Wright on Jesus

Yesterday’s second N. T. Wright event at Fuller Northern California entailed a talk about Jesus and the Kingdom in front of a packed house of well over 700 attendees.

He reflected on the problem that was the driving force behind Scot McKnight’s recent King Jesus Gospel: what is the gospel of the Gospels? Why do we have these stories about Jesus’ life?

Wright set up the problem like this:

For many Christians, Jesus could be born of a virgin and die for our sins, and that would be enough.

What, then, do we discover in the Gospels?

He suggested that there are four “speakers” that need to be properly adjusted in volume so that we can get the full, stereoscopic effect of the Gospels’ depiction of Jesus:

  1. The Gospels show Jesus as the climax to the story of Israel–not merely isolated prooftexts, but the whole grand narrative. This speaker, Wright suggests, has been on mute for too much of the church’s history–and still today.
  2. The Gospels depicts Jesus as the embodiment of Israel’s God. This speaker, Wright argues, has been turned up far too loud–and perhaps played with no little distortion as well. The point should be less Jesus as second person of the Trinity and more Jesus as the God who renews covenant (Isa 54) and redeems the whole world (Isa 55) by carrying our sins and bearing our sorrows (Isa 53).
  3. Jesus is the start of the movement that became the church. Again, Wright sees this one as turned up too loud inasmuch as it causes us to look past Jesus’ actions on earth far too quickly. The forward-looking reading can make us, too, look forward and thereby forget that Jesus is inaugurating the kingdom in his life and death.
  4. The kingdom of God calls the kingdoms of this world to account. This speaker, too, Wright thinks has been too low–perhaps disconnected and stuck in a corner. Wright looks at Jesus and Pilate debating kingship and truth, at Paul proclaiming Jesus is Lord in Caesar’s own city, and sees the gospel calling the kingdoms of this world to account, to a better way of rule.

At the end, Wright strove to connect this four-fold reading of the Gospels to both life and death of Jesus. Perhaps my mind was wondering after a long day. I didn’t find this part to be as clearly laid out. Perhaps my problem was that I couldn’t quite see how there was an inherent connection, how cross drove the kingdom vision or enabled it to come about.

After a day with Wright, and seeing how he can pack out a house, even in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I was poised to have N. T. Wright thoughts in mind when I read this morning’s blog post by Seth Godin.

The blog post talked about being “the best”–essentially, it says, being the best is a distraction that keeps us from taking our “better than most” and becoming well known for our unique contribution.

As I’m about to go to the Society of Biblical Literature conference, I think about N. T. Wright and think that there are probably any number of people who could rightly claim to be “better” New Testament scholars than Wright. They are more careful exegetes, know their history a bit better, or some such.

But what Wright has done is to take his “better than most” and parlay it into “most influential,” such that his overall project ends up being one of, if not the, most important biblical theology projects because people actually listen to what he is doing.

That’s where Wright has been able to become great: he has made the effort, and succeeded, in speaking to the masses. And the church’s and academy’s readings of the Bible are becoming, and will continue to be, better for it.

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