Book review: Eyes That See

yAs I continue on in the current ACT3 Network cohort class, I continue to be amazed at the beauty of God. One of the pivotal books for me has been James Danaher’s book, “Eyes That See, Ears That Hear: Perceiving Jesus in a Postmodern Context“. Here are my reactions.

Articulating the Post-modern Journey

This book was written in 2006, and much has come to pass in 8 short years. It is commonly said that postmodernism is over. And so if we find we are reacting to post-modernism, we are probably behind the times, even if there is no clear name for post-postmodernism. Still I found it very helpful for me understand the post-modern viewpoints, especially since I lived through it and didn’t even realize it! The value for me of Danaher’s book is that he gives me the articulation I’ve been looking for to understand what was happening (and may still be happeneing) to me in the past decade.

This quote sums up this articulation well:

“Contrary to what some have led us to believe, a postmodern world is not one in which all order, meaning, and truth is lost. Rather, all that is lost is the kind of order, meaning, and truth that modernity had insisted upon. The good news of the postmodern gospel is that, with the end of modernity, we now have an ever-greater opportunity to order our lives, not based on an understanding of some universal, objective truth, but rather on an intimate understanding of a truth that is personal—indeed, a truth that is a person (see John 14:6).”  – Highlight Loc. 141-44

Gaining Perspectives

Danaher’s book drives home what I’ve been learning in other parts of my life, that is, the necessity of gaining multiple perspectives. Danaher challenges me to see Jesus’ perspective as well as to seek out the perspectives of others I encounter in my life. For example, Jesus’ perspective was often different from that of the Jews, and so merely understanding the “original audience” may not be enough to help me understand Jesus’ perspective.

Many of Jesus’ key concepts, however, seem to have been radically different from the concepts that were common to his world. In fact, much of the conflict Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day, and what ultimately led to his death, resulted from the fact that his concepts were so radically different from those of his day.
– Highlight Loc. 160-62

Civil Reactions

Danaher gives me  many civil ways to  react to various accusations, such as the accusation that I’ve given up on truth and obedience.

“Many consider such a limited understanding of the truth as less than ideal. Indeed, many reject such a perspectival view of the truth. They claim that since there is no way to measure which perspective is correct and which wrong, all views of the truth become equally viable and a wild relativism is the result. Jesus, on the other hand, tells us that there is a criterion for truth, but it is much more subjective than many want to accept. That is, he says that we can judge a thing by its fruit.” – Highlight Loc. 501-4

“Although true for Christians of all ages, one of the great insights of postmodernism is that reality is perspectival. Ultimate reality for the Christian should never have been the kind of objective reality that the sciences of modernity sought.” – Bookmark Loc. 554

Death and Resurrection

Danaher brilliantly explains the need for a Christ-follower to understand the principles of death and resurrection. This helps me to endure many things, knowing that my ideas go through a death and resurrection process as I learn how to find my own theological stance and personal voice to express the gospel.

“Ultimately, in our faith journey, we are brought to a place of death in our soul—a place where we feel abandoned by God. It is a place where we are able to muster very little in the form of faith and all seems lost. When we come out of that death experience alive, we have a new faith and a new understanding of God. We realize that it was not the greatness of our faith that brought us through, but the greatness of God.” – Highlight Loc. 683-85

“It is only through death and resurrection that we come to know that it was not by our faith that we had come into eternal life but by the sovereign hand of God. It is only through death and resurrection that we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God—not even our own lack of faith (see Romans 8:35–39).” – Highlight Loc. 713-14

A point of Contradiction

There was only one section where I felt alienated by Danaher’s thoughts, the part toward the end where he discusses repentance. I find these thoughts to be contradictory to Danaher’s excellent thoughts earlier. This is what I mean: Danaher talks about a “constant state of repentance”. I find this to be contradictory to Danaher’s “constant state of goodness” expressed earlier.

In this paragraph (emphasis mine) Danaher rightly articulates the thought that God’s goodness is the basis of our relationship and that our relationship with God is not destroyed by the sins we commit.

“As in any relationship, it is impossible for the sinner—the one responsible for the destruction of the relationship—to force forgiveness. The sinner is helpless without the victim’s willingness to forgive. God’s desire is always for restoration, and since we are the ones who have broken the relationship through our choice of lesser gods, restoration can only come through God’s forgiveness. But as we have seen, our relationship with God is not based on the good that we do, nor is it destroyed by the sins we commit. It is based on God’s goodness and the fact that he is willing and able to forgive us for having rejected him and the life that he has for us.
– Highlight Loc. 1252-58

But then soon after this, Danaher tells us we must remain in a “continual state of repentance.” I find that I must employ a heavy dose of cognitive dissonance in order to hold these two thoughts together.

“For God to continue his creation within us, we can never lose sight of how short we fall of the ultimate good God has for us and our continual need to stay in the process of transformation. As we have seen, to stay in that process of transformation, we need to live in an almost constant state of repentance in order to be open to God’s grace and the creation he wishes to continue in our lives. Consequently, our ultimate sin is that we separate ourselves from God and his purpose for our lives. God’s purpose is that his creation would continue in our lives and we would be made into the likeness of his Son. Our separation from that purpose is what keeps us from the abundant good God has for us, and it is this separation from which all manner of evil follows. Our real sin is our resistance to the great transformation God wants to bring about within us.”
– Bookmark Loc. 1380


I highly recommend Danaher’s book. It was a joy to discuss his book via phone conference during the cohort class. I simply love the philosophical musings Danaher presents. He has restored my joy of exploring Christianity from the philosophical lens. I think only time will tell just how significant this book and Danaher’s thoughts truly are. Danaher’s gift to me and to an entire generation is the gift of understanding our faith in Jesus in the midst of massive rejection and accusation.


  1. Thanks for your review Brian. Though I read the book previously, I hardly remember what I read, but your review encapsulates the book well.

    I love this truth which I state often, and which often stuns people when they hear it: “our relationship with God is not based on the good that we do, nor is it destroyed by the sins we commit.” I would say something like, “You cannot sin your way out of your salvation (which is by God’s grace).” Young people feel delighted hearing it. Older people look upset, because they think I am saying, “It’s OK. You can keep on sinning (which I did not say!)” They also assume that I am saying, “You don’t need to repent (which I also did not say!)”

    Personally, I find no dissonance with Dannaher also saying that we need to be in a “constant state of repentance.” It is similar to Martin Luther who said in the first of his 95 thesis that “all of life is repentance.” Even repentance is a gift of God’s grace. We simply need to avail ourselves to God, who gives us his grace, that then helps us to repent and believe the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mk 1:15).

  2. Joe Schafer

    It’s been a couple of years since I read Danaher’s book. It’s a real gem. Here are some things that I picked up from it that have stayed with me and have become an integral part of my faith. (But these were very uncomfortable when I first encountered them.)

    1. The pursuit of religious truth (i.e. correct doctrine) at all costs is often a misguided one. As people get closer and closer to systems of thought that they believe are doctrinally correct, they themselves may be drifting farther and farther away from God.

    2. Everyone is inherently subjective, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s how we were meant to be. Purely objective knowledge is not only unattainable as human beings, it is a temptation of Satan (“You will be like God,knowing good and evil”).

    3. To hold positions #1 and #2 does not necessarily make you a relativist. You can hold those positions and yet firmly believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth.

    4. It’s a mistake to read the Bible and think that the terms you encounter mean exactly the same thing to you as they did to Jesus and to other people in first-century Palestine. That does not mean that you can make the Bible say anything you want (although people are very adept at that). But it should foster a healthy, cautious skepticism in your own ability to understand the text.

    5. One way to think of the Bible is that it is a divinely inspired, vivid and realistic account of human interaction with a God whom they often deeply mischaracterize and misunderstand. To say this is not to diminish the Bible’s importance at all. In fact, it makes the Bible much more understandable and real.

    6. God deeply respects human culture. He allows people to have all sorts of mistaken notions about him and interact with him on the basis of those incorrect assumptions (for example, that he loved rules and regulations and bloody animal sacrifices) for the sake of developing a relationship with them.

    7. Human cultures have very different ideas about justice and about how to achieve reconciliation between adversaries. The atonement theologies in the Bible are sufficiently rich and varied to allow just about anyone to enter into a relationship with the God of the Bible on their own terms. You don’t need to force everyone into your own culture’s ideas of justice to make them receive the gospel as you understand it.

    If you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for?

    • james p danaher

      I love Ben’s quote of Luther. “All of life is repentance.” But we only get that when we see what Jesus is talking about in the SOM and elsewhere when he speaks of sin. It is not our cultural notion which is behavioral but the fact that our hearts are prone to wander from an awareness of God’s presence in a way that Jesus heart never did. That’s why in the SOM he equates distractions like lust, anger, earthly treasure, worry, etc. with sin. Since we constantly drift away from an awareness of God’s presence and therein grieve God’s heart, every time we return to God’s presence (say in prayer) it is an experience of God’s forgiveness although unless we see our return as repentance we are oblivious to receiving God’s forgiveness.
      That’s why I wrote my contemplative book. To argue that our real sin is that we don’t live in a constant awareness of God’s presence the way Jesus did.
      Thanks, again guys.

    • Jim,

      Welcome to our little part of cyberspace… I think we should dwell on the Sermon on the Mount more, and it was a nice surprise to do so in your book.

      I love this part of what you commented: “Since we constantly drift away from an awareness of God’s presence and therein grieve God’s heart, every time we return to God’s presence (say in prayer) it is an experience of God’s forgiveness…”

      But you lose me when you continue: “…although unless we see our return as repentance we are oblivious to receiving God’s forgiveness.”

      How could we experience God’s forgiveness and yet be oblivious to God’s forgiveness? Perhaps what you’re saying is that we may really enjoy eating a peach, and experience that peach in all its tastefulness, but not realize we are eating a “peach” nor understand all its benefits? Maybe once we have greater knowledge of the peach we can then realize the health benefits (vitamins, etc) and then we would want to eat more peaches?

  3. forestsfailyou

    I think Bernard Shaw clearly proclaimed the ideal of postmodernism “The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.” Every postmodern phrase and idea is an attempt to dodge the idea of calling something good. We can talk about ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ and “progress’ but never what is good. The postmodern will say “let’s leave the standard and find liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but logically rendered without a standard we find that all he has really said is “let us not decide what is good, but lets instead decide that it’s good not to decide”. Any talk of progress indicates and idea of progressing *towards* something. Postmodernism cannot even use the phrase “progress” in any logical fashion. I find fault with the author’s conclusion, because to have “order, meaning, and truth” we must insist that it is desirable to have. The medieval world disagreed on if we needed more of less law, more or less freedom, if power should be in the hands of the wealthy or poor- but it had a definite goal in mind. The error of that time was to kill a person whose philosophy you disagreed with, the modern era’s error is to simply assume it does not matter.
    With this in mind the bible comes to be a standard by which we progress to, our theology the map to get there, and our doctrine the rules of the road. Doctrine tells us how to “live in an almost constant state of repentance in order to be open to God’s grace and the creation he wishes to continue in our lives.”

    UBF tends to use the bible this way. It’s clear doctrines are marriage by faith, complete abstinence of drinking, no dating, works earned discipleship, obedience to shepherds, and campus mission. UBF also believes the bible to be less of a way of learning about this thing we call the universe and more of a way that God speaks directly to man. When I read the bible it is held that God speaks into my heart and changes me. Sadly this means the vast body of knowledge over the past 2000 years from the saints goes unnoticed.

    • forestsfailyou

      I should be clear when i say ‘UBF tends to use the bible this way.’ i mean UBF tends to use the bible as a road map to Christ.’ they believe that their doctrine is a way of following Christ’s commands and example.

    • Joe Schafer

      Forests, have you read Jim Danaher’s book? It’s not a wholesale endorsement of radical postmodernism. Not by a long shot.

    • Hi forests,

      You wrote: “I find fault with the author’s conclusion, because to have “order, meaning, and truth” we must insist that it is desirable to have.”

      > Aren’t there many kinds of “order, meaning and truth”? To use a bible reference, doesn’t 1 Corinthians 15:1-58 expound on the marvelous array of “order, meaning and truth”?

  4. Hi forests,

    George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) lived in a time when he could not possibly have understood the value of the postmodern thinking. I find his quote about the golden rule to be a gross mis-characterization of what postmodernism taught us.

    For all the bad press postmodernism has gotten, I realized there is some highly insightful value postmodernism has given us. It is a gift from God, if you will bear with that phrase.

    Jim’s book clearly makes my point and shows us a rather good summary of the value the postmodern lens gives us, such as the value of perspectival truth and subjective reasoning, which is really how we all process reality. Postmodernism also gives us a way out of the mechanical wordlviews, views that see mankind and nature as “machines”. Postmodernism restores a bilogical view of our “self” and the world around us. And for that I rejoice.

    • forestsfailyou

      Perhaps we have differing opinions. I am reading Heretics. Gk Chesterton says that we can have no progress with objective truth. I am inclined to agree as I have thought about it for a few minutes consecutively. Gk Chesterton says it best:

      “The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

      If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life. And that philosophy of life must be right and the other philosophies wrong. Now of all, or nearly all, the able modern writers whom I have briefly studied in this book, this is especially and pleasingly true, that they do each of them have a constructive and affirmative view, and that they do take it seriously and ask us to take it seriously. There is nothing merely sceptically progressive about Mr. Rudyard Kipling. There is nothing in the least broad minded about Mr. Bernard Shaw. The paganism of Mr. Lowes Dickinson is more grave than any Christianity. Even the opportunism of Mr. H. G. Wells is more dogmatic than the idealism of anybody else. Somebody complained, I think, to Matthew Arnold that he was getting as dogmatic as Carlyle. He replied, “That may be true; but you overlook an obvious difference. I am dogmatic and right, and Carlyle is dogmatic and wrong.” The strong humour of the remark ought not to disguise from us its everlasting seriousness and common sense; no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong. But my main point, at present, is to notice that the chief among these writers I have discussed do most sanely and courageously offer themselves as dogmatists, as founders of a system. It may be true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to me, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is wrong. But it is equally true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to himself, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is right. Mr. Shaw may have none with him but himself; but it is not for himself he cares. It is for the vast and universal church, of which he is the only member.

  5. forestsfailyou

    As for the reference. Paul was arguing against a doctrine. He clearly held that the gospel proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, and that holding that there is no resurrection is blasphemy. He concludes that the resurrection of Christ gives us power over death.

    Paul held that there was a truth, and that truth is that Christ was resurrected. He did not say “if you don’t think Christ rose again that is fine for you, i will continue to think he rose again for me” Nor did he say “if you don’t think Christ rose again that is fine for you, because it is of no consequence”. Paul was orthodoxy, truth was objective for him. he saw it no other way.

    • Joe Schafer

      Forests, if you get a chance, please read this brief article and let me know what you think. It’s an article that I wrote 3 years ago, when I was just beginning to grasp something of what postmodernism is about, and how certain elements of it seem consistent with biblical epistemology.

    • Joe Schafer

      Forests, I don’t want to make light of what you said. Your point about the bodily resurrection of Jesus is well taken. Jesus either did rise bodily from the dead, or he didn’t. The truthfulness of that statement doesn’t depend on human opinions or perspectives.

      However, in our own experiences, there is still a highly personal element of the bodily resurrection that we have to contend with. Jesus alluded to it in his encounter with doubting Thomas. Jesus doesn’t give the world uncontestable physical evidence of his resurrection. The risen Christ doesn’t stroll down Main Street for all to see. He doesn’t appear to nonfollowers. One day he will. But until that time, he entrusts the news of his resurrection to the church. The apostles were eyewitnesses. They testified to what they saw, and in order to come to faith, people had to believe their testimony. And in order for people to believe their testimony, they had to be personally credible and trustworthy. And Jesus said that those who believe on the basis of that testimony are blessed.

      Yes, whether or not Jesus rose from the dead is a matter of reality. But, like so much of what we count as knowledge in this world, we come to believe it or not in ways that are highly personal and subjective. That personal character of knowledge is something that postmodernism understands pretty well.