The Biblio-Files

bib·li·o·phile (bĭb'lē-ə-fīl') n.

1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.


N.T. Wright: The Challenge of Jesus

[We'll, it's been a while since I've posted a review. I've been lapped by Blake now like 5 times. I'll catch him though. I've had other things on my plate. Nevertheless...]

Let's start with a quote or two from this book, with more to come.:

"If we really believe in any sense in the incarnation of the Word, we are bound to take seriously the flesh that the Word became. And since that flesh was first-century Jewish flesh, we should rejoice in any and every advance in our understanding of first-century Judaism and seek to apply those insights to our reading of the Gospels" (26).


"It takes certain courage, of course, to be prepared to read familiar texts in new ways. It is abundantly worth it. What you lose in terms of your regular readings will be more than made up for in what you will gain" (28).

What Is This Book For?

To combat people's fear of the historical Jesus. Because of the Jesus Seminar, The DaVinci Code, and various secular television documentaries and "discoveries" all having to do with "the Historical Jesus," many Christians are for the most part suspicious, intimidated, and down right scared of looking into to past to discover what Jesus might have actually been like. N.T. Wright submits, as in the above quote, that Christians have nothing to fear about good historical investigation that is faithful to Scripture, but everything to embrace.

This book is a succinct, very clear and readable exploration into the Jewish first-century in which Jesus ministry took place. The thing about such succinct, very clear and readable exploration: It almost changes everything about the way we view Jesus and His words as recored in the Gospels! (This, of course, is what makes people get clammy.) By "changes everything" I don't mean that it changes orthodoxy--it just changes everything but orthodoxy (save, well, justification and how to be saved and all). For the most part, Jesus lived and spoke a little over 2000 years ago. For many this gargantuan time gap makes no difference and the narratives about Jesus are still interpreted as if Jesus was an American and thought and spoke in our contemporary 21st century, western English culture. When we are able to piece together what 1st-century Judaism was like, along with and especially the expectations that the Jews had of the Messiah and the kingdom of God, Jesus' work and ministry take on a much deeper meaning than "believe in Me so in the afterlife you go to heaven and not hell."

In this book one gets a different, deeper, more historical spin on most of the major works and sayings of Jesus: His call to repent, His parables, His miracles, His cleansing of the Temple, His self awareness as God, His death, His resurrection, and His on going work through the Holy Spirit--so, pretty much all of Christianity in a nutshell is expounded on and expanded--not in a way that necessarily changes what we believe as much as deepens what we would already know to be true.

Key Chapters and Quotes

1 - The Challenge of Jesus
The gist of this chapter is to assure Christians that it would be okay for them to pull their heads out of the ostrich hole and look at the historical Jesus.
"I see the historical part of the appropriate activity of knowledge and love, to get to know even better the one whom we claim to know and follow. . . . I believe...that the historical quest for Jesus is a necessary and nonnegotiable aspect of Christian discipleship and that we in our generation have a chance to be renewed in discipleship and mission precisely by means of this quest" (14).

Regarding Jesus' call to "repent and believe": "Jesus was summoning his hearers to give up their whole way of life, their national and social agendas, and to trust him for a different agenda, a different set of goals. This of course included a change of heart, but went far beyond it" (27).

2 - The Challenge of the Kingdom (Or, I would call it, Enter: Biblical Theology)
This chapter is primarily about what Jesus meant when He announced that the kingdom of God was near. It builds off of the previous chapter and discusses what people had in mind concerning the coming of the kingdom of God.
"When [the Jews] longed for the kingdom of God, they were not thinking about how to secure themselves to a place in heaven after they died. The phrase, 'kingdom of God'...does not refer to a place, called 'heaven,' where God's people will go after death. It refers to the rule of heaven, this is, of God, being brought to bear in the present world" (37).

3 - The Challenge of Symbols** (this is a great chapter)
This chapter was great and interprets how many of Jesus actions and sayings serve as symbols to the kingdom (The sabbath, foods, nation and land, the Temple.) This is also a great chapter in Biblical Theology.

4 - The Crucified Messiah
What is the kingdom meaning behind Jesus' crucifixion. Atonement? Yes. But, also a prophetic symbol as well.

5 - Jesus & God
Did Jesus believe that He was the second person of the Trinity? Yes, but no.

6 - The Challenge of Easter
What did Jesus' resurrection mean? A thought provoking answer.

7 - Walking to Emmaus in a Postmodern World**
8 - The Light of the World**

These two great chapters are, I think, worth the book. In these Wright becomes a pastor to the reader and lays out the implication of his findings. He handles the Emmaus text in Luke like a true expositor. These chapters give you that feeling of being in the presence of profundity. I would have loved to been there to hear these preached (they were originally lectures). These chapters can be summarized by the following quote:

"I live in a world where Christian devotion and evangelical piety have been highly suspicious of and sometimes implacably opposed to serious historical work on the New Testament, and vice versa. I believe passionately that this is deeply destructive of the gospel, and I have done my best to preach and to pray as a serious historian and to do my historical work as a serious preacher and pray-er" (192).

My Recommendation

This book had profundity for me on almost every page. This, of course, is because in my mind Jesus is an American wearing a flat-billed fitted NY hat backwards with an Ipod and drinking Starbucks. It is a must read for anyone who would be interested. More of Wright's books will for sure be placed on the wishlist.

The primary thing that concerns me revolves around the question of how much history is too much history. What is more, as Blake noted a few posts back about Wright, he is a biblical theologian (a big picture guy), and at times you kinda get the feel that the individual aspects of your faith are drastically reduced. That is, that salvation is primarily corporate, and that the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus were important more for what they meant as historical symbols for Israel rather than what they mean for the guy who's tatted up on the street. Also, I can easily see how Wright's historical emphasis paves the way perfectly for his "New Perspective on Justification."

Wow. That was long. Thanks for reading. Consider it my returning debut.



Ryan Bebee said...

Thanks Eron, good post. I disagree on a couple of points though...I think that Jesus wears a UT hat backwards and drinks Red Bull. Thanks again for the review, I enjoyed it.

blake white said...


Great review. I enjoyed it and it made me want to go after one of his bigger ones, although I probably won't.

Pros: Biblical Theology, insightful exegesis, new creation themes, anti-American, corporate emphasis

Cons: Reductionistic, lacks individual aspects (e.g. wrath against personal sin, not just Israel as a nation), strokes too broad, anti-American (I know), and implications for the gospel.

Eron said...


Thanks for the comment.

Definitely a UT hat. My bad.

Red Bull? Eh, maybe. Jesus would have been more trendy I think.


Yeah, I totally agree. Thanks for the post. I left so much out of this review. I didn't want it to be painful in length. But, yeah, he greatly opens the scripture wide at points, but does paint with very broad strokes. I want to read his work on the Resurrection. I bet the chapter on Easter in TCOJ was an abbreviated version of that to a large degree. You need to read the final two chapters. Wright straight sounds like an Emergent, but it's great.

Take care of that knee.


blake white said...

Yeah man, as I was reading it, I was asking myself how he would preach and apply the major points of the book and thought he did a great job of bringing it home in those last 2 chapters, in a nice emerging way.

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