10 February 2012

simply Jesus 4

N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus (New York: HarperOne, 2011).

Part Three of The Bishop's latest work on Jesus is an extended final chapter entitled, "Jesus: The Ruler of the World."  This is where Wright brings together the whole of his presentation and offers the "So What" conclusions that any treatment of this sort on Jesus deserves.  It begins with the anticipated question, "What on earth does it mean, today, to say that Jesus is king, that he is Lord of the world?" (207).

To provide too much of an overview or review of this chapter would be to steal from the reader the process of personal engagement with the picture which Wright provides regarding the impact of the risen Christ.  This final chapter is to say, that if this historical Jesus came into the "perfect storm" that is claimed in this book, then the implications of what he said and did, along with who he was and is, then there ought to be a very real and powerful impact on the world at the present time.  If Jesus has indeed become king (to anticipate Wright's forthcoming book in March), then God's rule ought to be identified and implemented.  Has it?

In working through the content in this particular chapter Wright offers four personalized perspectives, persons whom Wright 'invents' for the sake of the discussion.  To understand how the phrase, "Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven" has been approached and understood, these four offer their perspectives in a sort of dialogue (which doesn't actually exist in dialogue form) that shows their basic ins and outs.  Then, as would be expected, Wright gives his analysis and perspective on what the phrase is intended to be as a means by which he closes the present volume.

I'll highlight the main points of what The Bishop offers (in other words, those statements which I found particularly fascinating . . . it is my blog, after all . . .).

First, "God intended to rule the world through human beings (212, emphasis original).  This goes back to creation, actually, and is supported by many great volumes on Old Testament theology, not to mention the overall perspective of the Jewish heritage.  It is through the reign of Jesus, contends Wright, that this has been brought back to its fulfillment and renewal.  The natural outworking of this is that, "Jesus rescues human beings in order that through them he may rule his world in the new way he always intended" (Ibid.).  One of the (many) reasons I came away from this book cheering is that statements such as this so powerful capture that which I have often promoted in my own understanding of the Christian faith.  Salvation can not be understood, as it very often is, as an end in and of itself, but a means to an end which is the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Wright hits this point hard in this passage.

Second, the community which is created through the Spirit of Jesus is the vehicle for which the rule of Jesus and the kingdom of God happens.  Making a connection with the presence of God dwelling in the Temple (or even tabernacle) from where God ruled Israel, now the presence of the Holy Spirit creates a temple of believers through which the rule of all creation may be effectuated (cf. 215f.).  Quite a powerful mandate.

This then brings worship to the center of life and work for the church: "All kingdom work is rooted in worship" (217, emphasis original).  Who we worship will determine who we serve, and that is what shapes the ethic of the community and gives definition to the work of the church.  "Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and that therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is" (Ibid.).  If we are to take this seriously, then the interaction between church and culture will look quite different than it presently does.  To get at this point, Wright makes the stark and bold challenge: "The day the church can no longer say, 'We must obey God rather than human beings' (Acts 5:29), it ceases to be a church" (220).

From this point Wright gives space to defining the role of the church, lending encouragement and direction on how to take on the mounting tasks that lie ahead with the mind, attitude and behavior of Christ.  Those who have read The Bishop know that he is strongly opposed to worldly methods of doing church, knowing that those who live by the sword certainly die by the sword.  There is an intriguing comment regarding this, "The way in which Jesus exercises his sovereign lordship in the present time includes his strange, often secret, sovereignty over the nations and their rulers" (222).

The final pages offer a number of great points that I leave for the reader to uncover on their own.  I cannot improve or enhance them in any way by including them here.  These are powerful exhortations of what it means for all believers to become workers in the kingdom of God and work for the sovereign rule of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has been given to form and empower the church to carry out the tasks that have been defined as God's kingdom, and now the impetus is on those who claim to be disciples to carry on.  In conclusion, Wright says, "Jesus is at work, taking forward his kingdom project" (231).

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