“Simply Jesus” by NT Wright

In Simply Jesus, renowned New Testament scholar NT Wright speaks to Christians from all walks of life to answer a simple question: Who is Jesus? An essential question to any human being, Wright addresses this issue through exploring the context of Jesus which exposes the more subtle implications of Jesus’ self and message that are absent in many churches. Rather than simply take the side of conservative evangelicals or skeptics, regarding the answer to who Jesus was, he finds a fair balance by criticizing both sides of the spectrum and allowing each side to inform the other practically about the topic. In approaching Jesus’ character, rather than simply performing dry exegetical work, he approaches the issue of worldviews to begin his exploration of answering the question of who Jesus is. After all, “if we are to do real history, we have to allow people in other times and other places to be radically different from us” (22-23).

The greatest accomplishment, considering his audience is the average church go-er, is his language and style. Simply Jesus is written like a conversation with an academic thrust. So, rather than simply observing a text book, the reader is able to speak with NT Wright about the topic. He accomplishes this task through a variety of tools like rhetorical questions, personal stories, and easy to understand language. Furthermore, he explains Jesus’ context clearly in divided categories, simplifying the historical records in order that it may be easier for his readers to understand. At last, Wright makes his book more than answering the question of who Jesus is. Simply Jesus is a call to believers to take responsibly their roles as disciples of Jesus, the body of Christ operating on this earth, which is Jesus’ Lordship and rule.

The greatest issue with Simply Jesus was in his discussion regarding the Scriptures that formed the backdrop for Jesus’ ministry. Although he rightly includes Isaiah 40-66, Daniel, and Zechariah, he fails to fully discuss Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophetic text about a New Covenant. If he is to fully discuss the ministry of Jesus, which results in the “New Covenant”, it is absolutely necessary to discuss how Jesus uses the concept of New Covenant, originally presented in Jeremiah, in a 1st century Jewish and Roman context. While there is not too much lost from this information’s absence, there would be much gained by addressing this backdrop of Jesus.

In conclusion, Simply Jesus is a book that is essential for any person seeking to understand the Gospels. While it should not be read in place of the Gospels, it should be read as a guidebook to understanding Jesus’ context. Because it is more than a textbook, the reader can have a spiritual experience as Wright paints the context of Jesus that made his message so radical. Believer should recognize his context and now recognize that we are called to the same thing. Believers are called to be more than privatized religion. Just as Jesus was political, in some sense, Christians should be political when they state that Jesus is Lord and King over all of history. This point, often forgotten, is an essential to understand who Jesus is and how we follow him. Thus, any Christian serious about knowing God, about knowing Jesus, should set aside a few days to allow God to speak to them through Simply Jesus.

Click here to purchase Simply Jesus by NT Wright

 

“The Shadow of the Galilean” by Gerd Theissen

In The Shadow of the Galilean, Gerd Theissen tells a fictional story through a historical lens of 1st century culture in Palestine. The book is focused on examining how Jesus’ message was understood in his greater context. Similar to The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce W. Longenecker, Theissen avoids the typical textbook feeling of history by presenting all of the historical facts and understanding through the narration of a character named Andreas. Within the book, Andreas addresses 1st century groups like the Essenes, Zealots, and Pharisees. Additionally, he clearly shows how 1st century politics could have easily taken Jesus’ message to be subversive in aim of stopping Roman rule. Yet, Theissen is also able to show Andreas’ character interacting with people to bring out the more theologically focused possibilities of viewing Jesus message. In other words, he shows the sociological aspects of the religious and political sentiments and how the two elements intertwine.

Thessen’s creation is innovative and effective in communicating Jesus’ context in light of 1st century Judaism and politics. The narrative style allows the reader to partake in a story for absorbing information rather than listing off theological and historical facts. In light of one of my most recent posts, The Essential Story, I truly do appreciate his effort to write in such a fashion. The simplicity of the read and clear explanations allow for the reader to remain in the story and not become lost in the complicated nature of history. The history is shown as something that was a reality for people who knew of Jesus and that Jesus’ actions affected the entire region.

While his presentation was creative and effective, it did lack skill in the conversational realism. Because it is a historical-fiction narrative, there should be an aspect of realism in conversation. Unfortunately, the dialogue, a core to Theissen’s work, is choppy and unrealistic. At moments, it feels as though he copied facts from a textbook into a narrative dialogue and considered it good. While it makes sense to do that, it does make the dialogue uninteresting in regard to reflecting how human beings speak.

In conclusion, The Shadow of the Galilean is a good choice for a person who dislikes reading any sort of non-fiction historical book. However, there are better options for a person looking to understand the 1st century context of Jesus. That is not to say that it is terrible. On the contrary, it is a fantastically written and does well in presenting the historical context. The only issue is the unrealistic dialogue that never fully allows the reader to enter into and partake of the 1st century world that Theissen illustrates through words. Aside from that, Theissen’s work, The Shadow of the Galilean, is an excellent read that should be taken seriously by any person seeking to understand Jesus’ 1st century context, especially for a person who has not done much studying in that time period.

Click here to purchase The Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd Theissen

The Essential Story

Recently, I started a group at my school called “One Read”. The goal of the group is quite different from others. Many people will put together bible study groups aimed at studying Bible passages. “One Read”, rather than looking to pull things out of individual pericopes, reads the entire text in one sitting. Today we read through the book of Mark in an hour and twenty minutes. While it did take much time, it was more beneficial than I expected. In it, there were two major benefits that the Church, often unable to focus on one thing for more than five minutes, misses out on: humbleness and understanding.

In hearing the Gospel of Mark read for an hour and twenty minutes, there was a certain amount of patience and humbleness required in order to let it speak the way it was meant to. Mark was originally written to be read out loud, not studied with individual life verses. That is not to say pericope focused studies are bad. Rather, in order to fully understand a pericope, it is necessary to read the text in its fullness. Too often people have little or no willingness to hear the fullness of the story. And that is the problem. Mark is written as a story with the expectation that the hearer will partake in the emotion, feeling, and flow of it. Human beings are creatures that live and thrive in the world and cultures through stories that express humanity. That is just what the Gospel of Mark works with. It is a story that a person should submit themselves to in order to feel the full intention and aim of the text, a challenge for many. To do otherwise is to read it in a “non-human” way of thinking.

The second major lesson was that of understanding. Scholars often write long and complicated papers expressing some idea in the Bible. The average person considers them smart because the scholar saw something nobody else did. What if every person actually has the potential to see what the scholar can see? When a person invests their heart and soul into feeling a story, into experiencing the story with the characters, they open themselves up to feeling the emotions and thoughts of the character. In that, they realize the motifs and themes within the story that try to shed light on and define humanity, the same things scholars often write about. Once the hearer of the story is humbled to the text, they can understand the story in ways that they never believed possible. A willingness to humble the self allows an understanding of what the author is actually trying to express, thus allowing people to consider whether or not the message is something the hearer is willing to take up and live by.

So what? The Gospel can be understood as the essential story, a story that gives definition to humanity and purpose. To read it merely as an academic piece of work is to dishonor the original goal of it, to ignore the purpose of it. It is a story meant to challenge the reader. And we should read it as one. It is essential to always remember that the Gospels are written as stories, essential stories to human character and life.