I have been following Thabiti Anyabwile on twitter for quite a while, so when I had the opportunity to review his book, I was delighted. Captivated is a collection of five sermons Anyabwile preached on the crucifixion of Christ, encouraging his congregation (and now his readers) to gaze more deeply into the truth of the cross. Each chapter tackles a question asked in scripture and lays out the biblical response. “Is there no other way?” focuses on Gethsemane and Christ’s prayer to have the cup pass from him. “Why have you forsaken me?” explores the rejection and abandonment Christ faced in the cross. “Where, oh death, is your victory?” is a chapter dealing specifically with the implications of Jesus’ physical death. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” speaks to the way the angels re-directed the women from grief to rejoicing and points to our own need for re-direction. Finally, in “Do you not know these things?” Anyabwile seeks to make the historical reality of the cross a matter of personal truth.
In the introduction, Thabiti Anyabwile invites us to abandon our mothers’ admonition not to stare, and to, instead, look deep into the mystery and awe that is found in the defining moment of our faith. His expressed hope is that the book would cause readers to slow down and remember the wonder of these familiar words. Too often when an author expresses that desire, the overwhelming emphasis is on the physical sufferings of Christ on the cross. Anyabwile steps away from that and focuses on things like the righteousness of God, the significance of atonement and other deep truths of the cross.
Each chapter reads like a sermon, and at times I could almost hear it being preached in my head. Each chapter builds to a crescendo of cascading application that I really enjoyed. It was fascinating for me to read this technique that I have heard and seen in black preachers. It is, interestingly, more effective when read because I was assured that it was the power of the words themselves moving me along, rather than that charisma of the man saying them. Still, I felt, at times, the need to nod and say an “Amen” or two while reading.
My least favorite chapter was “Why have you forsaken me?” as it felt more speculative than the others. There is so much we don’t know about how the Son was forsaken by the Father, and the author acknowledged that to speculate too much would be to invite blasphemy. I don’t believe he crossed that line, but it felt close, at times. On the other hand, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” was my favorite chapter. I loved the way it was written, and the way in which Anyabwile used the question of the angels to question us and re-direct our gaze. It is a chapter I will be re-reading when I am not on a review deadline.
Captivated meets its goal. I was encouraged to slow down and remember the power and significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you want to hear some more from Thabiti Anyabwile (including how to pronounce his last name) check out his interview on the confessing Baptist podcast.
I received no compensation for this post. I was provided an electronic edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.