on October 25, 2011
N.T. Wright's latest book, "Simply Jesus," claims to be a new vision of who Jesus is and what He did. Ultimately, the book is what it claims. It's a sometimes brilliant and inspiring re-presentation of who Jesus is and what He came to do. But unfortunately, Wright doesn't make this clear until the end of Chapter 11. A good summary of Wright's major theme is this sentence from Chapter 11: "The gospels are not about `how Jesus turned out to be God.' They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven." Put another way: the Good News of Jesus Christ has to do with much more than people simply escaping earth for heaven.
Wright develops this theme throughout and does, indeed, offer a fresh and invigorating vision of Jesus Christ. But the book is marred by the fact that Wright's best and most important ideas aren't clear until so late in the book that they would be easy to miss. In fact, I would highly recommend reading Chapters 11, 13, 14, and 15 first so that the rest of the book may be more profitable! Because of the wonderful, challenging insights in the final few chapters, I give the book 4 stars, despite a very slow and not particularly refreshing beginning.
Chapter 1 is very slow going and doesn't do much to present Jesus in a new light or help us to see Him any better. In Chapter 2, Wright presents 3 puzzles understanding Jesus represents: Jesus' world is foreign to us; Jesus' God is strange to us; and Jesus spoke and acted as if he was in charge. Chapter 2 wasn't particularly insightful.
Chapter 3 discusses what Wright terms the distortions of skepticism and conservatism. He's wrong, however, to put the two on the same level; one proceeds from faith and is an honest attempt to accept the Christ of the Gospels - the other isn't. He presents the "conservative" view in such a way that it's hard to find much fault with it, except that it does leave some important things out and has some misunderstandings. But this doesn't, at least from the discussion in Chapter 3, merit the approbation Wright uses. Why, for example, is he so upset with the fact that both skepticism and conservatism ask the question: "Did it happen?" Wright himself has already spoken of how Christianity is a historical religion. He clearly has an axe to grind against "conservative" Christians, who believe things very close to what Wright believes. This unfortunately mars this work by Wright. Why would he, for example, call it "would be `Christian" conservatism" when discussing a view that takes the Bible seriously and Jesus as the historical God made flesh? Chapter 3 also deals with historical complexity; unfortunately, Wright raises the issue here but doesn't shed much light on how to understand Jesus better until later in the book. I came to the book for a better picture of Jesus, not 3 chapters stating how our current views are inadequate.
Finally, in Chapter 4, Wright gets down to giving us some useful historical background to better understand the meaning of Jesus. He discusses, for example, the religious significance of Augustus Caesar and Jesus' threat to the traditional religion of Rome. I do like the way that Wright contrasts the Roman "retrospective" eschatology that looked to the past to the Jewish "prospective" eschatology that looked to the future. It's useful, as well, to see the 1st century Jewish situation as being set against an evil empire and a coming deliverer.
Chapter 5 is a chapter on God as King. There's nothing remarkable, but it does set the tone for the rest of the book which develops the major theme of the Gospels that God has now come as King. Chapter 6 explores the key theme that God's in charge now and is King. The chapter contains a useful, brief outline of Jewish history and a good treatment of the Exodus and 7 themes of the Exodus. Chapter 7 is generally useful as Wright presents God's rule as manifested by forgiveness and healing. But, again, nothing particularly new or exciting.
Chapter 8 is a little more interesting as Wright discusses the importance of the stories that Jesus told. "They were stories designed to tease, to clothe the shocking and revolutionary message of God's kingdom in garb that left the hearers wondering, trying to think it out, never quite able (until near the end) to pin Jesus down." It's useful to think of the parables as Wright does, that "They are saying: `Don't be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God's in charge.'"
Chapter 9 contrasts Christ as King with 2 failed Jewish kings - one before and one after Christ. It's useful as history and to make a point about Jewish expectations, but it didn't discuss Christ as King very much and therefore was not as helpful as it might have been. Chapter 10 is about battle the King will fight and how it's not so easy to see who's on which side of the battle.
By this point in the book I had resigned myself to having bought a book that wasn't particularly worthwhile. It would have been tempting to give up and go on to something else. Am I glad I kept reading!
Chapter 11, on Space, Time, and Matter, struck me as particularly illuminating and represents the kind of fresh look I'd hoped to see all throughout the book. Here, Wright portrays the Temple as the nexus of Heaven and Earth. He continues by exploring the themes of how where God dwells was redefined by Jesus, how Time was fulfilled by Him, and how God has instituted a New Creation. These are especially rich and fruitful themes that should help many Christians see what the true meaning of Christ is in a new and deeper way.
Perhaps the most important paragraph of the whole book is tucked away at the end of Chapter 11: "First, it will not do to suppose that Jesus came to teach people `how to get to heaven.' That view has been immensely popular in Western Christianity for many generations, but it simply won't do. The whole point of Jesus's public career was not to tell people that God was in heaven and that, at death, they could leave "earth" behind and go to be with him there. It was to tell them that God was now taking charge, right here on `earth.'" This thought lies behind Wright's earlier objections to "conservatism." It won't do to think of the Gospels as being traditional proofs of God, Wright says, but instead we should see them as ones that would have made sense to 1st century Jews. We should see Jesus "as the reality to which Temple, sabbath, and creation itself were pointing. That is, or ought to be, a clear indication that, in terms of the `God' of first-century Jews, Jesus understood himself to be embodying this God, doing things whose best explanation was that this was what God was doing, and so on."
In other words (and this is the very essence of what Wright is teaching): "The gospels are not about `how Jesus turned out to be God.' They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven." This is so important that I think Wright made a serious strategic mistake by not leading with these thoughts at the beginning. They are easily lost in much more mundane material.
Once again, I found Chapter 12 not all too illuminating. But Wright recovers his provocative and enlightening form in Chapter 13, where he frames Christ in terms of his uniting of the offices of prophet, priest, and king and his fulfillment of the Exodus story. Again, I wish there had been more of the material like Chapter 13. It's in such writing that he's at his best weaving together the complex imagery and narratives that culminate in Jesus Christ.
While Wright doesn't dismiss other ways of viewing the meaning of Jesus' death, such as an example of love, a representation of His people, and a penal understanding, Wright transcends these limited understandings. Ultimately, Wright thinks these other meanings are all united in the greater meaning that "Jesus's death was seen by Jesus himself, and then by those who told and ultimately wrote his story, as the ultimate means by which God's kingdom is established."
I love the way that Wright, in Chapter 14, speaks of Easter as being the New Creation that demonstrates that "God's kingdom is now launched, and launched in power and glory, on earth as in heaven." He ties the Resurrection, as well, to Ascension and Enthronement, two aspects that are often tragically left out of traditional conservative theology.
Wright concludes in Chapter 15 with where I wish he had begun: by a brilliant presentation of how Jesus is already the Ruler of the World.
In the end, "Simply Jesus" lives up to its large claim to be a new look at Jesus and what He did. I heartily recommend it with the very important qualification that the best material is all in the last 5 chapters. You may want to read them first!
Wright presents his ideas in the following chapters:
Chapter 1 - A Very Odd Sort of King
Chapter 2 - The Three Puzzles
Chapter 3 - The Perfect Storm
Chapter 4 - The Making of a First-Century Storm
Chapter 5 - The Hurricane
Chapter 6 - God's in Charge Now
Chapter 7 - The Campaign Starts Here
Chapter 8 - Stories That Explain and a Message That Transforms
Chapter 9 - The Kingdom Present and Future
Chapter 10 - Battle and Temple
Chapter 11 - Space, Time, and Matter
Chapter 12 - At the Heart of the Storm
Chapter 13 - Why Did the Messiah Have to Die?
Chapter 14 - Under New Management: Easter and Beyond
Chapter 15 - Jesus: The Ruler of the World
on December 8, 2011
I'll never forget what it was like having my mind blown. I thought that twenty years of growing up in the church and an undergraduate degree in Christian ministry with a heavy emphasis on biblical text had given me a pretty good grasp of the Bible, particularly the New Testament. Then I was assigned N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God for my first graduate class, "Advanced Introduction to the New Testament." It only took a couple pages and my mind was blown. Wright revolutionized my understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus, turned upside down my ideas about the Pharisees, and opened my eyes to the gospel's rightful place within the story of God and God's people, Israel. So began my journey with Wright that has played a pivotal role in my overarching journey of faith and ministry.
It is thus with great anticipation that I approach each new contribution to Wright's canon. I don't so much expect to have my mind blown again; before I was navigating scripture with a completely different map than Wright, now I think I'm looking at and using the same map. However, I do expect to have my understanding refined, my eyes opened to things I've previously overlooked, and some of my conclusions challenged. Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters has done precisely that.
Cutting through the fog that destroys communication between skeptics and conservatives and mapping with clarity a way through the challenging terrain of historic complexity, Wright lays out the contest that is underlying, overlaying, and surrounding any conversation about Jesus: Roman aspirations for dominance, Jewish longings for liberation, and God's intention of establishing God's kingdom on earth as in heaven. By drawing parallels between the work of Jesus and the Exodus story, contrasting Jesus to other would-be Jewish messiahs, establishing the contextual plausibility of an already-not yet kingdom, and insisting that in Jesus space, time, and matter are all redefined, Wright lays the foundation on which he claims Jesus was establishing God's kingdom on earth as in heaven. Further, Wright argues Jesus set about this task out of a sense of vocation cultivated by the images of Isaiah's suffering servant, Daniel's son of man, and Zechariah's king, and undergirded by the themes of the Psalms. With that sense of vocation propelling him, Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross, convinced that such a death was "the ultimate means by which God's kingdom [would be] established...[and] the shocking answer to the prayer that God's kingdom would come on earth as in heaven" (185). Wright concludes his examination of Jesus's life and work with immensely helpful reflections on his resurrection, ascension, and promised second coming, and the role each plays in God's intention of establishing God's kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Wright's final move explores the implications of Jesus's enthronement as ruler of the world for present-day living. Three themes familiar to Wright's readers take center stage in these explorations: God's desire to rule the world through humanity, the role of worship in creating a community whose allegiance is to Jesus alone as Lord, and the indispensible calling of the church to bear witness to Jesus's lordship even as God works outside the church as well as inside. While he does not offer endless examples of "practical applications," leaving that task to astute readers familiar with their local contexts, he concludes, unsurprisingly, by suggesting that when humanity lives as though Jesus is Lord, we will begin to see the themes of the Sermon on the Mount come to life.
Those without a formal theological education or those unfamiliar with Wright's work, may find the experience of reading Simply Jesus to be like my experience reading The New Testament and the People of God. But even for those with a formal theological education or familiar with Wright's work, Wright has prepared and served up a feast in Simply Jesus. His ability to hear resonances between seemingly distant and disparate biblical texts is on full display. His skill at employing metaphors to make complex historical problems accessible is present throughout. His talent of relating seemingly every episode of Jesus's life and ministry to the overarching story of God and God's people is evident on nearly every page. Those who taste will, I suspect, see that the Lord is good.
Disclosure: Thanks to HarperOne for providing me a review copy with no obligation for a positive review.
on November 25, 2011
Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright may simply be the best book about Jesus I have ever read.
But the book is not just about Jesus. It is about the church, the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, Israel, history, government, social involvement, eschatology, and a mind-numbing array of other topics, all of which swirl around and center upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.
But don't be scared. N. T. Wright may be one of the world's leading New Testament scholars, but this book is highly readable. Unlike some of his academic-level books (such as The Resurrection of the Son of God), this book contains almost no footnotes, scholarly discussion of Greek words, or involved critique of ideas from other scholars.
If you have been hearing about N. T. Wright and are curious about his ideas, but have not wanted to tackle the 800 pages of The Resurrection of the Son of God or the 800 pages of Jesus and the Victory of God, this book is the the place to start. It is a concise summary of everything written up to this point by N. T. Wright about Israel as the people of God, Jesus as the Son of God, the significance of His resurrection, and the role of the church within the Kingdom of God.
Here, briefly, is what he argues:
There were numerous cultural, political, and theological winds swirling around Israel in the years before and after the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most of these winds led Israel to expect a Messiah who would overthrow Rome through military conquest and set Israel up as the nation that ruled the world in peace and justice.
When Jesus began saying and doing the things He said and did, He was not fulfilling any of the expectations, which confused many people, and eventually, led to His crucifixion. (Whew! I'm skipping a lot in there! It's almost shameful!)
But through all of His teachings and miracles, and climaxing in His death and resurrection, Jesus was trying to show people what God was really like, and how the Kingdom of Heaven truly operated. It would not arrive by bloodshed and sword, conquest and violence, but through love and service, humility and sacrifice, and even death.
And when Jesus rose, He gathered His disciples around Himself and told them that through His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the Kingdom of God on earth had been inaugurated, and they were now His ambassadors to carry the Kingdom forward to the ends of the earth. They must live as He lived. Love as He loved. Serve as He served. And maybe even die as He died. For this is the way of the kingdom. This is the way of God.
The church then, continues this task. We are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to the world. "The way in which Jesus now exercises his rule in the world [is] through the church, which is his Body" (p. 217). This is fantastic theology, and provides us with a vision not just of who Jesus really was and what He really did, but also who the church is, and what the church is supposed to be doing. The last chapter really focuses on this theme, and is more than worth the price of the book.
I really only have one concern with the book, and it is that N. T. Wright does not believe in the Rapture (p. 199-200), and appears to be Amillennial (p. 229). But these are not really big issues for me, and while I believe in a future Rapture and a Millennium, I can still fully apply everything N. T. Wright says to my life as a follower of Jesus, and to the church as the Body of Christ in the present time.
I highly recommend Simply Jesus, and along with it, a book which deals more with the role of the church and individual Christians within the world: Simply Christian. Both are on my Burning Books list.
on November 4, 2011
Wright has saved the best wine until now. Here is a thorough unfolding of the epitome of Christianity: 'Jesus...Is...Lord.' In this book, N.T. Wright communicates with greater depth and even with greater warmth than his slighter 'Tom Wright' volumes, in a mature voice that has continued to gain clarity and strength over the decades of his scholarly, teaching and pastoral work and writing, distilling beautifully what he has discovered about Jesus. The detailed vision of Jesus here is compelling, inspiring and liberating. Each of the three Parts and each of the fifteen chapters contributes substantively to a book a reader new to Christianity or to Wright could comprehend thoroughly, while stimulating a growth spurt in the faith and praxis of mature Christians well-versed in Wright's ongoing opus. It is just long enough and detailed enough, and is the clearest statement I have found of the core substance of Wright's decades-long quest to comprehend and expound Jesus. The book could serve well as a reader's introduction to Wright or to his Lord; and for those who have followed the Lord alongside Wright for a long time, this book is the most satisfying and clear statement yet of the core perceptions and arguments that constitute Wright's unique and wonderful contribution to Christian life. The light here is bright, clear and warm, and it is shed upon Jesus--nothing distracts, and everything encourages the reader to draw near to the living, reigning Lord.
on December 3, 2013
I will start off by saying I read this book because I had seen some pretty harsh words written about NT Wright and some that thought he was revealing something wonderfully new and wanted to form my own opinion. Having said that, I would highly recommend reading more than one of his books and doing some research into his beliefs to get a full picture of his beliefs on justification. I would also recommend a sound knowledge of the message of Galatians, Hebrews and Romans.
Honestly it seems to me this is a whole lot of works righteousness wrapped up in today's popular social justice theme (not that works aren't important, but when they obscure the real meaning of Jesus then we are right back to what Luther fought so hard against-which Wright seems to believe early church fathers have no merit anyways.) Idon't see how Wright can say that many many years of church history have been totally wrong and he seems to be the only one getting it right. There is nothing in this book about salvation, grace, repentance, blood atonement, basically anything a Christian would consider the Gospel message, a theme in which is prevalent and obvious from Genesis to Revelation. Throughout he seems to do the very thing he argues against-using a prebiased view to make assumptions as to what he thinks the Gospels are saying. Yes Wright does have insight into first century Judaism, but it is nothing I haven't heard from countless seminary professors who do not share his views. He contradicts himself repeatedly, and up until the end seems to hint that he is less than on board with Jesus' divinity, often putting such things in quotes in a rather derogatory way. Furthermore, the Trinity seems strangely absent.
Truly I think the two things that turned me off more than anything to this book were; 1) Wright says our witness shouldn't even be about God's grace but about declaring His lordship over the earth and 2) he tells a story of a centuries ago mystic who was "transfigured" before his student and likened it to how Jesus' transfiguration the disciples witnessed along with Moses and Elijah was nothing special and in no way was meant to emphasize His divinity. Really?
on March 22, 2012
I have just finished Simply Jesus. I consider myself a classic Protestant Evangelical, and I found that Wright offers many profound, even brilliant insights on the ministry and message of Jesus. I don't think I will ever hear or read the words "on earth as it is in heaven" quite the same way again. The analogy of the "Perfect Storm" is a valuable tool in understanding not only Jesus, but the whole New Testament. The book shows how Jesus wove together various strands of Old Testament teaching and themes in a new and surprising manner and he makes a persuasive argument that Jesus did not simply come to show us how to escape hell, go to heaven and pursue a life of personal piety. All that said, the book leaves me cold. The concluding chapter seemed to me not a call to personal relationship and discipleship, but mainly a rallying cry for social action, much of which reflected a left of center political perspective more than clearly thought out biblical values. In sum, I think the "kingdom more than personal piety" theme in the book just goes too far. Most troubling was the way that Wright seems to pass off and even denigrate the traditional view of what it means to say "Christ died for our sins." It seems to me that Wright's view of the atonement (if we can even call it that) is that Christ died more for the failures of the nation of Israel to fulfill its role in establishing the Kingdom of God than for my sins and yours. I can't imagine that the hymn Rock of Ages would fit into Wright's views at all. I much prefer the approach in Tim Keller's book, "King's Cross" which overlaps in subject matter and presents Jesus not just as a promoter of His Kingdom, but as a Saviour who died for our sins and invites us into a relationship with Him. King's Cross is admittedly not as dense a theological work as Simply Jesus, but at the end of the day, I would rather have Keller than Wright as my pastor.
on October 21, 2012
I read "The Challenge of Jesus" by N.T. Wright last year and wasn't impressed. I decided to give Wright a second chance by reading "Simply Jesus" and this time I found it much more interesting but still a rather dry read.
However, I was particularly struck by Wright's historical knowledge and insight into 1st century Palestine. His use of various illustrations to explain things also resonated with me. For instance, his use of the "perfect storm" to explain the three-fold conflict that was brewing upon Christ's entrance upon the world stage: 1) The Romans looked to Augustus Caesar as the "son of god" (son of Julius Caesar who was deified). 2) The Jews were in the midst of a 1,000+ year drama awaiting for their messiah to deliver them once again from their new oppressors. 3) The Jews were looking for the establishment of a new Jewish kingdom and expecting God to rule the world and essentially be king over all the earth.
Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah did indeed usher in God's kingdom upon the earth, but not in the way that the Jews were expecting. Instead, Jesus healed people and made them right, He forgave sins... something only God was able to do. Those who sensed God's presence in their lives were now healed, forgiven, and essentially set free... the new Jubilee. And, God truly became in charge with the establishment of His new kingdom on earth. He didn't rule from the temple instead He ruled through Christ, not by might, but through peace and forgiveness... as King over the Jews and the world.
Overall, not a bad book, but lacks anything new or riveting. The beginning was interesting but towards the middle of the book it became somewhat mundane and I struggled to finish it. When I crossed the finish line it left me wondering if Wright could have reduced the size of the book by at least 1/4 of the space it took to write it. After reading two of Wright's books I've come to the conclusion that Wright just isn't for me. Do I recommend the book? Probably not. But, I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it neither.
on November 27, 2011
Wright tells us, in Simply Jesus, that for First Century Jews, and for Jesus, reality was not constructed in such a way that there is Heaven, on the one hand, and Earth, on the other. Jewish tradition held that God was present at the temple, that the Sabbath had the power of representing a promised time of eventual fulfillment, and that matter could be sacred. Jesus declared himself the temple, stated that the awaited time had come, and showed his disciples (in the transfiguration) that matter may be sacred. These themes hint of science fiction, with the notion of a parallel universe that exists not geographically distant from our own but intertwined with it. The "wormhole" that allows instant travel to far distant locations by traversing another dimension fits right it, and perhaps the ominous power of the black hole has a place as well.
So for those intrepid travelers who would jump into the wormhole, who desire the adventure of interacting with another dimension, where's the portal? How do we access the great unknown? Wright says "The Beatitudes are the agenda for the kingdom people." Jesus teaches that people have a responsibility and a role in bringing heaven to Earth. We do this through following Christ's teachings, which are contrary to "real world" rules based on "every man for himself." Self interest is easy to understand and easy to use to predict the actions of others, but it does not take us anywhere. As Wright says on page 189 "The old creation lives by pride and retribution: I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way I try to get even." This is business and usual and it is, as Wright says, not the way to heaven. "We've been there, done that, and have got the scars to prove it." Nonetheless, we continue to insist that this is the way the world is constructed, that this is the nature of human nature. We should get used to it. But there is a way out of this dismal, limited, and ultimately deadly way of viewing our reality. "Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope. It's a way nobody's ever tried before, a way that is as unthinkable to most human beings and societies as - well, as resurrection itself. Precisely. That's the point. Welcome to Jesus' new world."
Those who would enter or at least touch another dimension would do well to read Wright's book. It does not substitute for reading the Gospel and neither Wright not the Gospel substitute for our action in the real world, but both are a call for that action. Wright does a masterful job of explaining to the modern audience the context of the Gospel, which helps to clarify exactly what the terms of Jesus' call were . . . and are.
on November 16, 2011
It goes without saying that N. T. Wright, recently called the J. K. Rowling of the evangelical world, is a prolific writer. The author of more than 30 books by one count, Wright cranks out multi-hundred page volumes like others do tweets. But the difference is that Wright also packs substance and soft-edged provocation into each of his texts. As you might expect, Wright has done it again with his latest volume titled, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
In Simply Jesus, Wright gives his non-academic audience an imminently readable portal into Wright's own framework for studying and understanding the life of Jesus. This is not another Jesus Seminar attempt to get "behind" the Gospels to find the "real" Jesus. Wright contends that what we need to do is get "inside them, to discover the Jesus they've been telling us about all along, but whom we had managed to screen out."
We have screened out Jesus, Wright argues, by ripping Jesus out of the first century second Temple milieu in which his ministry occurs, and transforming Jesus into a 21st century reflection of our own culture. Wright critiques the popular evangelical assumption that Jesus has come to take us all to heaven, stressing that the story of God and Israel is at the heart of what God did and continues to do through Jesus.
Wright masterfully weaves together the converging perfect storm of Roman Empire domination, Jewish anxiety, and Jesus' Kingdom ministry to explain why Jesus said what he did, and why he encountered the opposition of almost everyone who heard him.
Wright's point in all of this is that Jesus announced that God was in charge, which is Wright's shorthand for the Kingdom of God. Jesus not only announced it, he acted himself as if he really was in charge by taking on the religious and cultural establishment through his teaching, miracles, and self-sacrifice. But, Wright contends, what they and we want is not a king, but a religious leader. And even if we want a king, we certainly don't want one like Jesus who redefined divine kingship.
Most importantly, Wright makes sense of the Jesus story in a way that no one else has. If you have read Wright's magnum opus in three parts, particularly Jesus and the Victory of God, you will recognize Wright's argument stripped down to its essentials. Wright discredits the reduction of the Gospel into a "4 Spiritual Laws" parody. He explains how the Exodus experience became the symbolic and actual story of Israel; and, how Jesus reinterpreted that story in his own life.
Wright sees the biblical narrative as one piece, and sees Old Testament fulfillment in Jesus New Testament life. This is no longer the "Jesus came to take us to heaven" story; it is now the "Jesus came to be King of all creation" story, and all that implies.
Wright will not please everyone with his approach, and he acknowledges that himself. But what Wright does do is to offer both a compelling and coherent vision of who Jesus is, "what he did, and why it matters." Or to put is another way, the conversation about what God is up to in the world doesn't start with man's sin, but with God's grand purpose for creation. Others have hinted around the edges of this, but Wright walks through the Bible blazing a trail that makes one ask, "Why didn't I see this before?"
Wright's Simply Jesus should be at the top of your reading list. Small groups, Sunday School classes, and others interested in understanding the story of the Bible, and where Jesus fits in, will benefit from reading and discussing this book. This book has the potential to be a game-changer, and others are already picking up the idea of Jesus as king and what that means. Scot McKnight's new book, The King Jesus Gospel, is a case in point. And, Wright is coming out with his own take on the Gospel in March, 2012, with his next book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. This approach isn't going away, and Wright is its most prolific spokesman.
Disclaimer: I purchased Simply Jesus as a Kindle book from Amazon at my own expense, and received no compensation for this review.
I had decided to not read Simply Jesus until more reviews were out. I read Wright's The Challenge of Jesus earlier this year. And knowing that Wright's style is to write a heavy theological tome and then to revise it at a more popular I suspected that there would be a lot of overlap. But it is more than just a revision. It is a completely new book. Obviously it has some overlapping content since the subject matter is the same, but it is a very different, and very good book.
Simply Jesus is intended to be a follow up to Wright's earlier Simply Christian and in the same basic series as Scripture and the Authority of God and After You Believe. As important as Wright's academic writing is, his pastoral tone of this series and the intent of writing for the non-Academic is very important. These are not simplistic books, the content can be quite thick occasionally. But they are written for the non-professional (there are virtually no footnotes here). In general, I like to listen to Wright's books first, get an overview of what he is doing, and then read them later to dive a bit more deeply into the content. I am going to propose that this be the next book for a small email reading group I participate in.
What is both good and bad about Wright is that he is cohesive. Everything that he thinks about seems to be related to everything else. So his understanding of scripture is related to how he understand's God speaking, which is related to what he understands God's purpose to be, which is very important to understanding who Jesus is and what Jesus' mission on Earth was, etc.
What is good about Wright's cohesion is that he does a good job at making the case that having a well thought-out understanding of God is important. What is bad, is that it is not possible for him to get directly to the point. He has to get around to the point by catching the reader up to all the different issues that are involved in whatever he is writing about. And if you have read much by Wright, then you are familiar with several of the points that he needs to make on his way to making his main point. So he can be a bit repetitive.
But I really do not think he can make his point in any other way. He is very biblical, in a way that many Christian authors are not. He does not take verse and chart it out. He charts out broad themes of scripture; surfing along them to show how they are related, and usually connecting a string of scriptural ideas together to show that it really is a broad theme of scripture. In Wright's view, scripture is not stories or a manual for living but a deeply textured account of how God has worked and is working in the world. Almost everything in scripture not only has a point, but often has multiple points. This makes reading scripture through Wright's eyes exciting, but sometimes overwhelming. Because no non-professional reader of scripture will every be able to approach scripture with the type of understanding that the professional can. This of course makes sense, but it is not the way that many Evangelicals have been taught to understand scripture. We have been taught that the clear meaning of Scripture is plain, that anyone can read it. And of course, that is true. But that does not mean that those that spend their professional lives studying scripture, learning the original languages, learning the cultural history of the people that originally read and wrote the text and learning the history of how that text has been understood since it was written don't have something else to share with us that we would not be able to understand without them.
Wright also spends a lot of time illustrating. This is important to the structure of the book and to his theological style. He works deftly in metaphors and that illustrative language is important to the way that he understands the way that scripture works as well. Scripture is a narrative that is telling us the story of how God has worked and is working in the world so it is not possible to talk about who Jesus is, without understanding how God works in the world. And since God's working in scripture are often layered and metaphorical, it makes sense that Wright uses a similar style to explain to the reader who Jesus is and how Jesus works.
It may seem at this point that I am gushing, and I probably am. But I really do think that Wright is onto something important. He is helping the church re-discover a faith that is not about doctrine as much as it is about narrative. That is to say, God is not as much concerned about what we believe (although he is concerned with that) as he is concerned that we are placing faith in Christ as King, Lord overall, fulfiller of the purpose of God and restorer of all of creation back to its original purpose.
I have been reading a number of books on scripture recently and the general theme of them is that we have been reading scripture wrong. Scripture is not about a rule book or a history book or a science book or a text book, scripture is about God communicating his authority to us. Scripture is important because it is God communicating. And the way that we make sense of the many issues of scripture is to read with a Christological Hermeneutic (read through a lens of Christ). Wright does much to help us understand what that might look like.
So if you have read Christian Smith or Peter Enns or other similar authors and are concerned with how to see Christ as the central figure of scripture, then you need to read Simply Jesus as an excellent illustration of understanding Christ as the purpose and meaning of all of scripture. If you have read Scot McKnight's King Jesus Gospel, then Simply Jesus will match together very nicely to fill in some of the ways that we need to focus on Christ as the gospel, not own our personal salvation.