He misquotes Augustine, and his book offers law, not gospel: for John Ortberg, the good news is that Jesus showed us how to be better.
Ortberg marshals an impressive array of evidence from a huge variety of sources, scholarly and not, to show just how much better things are because of Jesus. Christ was the impetus behind universal education and universities. He is the one who showed the dignity of every human life and got slavery outlawed throughout Christendom. He is the one who taught the glory of heterosexual monogamy. He redefined greatness, showing the world the way of the saint as an alternative to the way of the hero. And He is the one who gave us hope through His resurrection.
A pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), Ortberg is a master prose stylist with a flair for finding quotable phrases: “Leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.” The thief on the cross was an anti-Roman insurrectionist; “he was not up there for shoplifting.”
Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Zondervan, 2012) is a gripping read. Ortberg deliberately appeals to people of all theological persuasions, and everything he affirms about Jesus is true. The deity of Christ and the full sweep of redemptive history are here. Why did Christ die? Ortberg examines the immediate political considerations of Pilate and the Sanhedrin. He keeps stepping back in his narrative, looking from a greater and greater distance, probing for the ultimate reason why Christ had to die. Then he finds that reason—in Christ’s own choice to show the world a better, more sacrificial way.
Over and over, Ortberg disappoints the Christian reader by beautifully setting up everything for a 200-proof gospel presentation that he never delivers. This book describes Jesus’ work—everything but the most important part.