One of the important things he did was research both the theological and historical narrative of Jesus' mission. The book is specifically a theological treatise exploring the traditional LDS Scriptures and religious implications. Beyond that he adds information about 1st Century history and culture. This helps bring Jesus into context instead of allowing for a completely de-centralized amorphous figure. Of course, there were two major problems with his integration. Much of the sources used were already outdated even during his time. Those that he did use were of a particular viewpoint that didn't engage in other studies (even ones that wouldn't be harmful to his own thesis). Still, no other major LDS work on Jesus before or after the book followed his example. Even the multi-volume Bruce R. McConkie tome was a wordy re-hash more than imitation.
What I did learn was to go beyond the mere text of the Bible (gospels in particular) and explore other avenues of research. This might sound counter-intuitive from the purpose of "Jesus The Christ," but I became interested in the Jesus of history. What I found was that, outside of the LDS Church, there were many people who were equally interested. The problem was that most of them didn't believe in the Jesus of Faith. It became frustrating for me to discover so many new ways of understanding the life of the Savior, only to have those same writers dismiss things I find most dear and important. A part of me wanted to glean what I could from them and then fill in my religious understandings where they departed. Strangly enough, I found that I could.
Another blog discusses Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus, and the line between faith and history. There is a quote that Dave presents as a question:
Christians direct their faith not to this historical figure of Jesus but to the living Lord Jesus. Yes, they assert continuity between that Jesus and this. But their faith is confirmed, not by the establishment of facts about the past, but by the reality of Christ's power in the present. Christian faith is not directed to a human construction about the past; that would be a form of idolatry. Authentic Christian faith is a response to the living God, whom Christians declare is powerfully at work among them through the resurrected Jesus. (p. 142-43)
Despite my agreement with Johnson's critique of "Historical Jesus" researchers, I have serious issues with his final opinion. To me this is equally problematic if taken to its logical conclusion. Even if it is true that our Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately beyond time and history, it still has much of its roots in history. As was paraphrased, "On this view, history becomes the written record we make (selective, based on available evidence rather than an omnipotent knowledge of all past events), not the underlying events themselves." Knowing this, all Scripture is related to history and you must understand that history in order to interpret the text as intended. Perhaps this is what Joseph Smith meant when he said he believed the Bible as written by the original authors. Not that the authentic autograph text was best, but that the intended meanings of the authors was closest to the truth. And that is tied to the cultural and historical backgrounds behind their words.
The first post I did, before getting completely involved writing on the blog, was a critique of a book criticism. It still represents my feelings on the issue:
Deep down I suppose that the biography of Jesus Christ I have been wanting to write -- or at least read about -- is a believer's version of the several anti-divinity histor-biographies. The only person of that kind I have been able to find is [N.T. Wright] who looks at the Divine Christ with an understanding of the historical periods. Instead I am stuck with having to read doubters who have studied Jewish/Christian connections, or believers who reject the whole idea of the connection between them.
With some surprise, I am finding small lists of people are taking this position seriously inside the LDS community. There are a select few authors now introducing years of worthwhile reading to Scripture study. Similar to myself, they aren't caught up in the so-called dichotomy of faith and history as inseperable. Rather, they find it more illuminating than scandalous. The work of Talmage is starting to come full circle once again; returning and even going beyond what his classic book started.
There is still, however, a concern that the history will take over the theology. At least one reviewer seemed happy that there was less quotes from General Authorities (can't remember where I found it). Going that direction would be a disaster and make what I consider a positive step rather pointless. Of all the Christian denominations, Mormonism is most able to accept the possibility that history and faith can work together. There are several reasons for this, but that would be separate discussions.