Book Review – NT Wright, Simply Good News

Book Wright Simply Good News

  • Link: Amazon
  • Length: 171
  • Reading Difficulty: Easy-Popular
  • Topic / Theme: Gospel
  • Target Audience: Mainstream Christians, Not-Yet Christians

“The good news was, and is,

  • that all this has happened in and through Jesus [death and resurrection];
  • that one day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and
  • that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now .

This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything less.” (p54)

Tom Wright has written yet another book to add to his already massive collection. This book is about the gospel, which means it is near to compulsory reading for me.

The book is non-technical and easy to read. It is obviously targeting a wider audience. Primarily mainstream Christianity and not yet Christians.

It does not make copious use of bible references like his academic works, but people familiar with scripture will detect extensive echoes throughout. Overall it gives broad brush strokes over a few essential concepts related the good news.

Contents – Overview

  1. What’s the News?
  2. Foolish, Scandalous, or Good?
  3. Surprised by King Jesus
  4. Distorted and Competing Gospels
  5. Rethinking Heaven
  6. Wrong Future, Wrong Present
  7. Surprised by God
  8. Praying the Good News

Main Points

What’s the News? Tom has not changed arguing the gospel is the story of Jesus which fits into the larger narrative of scripture.

He critiques common understandings of the gospel. Correcting many who think the gospel is good advice as opposed to what it really is good news.

One of his main points refers to how ‘gospel’ was understood in the first century. He sets the gospel announcement into the ancient Roman context. Showing how the good news announced the victory of a king over evil powers which set about an new state of affairs. This historical discovery is relatively new. Similar points are also made by John Dickson in his book on the gospel and I believe in Scot McKnight’s work which I haven’t read.

Foolish, Scandalous, or Good? Tom summaries the gospel as;

“Remember what we said earlier: for something to qualify as news , there has to be

(1) an announcement of an event that has happened;

(2) a larger context, a backstory, within which this makes sense;

(3) a sudden unveiling of the new future that lies ahead; and

(4) a transformation of the present moment, sitting between the event that has happened and the further event that therefore will happen.

That is how news works.” (p23)

Tom brings out these themes from 1 Cor 15 and comments on 1 Cor 1-2. Hence the chapter heading.

Lastly Tom combines the Roman context mentioned earlier with the Jewish. The scriptures announced beforehand that God would come and usher in his kingdom. This the good news announced God has come in the person of Jesus.

Surprised by King Jesus. Tom considers the expectations of the people in first century Israel.

“The Jewish people of the first century were expecting their God to come back in person to rescue them, revealing his glorious presence, defeating their enemies, and reestablishing them as his people once and for all. They got Jesus. … This is central to the good news Jesus announced. It isn’t just that God is becoming king, through Jesus and what he is doing, but that God’s kingship is a different sort of kingship altogether. There is a different kind of power, and it is the power of the gospel— the power announced by the gospel, the power wielded by the gospel.” (p40,42)

The good news is powered by God’s love. Tom talks about Jesus death on the cross as God’s condemnation on sin and the implications of his resurrection for how we should live today. Tom corrects misunderstandings about resurrection tying it to creation and physical existence. He uses his trademark expression regarding resurrection:

“It was life after life after death.” (p53)

Distorted and Competing Gospels. Tom introduces this chapter saying;

“BUT IS IT true? Many readers who have followed the argument to this point find this question bubbling up from the depths of their minds and hearts. … In this chapter I want to try to answer these and similar objections. In particular, I want to suggest that part of the problem lies in the way well-meaning Christian teachers, over many generations, have put the emphasis in the wrong place. Subtle distortions have crept in. What people say they can’t believe is quite often not exactly what classic Christianity ought to be affirming. Sorting this out takes patience, and I hope this chapter will reward it.” (p57)

Tom addresses several objections.

Can we trust the Gospels? Tom defends the historical nature of the gospel narratives of Jesus’ life, healings, miracles, death and resurrection.

A different kind of kingdom. God’s kingdom is based on love and self sacrifice, not bullying and tyranny.

Turning the good news into bad news. Tom corrects the view that Christianity is a system: a religious system, a system of salvation, or a system of morality. Context is critical to understanding how Jesus’ death fits in the gospel.

The Competing Gospels of Rationalism and Romanticism. Our complex world was pulled apart by the Enlightenment . Now partly scientific, partly political, but particularly philosophical— people began to think of the world as being divided in two. God does the spiritual bits, and we do the worldly bits.

The Competing Gospel of the Modern World. Millions of people in the modern Western world take it for granted that the great defining turning point in human history happened with the rise of the modern Western world. Not when Jesus of Nazareth died as the would-be king of the Jews and was raised again three days later.

Rethinking Heaven. Tom also gives us a helpful corrective and brings back Jesus resurrection and the renewal of creation into the gospel message. God made this world of space, time, and matter. He loves it, and he is going to renew it. The new creation will be what we would call physical. God wants to put humans right to put the world right. And the good news is that this, too, has been accomplished through Jesus.

“The good news, in other words, is not all about me. It is all about God and God’s creation— God’s new creation, which results from the covenant renewal that has been effected through the coronation of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s rightful lord.” (p102)

Wrong Future. Wrong Present. Tom argues the gospel message is eschatological. That it is has a future element as well as a past. These elements in the gospel should shape how we live now in the present. He sums this chapter up in five points.

First, the lordship of the risen Jesus, who has launched his new creation in the middle of the present old one, means that real and lasting change is possible at personal, social, cultural, national, and global levels. …

Second: real and lasting change is costly. Jesus won the battle at the cross. Our work too is cruciform and involves suffering. …

Third, therefore, real and lasting change in everything from personal to global life is always sporadic. …

But fourth, there is an equal and opposite danger that Christians, recognizing the danger of a triumphalist progress of the gospel, will retreat once more into gloom and negativity. …

Fifth, therefore, it is vital that those who believe the good news work tirelessly for real and lasting change in individual lives, the church, and the wider world. (p117-118)

Surprised by God. Newspaper cartoons are a good way of assessing the popular conception. Cartoons involving God usually picture him as an old man with a beard, sitting on a cloud a long way above the earth. Tom corrects this view explaining the God of Israel, the God of the bible is creator, judge and lover.

“Everything we have said about Israel’s God comes into sudden and shocking focus with Jesus. His first followers quickly came to the conclusion that the God of Israel had come at last in person, as he had promised, to rescue his people and establish his rule in the world.” (p146)

Praying the Good News. I found this last chapter a little strange. Tom goes through the LORD’s prayer in reverse. The reverse order is a commentary on how most come to God in prayer. Tom connects the Lord’s prayer with people becoming good news people. He says,

“But the truth of becoming good-news people becomes supremely clear when you pray this prayer and allow its full dynamic to work out both in how you pray and in how you then live.” (p168)

And more strikingly at the end,

“All Christian prayer, then, and supremely the Lord’s Prayer, enables us to be fully at home in God’s house, whichever door we come in by. But we don’t come in simply to rest and be refreshed. We enter in order to learn and share God’s plans and purposes. Prayer is one way we do both these things. Only with prayer at the center will the work of the kingdom go forward. Once we are grasped by the good news, we must learn to be shaped by the good news. In prayer, we learn to become good news.” (p170)

Recommendation

The book is an easy to read primer on Tom Wright’s views on the good news. It links the good news with recent discoveries on first century Israel firmly anchoring it in history and scripture.

Tom broadens our understanding on what Jesus death on the cross has achieved and the implications of his resurrection on our future and the future of all creation. Tom makes sense of these and how they can be applied in life today.

I would recommend this book to new and not yet Christians who would like to learn more about the basics of the Christian faith. It continuously points to Jesus, his death and resurrection.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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