N.T. Wright’s How God Became King opens with an attempt to solidify the problem he seeks to address through the whole of the book. In fact, that is his agenda for the first three chapters – to highlight the acute deficiency in Western Christianity. And what is that problem?
The Western Church has forgotten what the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are all about.
In this opening chapter, Bishop Wright takes the approach of placing the ancient Christian creeds against these gospels. In our treasured creeds, the formula regarding Christ typically address Jesus’ life in this manner: He was born of the virgin and then he died on the cross. Take the Apostles’ Creed as an example:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Such statements have come to define contemporary Western Christian belief about Jesus, that his purpose was to die for our sins and little or nothing more. Take another example from a popular Evangelical chorus of a few years back, Michael W. Smith’s Above All:
Crucified/Laid behind a stone/You lived to die/Rejected and alone/Like a rose/Trampled on the ground/You took the fall/And thought of me/Above all (italics mine)
We have, probably unintentionally, regarded half the gospels as secondary to what we believe the real gospel: that Christ died to save us from our sins and justify us before God. And while that is true – Christ really did die to save all creation from the power of sin – it circumnavigates the story that Wright believes the gospel writers were actually trying to tell. We’ve left out the life of Jesus, which is supposed to show us that God was becoming king in and through Jesus, his son.
I just wanted to get this little quote out for all to chew on as well. Check it:
To this day, whenever people take it upon themselves to explore the divinity of Jesus, there is at the very least a tendency for the theme of God’s kingdom, coming on earth as in heaven, to be quietly lost from view. It is as though a young man spent all his time proving that he really was his father’s son and left no time or energy for working with his father in the family business – which would, actually, be one of the better ways of demonstrating the family likeness. (20, italics mine)