Friday, October 8, 2021

The Violence Project - book review


The Violence Project

How to Stop A

Mass Shooting Epidemic     


Jillian Peterson

& James Densley

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Now that Covid-19 isolation is over, mass shootings have resumed. Most of the time, mass shootings command the top spot on the evening news. By now the sequence of covering the crime scene is familiar—too familiar.

Jillian Peterson and James Densley have studied mass shootings for several years. They’ve built a data base and interviewed killers, survivors, and family members of victims and killers. The Violence Project tells the story of mass murder and offers ideas and resources that might help some of us prevent the next major event. In fact, they also tell stories of avoided shootings and some that could have been avoided if policies or laws were closely followed. Although the authors mention some shootings outside the US, their focus is on America where 85% of the US killers were born and raised.

Before suggesting ideas that may help avert future disasters and helpful resources, the authors introduce us to a mass of data to help us understand the characteristics that some killers have in common. They also explain the significant roles of life events in the lives of many mass shooters. Trauma is one such event. Almost 70% of the mass shooters in schools had a history of childhood trauma and they killed more people than shooters who did not have trauma.

Crisis is another key concept—80% of the mass shooters in their database were in a state of crisis close in time to the lethal event. For one example, 50% of all their mass shooters had an employment problem (e.g., reprimand, suspension, fired) close in time to their shooting. And about 25% experienced the end of a relationship before their shooting. Awareness of the murder-suicide connection is important. Recognizing and helping or obtaining help for people in a suicidal crisis can be relevant to preventing shootings. See page 56 for a useful table of signs of a crisis.

In the relationship chapter, the authors present evidence of leakage—the concept of leakage means people reveal their plans before they act. Among the young shooters (age 20 and below), 86% had leaked their plans before the shooting. Overall, almost half of all shooters told someone they were thinking of violence before they committed their crimes.

Social proof is a factor in shooters deciding to act. Robert Cialdini referred to social proof in his book on Influence. Social proof refers to the process of looking at the beliefs and actions of others as guidance in what to believe and how to act. A number of shooters had studied the Columbine High School massacre. In this context, the authors comment on the active shooter drills experienced by American students and staff. Because many school shooters are or were students at the schools where they committed their atrocities, the authors suggest the drills helped the shooters learn how the school would respond—they were “rehearsing for the act.”

The hate factor is illustrated by crimes against religious and racial or ethnic minorities. Other acts of hatred appear as responses to rejection. In this context, the authors discuss the backfire effect, which describes the relative ineffectiveness of efforts to correct misperceptions.

In the opportunity chapter, the authors present a somewhat familiar set of data about the availability of guns and gun violence. It’s not a simplistic set of statistics that would make eyes glaze. Instead, they offer examples of the various ways killers got their weapons and suggest how small interventions may have prevented lost lives.

The authors appropriately close their book with a summary and concrete efforts readers can take to help with the “mass shooting epidemic.” These are grouped in four categories with ideas for individuals, institutions, and society. Basic skills will help identify and take action when encountering people who have suffered trauma or appear to be in crisis. Monitoring efforts to seek social proof is a third action. And limiting opportunity by safe storage of firearms and speaking out when learning about potential shootings is a fourth category of prevention.

In the afterword, readers will find a list of resources such as websites and hotlines addressing the topics in the book.

Some Thoughts

It’s hard to know how much of a difference The Violence Project might make in saving lives. The effectiveness of prevention efforts are notoriously difficult to document compared to treatment. Nevertheless, the authors have provided a reasonable set of evidence to support their ideas. In addition, they have an online website with additional resources. Given the history of mass shootings, the book will remain timely for years to come.


The Violence Project

 Lifeline / National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255

Book Reference

Peterson, J. & Densley, J. (2021). The violence project: How to stop a mass shooting epidemic. New York: Abrams Press.


Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions


The Meaning of Jesus:     

Two Visions


Marcus J. Borg &

N. T. Wright

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

In The Meaning of Jesus, two religious scholars take turns presenting different perspectives on the same salient events or topics about Jesus and his ministry. I’ll offer a brief summary of the eight parts followed by some comments.

1. How do we know about Jesus?

Borg, a Jesus scholar, explains the source material that is available about the historical Jesus then takes readers through an easy-to-read introduction to methodology—how he uses the sources. Wright offers the traditional or conservative, albeit scholarly, perspective on understanding Jesus through the lenses of faith and history.

2. What did Jesus do and teach?

Wright provides the sociohistorical context for Jesus mission. He stresses the importance of the fact that Jesus was a Palestinian Jew. He notes a few points about Jewish monotheism and Jewish eschatology—"history is going somewhere.” 

In Borg’s chapter, he makes a familiar point about the differences between Jesus before and after Easter. Before Easter, Jesus was a Jewish Mystic characterized by five elements: Jesus as a Spirit Person, healer, wisdom teacher, social prophet, and movement initiator.

3. The death of Jesus

Borg begins with the question: “Why was Jesus killed?” Borg considers much of the meaning surrounding Jesus’ death as found in the New Testament to be “prophecy historicized rather than as prediction fulfilled.” 

Wright calls his chapter “The Crux of Faith” and emphasizes the traditional importance of Jesus’ death. Jesus led the way to death as martyrs have always done. He notes the context of Israel who had sinned and was punished in exile. In God’s timetable it was time to deal with Israel's history— when Jesus came, “the time of forgiveness had arrived.”

4. God raised Jesus from the dead

Wright takes the lead in this inquiry. He sets the resurrection in the context of a range of Jewish beliefs about life after death in the first century. Some like the Sadducees denied life after death. Others believed in life after death, but not in bodily form. The Pharisees represent the other pole—they believed in a bodily resurrection. He acknowledges the difficulty in harmonizing the Easter morning stories in the gospels, but this does not cause him to doubt what happened. In Wright’s view the variations represent a lack of collusion. 

Borg reminds us that Easter is central to Christianity—“a foundational affirmation,” he calls it. Borg affirms “Jesus lives, and Jesus is Lord.” His disagreement with Wright is in the support for the two affirmations. He uses a familiar challenge—what might we see if we had a video camera. Borg’s view is that the physical resurrection is not important compared to the truth of Easter. His view of the gospel stories is that they should be viewed as a developing tradition in the early church and as “powerfully true metaphorical narratives.” As a part of his argument, he refers to Paul who reported his encounter with Jesus as a vision on the Damascus Road. Borg notes that the others with Paul did not share the experience. And Borg adds his view that visions and apparitions can be truthful experiences and are not hallucinations.


5. Was Jesus God?

The divinity of Jesus is an old belief within Christianity. It is a fundamental doctrine found in the Nicene Creed and a “test” of whether or not someone is a Christian. Borg tries to explain his nuanced view that during his life, the evidence does not indicate Jesus thought of himself as God (the pre-Easter Jesus). Following Easter (the post-Easter Jesus), Jesus is one with God. He reminds readers of a variety of images in the gospels such as Jesus is the bread of life, the true vine, the door, Son of God and Word of God. According to Borg, these sayings were statements of the early Christian community and should be seen as metaphors representing a different kind of true statement than a statement of fact. He refers to the Old Testament to illustrate that Son of God refers to Israel and the King of Israel.

For Jews like Jesus, there is one God, Wright reminds us as he takes us through a possible development among the early Jewish difficulties in understanding Jesus after Easter. For early Christians, Jesus was the Jewish messiah but he was also with God.


6. The birth of Jesus

Christmas is more important than Easter in our culture, Wright observes. He sees the birth stories as having little significance and notes they function as a test of belief and sexuality. He admits to the problem of belief in the virgin conception and variances in the birth stories by Matthew and Luke.

Borg does not see the birth stories as historically factual but as true as literary works using ancient imagery to express truths about Jesus.

7. He will come again in glory

Borg notes that 21 of the 27 New Testament documents mention the second coming of Jesus. Expectations of Jesus return have been mentioned for centuries since Jesus death. Not surprisingly, Borg does not expect a physical return to earth, instead he focuses on Jesus coming in a symbolic and spiritual sense, which is in the forefront during the advent season. 

Wright has argued that “the son of man coming in the clouds” represents exaltation instead of a return. He also comments on eternal life as a reference to “the life of the age to come” as the sense of the term in first century Jewish usage. He advises that the concept of heaven has been misunderstood—it isn’t a place in the cosmos or a destination in time but a “dimension” of God’s reality. The English word “coming” as a translation for the Greek parousia refers to presence as in a royal presence thus Jesus being present is his coming amongst us and as part of God’s new creation.

8. Jesus and the Christian life

Wright presents the Christian life as one of worship and mission. In this chapter he writes about spirituality, theology, politics, and healing. Being spiritual involves prayer, meditation, contemplation, and “spiritual reading.” The focus of Christian theology is to know God in Jesus. When it comes to politics, he is not a fan of politicians who speak about family values. He takes the larger view that from a Christian perspective we must focus on the kingdom of God. Jesus, rather than Caesar, is Lord. Wright sees healing as a multidimensional concept that includes physical and psychological healing and extends beyond the person to society.  

Borg’s view of the Christian life is based on the relationship between Christians and God in contrast to expressing agreement with a set of beliefs. This relationship is mediated through Scripture and tradition and involves being transformed in our relationships with others. He contrasts this relational faith to an older understanding of Christianity as “literalistic, doctrinal, moralistic, exclusivistic, and afterlife oriented.”

Comments on The Meaning of Jesus

Overall, I found The Meaning of Jesus an interesting read and suitable for a small group discussion amongst readers seeking a better understanding of what means to be a Christian in the sense of one who follows Jesus’ way. Both authors are Christians, historians, and prolific authors. They write well and have a good sense of audience. I think Borg explains theological concepts more clearly than does Wright. In addition, Borg provides historical evidence or reasons in a clearer manner than does Wright.

For the most part, I think readers will find a clear choice between the traditional views of Jesus provided by Wright and the nuanced perspective of Borg. Although Wright presents traditional Christian views he makes a point of not supporting fundamentalist and literalist perspectives on the biblical texts. He believes in miracles, acts of healing, and the virgin conception. Wright is more accepting of the gospel reports of events as historical events rather than as metaphorical narratives but does not exclude considering some church doctrines as a misreading of metaphorical understandings among the Jews who were the first Christians receiving the original gospels and other New Testament texts.

Borg offers examples of gospel stories that appear more like stories written by those in the early church who looked back on the life of Jesus and interpreted the events, or created stories, based on their memories, their understanding of their Scriptures, and the use of metaphorical language. Both writers remind readers that Jesus was an observant Jew who understood the Hebrew Scriptures and spoke to the people of his time with reference to the Scriptures and the sociopolitical forces of the day.

Borg does a better job of presenting perspectives on what it means to think of a biblical teaching or story as true. He clarifies truth in terms of facts that could be viewed if a video recording was made versus the truth that comes from understanding the meaning of a story or metaphor. An example of this notion of truth can be seen in one of his illustrations. Although most readers will clearly see that “I am the door” is a metaphor, fewer modern Christian readers view the analogous phrase, “Jesus is the son of God” as a metaphor.

I appreciate how the authors deal with the difficulties in understanding first century perspectives on various key doctrines and variations in the texts from different New Testament authors. They both seem keenly aware of the difficulties in  distinguishing between historical facts and metaphorical language. In my view, both authors fail to consider the important role of human cognition when it comes to appreciating history remembered. This omission is in contrast to the work of evangelical scholar Craig Keener in his study of Christobiography, which acknowledges memory factors in the gospels and would enrich an understanding of the texts beyond the consideration of metaphors.

Both writers offer helpful comments to those of us who never attended a Bible College or Seminary. So, I found the book helpful in gaining a better understanding of Jesus’ life as a first century Jew living under Roman occupation and the meaning of several concepts that have been perceived differently by many contemporary Christian groups. 

Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2021, September 23). The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions-a review. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from

Book Reference

Borg, M. J. & Wright, N.T. (2009). The meaning of Jesus: Two visions. New York: HarperOne.

The Meaning of Jesus on AMAZON on GOOGLE

Links to the authors

Marcus Borg on GOOGLE     AMAZON

N. T. Wright on GOOGLE     AMAZON 

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton