John MacArthur
Thomas Nelson, 2013, 528 pp., $19.18
The Gospel of Luke begins with a caveat, principally informing readers that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account [of the life of Jesus].” Indeed, from the beginning of the Christian era, there were attempts to write accounts detailing the life and teachings of Jesus—none of which were truly complete. Or, as the ending of the Gospel of John tell us, “But there are many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (NRSV).

Yet, many have attempted novelizations and theological biographies of Jesus, and one thinks of works such as Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1955), Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son (1997), or perhaps Reynolds Price’s more theological approach originally published in Theology Today under the title An Honest Account of a Memorable Life (1994). If one wants the whole Bible, including Jesus, and can swallow a whale, how about The Book of God by Walter Wangerin?

Having such a diverse cast to choose from is what makes John MacArthur’s One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus a remarkable treasure. In fact, one wonders why someone didn’t think of this approach a long time ago.

Essentially, MacArthur—a pastor, scholar and author of many titles—has created a new harmonization of the gospels, freshly chopped and creatively displayed from the New King James text. One might say One Perfect Life is akin to a chronological harmonization of the four gospels, with MacArthur doing the heavy lifting of allowing the gospels themselves to tell the story of Jesus—from beginning to end to resurrection. Along the way—similar to running commentary found in any annotated Bible—we find MacArthur’s theological insights in small type at the bottom of each page.

While not a novel—but clearly another form of an annotated New Testament—this book nevertheless is a novel approach and one that has readability and appeal to it. Anyone who ever has struggled to wade through the gospels and make sense of the synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in comparison to John will find this “One” gospel accessible. Naturally, MacArthur’s notes come at the gospel text from his personal and theological perspective, but as a novel approach to reading the story of Jesus in a chronological fashion (and some larger print!) this reorganized gospel reads like a charm.

Creating the gospel text in this form has its allure and its drawbacks (such as the many variations of certain events, including the cleansing of the temple, where MacArthur has Jesus performing several acts multiple times). So while we lose the individuality of the gospels in this approach—and a deeper theological history in dissecting their meanings compared to each other—we gain a much clearer picture of the way Jesus’ life, teachings and miracles fit together in a single tapestry.

In short, this is a novel approach to the gospels and can help anyone gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of Jesus as One Life (as the title implies). The book may not be complete (as the gospels themselves attest, they are not complete), but MacArthur’s book—which is primarily a gospel harmony—is complete (at 500+ pages) and direct from the gospels and truly sings. I know this is one I will keep as a reference work and devotional guide. Anyone who enjoys reading the story of the Lord Jesus (or the New Testament on the whole) will not be disappointed in the accessibility of it all.

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