’t help but looking at him and thinking, “Yeah, I could have a nice conversation with this guy.”

So, I kept reading the back: “Live one year as Jesus lived. Eat as Jesus ate. Pray as Jesus prayed. Observe the Sabbath as Jesus observed it. Attend the Jewish festivals that Jesus attended. Read the Gospels every week.” Hmm. Ok, doesn’t sound all that profound, but at least here’s a Christian who’s willing to take Jesus’ Jewish background seriously, and not just so that he can support Israel and help to bring about the end of the world.

“Dobson’s transition from someone who follows Jesus to someone who lives like Jesus takes him into bars, inspires him to pick up hitchhikers, and depens his understanding of suffering. Living like Jesus is quite different from what we imagine.”

Here’s the thing: based on Dobson’s experiences, living like Jesus is actually pretty similar to what I imagined. That’s why this book is so great. Dobson is one of those rare individuals who possesses the intellectual and moral honesty to travel outside his own comfort zone, even outside his evangelical theology and upbringing, in order to figure out what his religion really means.

I don’t agree with all of Dobson’s opinions and conclusions, but that’s cool. The thing that he and I can share (apart from our faith in Jesus Christ) is our love for trying to get to the root of things, the real “fundamentals”. In other words, his conclusions aren’t conclusions at all, but are temporary intellectual rest-stops during his continuous exploration.

How did he step outside of his comfort zone? Well, for starters, he started to go to Jewish services. Most evangelicals are willing to shout about supporting Israel, but can be downright antisemitic in their personal words and deeds. Dobson’s just not that type of guy. He also learned how to pray the Rosary and the Orthodox prayer rope. If you know anything of the modern Christian environment, you know already how big of a no-no that is! Disciplined religion, outside of going to church and reading the Bible, is very much frowned-upon in most Protestant circles, and (ironically) considered to be “unspiritual”. But Jesus was very disciplined in his Jewish faith, so why shouldn’t we be in our Christianity?

And here’s another thing: for once in his life, Dobson didn’t vote party-line Republican. After actually looking into each candidate and lining them up with the teachings of the Christ, he came to a few realizations… Now, I’m no Democrat, and because I’m not at all a “party-liner”, I applaud Dobson’s willingness to look below the surface.

Written with candor and simplicity, this book is worthy of the attention of all spiritual seekers, and even the non-religious. Apart from the lessons in religion and morality which Dobson shares with the reader, he also shares much of his own life and personality. In The Year of Living Like Jesus, we have a gift of rare sincerity, honesty, and true pathos.

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