How God Became King: Book Review
NT Wright is one of the more fascinating authors that I have encountered. I enjoy his writing style and treatment of his subject material. He is brilliant in his presentation and compelling in his conclusions.
I found How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels to be a very compelling view of the Kingship of Jesus Christ. Kingship in not only His Heavenly kingdom, but King of the earthly kingdom, now. Jesus preached that “the kingdom was at hand.” However, Wright claims that much of Christianity believes that the Kingdom is not a current phenomenon, but one waiting for the believer. Wright does a wonderful job of presenting four compelling factors in the Christ as King Christology.
In order to get to the meat of the book, I had to get through the first third. The first third of the book is Wright’s argument against a liberal interpretation of the Bible. In this way, I realized that this book was not for me as a target audience, but seemed to be written as a scholarly presentation to teachers of a more liberal tradition.
I was bogged down in this part of the book and my attention was pulled in other directions. However – once Wright finished his apologetics of a conservative, Jewish approach to the scriptures, the speed and the impact of the book dramatically increased. At this point, I was hooked and fascinated with the references of the suffering and exaltation of Christ as part of the fulment of His Kingship.
The prevailing conclusion is that the kingdom is now.
Believers must act as though their membership in the kingdom is living, active and for the present as well as for their future. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish promises in the Old Testament. Conversely, because the Kingdom is now, under earthy kingdoms and powers, represented by Caesar, there is a “clash of the kingdoms.” Wright contrasts God and Caesar in the Gospels and presents a wider picture of Christ’s work.
This passage summarizes the crux of the book, and the primary passages used throughout:
“There is, in other words, a clear line all the way from Genesis 11, via Isaiah 40-55 and Daniel 7, to Mark 10, and thereby in turn to Mark 15, where jesus meets his captors, his judges, and his death. He not only theorizes about the difference between pagan power and the kind of power he is claiming; he enacts it. The passage just quoted [Mark 10:25-45] is not a “political” statement (about different types of power) followed by an “atonement” statement (about how sins would be forgiven), as though the two were entirely separate things…. Jesus establishes the new kind of power-God’s kingdom as opposed to Caesar’s, on earth as in heaven-precisely through his (scripturally-interpreted) death.”
A theme I really enjoyed throughout the book is the overthrow of earthly powers by their own devices. The theme throughout scripture is that God uses the weak and the foolish to confound the world.
“Jesus’s embrace of the hideous vocation to die on the cross is seen as the overthrow of the world’s powers, the world’s way of power.”
The perceived weakness of Christ in death was really a “spiritual judo” to overthrow both spiritual and worldly powers by using their ‘perceived’ strength against them.
Wright then moves on to the role of the church through the first century to today. If we are operating in the Kingdom now, then how should that change our call as followers of Christ as the Church? Wright explores and expands the concept of the kingdom and the cross as one, not separate opposed elements as usually seen by strict doctrinalists and social justice types. The development of the Kingdom from the death, burial and resurrection, then on to Pentecost signifies that the Israel has not been “replaced,” but transformed.”
The transformation is recounted in Acts and other letters, as of course, those involved need instruction and clarification. As an example, the two disciples traveling to Emmaus knew the prophesies, the claims and the events, but expected something else. Jesus calls them foolish and slow! (Luke 24)
The theme of the suffering servant plays through the entire text and Wright develops his case in a dramatic fashion. Using Psalms 2 and Isaiah 42, the theme of the suffering servant is usually developed through these passages, but Wright shows that the kingdom theme is still the predominant theme at the close of each. The Suffering Savior and the Conquering King are hand-in-hand in these passages, but tend to be treated separately; rather than partnered together, which is their primary purpose.
“Psalm 2 opens with the nations raging and fighting-raging, indeed, against the true God; and the enthronement of God’s “son” is the answer. He’s in charge now, and the nations, especially their rulers, had better be warned. Their power is broken, and he will implement God’s victory. There is nothing in the text either of the baptism narrative itself or of the four gospels as a whole to suggest that this kingdom theme has been screened out in factor of an incarnation or atonement theme. All the signs are, rather, that the aim of incarnation and the cross is precisely to establish God’s kingdom; that, after all, is what Jesus begins to say when, not long after his baptism, he begins his public career (Matt 4:17).”
Towards the end of the book, Wright moves in to practical themes. A re-reading of the creeds in order to find the themes that first appeared lost or forgotten. Practical steps to put faith into practice are developed for Church, scholarship and “everyday” Christians.
I found the book to be well worth the time invested. Some may value the introduction and apologetics in the first part of the book, as it may be relevant. I found it a bit tedious, but was hooked once Wright moved past his ‘opening remarks’ and started to make his case. Wright is gifted with words and is able to weave a tapestry that intersects Old and New Covenants, contrasting views on kingship and mercy ministries. I found that but most of all, this book moved me to see and glorify God and Jesus Christ as the Conquering, Exalted King.