Monday, December 3, 2012

The Challenge of Jesus - Book Review

For a long time, Jesus-research has been divided as either a historical pursuit or a theological one solely.  Things like the Jesus seminar and the “quest” for the historical Jesus has been much about de-mythologizing Jesus or un-theologizing him.  Then again, when theologians responded with their theological replies, it tended to miss the point of the gospels of the Bible (asking it questions it never was meant to answer) and misinterpret history altogether.

One thing that draws me to N. T. Wright as a scholar is that he is both a judicious historian and a sharp theologian.  In his book The Challenge of Jesus, Wright skillfully intertwines both as he presents a strong case for re-evaluating common notions of Jesus from a historical perspective allowing that to shape our theology.  Christians often read the gospel accounts as theological treatises to answer questions posed by skeptics (i.e. “Is there a god?  If so, who is he?” to which Christians replied “Jesus is God.” which is a response that the accounts weren’t intended to provide).  This book will help inform them as to Jesus’ place in the narrative of Scripture.  On the other hand, skeptics and historians (aka “questers”) have a difficult time giving credence to the gospel accounts scenario of events along with 2nd temple Judaism.  They run the risk of presenting Jesus in a completely unacceptable fashion for Christians to accept.  Thus you have the great divide.

What is most remarkable is that Wright does this on a laymen’s level in this book.  However, I’ve read many other books by Wright wherein he repeats much of the same things at different depths and levels.  For example, he covers in a very brief manner some of the most important points brought out in his Origins of Christianity series.  And he later re-emphasizes some of these points in one of his latest books, How God Became King.  So there is a lot of overlap in regards to Wright and his presentation to Jesus.  Each one is great, but it is not necessary to read all of them to have an adequate understanding of his views. 

I would recommend starting with Challenge  if you want to enter the fray.  If your interest in this kind of presentation to Jesus is piqued, then move on to some of his other books.  If you are really wanting to be challenged by Wright’s writings, then move on to his Origins series.  Ironically, I read him in the exact opposite order to what I am recommending.  So I’d like to think that if read the way I am encouraging, you will only increase in your understanding of his presentation instead of continually reading summations of them as I did. 

Either way, I highly recommend this book as a good distillation (the word my pastor used to describe this book) of Wright’s understanding of the Israel story and Jesus’ relationship to it.  Wright will increase your understanding of the Bible’s grand narrative and its great continuity between the testaments.  It will make sense from a historical perspective why Jesus was executed.  You will see how his actions were meant to be seen as highly symbolic reinterpretation of the OT Israel story played out in the final Exodus of God’s people.  I encourage readers of all levels to read this as an introduction to Wright.  I am assuming most in the scholarly field have already been exposed to Wright, so I would encourage you to read it as a synopsis of what you know of Wright already.  No matter what, read it!

1 comment:

Scott said...

Wondering if you read "Unfolding the Mystery" by Edmund P. Clowney.