Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright may simply be the best book about Jesus I have ever read.
But the book is not just about Jesus. It is about the church, the Gospel, the Kingdom of God, Israel, history, government, social involvement, eschatology, and a mind-numbing array of other topics, all of which swirl around and center upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.
But don’t be scared. N. T. Wright may be one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, but this book is highly readable. Unlike some of his academic-level books (such as The Resurrection of the Son of God), this book contains almost no footnotes, scholarly discussion of Greek words, or involved critique of ideas from other scholars.
If you have been hearing about N. T. Wright and are curious about his ideas, but have not wanted to tackle the 800 pages of The Resurrection of the Son of God or the 800 pages of Jesus and the Victory of God, this book is the the place to start. It is a concise summary of everything written up to this point by N. T. Wright about Israel as the people of God, Jesus as the Son of God, the significance of His resurrection, and the role of the church within the Kingdom of God.
Here, briefly, is what he argues:
There were numerous cultural, political, and theological winds swirling around Israel in the years before and after the ministry of Jesus Christ. Most of these winds led Israel to expect a Messiah who would overthrow Rome through military conquest and set Israel up as the nation that ruled the world in peace and justice.
When Jesus began saying and doing the things He said and did, He was not fulfilling any of the expectations, which confused many people, and eventually, led to His crucifixion. (Whew! I’m skipping a lot in there! It’s almost shameful!)
But through all of His teachings and miracles, and climaxing in His death and resurrection, Jesus was trying to show people what God was really like, and how the Kingdom of Heaven truly operated. It would not arrive by bloodshed and sword, conquest and violence, but through love and service, humility and sacrifice, and even death.
And when Jesus rose, He gathered His disciples around Himself and told them that through His life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the Kingdom of God on earth had been inaugurated, and they were now His ambassadors to carry the Kingdom forward to the ends of the earth. They must live as He lived. Love as He loved. Serve as He served. And maybe even die as He died. For this is the way of the kingdom. This is the way of God.
The church then, continues this task. We are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus to the world. “The way in which Jesus now exercises his rule in the world [is] through the church, which is his Body” (p. 217). This is fantastic theology, and provides us with a vision not just of who Jesus really was and what He really did, but also who the church is, and what the church is supposed to be doing. The last chapter really focuses on this theme, and is more than worth the price of the book.
I really only have one concern with the book, and it is that N. T. Wright does not believe in the Rapture (p. 199-200), and appears to be Amillennial (p. 229). But these are not really big issues for me, and while I believe in a future Rapture and a Millennium, I can still fully apply everything N. T. Wright says to my life as a follower of Jesus, and to the church as the Body of Christ in the present time.
I highly recommend Simply Jesus, and along with it, a book which deals more with the role of the church and individual Christians within the world: Simply Christian. Both are on my Burning Books list.