Father Joseph F. Girzone and the Phenomenon of the Joshua Series

John ArmstrongJesus, Roman Catholicism

I became aware of Joseph Girzone’s Joshua series some years ago. I knew they were selling like hotcakes but this might have been the very reason I didn’t give them the time of day. Their very popularity tended to put me off. I guess that says more about me than I care to admit but such books were not on my shelves. Actually my first real exposure to Girzone was through his little book titled Trinity. I wanted to determine if Girzone’s view of God was both helpful and orthodox. (In case you want to know, it is!)

Jospeh F. Girzone retired from the active Catholic priesthood in 1981 and embarked on a second career as a writer and speaker. In 1995 he established the Joshua Foundation, an organization dedicated to making Jesus better known throughout the world. He lives in Altamont, New York.

What Father Girzone clearly possesses is a unique ability to make Jesus' words and actions come to life for contemporary audiences. I found myself, in reading four of his books in the Joshua series, often moved to reflect on the heart of Jesus for the broken and marginalized. His series provides fictional depictions of Jesus' return (Joshua) to the present-day world. Joshua is a human person who people do not know what to do with when they encounter him through his words and actions. The Joshua series has clearly inspired millions of readers have read these phenomenal best-sellers.

The first book in the series, and the one that launched Girzone on his new career as a writer, is titled: Joshua: A Parable for Today. This was followed by what appears to be about several dozen books in the Joshua series that is now almost three-decades in the making. If you want to get into Girzone I suggest the place to begin is still with the original book: Joshua: A Parable for Today. It will intrigue you and almost certainly make you think a great deal more about the uniqueness of Jesus in a whole new way. I also enjoyed one of his more recent books, Joshua’s Family (2007), which is rightly called a prequel to his earlier books. It deals with a young Joshua in his family context. Nothing silly, like the pseudo-gospel accounts is to be found here at all. Another book, The Parables of Joshua (2001), did not move me in quite the same way since Girzone’s interpretation of the parables is both exasperating and even questionable at times. (The interpretation of biblical parables is always problematic and trying to make them fit into modern political, religious and social contexts is particularly difficult.)

This last comment leads me to the major question that I have about all of Girzone’s fiction: How much of the interpretation in these well-written novels is the result of Girzone’s political and social views and how much of it is based on good, solid understanding of the Scripture and the biblical record that we do have of the earthly life of Jesus? Let me hasten to say that Joseph Girzone is writing fiction. It will bother some very conservative Christians that a writer would even attempt to fictionalize a modern character who represents Jesus in our world but I am not among those who question the use of this genre in this way. The fact is clear: Girzone’s writing can serve as a great tool for making you rethink Jesus in some very good ways.

Joseph Girzone’s most recent book is Jesus: A New Understanding (2009). This is one of the rare non-fiction books that he has written. It is an unusual attempt to allow the stories of Jesus that we have in the New Testament to inform an account of Jesus that is somewhere between a classical Christology and a modern reckoning with the human person of Jesus that we see in the New Testament Gospels. I sometimes disagreed with a point Girzone makes here or there but more times than not I found this book very hard to put down. I took it on a trip in November and read it in a few days. Honestly, it often thrilled me! The author’s distinctly Catholic view came through, and at times he made his case for this view quite powerfully. On a few occasions I felt like some special effort was made that went beyond what we actually know about Jesus.

After reading some of Girzone’s work (about seven books in all) I began to search for information about him on the Internet. He is loved and despised, as you can find out on your own. I am not an apologist for Girzone but I will tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed Joshua. I can see why some Catholics are troubled by Girzone’s Joshua since the author puts him right in the middle of several Roman Catholic conflicts in the modern day. His view will clearly not sit well with those who believe the Vatican should not be questioned. Again, his views seem (at this point in my reading) to represent some liberal Catholic thinking on certain social and political issues but at the same time he seems totally committed to allow the Scripture to guide him, often in a most surprising and helpful way.