Elyse Fitzgerald’s Found in Him aims to draw followers of Jesus into a closer and assured recognition of Jesus' presence and power in our lives. It encourages us to shift away from the obsession of self driven change and focus on our oneness with Jesus (commonly called “union”) and his amazing oneness with us (the “incarnation”). The book is not a systematic theological presentation on our union with Christ, large volumes have already been written on that. It is an invitation into a deeper reflection and appreciation of the work of God because only by doing that do we experience real transformation.
The book is divided in two parts. The first part introduces the importance of God becoming man. It considers how Jesus’s earthly life, his manhood, substitutionary death on the cross and bodily resurrection assures us of our salvation. The second half focuses on considering the benefits of the work he did, particularly as our representative, brother, and husband. We are reminded that though Jesus' primary goal in becoming man was to complete the work the Father had given him, this work also had another goal: to bless us by pouring out all the benefits he had earned on our unworthy yet beloved souls. These blessings come to us through being united to Jesus.
Union with Jesus means we are dead to sin, eternally alive to God and are now the very temple of God the Spirit. Jesus is our Groom who has chosen us, proposed to us, paid the bride price, married us and now we take on his name. Union with Jesus not only means we are fully righteous and totally forgiven, but also that we are accepted and kept in him. Our failure to accept these truths lies at the heart of our struggle with sin, We are tempted to base our relationship with Jesus not on the love and appreciation of who he is but on our works of the flesh, which leads to a relation driven by guilt rather than love for him.
There is much to praise in Found in Him. Fitzgerald writes with excitement about biblical truths that immediately draws in the reader to want to read more and bow down in worship. With a mother’s touch Fitzgerald inspires us to see Jesus afresh through pointed reflection over known truths, such as this one : "….In his humanity [Jesus] knew the restraint of living within a uterus, completely confined, in deep darkness. He felt it when his mother labored, and although he did not understand the process, like every infant before him, he struggled to be free and to breathe. He was born, “placenta and all”, as he came forth from the virgin’s womb, a strange shrine for our God”.
Her observations on the wonder of the incarnation powerfully reminds us that the incarnation is such a game changer because it “tells us that even though we sin, we are not alone; even though we’re weak and finite, [Jesus] knows what weakness and mortality are because he was weak and mortal just like us; and even though we continually fail, he has committed himself to be part of a race of failures—and he has done so forever”.
Fitzgerald has a way of making truths penetrate the heart through simple direct application of biblical truths in simple ways. For example, when directly challenges us that our union with Jesus is not just spiritual but physical, she immediately observes, "your physical body, as you’re sitting here reading this book, is actually part of Christ’s body. You, in every part of who you are, in your spirit, soul, and body, are one with Jesus". Similarly, when discussing idolatry she helpfully notes that though most Christians don’t play with Ouija boards or Magic 8 Balls, many gamble or play the lottery. In her words, “there is absolutely no way for you to do these things without believing in some sort of superstition. Whenever you feel that it’s your lucky day, or that this is a lucky machine, repent and believe the gospel”.
Unfortunately, the book is not without obvious weaknesses particularly when it comes to the theological complexities of the incarnation. For example in one passage she attributes the perfection of Christ in the flesh to the fact that he had no earth father, but without offering any biblical justification. We are told, “[Jesus] was unique: he had no earthly father from whom he would inherit guilt and a corrupt moral nature”.
Fitzgerald seems to think Jesus stayed perfect because he had no earthly father! This unfortunately seems to suggest there was something different about his human nature that actually made him overcome temptations. Some may argue based on Fitzgerald’s argument that Jesus was born with an advantage, so how can he be possibly human? It gets even more complicated when Fitzgerald then adds "[Jesus] refused to rely on his divine nature to make resisting sin and obedience easier for him. He met every temptation not by his divine power but on the strength of his human nature”. Except this meant Jesus defeated Satan relying on the flesh.
The hole gets deeper when we are also told “We can’t imagine what this trial was like for Jesus as he faced Satan not as another spirit being but as the Word made flesh. It was for this momentous conflict that the Father sent the Spirit upon the Son at his baptism. In this struggle, he would need the Spirit’s strengthening as he faced Satan’s malevolent temptations to unbelief and self-aggrandizement, and he resisted him by faith”.
That quote seems to suggest Jesus resisted temptations from Satan by the Spirit but if we are to be consistent with her earlier reasoning, it would seem only for certain special temptations. In any case it is also wrong to suggest that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to strengthen him for temptation given that he was tempted throughout his life. Most importantly the Apostle Peter tells us clearly why God anointed Jesus: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” [Acts 10:38]
Part of the problem analysing her theology is that it is not always clear when Fitzgerald is getting carried away in the moment of excitement and where she is simply genuinely ignorant. For example, we are told that "Sometimes [Jesus] was wrong and just didn’t know the right answer. Because he intentionally lived only as a human, veiling his omniscience, his ability to foresee the future was just like ours”. Unfortunately, no clarification is given how Jesus remained morally perfect whilst being "being wrong”. Is Fitzgerald saying that Jesus sometimes could not tell a lie from a truth? Or is she simply saying Jesus in his humanity used to be wrong about non-moral issues e.g. the formula of Pi, winner of the local Galilee fishing contest.
Presentationally, though the book is engaging in parts, it's literary force is slightly curtailed by general repetition and lack of precision in the points made. For this reason it is unlikely that someone would read the whole book twice, though there are parts which are worth re-reading. However, all things considered, the book is worth the read and probably more than once because of its strong application and some pointed truths within it. Despite its obvious weaknesses it has helped me see more clearly the incredible wonder of the incarnation and the difference it makes to daily living.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2014