Review: Passions of the Christ

Passions of the Christ, F. Scott Spencer. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021.

Summary: A study of the emotional life of Jesus in the gospels, drawing upon both classical thought and emotions theory.

Sometimes, Jesus is presented to us as without passion, always in control. Some of this arises from belief in the impassibility of God. Yet what does the incarnation mean if the fully human as well as divine Jesus is emotionless. F. Scott Spencer presents a very different picture of the emotional life of Jesus. He observes a range of emotions in Jesus from anger and disgust to anguish to surprise, deep compassion, and joy. Often, in the same episode, there will be a complex mix of emotions. Not unlike us.

Spencer’s approach is a combination of exegesis, word study and cultural backgrounds, a consideration of classic philosophy concerning the emotions and contemporary psychology. This results in a deep, probing study of the emotions of Jesus, surprising and unsettling at times, particularly the instances of his anger or disgust, and yet consistent in his passion for the full human flourishing of those to whom he came to minister.

After two chapters laying out the basis for his study, Spencer explores in eight chapters key emotions of Jesus evident in the gospels: anger, anguish both during his ministry and in his final hours, disgust, surprise, compassion, and joy. One of the most interesting episodes is the resuscitation of Lazarus where anger, anguish, disgust (Jesus “snort”), and compassion all come together in one narrative.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter was that on the amazement or surprise of Jesus. We see this both in response to the unbelief of his own people, and the unexpected belief of the Roman centurion. Spencer proposes that there is a kind of “enlargement” of Jesus on perspective in these episodes. Likewise, we may wonder about the anger of Jesus at times, for example with the leper in Mark 1. Spencer contends that the leper’s “if you choose,” questions the life-giving mission of Jesus, a form of unbelief deeply disturbing, sufficiently explanation for the anger of Jesus.

Spencer makes us take a fresh look at these emotional expressions in Jesus’s life. Whether one agrees with his exploration of these emotions, it is unavoidable that Jesus manifests the full range of emotions we all do. He is not the incarnate God in appearance only. Yet anger, disgust, surprise, compassion and joy also make sense in light of a singular passion for human flourishing in relation with God. And in all this, the saving God is revealed.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Boundaries for Your Soul


Boundaries for Your SoulAlison Cook and Kimberly Miller. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2019.

Summary: A therapeutic approach to dealing with overwhelming emotions through a process of understanding them as parts of oneself, allowing one’s Spirit-led self to befriend and care for these parts, and integrating the parts as a “team of rivals” within one’s life.

Some feelings are so powerful that they overwhelm us–anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy, shame, and guilt. These unruly emotions break the boundaries that enable us to function in a healthy and productive way. How do we control these emotions?

Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller propose an approach drawing on the Internal Family Systems Model of Therapy that sees our inner selves, or souls as consisting of a family of parts that works to free unruly parts from controlling roles and our various parts working together harmoniously under our Spirit-led self.

This model works off a map of the soul centered around the Spirit-led self who leads with creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, and confidence. Around this Spirit-led self are two types of protectors and one vulnerable part. One of the protectors is the manager that manifests in worry, people-pleasing, striving, self-criticizing, controlling, and perfecting. This part tries to protect by keeping us emotionally safe and free of pain. The other protector is the firefighter, that jumps in after painful events to extinguish pain through actions like overeating, addictions, overspending, self-harm, daydreaming, and lashing out. The third vulnerable part represents the exile: shame, fear, insecurity, hurt, loneliness, sadness. Often, a person seems to be struggling with one of the two protectors in action, and a key is quieting them to hear what the exile is saying and needs.

The key to beginning to bring these emotions under the control of the Spirit-led self is taking what the authors call a “You-Turn.” Instead of fighting or suppressing emotions, this approach assumes we can differentiate our self, particularly our Spirit-led self, from our unruly emotions. They commend five steps:

  1. Focus: Noting where we sense the feeling, thoughts or images that come to mind when we focus, early memories of feeling this way.
  2. Befriend: Are we able to feel curiosity and compassion toward this part of our soul. If there is some other emotion, that may be a different part, perhaps self-criticism, that needs to be asked to step back. Then as we return to our emotion, we ask, is there more it wants us to know?
  3. Invite: Would this part like to invite Jesus to be near? If not, what are its fears and concerns? Can it tell Jesus? Then ask Jesus if he wants to say or do anything, or give a specific gift.
  4. Unburden: what has this part been carrying? What does it fear about giving up the burden? Does the part want to release the burden and is it asking anything in exchange?
  5. Integrate: This involves checking in with other parts that might not have liked how a part was expressing itself. How can these parts work together as a harmonious family?

After outlining these steps, they apply the steps to specific emotions: anger, fear and anxiety, sadness, envy and desire, guilt and shame, and the challenging parts of others. Throughout the book, each step, each situation is illustrated with client stories (with details and identities changed to protect privacy.

What is attractive about this book is the clarity and simplicity with which it is written. In addition, for those who share the authors Christian assumptions, it addresses in one of the most tangible ways I’ve ever seen, how one lives a Spirit-led life, particularly as this applies to disabling emotions and defeating habits. Finally, this book is a refreshing alternative to the “try harder approaches” that seem to rely on human resolve in either suppressing or overcoming unruly emotions or habits. Instead, it builds on the idea that all of these might be focused on, befriended and listened to. These emotions point to places where we need the Spirit’s care and healing. The authors hold out the hope that, in the words of the subtitle we may “turn…overwhelming thoughts and feelings into [our] greatest allies.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.