How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels Hardcover – March 13, 2012
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“Scholarly, accessible, insightful and challenging . . . an excellent and provocative book.” (Christianity Magazine)
“The prolific Christian apologist N.T. Wright… now devotes an entire volume, ‘How God Became King’ to this trendy subject. Wright’s insistence that Christianity has got it all wrong seems to mark a turning point for the serious rethinking of heaven.” (The Washington Post)
“We often read the beginning and the end of the Gospels without the large middle where the message of the kingdom rings loud and clear. I recommend to everyone who wants to understand the Gospels’ message in a way that will not only inform the intellect but also transform life.” (Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College)
“Tom Wright continues to urge and prod and propose how the church can regain a kingdom footing and end its empire heritage. And, he shows us how we can reshape both what we think about Jesus and how we follow him in our world.” (Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University)
“Wright is a scholar who writes as if the material he engages actually matters for the church and the world it lives in… and has again done the church a great favor in presenting the gospel story as the story of God and his kingdom on earth.” (Englewood Review of Books)
From the Back Cover
Foundational: The four gospels come directly fromthe ancient church and are among the primary sourcesfor the church's teachings.
Familiar: Since Christian worship services began, areading from the gospels has played a central role.
Studied: For over two hundred years scholars havechallenged and defended the central claims of thegospels: miracles, historical accuracy, the divinity ofJesus, and more.
But Forgotten: Still, leading Bible scholar N. T.Wright reveals shocking news: We have all forgottenwhat the four gospels are about.
"Despite centuries of intense and heavy industryexpended on the study of all sorts of features of thegospels," Wright writes, "we have often managed tomiss the main thing that they, all four of them, aremost eager to tell us. What we need is not just a bitof fine-tuning, an adjustment here and there. We needa fundamental rethink about what the gospels aretrying to tell us."
What Wright offers is an opportunity to confront thesepowerful texts afresh, as if we are encountering themfor the first time. How God Became King reveals thesurprising, unexpected, and shocking news of thegospels: this is the story of a new king, a new kind ofking, a king who has changed everything, and a kingwho invites us to be part of his new world.
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As to his actual teaching -- that the gospels and the cross are about the inauguration of the Kingdom, not just forgiving sins -- what he says is powerful and useful, just not as original as he seems to think.
That said, when he gets to walking through some passages of the gospels, he points out some great things I'd never noticed or heard anywhere else before.
I would much rather have seen this book abbreviated drastically into the introduction for a commentary(ies) on the gospels where he points out the places where we often miss the Kingdom. I know he wrote some lay-level commentaries some years ago and will check them out.
According to N. T. Wright, Christians have neglected what he calls the "missing middle," the public ministry of Jesus where he goes around healing, casting out demons, and teaching. If Christians do read the middle, Wright contends they focus on the instructions on how to get to heaven. It is this portion of the life of Jesus that Wright wants to uncover for us.
According to Wright, the great creeds of the Patristic era are largely to blame for having failed to say anything about the life of Jesus. The creeds are limited insofar as they "pass directly from [Jesus's] virgin birth to his suffering and death." Because the life lived between birth and death is vitally important to our understanding of Jesus, Wright maintains it would be dangerous to rely solely on the creeds.
Wright argues that the various critical approaches miss the basic, shared vision of God becoming king. He explains that there are four that dimensions of the Gospel stories that these approaches generally neglect, overemphasize, or misunderstand. Wright compares these dimensions of the Gospel story to a "quadraphonic set of speakers." Wright argues that four speakers influence our reading of the Gospels. Because of the Christian tradition, each speaker has its volume controls set incorrectly. These four speakers or influences on our reading the Gospels include:
1. The Gospels intend to depict the climax of the story of Israel;
2. The story of Jesus is the story of Israel's God;
3. Jesus comes to launch God's renewed people into kingdom life;
4. The Gospels show how the kingdom of God clashes with the kingdom of Caesar (or this world).
When properly balanced, these four speakers will give Christians a better understanding of the original intent of the Gospel writers.
To some degree, I have to admit that I concur with some of Wright's contentions. Sadly, there is a tendency to overemphasize the incarnation and the resurrection. There is also very little appreciation for, much less understanding of, the relationship between the story of Jesus and the story of Israel. Although I don't dispute this phenomenon he refers to as the "gap," the only evidence Wright can point to is the "gap" where the creeds jump from the birth of Jesus to his death.
Despite its strengths, Wright's book is marred by several serious blemishes. Like others before me, I felt that Wright's clarity and writing style is a bit muddled. The book wasn't the easiest to digest. On occasion, I questioned his exegetical decisions, which he did little to justify. Wright sometimes gives in to the temptation to overestimate the uniqueness of his own contribution. Does Wright actually believe no preachers have bothered to understand the message or story of the Gospels? One serious problem is that Wright is given to overstatement. An example of such an overstatement can be seen when he writes that "It isn't just that we've all misread the gospels, though I think that's broadly true. It is more that we haven't really read them at all." Wright writes as if the creeds were all the church fathers penned. Patristic preaching and writing were highly focused on the life of Jesus. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of Wright's book is his prolonged criticism democracy, particularly American democracy.
Although I do not think the problem of the missing middle has anything to do with the patristic fathers or the creeds, I think Wright raises an important question. I am pleased that he is trying to bring the life Jesus into focus. In the end, Wright's effort has enriched my understanding of the Gospels.
"... the New Testament writers were setting forth an eschatology that had been inaugurated, but not fully consummated ... not just the personal or 'spiritual' eschatology of so much Western thought (going to heaven in the future, but with a taste of heaven in the present) but the social, cultural, political and even cosmic eschatology ... [that] new creation itself has begun ... and will be completed. Jesus is ruling over that new creation and making it happen through ... his church." (Ch.8) "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ... Paul, Hebrews and Revelation ... all think that Jesus is already in charge of the world ... that is what they understood by `God's kingdom'. ...[M]ost Christians have never even thought about such a thing, let alone begun to figure out what it means for us today ... God's kingdom on earth as in heaven." (Ch.1)
Western Christians today think "that Jesus came to teach people how to go to heaven. That is, I believe" says Wright, "a major and serious misunderstanding." Wright claims: "We have belittled the cross, imagining it merely as a mechanism for getting us off the hook ... It is much, much more. It is the moment when the story of Israel reaches its climax; the moment when, at last, the watchmen on Jerusalem's walls see their God coming in his kingdom; the moment when the people of God are renewed so as to be, at last, the royal priesthood who will take over the world, not with the love of power but with the power of love; the moment when the kingdom of God overcomes the kingdoms of the world. ... God ... is now inviting us to ... build with him ... This is the vision the evangelists offer us as they bring together the kingdom and the cross." (Ch.10)
"The four gospels leave us with the primary application of the cross not in abstract preaching about 'how to have your sins forgiven' or 'how to go to heaven' but in an agenda in which the forgiven people are put to work, addressing the evils of the world in the light of the victory of Calvary." (Ch.10) "Jesus himself is ... at the heart of the new creation ... on the move, as Jesus' people go out, in the energy of the Spirit, to be the dwelling of God in each place, to anticipate that eventual promise [of the whole earth being filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea] by their common and cross-shaped life and work." (Ch. 10) Such 'life and work' is not the subject of this book, and needs further exploration.
In his previous book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (2010), Wright comments that Christian character should reflect "God's image once more into the world - the image of the generous, loving creator filling his world with beauty, order, freedom, and glory ... seeking, generating and sustaining justice and beauty in a world where both have been at a discount for too long." (p. 231) However, Wright acknowledges that "This is a large topic, in need of much fuller exploration than we can give it here" (p. 231).
In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008) Wright identifies 'justice' (pp 213 - 222) and 'beauty' (pp 222 - 225) as important areas in which "to work for God's kingdom in the present" (p. 207). Wright asserts that God is redeeming the world of space, time and matter, not discarding it. He states: "... the church ... must... claim [the world of space, time and matter] for the kingdom of God, for the lordship of Jesus, and in the power of the Spirit so that we can then go out and work for that kingdom, announce that lordship, and effect change through that power." (p. 264) "The mission of the church must therefore include, at a structural level, the recognition that our space, time and matter are all subject not to rejection but to redemption." (p. 264) "If it is true, as I have argued," says Wright, "that the whole world is now God's holy land, we must not rest as long as that land is spoiled and defaced. This is not an extra to the church's mission. It is central." (pp. 266) For Wright `mission' includes, for example, addressing "massive economic imbalance" and "Third World debt", politics, art, music, sculpture, poetry, architecture, town planning, transportation, agriculture, "proper use of resources" etc., areas of our 'life and work' through which Jesus is reclaiming and ruling his world (pp 216, 223, 265-266)
In "How God Became King" N T Wright has provided "a fundamental re-think about what the gospels are trying to say" (Preface). A sequel from Wright about "how we then might order our life and work in accordance with [the gospels]" would be most welcomed and appreciated.
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What however this book is weaker on and perhaps never intended to address, is what this actually means for the life of the church. As this is on the recommended reading list of "Christians on the Left" it is obvious how they see it. If God's kingdom is to come on earth fully then clearly Christians have to be socially engaged. In more charismatic circles however "kingdom theology" can mean realising in your current circumstances your reign over life in Christ already realised from your place with him in heavenly places. There is much more and anyone in a non traditional church may be surprised at the suggestion that this is something new. If you have a more traditional background however, it may be a revelation.
Good explanation of the gospel according to NT Wright, which is closer to the Early Church Fathers than all kind of Evangelical/Reformed teachings which started with Luther and Calvin and are now widely popularised. The book is long-winded but that's NT Wright. Even though I read many books by NT Wright I still often am not sure what he believes and why he cannot be clear about it. Maybe he just like being so cryptic.
What Tom Wright doesn't really address, and he doesn't claim to, is what this means for us as communities of believers in Christ's Kingdom. The church remains intact with all its apparent misconceptions. I guess that you do not bind the hand that feeds you!
If at first you don't really see what he is getting at, don't give up (or be disappointed!) Stick with it, spend some time working through it and you will be rewarded. This book gets to the very heart of the Incarnation.
You can’t go wrong with Tom Wright
Here there are 2 central messages. The Kingdom and Cross compliment each other and need to be understood in harmony. Secondly we must not ignore the Old Testament context of the story of Israel.
Wright fleshes out these points well but sometimes the book drags and he takes a long time to get to the point!
That said his teaching on this deserves to be heard - although it remains tricky for me to fully understand the practical application of much of it!