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Simple, not simplistic, Jesus
on 29 July 2016
I once told Tom Wright that I had read all his books. Having fallen behind again (he writes a lot!) I picked up Simply Jesus, and discovered again the restless mind and earnest heart of the greatest scholar of the New Testament of his generation. This book puts forth very economically what Bishop Wright has laid out in incredible detail in his academic books. Furthermore, since he is a fine teacher (he left his bishopric early to return to teaching and writing), Simply Jesus is organized as a pedagogy, bringing the reader along through metaphors that unfold as the book's argument advances.
Wright cites the story of the Gloucester fishermen who lost their lives in a "perfect storm", caught in the confluence of three powerful weather systems. He starts by describing the present situation of understanding Jesus as a perfect storm of an aggressive and dismissive secularism, a powerful, blinkered version of Christian faith, and the hurricane of God's own strange work. This triad device reappears as Wright lays out the case for considering Jesus in his own context, which is far stranger than moderns imagine. From this analysis Wright daringly proposes to describe Jesus' self-understanding, using both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, as well as Jewish and Roman history.
He himself admits that he gets into trouble with certain Christians, as well as secularists. Wright's approach is historical and textual, at ease with a huge variety of sources. He handles this material lightly, humbly; he is having a conversation with the reader, not giving a lecture. There is nothing triumphalist here. He is harder on Christians much more than others, in fact.
I learned a lot, and I think that any person of good will shall benefit. For whether you believe or not, there is no denying that Jesus of Nazareth and his followers have had a crucial impact on history down to our own times. Simply Jesus is therefore a fine place to start studying him. For this believer, I was convicted again of what a follower of Christ must be and do. For other readers, there is no proselytizing here. The information and its presentation are of value to anyone trying to understand the signs of our own times.