That’s how I came to be introduced to N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God series, of which this volume is book two of five. Reading others’ reviews on Amazon, however, almost prevented the purchase. As such, I’d like to do the opposite and encourage it.
Why should you read this series? Because you’re smart. Not just smart, you’re educated. You know things. You know science. You know history. And you know facts. You know that the simple truth is there is no god. You know Jesus of Nazareth was nothing more than a man and that the cross, nothing more than one of the earliest name brands. You know that you have or would have come to the conclusion to “love your enemy” naturally. And you’re pretty sure that you just read a long-form article which proves that forgiveness is practiced in the animal kingdom.
And yet you feel there is something strangely unsettling if not outright irritating about that name–Jesus.
In his book/series, Wright unabashedly starts in the present. His question: What has to be true for the story to be true? As in, say someone claims that the Lord of the Rings is based on the historical record. What would have to be true for them to be right? There’d have to be evidence of wizards, elves, orcs, hobbits, a place called Mordor–lots of things. The same goes for the Bible and other non-canonical sources of ancient history. A lot of things have to fall onto the “likely to be true” side of the ancient history continuum in order for the radical claim that Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and whatever is meant by resurrection somehow altered the very real space-time universe that we find ourselves amid.
I’ll share two ways that the book has changed my perspective. First, Tolstoy wrote a book on Christianity that captured my attention for some time. One of his arguments, therefore mine, was that Jesus taught timeless truths. I no longer believe that. Wright repeatedly makes the compelling argument that Jesus of Nazareth was not a teacher of timeless truths. He lived in the first century, not the twenty-first. He was Jewish, not Christian. He delivered his message almost exclusively to Israel and the Jews, not Rome or the pagans. He did not know post-modernism, the same as how we do not know ancient history, more specifically first century/Second Temple Judaism.
Second, I am a believer in Wright’s argument that all is narrative. Wright deals exclusively in narrative, in story. As a historian he is concerned with building a story that makes sense. Many other historians disagree with him. That doesn’t absolve any of us of the burden of answering for ourselves, “Of all the competing stories about Jesus of Nazareth, which one do I believe?”
In the end, on a practical note don’t read this book without reading the first volume.
Oh, one last and probably obvious point. While I exclaimed aloud, “Yeah buddy!” as I advanced to Chapter 12 “The Reasons for Jesus’ Crucifixion”, it’s doubtful you’ll find it a page turner. What can I say? I just wanna know stuff. Maybe you do to. If so, pick up the series. If not, I still love you.