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 It 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 volumes (Christian Origins and the Question of God), 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.