BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

SIMPLY JESUS – N.T. Wright (2011)

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, by N.T. Wright surveys the historical background of Jesus and presents our Savior from a variety 0062084399_lof angles.  There are a few features that make it worthwhile.

The Emphasis on the Kingdom of God

Wright’s focus on the kingdom of God is refreshing as he promotes an all-ready, not yet framework.  For instance, he adds, “The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people.  They are not simply about how to behave, so that God will do something nice to you.  They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.”  He continues, “The Sermon on the Mount is a call to Jesus’s followers to take up their vocation as light to the world, as salt to the earth – in other words, as people through whom Jesus’s kingdom vision is to become a reality.”

The emphasis on good works is refreshing component that emerges in Wright’s eschatological framework: “In the New Testament, ‘good works’ are what Christians are supposed to be doing in and for the wider community.  That is how the sovereignty of Jesus is put into effect.”

Rejecting the Platonic Vision of Heaven

I especially enjoyed Wright’s frustration with the so-called Platonic vision of heaven that is embraced by so many evangelicals.  In many ways, he picks up where Randy Alcorn left off in his magnificent work, Heaven.  Wright helpfully notes, “Heaven in biblical thought is not a long way away from ‘earth.’  In the Bible, ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ overlap and interlock, as the ancient Jews believed they did above all in the Temple … Most people in today’s Western world imagine that ‘heaven,’ by definition, could not contain what we think of as a solid, physical body.  That’s because we are Platonists at heart, supposing that if there is a ‘heaven,’ it  must be nonphysical, beyond the reach of space, time, and matter.”

While much of  the work in Simply Jesus  is helpful and encouraging, as a premillenialist, I found the ammillenial eschatological framework interesting but not very helpful, in the final analysis.  Wright has a way of making his readers think, especially readers that disagree with him.  His writing is winsome, thought-provoking and worthy of a careful read.

Biblical Theology · BOOK REVIEWS · Discipleship · Theology

SIMPLY CHRISTIAN: Why Christianity Makes Sense – N.T. Wright (2010)

0061920622_lN.T. Wright has generated some controversy over the last several years.  That’s putting it mildly.  His views concerning the so-called new perspective on Paul have drawn the attention and criticism of well-known authors like John Piper.  But his book Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense jettisons that whole debate.  I found the book to be thought-provoking and helpful on many levels.

Wright explores what he calls the “echoes of a voice,” a yearning for justice, spirituality, relationships, and beauty.  Each one of these quests, while basic to the human condition eludes us and appears to be just beyond our grasp, yet each will be attainable one day as Christ makes all things new.  This is the essence of Part One.  He takes each theme and likens them to the “opening movements of a symphony” which alert readers to echoes that are still to come.

Part Two seeks to set forth the basic theological framework about God and the revelation of his Son, Jesus Christ and his plan to rescue sinners from their sin and renew or reshape creation.  Wright explores themes the relate to the kingdom of Christ and living by the Spirit.

Part Three explores what it means to follow Jesus, lean into the Holy Spirit and ultimately “advance the plan of this creator God.”  Wright dispels the notion that the main purpose of the Christian faith is to live, die, and then go to heaven.  Rather, we are called to be “instruments of God’s new creation, the world-put-to-rights which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus’s followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents.”

One of the things I appreciate most about Wright’s work is his interaction with other worldviews.  In Schaeffer-like fashion, he contrasts historic Christianity with deism, pantheism, and panentheism – to name a few.  He sorts through various options and shows how the Christian faith is the only viable option.  In many ways, Simply Christian is an introduction to biblical theology with strong apologetic arguments along the way.  In other ways, it is an introduction to spiritual formation – alerting readers to the riches found in Christ and the power of his resurrection and beckoning them to find their satisfaction in Christ.

The author concludes by challenging readers:  “We are called to be part of God’s new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now.  We are called to model and display that new creation in symphonies and family life, in restorative justice and poetry, in holiness and service to the poor, in politics and painting … Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world.  It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that  is dawning.”  This is a book that deserves careful attention.  Like a child who longs to explore the countryside, I plan to return for another visit — for there is more to explore and understand.

4 stars