I am posting this because I signed up for a reading group called ‘Let the reader understand’ which is first of all reading and reflecting on Tom Wright’s (NTW) book How God became King, so to help me get a handle on it I thought I’d write short(ish) blog entries, mainly to summarise for myself what I’m reading in order to help my own understanding. Anyone else is welcome to join in. Either comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the summary, or make some observations about the implications of what NTW is saying.
Part 1 of the book consists of 3 chapters that are introductory, setting out how NTW sees the issues, and how some others have given what he considers inadequate answers to them. This blog is on Chapter 3.
How God became King – Chapter 3 The Inadequate Answers – brief summary
Having argued that churches have usually jumped from the nativity of Jesus to his cross, NTW asks, ‘So what did they do with the middle bits?’ In this chapter he details six answers (of more that he has identified) that he thinks are inadequate.
- That Jesus came to teach people how to get to heaven when they die. In short, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as Matthew calls it, is about the rule of heaven coming to earth, not people going in the other direction. (In long, try ‘Surprised by Hope’ or ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God.’) While ‘eternal life’ is about the quality of the life of the ‘age to come’ rather than quantity of time – everlasting existence.
- Jesus was a good moral teacher – we don’t have to believe in him to benefit from his ethics. But Jesus was announcing something greater – the Kingdom of God – a new world that was being born, without which his teaching does not make complete sense.
- Jesus as moral example – he came to show us how to live. Actually, he shows how far short we fall. Yes, there is to be a growing element of imitation of Jesus (as Paul writes) but it is held in a framework where he is doing something new that will change things for everyone.
- Jesus as Perfect Sacrifice – a perfect life makes him the only one able to give himself for us (that we might get to heaven). Truth here, but occurs rarely in the Gospels, and would be said more clearly if it was the major reason for the ‘middle bits.’
- Stories we can identify with – when we read the stories we can identify with various characters and find our own way by seeing what happened to them. A lot to this, but not a main aim of the Gospel writers. Have to ask about the story line – where they have come from and where they are going.
- To demonstrate the divinity (or humanity) of Jesus. Yes, they think of him as divine (and human), but they presuppose it rather than try to prove it. The storyline of Jesus is part of the storyline of what Israel’s God is doing. The ‘Messiah’ or ‘Son of God’ (Messianic title) is none other than this Jesus. We cannot talk of his divinity without speaking of his coming kingdom (or we end up with a detached spirituality like Gnosticism). Only when the story the gospels tell is integrated with the dogmas the creeds are teaching can we be sure we are on the right track.
Displacement Activities – what has happened.
a) we know the gospels are important – inspired witness to Jesus.
b) we know what is important in theology – divinity and meaning of his death.
c) we assume this is the primary message of the gospels.
We have missed the main meaning of the gospels and developed strategies to make alternative sense of them. Time to look afresh at the central texts.