Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the playful, disruptive, extravagant personality of Jesus – John Eldredge (Hodder and Stoughton)

A book that genuinely delivers on the promise on the cover. This fresh look at Jesus is bound to provide aha moments for many unfamiliar with the Gospel portrayal, and those who think they are.

The first chapter: ‘the playfulness of God and the poison of religion’ is the first stanza of a melody repeated throughout the book. Chapter headings include a Jesus who is ‘playful’ ( the scene in the road the Emmaus, where Jesus appears to leave the two who he spoken with); generous (Eldredge calculates that the ‘best wine’ provided in the miracle at Cana represents 757 bottles); cunning (note Jesus’ indirect approach to the woman at the well).

Eldredge depicts a Jesus who breaks the law, keeps ‘bad company’, is accused of heavy drinking, even of being the devil himself. The religious authorities hate him, and eventually kill him: hence ‘outlaw’. Eldredge traces the links with parts of the modern church whose ‘laws’ cripple believers and exclude the world, who see through the sham. If this sounds like a rather familiar cheap shot at churchianty, what actually comes across is a man who feels Jesus passion that we enjoy the abundant life he promised and is keen that we don’t succumb to anything that’s second best.

This is no more apparent that in the final chapters where, with a careful gear change, he challenges the reader to become intimate with the living Jesus 24/7, outlining his own personal walk in a way that is both challenging and enticing. Take this book seriously and it’s hard to see how you won’t be changed.