At this point, I’ve already done the survey of the three main parts of the book:
Since Wright’s conclusion spans 5 pages and does what a good conclusion should (doesn’t introduce radically new information) there is really not much to comment on there. Instead, as I think will be the norm in future review series, I’m just going to give you my thoughts on the value of reading through Wright’s book as well some potential issues with it.
Overall, I’m glad I took the time it took (and it took a while!) to read Wright’s book. Up to this point, most of my reading had only been interacting with Wright’s thought on Paul. While I don’t think anyone should uncritically accept everything an author says, I found myself agreeing more with Wright than I would have anticipated a few years ago. Additionally, I can see better where he is coming from with his whole “exile” theme that he is often criticized for hammering home.
Though not intended to be a commentary per se, I found it very fruitful to be reading this book alongside a sermon series on the Gospel of Mark. Since Wright interacts with Mark probably the most, his extensive exegesis was very useful for making sense of some of the parables that I was familiar with, but didn’t quite grasp. I also feel like I have a much better grasp of Jesus’ action in the temple than I did before.
On the other hand, I now have something of a dilemma on my hands. It is one thing to read a book like this and offer summary thoughts in review form. It is quite another to critically interact with the thought and compare it to others. I could do more critical interaction, but I think I just don’t have the time right now. That being said, I may get around to it in the future, and in the meantime, I do have some general issues.
First, while it is admirable to try to out-match the historical-critical scholars at their own game, I wonder if there is room for more theological interpretations of the Gospel accounts. Wright intentionally is reading them on their own terms, and helpfully so. I wonder if there is not a significant second level of reading where the gospels can also be read in light of the epistles. Wright is not necessarily against this sort of thing, it is just did not fit the agenda of this book.
Because of that, it may seem from reading that Wright wants to play the historical-critical game, but show that it comes to orthodox conclusions. If so, I think he succeeded. But, on the other side of that, I’m at least in the process of questioning the method of interpretation. Wright has helped me see that it is not antithetical to faith commitments, but I am wondering if there is interpretive room for reading more of Jesus’ divinity into his actions in the gospel accounts. In this book at least, that thought it kept to the far margins.
Second, many people are critical of Wright’s overall framework construction of the cognitive background. At this point for me, I need to do more studying before I can be critical. I appreciate Wright’s commitment to dig into so thoroughly, but his conclusions are not without controversy from many evangelical scholars. I think in some ways he is inappropriately demonized, but there is probably some truth to the criticisms. Since this book came out over 15 years ago, I will probably do some additional research to wrestle with the issues further.
In the end though, this is a great book for anyone serious about New Testament studies to wrestle through. I never got around to it in seminary, but I’m glad I took the time now. Stylistically, it is a fairly easy read. But, content-wise, there is much to process and digest, so getting through it is no easy task. It’s not for the faint of heart and those who are interested but maybe more time bound in their reading than I am may want to check out Simply Jesus or How God Became King. Both of these take the general ideas and themes from this book and make them more reader friendly.
The price that comes with it though is more practical (and in many cases political) insights than what this book offers. Jesus and The Victory of God has no real priestly overtones or practical applications in it. It’s a straight historical investigation with some theological flavoring. With Wright’s popular books, he is just as compelling of a writer if not more so, but he also has ideas about how to apply his ideas that not everyone will agree with.
But then again, not every agrees about anything, so there’s always going to be a critic isn’t there? I prefer Wright’s academic writings, but I’ve benefited from his popular treatments as well. He’s a gifted writer and a gifted scholar serving the church. I think because of that, whether you ultimately agree with him or not, you can’t really dismiss him and ought to wrestle with his thoughts and ideas.
I did, and it’s made a quite a difference!
- Author: N. T. Wright
- Title: Jesus and The Victory of God
- Publisher: Fortress Press (August, 1997)
- Series: Christian Origins and The Question of God
- Paperback: 741pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School (but definitely requires a Seminary attention span and stamina)
- Audience Appeal: Prophets interested in a different historically based take on the life and message of Jesus
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Fortress Press)
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