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Book Review: How God Became King
on 14 May 2012
Earlier this year I managed to *just* find the time to finish reading through the entirety of a three part theological epic - N.T.Wright's "Christian Origins and the Question of God" trilogy. The three books - Resurrection, People, and Victory - are superb, and together form a brilliant doorway into solid, sensible, serious scholarship.
N.T.Wright is an interesting character. In some parts of the church he is a theological bogeyman - in others he is the best thing since St. Paul. I'd fall somewhere in the middle. I benefitted hugely from 'Resurrection' whilst doing a New Testament module, and 'People' has propped up a Pauline essay. "Surprised by Hope" was something that challenged and excited me BIG time a few years ago - and I thoroughly enjoyed (and would recommend!) a 'festschrift' for Wright called "Jesus, Paul and the People of God". When he writes a book for the popular market, rather than the academic market, we see him published as 'Tom Wright'. Great choice of first name there. And its on that note that we launch into the book at hand today.
"How God Became King: Getting to the Heart of the Gospels" is one of the best Christian/Theology books I have read recently. In fact, I infuriated my fiancee and family by not really putting it down for the entire Easter weekend. Its that good.
The premise of the book is that, as Wright puts it on the back cover, "we have all forgotten what the four gospels are about". The book is - throughout - an intensely personal, serious book. Incredibly readable, the basic premise comes from a question that Wright claims has been going around his head for many, many years. The early part of the book starts with Wright's critique of the contemporary church - and indeed the church generally - that our belief is in the headlines of the Gospels - and that we have forgotten the meat, the body, the years on earth after the virgin birth and before Jesus' death and Resurrection. At the outset, Wright makes it VERY clear that he does not think 'church' has got it wrong - evangelicals will be comforted, rightly, by his assertion that "what the cross says about the love of God has always been central and vital for me" - but in seeking to answer "Why did Jesus Live?", Wright contends powerfully that we need to head into the body of the Gospels, in order to fully appreciate Jesus and the glory of the Gospel message.
Wright's central premise is simple:
"it isn't just that we've all misread the gospels, though I think thats broadly true. It is more that we haven't really read them at all. We have fitted them into the framework of ideas and beliefs that we have acquired... I want in this book to allow them, as far as I can, to speak for themselves. Not everyone will like the result..."
On that explosive not, without ruining the ending, I want to sidetrack to talk about the structure and presentation of this superb volume. The Front cover is bizarre - there may be some cryptic meaning, but it is totally beyond me. Otherwise, the book is dividend into four parts - with a varying number of chapters in each. Part One is "The Empty Cloak" - setting out the problem. Part Two is "Adjusting the Volume", where Wright skilfully uses the analogy of a speaker system in balance to show where we might have got things wrong, or awry, in our understanding of the Gospels, and the Gospel. The Third Part is the strongly titled "The Kingdom and the Cross", the really challenging meat of the book where Wright really gets exciting, challenging, and generally awesome. The Fourth Part is "Creed, Canon and Gospel" - where the sole chapter, "How to Celebrate God's Story" does what it says on the tin - though arguably (and thankfully!) without dissolving what it means to be a Christian into some kind of emergent mish-mash.
Underpinning this book - and at around 280 pages its not a small one - is of course Wright's bigger academic works. The Christian Origins trilogy I mentioned at the outset of this post is particularly prevalent - it lays the groundwork for what Wright says here, and is definitely worth reading if this catches your imagination.
I loved this book. It challenged, encouraged, confirmed, convicted, envisioned and illuminated me. It made me grateful for Wright - but even more grateful for the radical grace-message of the Gospel. The Kingdom and the Cross. I'd recommend this to anyone - and would hope that Conservative Evangelicals would read it and take it on board - even if they/we don't accept every premise or idea Wright has ever promoted! Read this book!
This review originally appeared here: [...]