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Kings, Creeds, and the Canon: Musing on N.T. Wright

From James K.A. Smith

I'm something of a Tom Wright enthusiast.  As someone who is convinced that Christian scholars across the disciplines should be responsible and informed biblical interpreters, I have been a student of N.T. Wright for a while now.  His "five-act-drama" approach to the biblical narrative is both accessible and illuminating, and his account of Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel's vocation gives me all sorts of new ways to re-appreciate the central Reformed theme of "covenant."  This is just to scratch the surface of some of my debts to his scholarship.  (Keep this in mind when you get to the end of this post, OK?  Promise?)

Which is why it's odd to find myself rather frustrated with some of his most recent work, particularly as articulated in How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.  (If you've not yet read the book, you might watch Wright's presentation of the core argument of the book in his "January Series" lecture at Calvin College this past January.)

Actually, let me rephrase that: it's not the substance of the argument itself that frustrates me, it's the attendant tone and asides by which Wright frames his project.  The thesis of the book, to simplify in extremis, is that the core message of the Gospel is "political" in the sense that the Gospel announces the kingship of God over all of creation--that the proclamation "Jesus is Lord" is both the culmination of Israel's expectation AND a direct affront to the gospel of the empire ("Caesar is Lord").  This means that the Gospel is not the announcement of an escape pod from the world to a disembodied heaven but rather the reassertion of God's authority over heaven AND earth--the announcement that God is reclaiming the whole of his creation.  Jesus, we might say, comes to "occupy" creation. 

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