Category Archives: N. T. Wright
Here’s a great article by Peter Leithart: “How N.T. Wright Stole Christmas“. Leithart highlights some of the problems with our traditional ways of thinking and singing about Christmas, and how the work of N. T. Wright can help to “re-Israelize” (yes, I just coined a term) our grasp of this holiday. Here’s how Leithart sets us his proposal:
Several years ago, when The Passion of the Christ was making headlines, I realized that N. T. Wright has spoiled every Jesus film. Once you’ve read Wright, you realize that none of the movies get Jesus right. Pharisees and scribes are reduced stock villains with caricatured Jewish features. Pilate has to make an appearance, and Herod, but we are given no sense that first-century Israel was the powder keg that it actually was.
No film ever gives us what Wright says we should be looking for: a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative to make the Jews murderously hostile. In the movies, Jesus is a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.
Just this year, I had another realization. N. T. Wright has spoiled Christmas too.
Leithart closes with a provocative suggestion:
I suggest a moratorium on new Christmas hymns, until we all learn the Magnificat and the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis so much by heart that they seep out our fingers at the keyboard, until we instinctively sing of Jesus’ birth like Mary, like Zecharias, like Simeon.
The short piece is worth reading in full.
Gospel and mission do not conflict:
To hope for a better future in this world—for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world—is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it (pp. 191-2).
N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
In Paul in Fresh Perspective, N. T. Wright reflects on Paul’s ‘redefinition of God.’ There he says,
Paul’s thought can best be understood, not as an abandonment of [a Jewish monotheistic] framework, but as a redefinition of it around the Messiah…All this and more is summed up for Paul in one of the titles for Jesus which, though he does not use it very often, comes with great force when he does. The phrase ‘son of God’ was known in Judaism as a reference to angels, but it is the two other uses which indicate where Paul sees its roots: Israel itself as ‘son of God’ (not least in Exodus 4.22), and the Messiah as ‘son of God’ in 2 Samuel 7.14 and Psalms 2.7 and 89.27. What Paul has done is to take this idea and fill it with new content, without losing the messianic meaning and the cognate of representing Israel. What has happened in, to and through Jesus has convinced Paul that hidden within the divinely intended meaning of Messiahship was God’s determination not just to send someone else to do what had to be done but to come himself to do it in person. Only so can we make sense of passages like Romans 5.6-11, where the death of Jesus (precisely as the son of God, as in 8.3 and 8.32) expresses more clearly and anything else the love of God. This can only be so if Jesus is understood as the very embodiment of the one God.
-N. T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 84, 95
N. T. Wright on why the secular hope of progress failed:
The myth of progress fails because it doesn’t in fact work; because it would never solve evil retrospectively; and because it underestimates the nature and power of evil itself and thus fails to see the vital importance of the cross, God’s no to evil, which then opens the door to his yes to creation. Only in the Christian story itself—certainly not in the secular stories of modernity—do we find any sense that the problems of the world are solved not by a straightforward upward movement into the light but by the creator God going down into the dark to rescue humankind and the world from its plight.
N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church—when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him—only then are we rescued from both hollow triumphalism and shallow despair.
-N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
As genuine human beings, from Genesis 1 onward, we are given the mandate of looking after creation, of bringing order to God’s world, of establishing and maintaining communities. To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for our own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!), and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!) is like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you’re meant to do with a baseball bat when you’re playing with other people.
Salvation only does what it’s meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them..
The point is this. When God saves people in this life, by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed – it isn’t too strong a word – to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future…
In other words – to sum up where we’ve got so far – the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us. If we can get this straight, we will leave discovered that historic basis for the full-orbed mission of the church.
-N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, 199-201.
N. T. Wright comments on the brokenness of humanity:
Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.
…God is the one who satisfies the passion for justice, the longing for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, the yearning for beauty. And God, the true God, is the God we see in Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah, the world’s true Lord.”
― N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
What was Jesus doing when he told parables? The immediate answers is Jesus was stories stories about the kingdom of God. N.T. Wright fill this out:
The parables are not simply information about the kingdom, but are part of the means of bringing it to birth. They not a second-order activity, talking about what is happening at one remove. They are part of the primary activity itself. They do not merely give people something to think about. They invite people into the new world that is being created, and warn of dire consequences if the invitation is refused. Jesus’ telling of these stories is one of the key ways in which the kingdom breaks in upon Israel, redefining itself as it does so. They also function, for the same reason, as explanation and defense of what Jesus is doing… The parables are not merely theme, they are also performance. They do not merely talk about the divine offer of mercy; they both make the offer, and defend Jesus’ right to make it.
-N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 176.
For an comprehensive analysis of Jesus’ parables, see
“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even–heaven help us–Biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically-rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way…with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom.”
Here’s is one of N. T. Wright’s most exciting claims in his work How God Became King:
The equivalent sayings and Mark and Luke simply highlight the coming of the kingdom itself, with Mark adding “in power”:
“Some people standing here won’t experience death before they see God’s kingdom come in power.” (Mark 9:1)
“There some standing here who won’t experience death until they see God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:27)
These parallel versus, in the intention of all three evangelists, are best read as indicating a kingdom fulfillment that day, the authors of the gospels in question, believe had already come to pass in the death and resurrection of Jesus…The best hypothesis is that all four gospel writers believed that with his crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth had indeed been enthroned, however paradoxically, as Israel’s Messiah and that, with that event, Israel’s God had established his kingdom on earth as in heaven.
They believed this, of course, because of Jesus’s resurrection…
N. T. Wright on the John’s link between kingdom, cross, and the love of God:
…[I]n the broader Johannine perspective, we discover that the only word to do justice to this kingdom and cross combination is agape, “love.” The death of Jesus is the expression of God’s love, as the famous verse of John 3:16 makes clear. For John, it is also the expression of Jesus’s own love: “He had always loved his own people in the world; now he love them right through to the end” (13:1). And, with that, John introduces the powerful and tender scene in which Jesus washes his disciples feet. In between these two, we find a “good shepherd” discourse, where the mutual love between Jesus and the father leads directly to Jesus his vocation to “lay down his life for the sheep” (10:15).
Throughout, Jesus remains God’s anointed king, crowned as such by the pagans, however ironic the crown of thorns is (John 19:1-3). As such, he is the truly human being. When Pilate says “Here’s the man! (19:5), We are surely to hear echoes of that primal Johannine moment, the Word becoming flesh as the climax of the new Genesis (1:14). But this Genesis call this new creation, is aimed at redemption; and the suffering Messiah, wearing the ironic royal robes, which acquire a second level of irony in John’s treatment, does for his people and the world what he had said all along he would do, as the shepherd giving his life for the sheep, as the seed sown in the ground to bear much fruit. The cross stands at the heart of John’s kingdom theology, the vision of the love of God revealed in the saving action in the death of his Son, the Lamb, the Messiah.
For more, see
With his usual polemical edge, N. T. Wright, in How God Became King, both corrects common Christian misunderstandings of the term” Messiah” and instructs us to view the significance of Jesus’s humanity and deity in a vocational, redemptive-historical light:
As we contemplate the scene at Caesarea Philippi [in Mark 8:27-30], it is vital that we do not short-circuit the messianic meeting in our quest for creedal affirmations about Jesus’s “divinity.” Yes, the four Gospels do indeed a firm, often in subtle and profound ways (not so often in the rather clunky in obvious ways that some would clearly prefer), that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God, come back at last to rescue his people. But the meaning of Peter’s confession of Jesus’s the messiahship is not, “you are the second person of the Trinity,” but “you are Israel’s Messiah.” The phrase son of God in this connection is of course once more an echo of the messianic passages as Psalm 2, 2 Samuel 7, and elsewhere. And in those contexts it’s primary meaning is ” Israel’s messiah, adopted and anointed by God as his own son.”
The much fuller meanings that the phrase “son of God” came to carry quite early in the Christian movement (as early as Paul; see, e.g., Romans 8:3-4, Galatians 4:4-7) are fresh depths that the early church discovered within this Jewish meaning. They did not indicate that the meaning of “Messiah” had been abandoned and something else (“divinity”?) put in its place. We approach that full or meaning – and, ultimately, trinitarian theology itself – through the messianic, kingdom-bearing gateway. That is, in fact, the gateway to the meeting both of Jesus is “divinity” and of his “humanity.” But how much better to replace those dry, abstract categories with their biblical originals. As Messiah – as the about-to-be- crucified Messiah! – Jesus embodies the vocation of Israel, and within it the vocation of the human race itself. But he also embodies the returning, rescuing, promise-keeping God of Israel himself.
N. T. Wright, in his latest work How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, on the deity of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the cross:
It is possible to state the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity in such a way as to let it float loose from both kingdom and cross, but this is what the New Testament never does. The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the other sheep in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s the launch of the kingdom – God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven – is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.
How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah.
Another great quote from Wright:
… the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord. … The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being ‘left behind’), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.
~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
(HT: Creedal Christian)