The book is broken in to two main bits. The first one is framing how Jesus was a fool and the second is looking at five snap shots from Luke's Gospel on how Jesus (foolishly?) reframes a situation by telling a story.
The main driving idea behind this book is in the title: Jesus was a fool. This is not meant as an insult, but rather as an arresting idea. A repeated point in this book is that "when predictability is low, impact is high". Frost takes a "fool" to be someone who is arresting. They surprise you by what they say and how they live. They may come across as naïve or innocent, and yet they can make simple observations that undercut popular assumptions and world views.
Frost cites Shakespeare who said, “Fools do often prove prophets,” meaning a fool is sometimes given a stage, in a context where they do no belong, to speak into situations that no one else will. Good comedy does this. Nathan the prophet also did this when confronting David about his murder and adultery. At the end of the book Frost also adds another "foolish" aspect to Jesus: he had a "dogged, unrelenting loyalty even to those who continually reject them". Jesus "is so loyal, so devoted, so unshakable that it is embarrassing. He just won’t give up." It was Jesus' loyalty to the Father that allowed the world to crush Him for the sake of the world. Foolishness to the Greeks indeed.
The second half of the book looked at the following five passages:
- The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
- The sinful women who was forgiven and the parable of debt being cancelled (Luke 7:36-50)
- Unworthy Servants (Luke 17:7-10)
- The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
- The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-13)
If I was to give a talk or lead a Bible study on any of these passages, I would definitely go back to these chapters as a resource. Frost is thoroughly reformed, emphasising how we are saved by grace and not by anything at all that we do. I will just give one example.
With the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the expert of the law to love their neighbour in the same way that the Good Samaritan loved the beaten up Jew. Normally the application that we apply to ourselves is that we too are to be "good" people to our neighbours. While this might be good, Frost pushes against this straight forward application and reflects that it is actually impossible for us to love our neighbour (who Jesus extends to people we don't like at all) in the way that Good Samaritan does in the story. Here Frost sees the point. We can't love how we should, this story shows our own sin and pushes against our own self-righteousness or justification in how we are good. Taken in the context of all of Luke, this loss of self-esteem we might get from feeling sinful is overcome by our realisation of the love the Father has for us, giving us great value. In this story, the Jewish Law was no a measure of how good someone was, but rather by how far they had fallen.
The book deals with issues on how we relate to others verses our value of wealth; how we respond to the poor and how much we really are forgiven. The challenge from this book is that we in turn are to live foolish lives. Performing acts of kindness, showing forgiveness, mercy and hospitality can be seen as a stupid idea to others. It is costly, sometimes with very little material or emotional gain. But these are the ways that will win the world. After all, our world is in this current mess because it is not foolish enough to see these traits as a positive.
Frost writes well. He is an academic, giving a good background to the first century while also drawing on his own personal experiences. It is easy to read and understand. My only grip with this book is a small one. When looking at the the stories from Luke they are not chronological. We go from chapter 10 to 7 to 17 to 12 to 16. I would have preferred if the chapters were ordered in the same flow that Luke ordered the events. But maybe I am showing I'm a little OCD.
Other books by Michael Frost I have reviewed:
5 Habits of highly missional people