Simply Jesus: An Odd King offers 3 Puzzles


Tom Wright speaking at Willow Creek (2011)

Tom Wright speaking at Willow Creek (2011) – click for video of talk

The first two chapters of the book are quite short so this post will explore both of them.

Before diving in I want to let you know that it is not too late to grab a copy of the book and join me in reading through it. If you do decide to read along, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section or add links to your blog posts that discuss the book. [click to tweet]

In the first two chapters, Wright offers two major things to think about. The first is a challenge for Christians to embrace studies of the “historical Jesus”. Why? Because we need to grapple with Jesus as an actual person in history and we need to be able to show people that we follow someone who is real. The second was to recognize the three puzzles that make this a challenge.

The Odd King
In chapter 1, Wright, rolls through a list of various thinkers through history and their views of Jesus:

  • Freud: Jesus is a projection of our inner desires
  • Marx: Jesus is a way to keep the masses quiet
  • Nietzsche: Jesus taught a wimpy religion
  • Dawkins: Jesus is a delusion

Jesus puzzled people then, and he puzzles us still. – Wright

He challenges us to respond to those who would say Jesus is a “figment of our imagination”. But to do that we must face the tough questions so that Jesus does not disappear “into mists of fantasy”. The problem, as Wright sees it, is that churches are afraid of doing historical studies of Jesus and this is limiting our ability to witness to others:

If Christians don’t get Jesus right, what chance is there that other people will bother much with him?

Wright tells churches that they should not be frightened by “historical Jesus” studies, but be actively taking part in that discussion.

What are Historical Jesus studies?
“Historical Jesus” studies seek to apply the historical method to the information we have about Jesus (including the Scriptures and non-Biblical sources). This approach allows an account of what the real Jesus was like to be pieced together (or reconstructed).

I found an excellent article on Bible.org that surveys the 4 quests for the historical Jesus that have been undertaken.The author, Dr. Burer, begins his survey looking at Hermann Samuel Reimarus and his work “On the Intention of Jesus and His Disciples” (1778), which started the first quest. The survey concludes with the works of N. T. Wright stating that:

N. T. Wright is the ending point because he more than many other scholars is doing things in a positive way. He has a respect for history, a thirst for theology, and a sound method. So between these two men comes a period which is important to understand for those who wish to study Jesus and proclaim him in the next century.

In that article Dr. Burer assess Wright’s contributions to the historical study of Jesus:

Wright is making a positive contribution in Jesus studies because he has clearly thought through the historical questions which must be answered in order to get an accurate picture of who Jesus was and what he did. In his view, the scholar’s main goal should be to determine how history progressed “from the pluriform Judaism that existed within the Greco-Roman world of 10 BC to the pluriform Judaism and Christianity of AD 110.”

The article also explains why the church has been hesitant to engage in historical studies.

[scholars who study the historical Jesus] presume to wipe away the Christ of faith with modern critical methods … [but the] passage of time has shown us that those who investigate the historical Jesus have not been objective …

3 Puzzles
In the second chapter, Wright offers 3 puzzles as to why it is a challenge to understand the historical Jesus and why it is hard to answer the questions – who did Jesus think he was? and what did he think he was doing?

  • Jesus world: the people and culture that Jesus lived in is very different than our own.
  • Jesus’ God: the things Jesus said about God challenged those that heard him. Even those that thought they knew God.
  • Jesus actions: The things Jesus said and did communicated to those around Him that he thought that he was in charge. 

After two chapters, Wright is just getting started, and I am eager to see how he moves this discussion forward.

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