BOOK REVIEW: The Climax of God’s Mission: A Study of The Synoptic Gospels Volume 1 – by Thayer Salisbury

Written on: June 1, 2024

Article by: Jay Manimtim

BOOK REVIEW: Thayer Salisbury, The Climax of God’s Mission: A Study of the Synoptic Gospels, volume 1. Monee, IL: 2024, 288 pages. Paperback edition $9.99 on Amazon or electronic publication edition $2.95 on Kindle.

Why study the gospel accounts about Jesus Christ? For some, studying the gospels is simply an exercise in history. They study ancient texts as resources for understanding the political, social, and cultural context of ancient times. Others study the gospel for mere knowledge or academic edification. They examine how the manuscripts have been preserved to its current state to reconstruct the original materials that the gospel authors have relied upon as they composed their work. These reasons may seem important, but in the grand scheme of things, they are merely “[speculations] over insignificant non-details” (pp. 41-42). In The Climax of God’s Mission, author Thayer Salisbury provides the fundamental, all-encompassing reason to study the gospels: “to know the Lord in such a way that [we] can share his gospel with others.” (p. 1)

With this objective in mind, Thayer unpacks the synoptic gospels in chronological order. He examines the narrative details as presented by the gospel writers from a synoptic or “similar point of view.” From the genealogy and birth of Jesus to his teachings and miracles, Thayer provides insightful illustrations, examples, and anecdotes from his own notable ministry and life experiences to explain the significance of each event in Jesus’ life. Thayer identifies the shared themes in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as special emphases specific to each author and his audience. For instance, Thayer points out that all three synoptic gospels emphasize the authority of Jesus as the Christ, but John seems to emphasize more of Jesus Christ’s power by taking up considerably more space to recount Jesus’ actions over his teachings. This book is the first of a two-volume work, ending with Peter declaring Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-38; Luke 9:18-21) and volume 2 continuing until the ascension of Jesus Christ. Work on volume 2 has commenced and is projected to be finished in 2026.

There are many positive aspects about this book, but I will focus on three key features. First, although The Climax of God’s Mission is originally written for African Bible college students, any Christian or congregation in North America would be greatly blessed by it. The book has thirty-one short chapters that would be perfect for a month’s worth of daily devotionals. It could also be an excellent textbook to study in a small group setting. Each chapter ends with helpful questions that encourage discussion on the many topics and lessons brought up in the book. There are also eight narrative illustrations or short stories that stress how the gospel message can be applied today. Personally, this book has given me many ideas on possible future lesson and sermon series, as well as illustrations to highlight certain lessons. However, to get the most out of the book, the reader must pay close attention to each paragraph as Thayer packs the book with many nuggets of wisdom and application. For instance, in the section covering the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary, Thayer explains:

One of the problems the church faces today is the historical ignorance of our members. Many know more about the latest entertainers than they know about the heroes of the faith. Many know more about their political leaders than they know about their spiritual leaders. Mary knew the history of the Lord’s dealings with Israel. That knowledge enabled her faith. Her faith led her to accept the Lord’s favour. (p. 25)

One can craft a whole sermon series about “the history of God’s people,” lead an entire series of discussion sessions on “accepting the Lord’s favour,” or meditate on one’s own “historical ignorance” concerning our spiritual leaders in the church.

Thayer and his wife Chery have returned to missionary work in Eswatini since 2021 to work with a local congregation and to produce textbooks for African Bible college students that are grounded in Scripture and centered on Jesus Christ. This is another value that Thayer adds to his work: his ability to lift the message from the text, boldly preach it, and make application to daily faith and practice. For example, Jesus places “repentance” before “belief” (Mark 1:15), which is echoed by other New Testament writers (Acts 20:21; Hebrews 6:1). Thayer insists that we pay attention to the order in which Scriptures place these two important elements of our faith because “no one can really believe until they turn from sin; for to believe, to really believe, includes obedience” (56). Thayer makes statements that are necessary in proclaiming the complete gospel of Jesus Christ that some may find uncomfortable to read, such as the following:

Too many people are concerned to have a “personal relationship with Jesus.” You will never find that expression in the Bible. Our Lord expects us to be involved with others. He expects [his disciples] to be fishermen among their fellow humans – helping people to come to know the Lord. How is it that so many consider themselves disciples today and yet make no effort to serve in this way?” (pp. 71-72)

A proponent of expository preaching, Thayer also asserts that there are good reasons God included seemingly inconsequential details, stories, personalities, and features in the Bible that we often overlook. For instance, the stories of Simeon and Anna in Luke 2 are rarely featured in sermons, but Thayer reminds us that they teach us about being hopeful and realistic like Simeon (Luke 2:29-30) and thankful and evangelistic like Anna (Luke 2:38).

Finally, Thayer employs accessible language to explain deep biblical concepts. For me, this is perhaps the best part about reading each chapter of the book. Because of Thayer’s conversational tone, I felt like I was listening to Thayer speak to me during a fireside chat about the life of Jesus while he carefully connects the lessons to my life. The part of the book that I found most meaningful was Thayer’s admonition to not only obey Jesus’ command to evangelize but to also emulate his methods:

When the Bible shows us how Jesus or the apostles did something, it does not always mean that this is the only it could be done… But if their methods differ sharply from our methods, we ought to consider the possibility that our methods might be flawed. (p. 108)

This made me reflect not only on the way I share the gospel to others, but also how I disciple others in Christ. I gained deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ, which I look forward to incorporating in my life and sharing with my wife, my children, and my congregation.

There is, however, one point for improvement that I would like to mention with respect to this volume. The formatting of the book could have employed more white space to make each page appear less cluttered and overwhelming, which made for a somewhat distracting reading experience. I had the opportunity to speak to Thayer about this matter, and I was glad to hear that there was a good reason for it. Formatting the book to maximize the space in every page allowed the producers of the book to cut publication costs. Moreover, the lack of white space may be unpleasant to North American eyes, but not necessarily so to African Bible college students. On this one minor point for improvement, I encourage North American readers not to judge the book by its appearance!

The Climax of God’s Mission is versatile, biblical, and accessible.
It will give readers a deeper understanding of the events in the Messiah’s life and spark a fire in their heart to live for King Jesus, leading them to share their joy in the Lord with others. Thayer does an excellent job revealing the message of the synoptic authors and making appropriate application to daily Christian living today. This book is a must-have resource for anyone planning to preach, teach, or facilitate a series of sermons, lessons, or discussion sessions on the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For these reasons, this book will find a permanent place in my personal library. . Monee, IL: 2024, 288 pages. Paperback edition $9.99 on Amazon or electronic publication edition $2.95 on Kindle.

By Jay Manimtim, minister at Central church of Christ (Winnipeg)