The problem with being a theologian is that everyone expects you to say everything all the time. If you write a book about one part of the gospel, they think you don’t believe the rest.” – N.T. Wright
I quote this because I am tired of people saying Wright denies the penal and substitutionary aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, especially when page 46 of this book demolishes this misrepresentation very clearly.
Just because Wright often emphasizes more the Christus Victor aspect of the crucifixion of Jesus does not mean he denies penal substitution. He himself has asserted in this book that Penal Substitution falls into the bigger picture of Christus Victor. Like Tim Keller says, Paul uses many different paradigms, and we can too.
I like how Wright puts it, that, on the cross, not only did Jesus died for us, but He put death to death and thus, claiming victory as King. As stressed by Wright, merely holding the view of Penal Substitution can often lead to a shallow understanding of the gospel, causing us to live as if it is not “in heaven as on earth” but rather “in heaven as in heaven”. In this view, “Good News” often ends up being simply good advice with the back story being “we are going to hell”.
The full gospel is more than “Jesus dying for our sins so that we can go to heaven”. What is so good about this news is that Jesus Christ, as God in person, has returned to become our King —in accordance to the Old Testament— to fulfill God’s plan of both rescuing the world through the call of Israel and revealing His glory to nations.
While I enjoy Wright’s writing, I personally find Simon Gathercole’s The Gospel of Paul And The Gospel of Kingdom a more comprehensive and balanced read. Gathercole explains how the gospel carries three major themes: 1) the identity of Jesus as Messiah, 2) his work of atoning sacrifice and justification, and 3) the inauguration of a new dominion. These three are inseparable, and we cannot minimise the importance of any single of them. The tendency of many, however, as Wright has argued, is that many often overlook 1 and 3.
Perhaps I am still not that great as a reader, because Wright sometimes stills seems a bit repetitive to me. Still, just as many of his other work, Simply Good News is to be cherished. My favourite chapter so far has been chapter 8, in which Wright writes that we often reverse the order (and thus the priorities) of the Lord’s Prayer because of our individualistic understanding of the gospel. Very true indeed!