Faculty Stories

New Book by Dr. Nancy E. Bedford Considers the Identity and Mission of Jesus of Nazareth

Who Was Jesus Book Cover

In her new book Who was Jesus and What Does it Mean to Follow Him?, Dr. Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, the Georgia Harkness Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, helps us consider the identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Readers will learn about the incarnation, how Christians have understood Jesus to be both human and divine, and what his radical teachings and ministry can mean for us today. Bedford looks closer at how Christians through the centuries have understood who Jesus is and explores communal and individual practices for following him.

This book is a part of “The Jesus Way: Small Books of Radical Faith” series that delves into big questions about God’s work in the world. Crafted by a diverse community of internationally renowned scholars, pastors, and practitioners, “The Jesus Way” series seeks to deepen the reader’s faith in Christ and enliven their witness.

To learn more about her new book, we invited Bedford to respond to a few questions.

What inspired you to write this book and were there any surprises or aha moments in the process?

This book came out of a request from one of the editors at Herald Press, as part of a series called “The Jesus Way,” which delves into key theological questions from an Anabaptist perspective. As I wrote it, I realized it was a chance to distill down in understandable language, in a brief book, what is most important to me about Christology, after more than 25 years of teaching it. The premise of the book is that Jesus is truly God with us -Emmanuel- while simultaneously deeply and entirely human. God becomes one of us to invite us into participation in the very life of God: and that is good news!

So, who was Jesus?

Read the book to find out!

What do Christians most often get wrong in our understanding of who Jesus was, in his historical context and as Jesus the Christ, God incarnate?

One of the big mistakes Christians often make is to forget the historicity and specificity of Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes he becomes a spiritualized, diffuse figure who serves to justify and bless a way of life that has little to do with the Sermon on the Mount or the healing, prophetic actions that made Jesus an enemy of the empire of his day. If you search for images of Jesus on the internet, what you get is a whitewashed Jesus that in no way could possibly be the son of Mary, a woman of color. What does it mean in a society constructed on the logic of white supremacy to follow Jesus in faith, given that if he were among us today, he would be in danger of being deported, put in prison, or shot?

What can today’s Church learn, relearn, and/or unlearn, when we look at Jesus’ ministry?

The church is not an end in itself but exists as a community called to follow Jesus by the Spirit to the glory of God, which is that all of creation should flourish, starting with the most vulnerable. The good news is that God’s Spirit is willing and able to help us figure out what it means to follow along the path of Jesus in our own time and place. In the context of this country, I think Jesus challenges us -and helps us finds ways- to question the predominant logic of a culture that values material accumulation and individual achievements to the detriment of the good of the most vulnerable and of creation itself. This makes the reimagining the ministry of the church in our world with all its challenges vital and exciting!

In the book you explore both communal and individual practices for following Jesus. What does that look like for you?

I think it is very important to remember the community dimension of our faith. We follow Jesus not in isolation, but alongside others, who help us make sense of what that discipleship means concretely in the here and now. I am grateful both for my own local community of faith (Reba Place Church) and for the Garrett- Evangelical community of teacher-learners and learner-teachers, from and with whom I continue to learn what following Jesus is about.

Who Was Jesus and What Does It Mean to Follow Him? is published by the Herald Press and available in paperback and e-book from all major book distributors.

Dr. Nancy Bedford
Dr. Nancy E. Bedford

Nancy Elizabeth Bedford, Dr. theol. (Tübingen, 1994), was born in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. She has been the Georgia Harkness Professor of Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston) since 2003. Previously she taught theology at Instituto Universitario ISEDET and Seminario Internacional Teológico Bautista (both in Buenos Aires).

She has written or edited nine books and written over 70 book chapters and journal articles, which have appeared in five languages. Her most recent books are Galatians, A Theological Commentary from WJK in the Belief series and Teología feminista a tres voces.

Her current project is on the Christology of the marvelous exchange from a Latin American and Latino/a perspective. Her research interests focus on global feminist theories and theologies, Latin American theologies, Latino/Latina theologies in North America, theologies in migration, liberating readings of Scripture, hermeneutics, and the rearticulation of classical doctrinal loci from the perspective of critical, artistic and poetic reason.

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a graduate school of theology related to The United Methodist Church, was founded in 1853. Located on the campus of Northwestern University, the seminary serves more than 450 students from various denominations and cultural backgrounds, fostering an atmosphere of ecumenical interaction. Garrett-Evangelical creates bold leaders through master of divinity, master of arts, master of theological studies, doctor of philosophy, and doctor of ministry degrees. Its 4,500 living alumni serve church and society around the world.