(Full disclosure: Baker Books provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review. I am under no obligation to give a good review.)
The First Time We Saw Him: awakening to the wonder of Jesus by Matt Mikalatos attempts to retell the gospel stories about Jesus. Mikalatos, who is on staff with Cru, hopes that his retellings will produce in the modern reader the same impact that they had when the gospels were first written. To do so, he gives the gospel a modern setting.
At times, Mikalatos is successful. However, there are a couple of reasons that I cannot recommend this book. Some of his retellings actually change the original impact of the story. For example, in his retelling of the parable of the prodigal son, he suggests that the father and younger son argued before the son left home. There is nothing in the original parable to suggest they argued. For the original hearers, the fact that the father did not argue with the son or disown him would have been shocking. Also, Mikalatos fails to mention that the father gave both the older and younger sons their inheritance. Failing to mention that point reduces the unreasonableness of the older sons complaints later in the parable.
Finally, contextualizing the stories for modern readers has dangers. Determining how to depict the major figures in the stories can lead to unintended consequences. For example, Mikalatos uses churchgoers and church leaders as representative of the Pharisees. Mikalatos in the introduction admits the difficulty of this choice. However, in making that choice, he reinforces negative connotations of Christians that already exist. The book thus may encourage the “spiritual but not religious” mindset. New Christians need their fellow believers, and a local church is the place to find them. This book may actually give them the impression that fellow believers in the church would be a danger to them spiritually.