I reflected that its interesting that when you’re steeped in a tradition, it’s oftentimes the so-called “simple” questions that become the most challenging to answer when the questioner comes from a place that has had very very little to do with Christianity. How do you meaningfully talk about Jesus’ death and his rising, alive, on the third day from his death? How do you meaningfully talk about the resurrection, or the ascension…?
When you have to write a response to those questions it allows you time to reflect and nuance a response; time to think about the right words etc. But, when you’re asked, I reflected its not so straight forward to answer the “basics”. Books having to do with the basics oftentimes get pushed to the back of the bookshelf, replaced by more technical theological, historical and philosophical book.
One of the best introductory books I’ve read on Jesus, and one I’m now going to re-read, having located it on my bookshelves, is Tom Wright’s The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary (originally published by Lion Publishing plc in 1996). The book originated as the expanded text of a series of BBC programmes screened on Jesus and fronted by Wright. Wright's intention was to "speak as simply and directly as [he] could, in non-technical language..."; an intention very much in evidence in this book.
Wright has gone on to right a whole range of books, from the introductory to complex theological. In the Original Jesus he succinctly summarises in 150 pages (with illustrations) what he expands on in numerous other “big” books. For example: Jesus and the Victory of God (pub. 1996 / 662 pages plus bibliography etc) and The Resurrection of the Son of God (pub. 2003 / 738 pages plus bibliography etc).
Published in 1999 by Intervarsity Press was his The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. While not as accessible as The Original Jesus it is nonetheless an introductory text aimed at a general, but relatively theologically literate audience. It comes in at 197 pages. Other authors who engage more popularly with the Jesus stories are Marcus J. Borg (d. 21st January 2015). See his Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) and John Dominic Crossan, both of whom differ from each other and Wright in some interesting ways. All three serve or have served as conversation partners for the other. See, for example: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions co-written by N.T. “Tom” Wright and Marcus Borg. Or, The Resurrection of Jesus, which is an edited collection of essays by scholars who distill key features of the dialogue between John Dominic Crossan and N. T. Wright. Crossan provides the closing appendix and the Wright / Crossan dialogue is contained in Chapter 1.