A friend was drooling to me about Wright‘s new-ish book ‘How God became King’. As is always best to do if you really want to suck the marrow out of something, I searched online for a summary of it. I found it in the form of a 25 minute address he gave. I found his critique to be true of me and much of what I’ve experienced. Here’s a summary of the summary.
It’s a book about how we read the gospels, not so much focussing on their content.
People struggle with the gospels for many reasons. Eg. Jesus doesn’t seem to teach Paul’s gospel much (if we understand that to be Justification by Faith). Eg. We know what to do with his birth and his death and resurrection, but otherwise we seem to take Bultmann’s line (the gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions). Eg. In the face of this others have done the opposite! It’s all about his life and living like him.
He suggests that the creeds have misshapen how we read the gospels. He affirms that he believes every jot and tittle of them! But they’re lists, not stories!
Another reason we find them hard to read is that we don’t like the idea of theocracy. So when Jesus turns up and says ‘God is in charge now in a real earthly sense’, we don’t know what to do with it. But that’s what’s going on. Jesus says; ‘God is king, and this is what it looks like when he’s king. And we should expect his kingdom to come like a farmer scattering seed, or like a mustard seed growing. Etc.’
The book offers this illustration of how we should learn to read the gospels; We’ve got a 4 speaker surround sound system. We’re sitting in the middle of the room trying to adjust the levels of each speak so that what we hear is just right. We’ve got 4 speakers (approaches to the gospels) that we need to adjust as we listen to the story all 4 gospels are telling.
1) The story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel; This is one that the church has turned right off. We treat it like it’s a free standing story, perhaps with some fulfilled prophecies thrown in for good measure. But actually, it’s where that OT narrative was going all along. Eg. The alien coming to the final game of a world series. They don’t know about the other 6 games! There’s been a sequence and you need to know about them otherwise this one doesn’t make much sense. The protestant tradition has as story about a clean break from Catholicism. So we like clean break stories (perhaps with some distant antecedents). But this isn’t how the gospel works.
2) The story of Jesus as the story of God; This one’s been turned up too loud. The gospels do pretty well think of Jesus as God. Eg. Mark 1! The prophecies fulfilled make us expect to see God coming back to his temple. And then we’re wondering what that will look like. And the answer is, the life of Jesus. So we’ve been clear that the gospels are the story of God, BUT we’ve had the wrong kind of God that we’re trying to fit Jesus into. We’ve had a deist God, VERY lofty and removed. Instead of doing what the NT tells us we should do. Ie. Find God in Jesus! The gospels don’t say ‘Jesus is God’, but the opposite! God is seen in Jesus. It’ s a redefinition of Israel’s God! A clarifying of God. Israel’s God comes back surprisingly.
3) The story of Jesus as the launching of the church; Again, this one’s been turned up too loud. We’ve viewed the gospels as instructions for the church. Instructions about how to be saved, get to heaven, live etc. Yes there’s plenty in there about that. But the gospels are far more than rules on how to be a good Christian. It’s actually the launching of God’s kingship on earth! Eg. Mat28. All authority on heaven AND ON EARTH…
4) The story of Jesus as the story of the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar; Another one we’ve had turned off. Clearest in Luke and John. We screen this out because we think that the kingdom of God is separate from the kingdom of earth. Eg. Jn16. ‘When the Spirit comes… he’ll convict the world of sin because the ruler of this world is judged.’ This reference (and another earlier one) make it a bit confusing as to whether or not he’s talking about Satan or Caesar. The Spirit will hold the world to account. What does that look like? We see it very soon. Jesus holds Pilate to account. A violent man. The church has the responsibility has the responsibility to hold up the mirror to the world. To witness to the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world. It won’t do to be spiritual off in the corner. This world is God’s world and we need to figure out how to bear witness to it!
Conclusion; The key moments of the gospels are the baptism and cross/res of Jesus. These are royal moments, Messianic moments. But between these we see those 4 stories coming to their proper conclusions and fulfilments. The gospels are more than info or interpretations of Jesus, but stories that enable us to be Jesus’ disciples. This is how stories work, they shape communities and individuals, so that through telling and retelling we’re drawn into the narrative. It’s not a narrative about something back there, but it’s a narrative that continues. The gospels don’t really conclude properly. They’re stories that launch and fuel a new beginning.The story of how God became king. (Note; later in question time he says that God always was king, but it wasn’t clear. There were threats to it. He was de facto king. But Jesus announces that the king is truly taking up his throne.)