Simply Jesus

N.T. Wright, Harper-Collins, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Wright maintains that the church has sold short the story of Jesus, and avoided the challenge of Jesus’ central claims and achievements. We have reduced the kingdom of G-d to private piety; the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience. Simply Jesus re-examines from a basically conservative perspective the textual background of the New Testament writings, attempting to see the relationship between first century Jewish culture and history, and their implications for Jesus’ message.

        Wright uses the metaphor of three great rivers who come together, merging Jewish messianic dreams, servant perspectives, and G-d’s return to the people (p 169). ‘Instead of the frantic pressure to defend the identity of people, land and temple (cf the exilic experience), Jesus’ followers are to recover the initial vision of being a royal priesthood for the whole world’ (p 181), ‘the presence of Israel’s G-d no longer in cloud and fire, wilderness tabernacle, but in and as a Human Being Jesus himself. (p 181)

        Jesus’ kingdom is a different sort of kingdom: a kingdom without violence, a kingdom not from this world but through Jesus’ work a kingdom for this world’ (p 183) Wright deals strikingly with atonement. ‘Somehow Jesus’ death was seen by himself as the ultimate means by which G-d’s kingdom was established’ (p 185)(this is no reductionist or substitutionary atonement).

        ‘Rome was not the real enemy; the real enemy was the anti-creation forces of the Accuser.’ Jesus rules the world today not just through his people ‘behaving themselves’….Jesus rules the world through those who launch new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing this: jubilee projects, housing trusts, sustainable agricultural projects.

        This book is a powerful call to see what it means to be ‘a kingdom for this world’.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.