Simply Good News by N.T. Wright

thBefore I share what I enjoy from this book, I want to state again (as Wright has been tired of explaining himself) that Wright does NOT deny the penal and substitutionary aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion, as he has clearly written on page 46 of this book. For those who keep misrepresenting him, buy the book and tear this page off and stick it on your wall.

In this book, Wright does as what he often does in his other work: emphasising the Christus Victor aspect of the crucifixion of Jesus (which often leads skeptics who like to stir up oppositions to claim he is denying penal substitution). Nevertheless, as he presents in this book, Penal Substitution falls into the bigger picture of Christus Victor. The two ideas co-exist. 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.

To Wright, merely emphasising Penal Substitution can often lead to a shallow view 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, the “Good News” often ends up being simply good advice with the back story being “we are going to hell”; that if you pray the sinner’s prayer, you will get into heaven.

But the full gospel is more than “Jesus dying for our sins so that we can go to heaven” (fans of Wright probably have heard this way too many time from him). 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 Bible (O.T.) to fulfil God’s plan of rescuing the world through the call of Israel and revealing His glory to nations.

I appreciate Wright’s intention. It is very true that Christianity often drives a superficial understanding of the gospel (Wright often claims it is mostly a “western” problem, but as a Chinese I would not agree), which I think can be simply broken down into two reasons:

1) We often begin the grand narrative of the Bible with Genesis 3 (the fall) instead of Genesis 1 (creation);

and 2) we often reduce “Jesus is Lord and my Saviour” to “Jesus is my saviour”.

While I echo with Wright’s assessment, I personally find Simon Gathercole’s THE GOSPEL OF PAUL AND THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM tackle the problem much more comprehensively. 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 would argue, is that many often overlook 1 and 3.

Also, I think sometimes Wright can get a bit wordy and repetitive, but still, just as many of his other work, Simply Good News is to be cherished. My favourite chapter is the humorous chapter 8. Wright observes that we often reverse the order (and thus the priorities) of the Lord’s Prayer due to our individualistic understanding of the gospel. While the Lord’s Prayer should shape our life, we often begin our prayer with asking for help and forgiveness first (~ rescue us from evil and forgive us as we forgive those who trespasses against us)  and leaving the “Your Kingdom come and Your will be done” in the end. Very true indeed!

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