N. T. Wright has produced another brilliant book on the message of the gospels of Jesus Christ. Wright thinks many of us have it wrong when we talk about the main purpose of the gospels. The descriptions of the gospels used today often do not adequately account for the content that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John included. When attempting to summarize the gospels, people often leave out elements or distort the author’s message.
For example, some people today think that the main purpose of the gospels is to tell us how to get to heaven. Others would claim the gospels are simply introducing a new ethical system that is either taught or exemplified by Jesus. Even those who say that the gospels are a story of the perfect sacrifice for our sin or that Jesus is God in the flesh do not fully account for much of the material included the gospels. What are the gospels getting at? Wright summarizes by saying that the purpose of the gospels is to tell the story of how God became king of the world.
Wright describes four themes within the gospel message by using an illustration of a four-speaker sound system. Each adds to the overall sound by delivering a slightly different part of the overall message. Wright describes the four themes of the gospels that are present, but says that two of the speakers are turned up too high, overemphasizing aspects of the gospel message; and two are nearly turned down all the way, missing certain aspects of the gospel message. This creates a distortion in our overall understanding of the gospels. The four themes are:
- The climax of the story of the people of Israel — a speaker that needs to be turned up. The idea that Jesus fulfilled the dreams of the expected Messiah in an unexpected way is missed by many contemporary readers.
- The story of Jesus as the story of Israel’s God — a speaker that needs to be turned down. Some readers today can only see the message that Jesus is God in the gospels (and some of the ancient creeds) and miss some of the other key themes.
- Telling the story of the launching of God’s renewed people — a speaker that also needs to be turned down. The gospels are telling a story much more rich than a projection of the faith issues of the early Christian community as some modern scholars would claim.
- The story of the kingdom of God clashing with the kingdom of Caesar — a speaker that needs to be first turned on and then turned up. It’s as if today’s readers are unaware the gospels are announcing the reign of Christ over the kingdoms of THIS world.
Once the message of the gospels is heard in a proper harmony, Wright can get to the “central challenged posed by the gospel, the dramatic and explosive combination of the kingdom and the cross.” The challenge is to be BOTH Kingdom Christians and Cross Christians. This brings together the “social-gospel” agenda with the “saving-souls-for-heaven” agenda. Let’s not forget that we are living in a time where Jesus accomplished the reign of God though the reign has not been fully implemented. This implementation, the reign of Christ is not extended by force or through worldly power, it is extended through a different method: when His people take up their cross and follow Christ in service to others, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28). This give our marching orders for following Jesus as our king and seeing his reign extended through the whole earth: service.
This book will stretch you and cause a renewed interest in the gospels. I highly recommend it. Want a free audio summary of How God Became King given by NT Wright? This will be a well-spent hour, you’ll want to listen more than once. Click here.