Summary: “The one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.”
NT Wright is an author that many are excited about and many are frustrated by. There is good reason for both. NT Wright is a serious scholar and he has helped reinvigorate serious scholarship about the New Testament that is focused on orthodox Christianity.
The main theological frustration, especially for a particular group of Reformed, is that he has focused on Paul and interpreted Paul as not being primarily focused on Jesus’ Penal Substitution. He has not ignored Penal Substitution, or said it is not a real part of Christianity, but he has said the focus of Paul is not on Jesus’ penal substitution, but on Jesus as King and restorer.
That major focus on Wright’s work is front and center in Simply Good News. Wright does fairly well writing either to an academic audience (as his 1700 pages opus on Paul) or a popular audience. Simply Good News (like Simply Jesus, Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope) is popularly focused and has few footnotes or academic references. And it is one of Wright’s shortest books.
NT Wright is in one way imminently readable. He tells stories and builds a case that can be followed. But in another ways Wright is almost always frustrating because he usually seems to complicate even small matters. Nothing by Wright is unrelated to the whole story because the nature of Wright’s project pulls together parts of the Christian story which some minimize or over simplify.
Wright cannot talk about the Good News without talking about Jesus and his project (obviously) or the broader concept of covenant (which Jesus is coming to fulfil), or the work of the church (doing our part in reconciling the world to Christ), or the end times (which should drive our understanding of what our reconciliation should be focused on), or the history of Israel (to which Jesus came as Messiah) or a whole host of other issues that are interrelated and connected. Anyone that has read Wright before always feels the repetition that is necessarily a part of Wright’s method of presenting the story.
NT Wright wrote the introduction to Scot McKnight’s 2011 The King Jesus Gospel. In many ways Simply Good News is Wright’s version of McKnight’s earlier book. I read Simply Good News looking for how it is different from King Jesus Gospel. I think the main difference is that King Jesus Gospel was written theologically (primarily to clergy) to help change people’s theology of the gospel from one focused on sin to one focused on kingdom. McKnight’s general point is the main point of Simply Good News as well, but Wright has more of a pastoral focus and tone and is more oriented toward lay people.
The end of the book looks practically at the Lord’s Prayer to illustrate how moving from a focus on individual sin to a corporate submission to Christ’s kingship changes our understanding of Christianity. Wright suggests that individual sin focus leads us to do the Lord’s Prayer backwards, help me, forgive me my sins, give me what I need and because you have done those things you are great. But instead the Lord’s Prayer has a particular order that Wright thinks better illustrates the point of the Gospel, Lord you are Hallowed, we ask that your kingdom come now on earth as it is in heaven so that all things may be reconciled to you and submit to you, and so that your will as King be done both on earth as it is in heaven. And as King, give us our needs, forgive us our sin and help us to forgive (and act rightly toward) those around us. And keep us from temptations and evil that we cannot endure.
While I think Simply Good News is probably going to be my suggestion for the best entry point for Wright, none of Wright’s books are perfect. He has a tendency to over state his case a bit and while that is less here than most books, it is still here. I think while his point is to complicate the story and make it richer, more meaningful and more whole, there are times when he needs more summary to make sure everyone is following along.
There is also one point where he talks about myth as a false story, which while I know he is writing to a popular audience, I wish he would not have done. Because Wright has often done a good job at using the richer understanding of myth as origin story (not false story) as he did in this video.
Overall if you are new to NT Wright, this is a great place to start. If you are familiar with NT Wright and have read Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel, you will not find much new material here, but this is a good summary of why Wright’s project is important, not only for Pauline studies or New Testament studies but for the basic theology and practice of the church.
- The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential by NT Wright
- Simply Christian by NT Wright
- Scripture and the Authority of God by NT Wright (Second Reading)
- The Future of Justification: A Response to NT Wright by John Piper
- Paul in New Perspective by NT Wright
- The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by NT Wright
- Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did and Why He Matters by NT Wright
- Small Faith Great God by NT Wright