Reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $3.99.
Takeaway: Jesus is important.
I had decided to not read Simply Jesus until more reviews were out. I read Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus earlier this year. And knowing that Wright’s style is to write a heavy theological tome and then to revise it at a more popular level I suspected that there would be a lot of overlap. But it is more than just a revision. It is a completely new book. Obviously it has some overlapping content since the subject matter is the same, but it is a very different, and very good book.
Simply Jesus is intended to be a follow up to Wright’s earlier Simply Christian and in the same basic series as Scripture and the Authority of God and After You Believe. As important as Wright’s academic writing is, his pastoral tone of this series and the intent of writing for the non-Academic is very important. These are not simplistic books, the content can be quite thick occasionally. But they are written for the non-professional (there are virtually no footnotes here). In general, I like to listen to Wright’s books first, get an overview of what he is doing, and then read them later to dive a bit more deeply into the content. I am going to propose that this be the next book for a small email reading group I participate in.
What is both good and bad about Wright is that he is cohesive. Everything that he thinks about seems to be related to everything else. So his understanding of scripture is related to how he understand’s God speaking, which is related to what he understands God’s purpose to be, which is very important to understanding who Jesus is and what Jesus’ mission on Earth was, etc.
What is good about Wright’s cohesion is that he does a good job at making the case that having a well thought-out understanding of God is important. What is bad, is that it is not possible for him to get directly to the point. He has to get around to the point by catching the reader up to all the different issues that are involved in whatever he is writing about. And if you have read much by Wright, then you are familiar with several of the points that he needs to make on his way to making his main point. So he can be a bit repetitive.
But I really do not think he can make his point in any other way. He is very biblical, in a way that many Christian authors are not. He does not take a verse and chart it out. He charts out broad themes of scripture; surfing along them to show how they are related, and usually connecting a string of scriptural ideas together to show that it really is a broad theme of scripture. In Wright’s view, scripture is not stories or a manual for living but a deeply textured account of how God has worked and is working in the world. Almost everything in scripture not only has a point, but often has multiple points.
This makes reading scripture through Wright’s eyes exciting, but sometimes overwhelming. Because no non-professional reader of scripture will every be able to approach scripture with the type of understanding that the professional can. This of course makes sense, but it is not the way that many Evangelicals have been taught to understand scripture. We have been taught that the clear meaning of Scripture is plain, that anyone can read it. And of course, that is true. But that does not mean that those that spend their professional lives studying scripture, learning the original languages, learning the cultural history of the people that originally read and wrote the text and learning the history of how that text has been understood since it was written don’t have something else to share with us that we would not be able to understand without them.
Wright also spends a lot of time illustrating. This is important to the structure of the book and to his theological style. He works deftly in metaphors and that illustrative language is important to the way that he understands the way that scripture works as well. Scripture is a narrative that is telling us the story of how God has worked and is working in the world so it is not possible to talk about who Jesus is, without understanding how God works in the world. And since God’s working in scripture are often layered and metaphorical, it makes sense that Wright uses a similar style to explain to the reader who Jesus is and how Jesus works.
It may seem at this point that I am gushing, and I probably am. But I really do think that Wright is onto something important. He is helping the church re-discover a faith that is not about doctrine as much as it is about narrative. That is to say, God is not as much concerned about what we believe (although he is concerned with that) as he is concerned that we are placing faith in Christ as King, Lord overall, fulfiller of the purpose of God and restorer of all of creation back to its original purpose.
I have been reading a number of books on scripture recently and the general theme of them is that we have been reading scripture wrong. Scripture is not about a rule book or a history book or a science book or a text book, scripture is about God communicating his authority to us. Scripture is important because it is God communicating. And the way that we make sense of the many issues of scipture is to read with a Christological Hermeneutic (read through a lens of Christ). Wright does much to help us understand what that might look like.
So if you have read Christian Smith or Peter Enns or other similar authors and are concerned with how to see Christ as the central figure of scripture, then you need to read Simply Jesus as an excellent illustration of understanding Christ as the purpose and meaning of all of scripture. If you have read Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel, then Simply Jesus will match together very nicely to fill in some of the ways that we need to focus on Christ as the gospel, not own our personal salvation.
- Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good by NT Wright
- Simply Christian by N T Wright
- The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is by NT Wright
- Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright
- Scripture and the Authority of God by NT Wright
- Read Again: Scripture and the Authority of God by NT Wright
- Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues by NT Wright
- The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential by NT Wright
- Small Faith–Great God by NT Wright
- Paul in Fresh Perspective by NT Wright
- Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns
- The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight
- The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns