Tom Wright’s new Book—“How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels”

Posted by Kendall Harmon

From here:
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright reveals how we have been misreading the Gospels for centuries, powerfully restoring the lost central story of the Scripture: that the coronation of God through the acts of Jesus was the climax of human history. Wright fills the gaps that centuries of misdirection have opened up in our collective spiritual story, tracing a narrative from Eden, to Jesus, to today. Wright's powerful re-reading of the Gospels helps us re-align the focus of our spiritual beliefs, which have for too long been focused on the afterlife. Instead, the forgotten story of the Gospels reveals why we should understand that our real charge is to sustain and cooperating with God's kingdom here and now. Echoing the triumphs of "Simply Christian "and "The Meaning of Jesus," Wright's "How God Became King "is required reading for any Christian searching to understand their mission in the world today.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchBooks* TheologyChristology

Posted March 31, 2012 at 5:25 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. A Senior Priest wrote:

Whenever any person claims that the Church has been misreading the Gospels for centuries my suspicions are raised.

March 31, 8:59 pm | [comment link]
2. c.r.seitz wrote:

Correct. A Christian theologian would point to an odd doctrine of God, who has left us with such imperfect means of knowing him that only at a certain point in time did the lens really clear. The overlay of evangelical modernism is thick.

March 31, 9:32 pm | [comment link]
3. A Senior Priest wrote:


March 31, 11:46 pm | [comment link]
4. Henry Greville wrote:

Dear friends above,
Could it be that you have fallen into the trap of ecclesiolatry?

April 1, 1:06 am | [comment link]
5. IchabodKunkleberry wrote:

And the feast of Christ The King has been celebrated for how many
centuries in western Christianity ?

April 1, 1:52 am | [comment link]
6. ORNurseDude wrote:

Going strictly by the title of the book and its review posted here, I have to ask:
Did John the Baptist not herald that “the Kingdom of God is at hand…”?
Do (most) Jewish prayers not begin with, “Blessed are You Lord God, King of the universe…?
Did St. John the Divine not acknowledge God as “King of kings and Lord of lords…”? And was this same acknowledgement not the capstone of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”?

April 1, 3:35 am | [comment link]
7. BMR+ wrote:

Haven’t read the book yet, but just to note that the blurb with the phrase “we have been misreading the Gospels for centuries” isn’t Wright’s.  Book jacket material composed by the marketers.  The review quoted on the linked sales site gives this instead: “Except for Jesus’ birth and death, most Western Christians have forgotten what the four canonical Gospels are about.”  The hints in the sentences ahead suggest that “most Western Christians” when asked about the significance of Jesus have little to say about the larger shape and content of the Biblical story.  This I think is easily a true statement. 

Anyway, look forward to giving it a read, after I’ve finished the Hunger Games trilogy and then Fleming Rutledge on preaching out of the Old Testament. 

Bruce Robison

April 1, 8:27 am | [comment link]
8. francis wrote:

Wow!  Kind of like the “special, hidden” gospels that were forgotten by the church these many long years!  Shades of Dan Brown!  A best seller in the offing!

April 1, 10:58 am | [comment link]
9. c.r.seitz wrote:

#4—“and I believe in the Communion of Saints” (Nicene Creed). One of the worst aspects of modernity’s influence on biblical interpretation is full-on amnesia re: the history of interpretation. Origen, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin—why suddenly were these strangers to us, because they did not have the oriental finds of Napolean and 19th century military conquests to create a new species of ‘history’ against which the Bible would have to stand trial. New heroes would stride the field assuring us all is well, or all is false. The former must keep guard that their own rejuvenations are in proportion to the Bible’s own character as witness. Barth had many failings, but I think he was a very careful modern reader of the Bible.

April 1, 11:08 am | [comment link]
10. Yebonoma wrote:

Folks, this is from the Cokesbury site and Cokesbury is the publishing arm of the UMC.  This blurb mirrors the UMC theology of social justice justification, and coercing others into supposedly correct behavior through lobbying the government to enact laws.  When you don’t believe wholeheartedly in the reality of a bodily resurrection, the allure of making heaven on earth right here and now through your own efforts and the compulsion of others to do what you deem to be right is a natural consequence.  Conventional UMC theology has a hard time with the sovereignty of God and the inability to be justified before Him by acts of social justice.

April 1, 12:08 pm | [comment link]
11. samh wrote:

#10, I don’t know if you were implying Tom Wright doesn’t believe in the bodily resurrection… but I don’t know how you can read any of Wright’s work on the subject and think that.

Did anybody read the book before they dismissed the bishop’s attempt at restoring some balance to the way we approach the gospels?

April 1, 3:39 pm | [comment link]
12. c.r.seitz wrote:

#11 the idea that Bishop Wright will bring to us a perspective of correction that no one has seen before is fully consonant with his writings. He is proud of the idea. He has made it something of a trademark.

April 1, 3:58 pm | [comment link]
13. J. Champlin wrote:

Up until about five or six years ago, I read everything Wright published, including the three big books.  While I still rely on Wright for some of my bread and butter understanding of the Gospel (e.g., Pharisaic zeal, the Son of Man) I am no longer persuaded by the overarching structure.  First, Wright comes dangerously close to salvation-by-worldview, somewhat like the old line about Hebrew v. Greek mentality.  The message of the Gospel is consistently conflated with the supposed 1st century Jewish worldview; at the very least, the worldview is made to go bond for some of Wright’s key arguments (including the fact of the resurrection).  More, we are then given a kind of discursive program for God.  It’s a clockwork rendering of what God is doing—Wright can tell us what time it is, and what God is doing at the time.  It’s all very schematic and verbal—and God knows Wright can cover pages with words!  Everything in the gospels is made to fit the pattern.  We end up with a Gospel devoid of wisdom and mystery, with little or no relation to the doctrine of the church.  Seems to me if Wright is so worked up about the 1st century Jewish worldview, then he ought to immerse himself in John for five to ten years—and not publish anything in the interim!

April 1, 4:22 pm | [comment link]
14. J. Champlin wrote:

And were Wright to immerse himself in John for five to ten years, could one dare hope for a moment of illumination at the end, somewhat like the story told of Thomas Aquinas:  “I see that everything I have written is as straw” (although I’ll take Aquinas over Wright)?

April 1, 4:31 pm | [comment link]
15. Ross Gill wrote:

People, take some time to read the book before taking shots at Wright.  I’m working my way through it now and Wright as usual makes some valid points. Does that mean I take everything he says uncritically?  Of course not.  He wouldn’t want us to.  And he doesn’t say that no one has seen his perspective before or that it is unique only to himself.  He does, however, draw us to a biblical theme that if not completely ignored has often been under-emphasized by some segments and branches of the church as it migrated from its first century Jewish roots.  So read it.  You may learn something.  Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei.


April 1, 5:19 pm | [comment link]
16. Yebonoma wrote:

samh @ #11 - I was not implying anything about Wright, just Cokesbury and the prevailing UMC worldview of things.

April 1, 11:38 pm | [comment link]
17. MichaelA wrote:

BMR+ at #4,

Thanks for your point that the above headline appears to have been created by the publishers, not by +Wright. Assuming that is correct, then a number of the posts above may need to be reconsidered.

Again thanking BMR+ for this info, it seems +Wright actually wrote this:

“Except for Jesus’ birth and death, most Western Christians have forgotten what the four canonical Gospels are about.” 

That seems to me to be a pretty reasonable statement, all things considered, if you take “Western Christians” to mean anyone who calls themselves a christian.

April 2, 3:15 am | [comment link]
18. Punchy wrote:

It seems no one commenting here has read the book…here is excerpt that makes a finer point on the book’s overall point that we simply don’t really appreciate the gospel story that makes sense of our doctrines, suggesting that the creeds do not let scripture come to its natural two-testament expression…but the creeds themselves are incomplete without the whole gospel story, a good bit of which they leave out.

“Again, it would, I think, be uncontroversial to propose that the great majority of people in today’s church who consider themselves to be firmly “creedal” Christians, affirming the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the second coming, have never imagined for one moment that the gospels are telling the story of how God became king or that the rescuing sovereignty of God is already a reality in the world through the public career, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There is a kingdom-shaped gap at the heart of their implicit story. And the problem with leaving that gap unfilled is that everything else in the story changes its meaning, ever so slightly but significantly. Like somebody who has lost a central piece of the jigsaw puzzle, but is determined to finish the puzzle anyway, other pieces have to be pulled a little out of shape if they are to be made to fit. By themselves, the creeds are solid, evocative, upbuilding. But if their enthusiasts claim that they teach exactly the same thing as the canon, they have deceived themselves, and the truth is not in them.”

April 3, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
19. cseitz wrote:

That’s uncontroversial—a declaratory creed is not the two testament canon. They do two things in complementary ways for different but complementary reasons. Every church father defending the credal affirmations insists they are scriptural. At issue is the role of the history of interpretation and the frequent claim, boldly stated by Wright, that without certain modern knowledge, it as impoverished or misleading. Note, the claim for correction is modern knowledge, not the plain sense of the canonical presentation (which nowhere, for example, foregrounds ‘the exile’ in the manner of NTW). I am not trying to misconstrue NTW but to let his statements find their force.

April 3, 1:56 pm | [comment link]
20. Punchy wrote:

Having just finished the book, I don’t see modern knowledge as the issue, but knowing the gospels that announce the kingdom has come in Jesus and thus preventing faith from being reduced to an eschatological hope, but rather being clear that the kingdom is a present reality…a present reality that is inaugurated and is described in the gospels between the birth and resurrection…that part that gets left out if our guide is the creeds and controversies. It is not that Wright thinks he has a new revelation, but that we have not given due attention to the original revelation in the gospel accounts that describe Jesus’ life and ministry as signs and explanations of the in breaking kingdom.

April 3, 2:21 pm | [comment link]
21. cseitz wrote:

“that part that gets left out if our guide is the creeds”—really? The creeds as actual formulations from the first five centuries of exegesis and reflection, in part with an eye toward controversies? This is to abstract the creeds from the scriptural field within which they were hammered out. Athanasius insists against others that ‘of one substance’ is correct because it properly handles the Christian scriptures across their warp and woof, as against isolated or disproportionate exegesis. The creeds are only attenuated (I am loathe to use the word) if one does not understand their coming-to-be as scriptural interpretation. The danger is not corrected by holding up the canon against them, but by properly comprehending their scriptural logic.

April 3, 5:06 pm | [comment link]
22. Punchy wrote:

I think the point is that the creeds are controversy driven…and rightly so. There really was no controversy over the actual life of Christ…the creeds really say nothing of that, but skip right from the incarnation to the passion. The gospels in speaking of the life of Jesus speak about the nature of the kingdom, whereas the creeds don’t talk about the nature of the kingdom, but about the nature of Christ. They each have their job to do. This is the underlying premise of the book, that is then more interested in what the gospels do say.

It is not surprising that this would cause a certain consternation for Professor Sietz. Professor Wright in this book actually politely quotes and challenges Professor Sietz’s own book Nicene Chrisitanity.

April 3, 5:50 pm | [comment link]
23. cseitz wrote:

The Creeds are not ‘controversy driven’—that is to select one dimension and to exclude the long trail that runs from a single scripture, to the Rule of Faith, to the apostolic fathers, to the manifestly and central biblical arguments of the Nicene season (we don’t use the 325 creed in our declaratory creeds of church life). If this is what NTW thinks, he is under the influence of Harnack (creeds are history of religion controversy counterfactuals) and has no sense of the very brilliant and more recent work of the ressourcement movement (Congar, von Balthasar, Lubac, Danielou) and scholars like John Behr, Frances Young, Anatolios and others. All of the language of the 381 creed can be traced very easily back to explicit exegesis, and one can see all of the 381 phraseology in the earlier fathers. Look at Eusebius of Caesarea’s defense of 325 or the Letter to Pope Julius of Marcellus—and this is but the final portion of the long trail leading to 381. Take the centrality of Proverbs 8:22ff re: unoriginate—one sees it in Origen, Athenagoras, Tertullian, Eusebius, and page after page in Athanasius.

Of course a declaratory creed is selective. Where are the mighty acts of God in the OT or the episodes from the earthly Jesus of Time Magazine searching? But this is unrelated to how they come to form as scripturally generated.  My point in ‘Nicene Christianity’ is a far more circumscribed one—‘Maker of Heaven and Earth’ is a virtual metonym for the divine name YHWH. I doubt NTW is speaking of that in his new book.

April 3, 6:02 pm | [comment link]
24. cseitz wrote:

I think the primary task is to disclose and show the scriptural character of the creed and not lean in the direction of playing an either-or game. I also think that was what Luke Johnson was doing in his very fine book on the Nicene Creed. Harnack’s shadow has fortunately begun to fade.

April 3, 6:10 pm | [comment link]
25. Punchy wrote:

The point is not to argue the scriptural basis for the creeds, but to say the creeds are not exhaustive of the scripture.

So what do we have otherwise to understand what, for example, happens in the resurrection. The synoptic gospels would be a good place to start making clear what might otherwise have become distorted, like in the puzzle completed by stretching its pieces to cover for the missing parts.

This is simply a good book by a credible biblical scholar that warrants reading before we all jump off the bridge over the jacket flyer.

April 3, 6:16 pm | [comment link]
26. MichaelA wrote:

One thing that concerns me I suppose is that Punchy seems to be implying (or suggesting that Prof Wright is implying) that the Creeds are in some way defective for their purpose. As Prof Seitz points out, the Creeds aren’t scripture and aren’t intended to be so.  However, they are intended to be an effective and true summary of certain very important scriptural truths.  And yes, they are aimed at a particular historical controversy, but one that was so fundamental that the creeds remain of prime importance for Christians and always will so remain.

A second difficulty I have is with this quote by Punchy from Prof Wright’s book:

“Again, it would, I think, be uncontroversial to propose that the great majority of people in today’s church who consider themselves to be firmly “creedal” Christians, affirming the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, and the second coming, have never imagined for one moment that the gospels are telling the story of how God became king or that the rescuing sovereignty of God is already a reality in the world through the public career, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”

I really wonder how Prof Wright gets such knowledge of what his fellow-Christians believe? I assume he is not suggesting that merely because they ascribe to a Creed that only refers to certain aspects of doctrine, that therefore one can draw conclusions about what they do or do not believe concerning other aspects of doctrine? But if not that, then what is the basis for his conclusion about what “the great majority” of his fellow christians believe?

It may well be, of course, that this question cannot be answered without reading his book (and meaning no disrespect, but I doubt I will get time to do so), so I draw no conclusions if no-one can answer it.

April 3, 8:34 pm | [comment link]
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