N.T. Wright and Jesus and the Victory of God
Following is my review of Wright's book which is the second volume in his series on Christian origins and the question of God. Wright uses long complicated sentences sometimes but his writing is good for the most part.
Jesus and the victory of God
Having read the first volume in this series, I thought that I no longer had any need to read more of Wright and that I understood his basic thesis. This thesis being clearly that the historical Jesus can only be fully understood in His historical context; namely Judaism of the 1st century. But I persevered and am delighted by the comprehensiveness and vision of Wright in his insights of the literature. Many assumptions of present day theology are challenged and many Scriptures are revealed in a new and exciting light.
For years, I had thought that F.F. Bruce was my favorite scholar but I must say that now it is Wright. I do not wish to be gushing too much like a star-struck sycophant but Wright is definitely unsurpassed in scope and credibility. This does not mean that I have not encountered certain problems with his ideas, and certainly find him authoritative and consistent with many of my own views. But this is like saying I will not eat the enchilada because it does not have the right salsa.
To be more specific, the first three chapters were difficult to plow through because he interacts with many thinkers that offend me by their hypercritical methodology and populist interpretations of the Gospels and their implications. But I then realized that this was necessary and beneficial for the argument; after all, what point would there be to interacting with scholars that you just agree with all the time? Wright's main strengths in my view are his ability to organize his hypotheses around basic principles like story, symbol, praxis and finally how the message cements all that. Not in the least to be overlooked is the importance of historical context and very few writers are able to do all this in a digestible way while at the same time covering most if not all the sources.
However I have a few main criticisms. First, despite Wright's well argued view of eschatology, I still believe there is to be an ultimate and final fulfillment of God's plan. Next, he obliquely connects Jesus' message of the return from exile etc.. with the social justice content of Jesus' ethics and concern for the poor but he never (so far) overtly states that Jesus' Kingdom was to be one of love and service contradicting the expectation of a powerful, worldly ruler vanquishing Israel's enemies. After all, what does it mean to be a Christian if we do not love and serve our fellow humans? Lastly, I believe that Wright and many other evangelicals today are suffering from an atrophied conception of the Church and how she fits into God's Kingdom and purposes for creation. (I do not understand why another reviewer objects to Wright's denial of Jesus' self awareness of being Messiah when he explicitly states this on page 481.)
Of all the scholarship that I have been privileged to absorb over the years, I consider Wright to be first among equals and setting a new benchmark for excellence in New Testament studies. It is with great joy and enthusiasm that I recommend his work. Looking forward to the next volume, I hope my impression of his view of the Church is corrected. Boston, MA