book response: Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright (2011)

I picked up my first N.T. Wright book, Simply Jesus, because it was on sale for Kindle, just $2. He has stirred up controversy in some circles, but in this book, I see no reason why any conservative evangelical would be threatened by his ideas; unless you are threatened by ideas that are no identical to your own.

The irony of the book title, as Wright explains, is Jesus is not simple. He uses the metaphor of the Perfect Storm throughout the book. The three forces of "nature" Jesus wades into are imperial Rome, apocalyptic Israel, and a fresh move of God. Wright strives to find a third way between those who believe Jesus was a really good man who left a good example and those who believe Jesus is a lifeguard trying to pluck people out of a river heading toward a deadly waterfall. His assertion is that Jesus came to install a new kingdom, God's kingdom, that succeeds by living out his teachings, such as the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule.

Jesus is not simple because he frustrates everyone's expectations.

They were looking for a builder to construct the home they thought they wanted, but he was the architect, coming with a new plan that would give them everything they needed, but within quite a new framework. They were looking for a singer to sing the song they had been humming for a long time, but he was the composer, bringing them a new song to which the old songs they knew would form, at best, the background music. He was the king, all right, but he had come to redefine kingship itself around his own work, his own mission, his own fate. p. 5

Simple solutions appeal to our limited minds. We can't be experts at everything, so we tend to be attracted to the simple, despite our own experience that life is complicated. It works for alternative medicine, Tea Party economics, religion and atheism.
If you want to know why the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Atkins sell so many books, the answer is that they’re offering the modernist version of the good old-fashioned theological term “assurance.” They are assuring anxious ex-believers that the nightmare of small-minded and stultifying “religion” is gone forever. p. 15
Imposing our modern views on Jesus is another example of over-simplifying Jesus. I'm guilty of it, myself.
If we don’t make the effort to do this reconstruction, we will, without a shadow of doubt, assume that what Jesus did and said makes the sense it might have made in some other context—perhaps our own. That has happened again and again. I believe that this kind of easy-going anachronism is almost as corrosive to genuine Christian faith as skepticism itself. p.21
Wright notes one aspect of Jesus' apocalyptic timeline, which Matthew accomodates in his genealogy of Jesus, dropping out some ancestors to make it all fit nicely.
Matthew hints at all this in his own way, right at the start of his gospel, by arranging Jesus’s genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations (that is, six sevens), so that Jesus appears at the start of the sabbath-of-sabbaths moment. And, as we have seen, people in Jesus’s day were pondering, calculating, and longing for the greatest superjubilee of them all, the “seventy weeks” (that is, seventy times seven years) of Daniel 9:24. The great sabbath was coming! Soon they would be free! p.137
The kingdom Jesus brings in is revolutionary, but the peaceful kind, a kind radically committed to mercy and forgiveness.
It was about giving up the ordinary kind of revolution, in which violent change produces violent regimes, which are eventually toppled by further violent change, and discovering an entirely different way instead. “Don’t resist evil,” he said, and the words he used didn’t mean, “Lie down and let people walk all over you.” They meant, “Don’t join the normal ‘resistance’ movements.” p.147  
How significant is the Lord's Prayer? It's "simply" the answer to what the conservatives and liberals miss about Jesus.
But in first-century Christianity, what mattered was not people going from earth into God’s kingdom in heaven. What mattered, and what Jesus taught his followers to pray, was that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven. p.148
The resurrection of Christ is a preview.It's not just a preview of humanity's resurrection but of creation's resurrection.
God will do for the whole cosmos, in the end, what he did for Jesus at Easter; the risen Jesus, remember, is the prototype of the new creation. God will do this through Jesus himself; the ascended Jesus, remember, is the ruler within the new creation as it bursts in upon the old. And God will do it through the presence of the risen and ascended Jesus when he comes to heal, to save, and also to judge. p.203
Meanwhile, we can participate in the transformation of the world into God's kingdom by the most difficult and unexpected ways of Jesus.
The methods of kingdom work are in accordance with the message of Jesus as king; that is, they involve suffering, misunderstanding, violence, execution, and, in the final spectacular scene (before Paul gets to Rome with the message of this new world emperor), shipwreck. p.205
The instrument God uses is flawed. For all the good the church does in the world, it also, unintentionally, houses wolves in her midst. The church must speak outward and inward.
Of course, the church will sometimes get it wrong. The church must exercise a prophetic gift toward the world, but this will require further prophetic ministries within the church itself, to challenge and correct as well as to endorse what has been said. And all would-be prophetic ministries are subject to further scrutiny; not for nothing does John warn his readers to “test the spirits,” since many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1–6). The rule of thumb, interestingly enough, is to look back to Jesus himself. p.228
This addresses so many complaints towards abusive churches.

Simply Jesus is a brief book on a big topic. Some day I will read his much larger tomes where he develops his ideas more thoroughly. However, there isn't anything in this book that I find controversial, which I would need further argumentation. This book is hopeful and helpful with an optimistic view of the future as God's kingdom continues to grow.
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