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Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters Hardcover – October 25, 2011
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“N. T. Wright’s introduction to Jesus is erudite (and yet also entertaining), and decidedly thought-provoking. Somewhat to my surprise, I felt that, in reading Simply Jesus, I was really coming to know Jesus better; reading Simply Jesus, I actually felt Him near.” (Lauren F. Winner, author of Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis)
“Tom Wright is, as always, brilliant at distilling immense scholarship into vivid, clear and accessible form. This book is yet another of his great gifts to the worldwide church.” (Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury)
“No one living today is writing more thoughtfully and compellingly about Christian theology than N.T. Wright. With Simply Jesus, he takes readers on an illuminating intellectual expedition to recover the Christian Messiah. If you have not read Wright, start now, and start with this book.” (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House)
“Tom Wright has a fresh way of presenting the story of Jesus, the one and only Savior and Lord of the four canonical Gospels. This book retrieves Jesus from the margins of contemporary ideologies and places him once again at the heart of biblical faith. A compelling read!” (Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University, general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture)
“Wright patiently explains the world views that Jesus stepped into, how his parables point to his mission, and, finally, what this truth means in today’s world. Wright’s direct style, reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ writings, invites readers in but allows for internal argument.” (Booklist (starred review))
When today’s leading New Testament theologian has something new to say about anything, readers pay attention. In his latest work, he again exhibits his gift for making in-depth scholarship vivid and accessible. (Kimberly Mauck, The Christian Chronicle)
From the Back Cover
We have grown used to the battles over Jesus—whether he was human or divine, whether he could do miracles or just inspire them, whether he even existed. Much of the church defends tradition, while critics take shots at the institution and its beliefs. But what if these debates have masked the real story of Jesus? What if even Jesus’s defenders have been so blinded by their focus on defending the church’s traditions that they have failed to grapple with what the New Testament really teaches?
Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright summarizes a lifetime of study of Jesus and the New Testament in order to present for a general audience who Jesus was and is. In Simply Jesus, we are invited to hear one of our leading scholars introduce the story of the carpenter’s son from Nazareth as if we were hearing it for the first time.
“Jesus—the Jesus we might discover if we really looked,” explains Wright, “is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus’s central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety; the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience; Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself.” As the church faces the many challenges of the twenty-first century, Wright has presented a vision of Jesus that more than meets them.
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Top Customer Reviews
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
The book takes us in a very NT wright approach to the gospels and story of Jesus. This means that Wright first gives a large overview of 2nd temple Judaism and the movements that were occurring at Jesus' time, puts Jesus amidst these Messiah movements and shows how what he did, although having some similarities with others, was quite different for the most part. Wright paints the picture of the perfect storm, with Jewish nationalism, the Roman Empire and Jesus. All of these elements came together and thus we have an amazing set of events.
Wright throughout the book tries to keep from agreeing with either the liberal or conservative traditions that would make Jesus into either just a good teacher or someone who came for only the spiritual salvation of some. I probably agree with Wright's stance, but sometimes he seems to go too much out of his way to establish that he is not among the more conservative members of the church. I gather this is so that those who are reading would not simply stick him into such a category.
What I understand Wright to be saying is that, although the coming of Christ and his work do involve the salvation of individuals, this wasn't the main reason. Rather Christ was starting to bring all creation under His rule, as it should be. This involves humans, principalities and powers, etc.. Thus we shouldn't think of the gospel as an "escape from this world" kind of model, but rather a "Kingdom on earth" in which humans are the agents that God has chosen to use.
I agree with the content, Wright is very persuasive and really does build up a good case from both the Bible and history, but perhaps I wouldn't take that amount of stress away from "salvation" that he does, considering the Bible does speak of this. I also wonder if in attempts to bring the narrative to more present matters, he neglects the future hope that Christ will come. For those who are persecuted and killed and see their families killed, putting aside the promises of heaven and of final judgment would be harmful. For those who are lazy, the "present" emphasis is helpful, for those who have lost so much already on account of Christ now, the "future" emphasis is needed. I think there is much more harmony between these two, I think Wright would agree also, but this books stressed one over the other, mainly (I think) due to whom this book is geared towards.
What I really enjoyed was some of the interesting history tidbits and comparisons with other messiah movements (ie, Simon, son of the star and Simon bar-Giora (66-70). Wright has a great way of making the stories of the Bible become alive by giving us a kind of historical background. Like going to Israel and seeing the land, so also knowing the history makes the stories of the Bible more "alive".
In regards to reading the Gospels, the Bible or anything, "we should be prepared to follow where the story leads".
In short, while I will sometimes be weary of some of his emphasis away from personal salvation, my impression is that it comes from motives to reach people who might have already passed off the Bible as some sort of escape from the world fluff. And that does resonate with me. And there are people who do neglect much of the kingdom and exclusively go the route of only "spiritual salvation" in a very much "escape from the world" mentality, and so these people (or maybe we all) need to be careful not to neglect important parts and teachings of the Bible. So again, while I might personally wish for a little more stress on a thing here or there, the contents of what Wright says usually wins me over.