Posted by: gcarkner | August 11, 2012

Book Review: Tom Wright, The New Testament and the People of God

N.T.Wright, 1992. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press, Minneapolis. 476 pages plus a 4-page Appendix and a 55-page Bibliography and Index.

This is the first volume in a planned 5-volume series entitled “Christian Origins and the Question of God”. Although Professor Wright’s scholarly specializations are Jesus and Paul, he comes to “hermeneutical and theological theory on the one hand, and to the study of first-century Judaism on the other, as an enthusiastic outsider.” His enthusiasm is infectious and to another “outsider” like myself, his writing in this volume is more accessible than, for example, his volume 2 in this series, entitled simply “Jesus”.

After setting the scene for his critical realist approach to history and a helpful discussion of his non-post-modernist perspective on the importance of stories, Wright launches into the two substantive parts of his book which are entitled “First-Century Judaism within the Greco-Roman World” and “The First Christian Century”.

The historical gap between the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament and the “burning of a bishop in the beautiful seaport of Smyrna, in Asia Minor” (ca. 155 AD) has been addressed by many authors both scholarly and popular, but rarely within the pages of a single, accessibly written book.

The reader is left with the impression of enormous complexity of worldviews, beliefs and hopes of first-century Judaism and the shining miracle of the evolution of the first-century Christian community of hope, within the context of internal challenges and controversies. Wright does not shy away from historical critique and engages seriously with gaps in the evidence. But neither does he withhold his personal forthright rejection of fanciful theories.

This book opens up new understandings of the context into which both Jesus and Paul were born. The book also assists in demonstrating the power of Jesus’ and the early church’s use of stories. For me, this book enhances my sense of God’s omnipotence overruling the incompetence of the people of God; it enhances my thankfulness for the way in which the simplicity of the Gospel, as projected by both Jesus and Paul, spoke to the confusion of the times; and it informs my Bible study and prayer life in surprising ways.

Because the scope of the scholarship is so vast, it is impossible for this brief review to do justice to the details. I simply recommend this book to your careful reading. You will find many parallels to the challenges we face in contemporary, multicultural Canada.

Dr. Olav Slaymaker, UBC Department of Geography

August, 2012.

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