This was a disappointing read. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Robinson is an established scholar, so I presumed the book might be a little weightier, something more scholarly and a little less evangelistic. I was also hoping Robinson might help me get a grasp on what seems (as I read more about Jesus) increasingly ungraspable, the "true" teaching of the prophet from Nazareth.
As Robinson notes, Jesus was not a trained theologian. He had no programmatic philosophy and taught extemporaneously through question and answer and through stories and aphorisms. His ministry was short-lived, and no one took the time to record what he was saying. This has led to the very unsatisfying 2000 year argument over what Jesus really meant. Robinson reduces Jesus' message to God reigning: "Trust God to look out for you by providing people who will care for you, and listen to him when he calls on you to provide for them." While this is certainly a healthier and saner way to live than through suspicion and fear, the idea can be posited without recourse to the divine: Trust your conscience, rather than a deity. As Robinson notes, Jesus' day was full of God talk. It's the way people of that place and time understood the world. If you prefer, you can trust in a natural law of reciprocity, which is what the Buddhists have in karma, in which skillful behavior (that which reduces or avoids suffering) creates conditions suitable for future skillful behavior. Like generates like.
The more surprising disappointment was Robinson ignoring what is perhaps the most important act in Jesus' teaching career. Robinson makes the case that Jesus' way of living and his actions speak as clearly as his statements about his gospel. This seems perfectly reasonable and Robinson provides many examples. But he is strangely silent on the Temple. If, as Robinson argues, Jesus' gospel was about living in the here and now, the experience of god reigning in the present through each and every person, an immanent reciprocity of loving kindness, why then did Jesus act so provocatively? How is this an example of God reigning? How was Jesus providing for others by overturning tables and mentioning the destruction of the Temple? Perhaps because Jesus wasn't just living in the moment, but planning for the future Kingdom? Perhaps because he wanted to precipitate it's coming? Perhaps because he imagined God working through him in this way to bring the Kingdom to fruition?
Moreover, if Jesus' message was simply "love all," why was there such antipathy toward him? How could anyone generate enough hatred to want someone killed simply for asking people to love one another? Are you prepared to have someone put to death for this? Why were the authorities ready to execute rather than simply to send him away with a flogging? Could it be that Jesus was not such a light-hearted soul of nature, but rather had a touch of the smug, that he irritated many by violating the Jewish dining laws, by suggesting that even the wicked would have a place in God's kingdom, and by suggesting that he had a direct line to God (and by implication that they did not)? Were his actions at the Temple the most dramatic examples of his propensity to piss people off? In other words, was Jesus the kind of guy that was always in your face? Was he a religious fanatic? His family certainly thought something was wrong with him.
Robinson argues that Jesus was not expecting an immediate cataclysm, that he was not, as EP Sanders best describes him, a "radical eschatologist." He uses an odd bit of logic to make his case. Jesus, he says, wasn't waiting for God to act since Jesus' entire message would have been invalidated with the passage of time. How then to explain Matthew, who promises that "the Son of Man is about to come" and that "some of those standing here...will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom," and the very real concern in the early church that members were dying even though Jesus hadn't yet reappeared. This was a major issue for the early church, which suggests that at least at that time Christians believed Jesus' return was imminent. That it was in fact not imminent appears to have had little negative consequences for the church, at least for the recruitment of members.