Gospel in the Gospels
A call to a Christ-centered, kingdom-bringing faith
There’s a gospel within the Gospels that most Christians overlook. That’s the premise of British scholar N.T. Wright’s new book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. An Anglican, Wright preaches a Christ-centered faith that Anabaptists affirm but that Wright asserts is rare.
What is Scripture’s forgotten story? It’s the fact that Jesus’ whole life is the gospel. And it’s got to be the whole thing: birth, miracles and teachings, death, resurrection and ascension. You can’t skip from the stable to the cross. You can’t look first to Paul’s theology of the atonement. You’ve got to go straight to Jesus — and not just to his death, but his entire life.
If your response to that is, “Of course; that’s obvious,” you’ve got a Christ-centered faith. But Wright has more challenges in store.
He believes many Christians focus on Jesus’ death so much that they don’t pay attention to why Jesus lived. They turn the Gospels into an “empty cloak” and forget the person inside. If asked to explain the point of the “missing middle” — the healings, the disputes with the Pharisees, the Sermon on the Mount and all the rest — they don’t have a good answer.
Could it be? Could anyone really wonder what was the point of the Sermon on the Mount? An Anabaptist would say it’s the very core of Jesus’ teaching, among the most important things he said.
But before we smugly conclude we arrived at Wright’s destination before he did, Wright takes Jesus-first theology a step further. The whole point of the Gospels, he says, is to tell the story of how God became king of the world. Jesus established God’s reign on Earth as in heaven. He inaugurated the kingdom of God here and now, a theocracy that overrules all other powers, political and otherwise.
“The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is not about people going to heaven,” Wright says. “It is about the rule of heaven coming to Earth.”
Wright urges putting kingdom and cross — God’s reign and God’s salvation — together. The Gospels’ main application, he says, is not “ ‘how to have your sins forgiven’ or ‘how to go to heaven’ but … an agenda in which the forgiven people are put to work, addressing the evils of the world in the light of the victory of Calvary.”
He laments that “much of our Christian culture doesn’t want to know about this kingdom and prefers a cross that takes us safely away into another sphere.”
Wright hits Anabaptist notes throughout the book. He says Christ’s followers can expect to suffer and should shun the world’s notions of power. But he also criticizes the sectarian isolation of “neo-Anabaptists” who think they can be a beacon of light without actually engaging with the world. Anabaptist readers will feel at home with Wright as he illuminates the deeper meaning of a Christ-centered, kingdom-bringing faith.
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