Review: Who Was Jesus?

Who Was Jesus? by N.T. Wright

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Taste the Galilean Dust

There seems to be a pattern: N.T. Wright sets to working on a massive piece of New Testament scholarship, that ends up taking years longer than anticipated. In the meantime, while in the thick of his research, certain events come about that dovetail directly into his current project, so he takes a week and writes on a popular level before getting back to his main work. (think What Saint Paul Really Said, etc. -> Paul and the Faithfulness of God). This little book came out after The New Testament and the People of God while Jesus and the Victory of God was still in the works, and unfortunately for them, Thiering, Wilson, and Spong walked right into the crosshairs.

Wright first spells out “The Quest” of the historical Jesus in its various stages and sets the stage for the various scholarly (and otherwise) takes on who Jesus really was. There is a really great, and concise, overview of The Quest, touching on all of the various authors and scholars. He then reviews, in turn, Thiering’s Jesus the Man, Wilson’s Jesus: A Life, and Spong’s Born of a Woman. Each book has its own peculiar method for sifting the evidence and constructing its “portrait,” and Wright evaluates each of them, before positing, in a 10 page summary, what an accurate picture might actually look like.

This book is an amazing combination of wit and razor sharp scholarship, humor and cold-blooded historical research. I laughed out loud at some of his critiques – he can be absolutely hilarious, while taking an opponent right out of the contest. None of these three books have any significance 20 years later (except whatever permutations of their theories found their way into The Da Vinci Code — which Wright has also reviewed). Nevertheless, reading their fantastical theories and Wright’s solid refutations is a faith-settling exercise nonetheless.

I had a great deal of confidence in the historicity of the Christian faith before I read any Wright. What Wright has done is made the Galilean dust from that solid historical ground come alive so that you can smell it, and feel it, and taste it. He makes history and apologetics delightful, and tells such a coherent, compelling version of the story, that when you hear one of these attempted “exposes” (and there will be more), you realize instantly, “Nope, that just won’t do. You haven’t even begun to deal with [x,y, or z] of the hard facts. And not only is your story less than historical, it’s not nearly as interesting as the truth.”

I recommend this as a delightful, historically rigorous, apologetic work.

Review: The Challenge of Jesus

The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was & Is by N.T. Wright

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The New Perspective on Jesus

I found this book for $1 at my local library’s quarterly book sale. (application: frequent your local library, and find out when they have book sales. You’re welcome.)

N.T. Wright is famous for his place in the “new perspective” on Paul. That’s really just one grove of trees in the fresh view of the forest that Wright presents. What Wright really does is show us the mind of a 1st century Jew. From there we see Jesus in his actual context, and Paul from there.

“What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God? That and a thousand other cognate questions are far harder than often supposed, and the place to go to find new light is the history of Jesus’ own time. And that means first-century Judaism, in all of its complexity and with all the ambiguities of our attempts to reconstruct it.” (p. 25)

Wright is extremely well-versed in the literature of 1st century Judaism, but unlike many scholars today, he approaches his task with a belief in and reverence for Scripture. Where other scholars veer off due to their own disbelieving presuppositions, Wright does his scholarship as if the Bible were true, yet interacting with all of the rest and proving his case.

Wright is incredibly stimulating. He has helped to show more depths to Jesus the Messiah than I have ever seen before. He helps the big picture of Scripture come together in ways I have never seen before. I am reading my Bible with fresh eyes and an eager expectation to see more light from the text than I have before. I found myself reading sections of this book aloud to my wife, which doesn’t often happen.

I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s work. I would recommend anyone to start with The Challenge of Jesus. From there, What Saint Paul Really Said will finish your basic introduction, and you can begin delving into the thicker tomes (The New Testament and the People of God, etc.)