Here follows a great review of Tom Wright's new book.
I am just finishing reading Tom Wright's latest book: Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, Why It Matters (London, SPCK, 2011) It carries a glowing (back cover) commendation from Rowan Williams ('Tom Wright is, as always, brilliant at distilling immense scholarship into a vivid, clear and accessible form. This book is yet another of his great gifts to the worldwide Church').
What distinguishes his approach and makes the book quite different from any other on Jesus that I have ever read, is Wright's worldview approach (which, of course, is no guarantee that there aren't other books like it – if you know of any, do tell me!) Wright has applied this approach in his major academic series Christian Origins and the Question of God and the first book in that series The New Testament and the People of God (SPCK, 1992) is dedicated to Dr Brian Walsh from whom he gained the inspiration for this approach. Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat have applied it in their Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (Downers Grove, IL, IVP, 2004), but Wright has established himself as the major theologian and Biblical scholar using it.
Wright's worldview approach is as developed by Reformational scholars (Brian Walsh, Al Wolters, Michael Goheen et al.) rather than Evangelicals. For commentary on the distinction see, e.g. Bonzo, J. Matthew & Stevens, Michael eds After World View: Christian Higher Education in Postmodern Worlds (Sioux Center, Iowa, Dordt College Press, 2009), Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Academic, 2009), Smith, James K.A. "Worldview, Sphere Sovereignty and Desiring the Kingdom: A Guide for (Perplexed) Reformed Folk" (Pro Rege, 39 (4), June 2011, pages 15-24)
Simply Jesus is the first of Wright's popular books that really shows the power of this wholistic, big picture approach. Jesus, he contends, came to bring God's wise, healing rule to bear on the Earth. He did not come to teach people 'how to get to heaven', or to mount some kind of quasi-military revolution, or to do things that 'proved his divinity':
The gospels are not about 'how Jesus turned out to be God'. They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven. … It has been all too possible to use the doctrine of the incarnation or even the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture as a way of protecting oneself and one’s worldview and political agenda against having to face the far greater challenge of God taking charge, of God becoming king on earth as in heaven. But that is what the stories in the Bible are all about. That’s what the story of Jesus was, and is, all about. That is the real challenge, and sceptics aren't the only ones who find clever ways to avoid it (page 147).
One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is the evangelisation of young people. On average half of the children of Christian parents do not grow up to share their parents' faith, whereas nearly 100% of the children of non-religious parents grow up to share their parents' lack of religious commitment. Today many Christian young people find themselves in schools or colleges with few or no other identifiable Christians. My, and Mark Roques', experience is that stories incorporating that holistic, big picture approach engage young people effectively, whereas many traditional approaches no longer work. But after years of worldview-based mission I am still learning a lot from Wright's new book. I'll have to seriously revise my teaching notes on both 'Biblical Introduction' and 'Worldviews'!