Book Review: “The Day the Revolution Began” by N.T. Wright (Lent Series: Part 3/3)

The day the revolution

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 3 of 3

If you are unfamiliar with who N.T. Wright is…Merry Christmas! This blog post is my gift to you. I was introduced to N.T. Wright’s work a few years ago through his book Simply Christian and have since gone on to buy quite a few of his books.

N.T. Wright has a very storied career. He was the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, Bishop of Durham, and is now the chair of New Testament & Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He is considered to be one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and has written over 70 books and commentaries.

Early on in the book, in a chapter called The Cross in Its First Century Setting, Wright unpacks the presence, role, and the practice of crucifixion in the years before, during, and after the life of Jesus. This chapter deeply affected me and was incredibly eye opening. I had never considered what Jesus would have seen, and known, and grown up in as He approached the cross Himself. This look at first century crucifixion will profoundly impact how I read the New Testament and especially the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, with respect to the mental and emotional state He would have been in.

One of the main highlights of the book is Wright’s commentary on atonement theories. He argues with ample scriptural support that salvation is far more than “getting into heaven” and that unfortunately much of the Church today doesn’t go beyond this in it’s preaching and practice. Wright argues that to make salvation purely about going to heaven is to build a theology on portions of the Gospel and not the entire Gospel narrative. Essentially it is an incomplete, cheaper, and even a selfish view of salvation.

Almost nobody talks about “going to heaven.” When Jesus talks about the “kingdom of heaven,” he doesn’t mean a place called “heaven,” but the rule of “heaven,” that is, God’s reign, coming to birth on earth. (p. 196)

Jesus’s death is seen, right across the New Testament, not as rescuing people from the world so that they can avoid “hell” and go to “heaven,” but as a powerful revolution – that is, a revolution full of a new sort of power – within the world itself. (p. 220)

…salvation in the New Testament is not seen as an escape from the world of space, time, and matter, but rather as its redemption. (p. 348)

Sin matters, and forgiveness of sins matters, but they matter because sin, flowing from idolatry, corrupts, distorts, and disables the image-bearing vocation, which is much more than simply “getting ready for heaven.” (p. 363)

Wright points out that the Church can make the grave mistake of building it’s beliefs on cultural or inherited theology and not necessarily on scripture itself. So although some theological positions may be supported by the Church and may even be considered “traditional theology”, they may not actually fall in line with the Biblical narrative.

The historical questions and answers are the place to go if we want to find the theological answer. If we cannot see it there, that might be an indication that we are trying to answer the wrong question. If the gospels do not seem to be “saying the right stuff,” maybe it is our idea of the “right stuff” that needs adjusting. (p. 199)

This book challenged me deeply on how I understand what Jesus accomplished in and through the cross and His resurrection. I don’t mean to say that it fundamentally changed what I believe about the cross, but it certainly broadened what I believe and how I understand it. Wright does an excellent job in presenting what I would consider to be a holistic and Biblically faithful understanding of the purpose and work of salvation.

The cross stands at the center of the story of Jesus, Israel, the human race, the creator God, and his world. This is where the biblical narrative finds its heart. (p. 255)

Of the three books I read over Lent, this was the thickest book of the three, both physically and in theological depth. Wright himself would consider this a less academic “popular” offering, but I found this book to be quite dense at times. There are a few chapters that were slow moving for me, but they all still contained incredible insight.

The Day the Revolution Began is a truly exciting book. It is a reminder of who we were created to be, a reminder of the passion and commitment of God towards us, and a call to live fully in our vocation as image bearers of God, engaged as active participants in the coming Kingdom of Heaven.

Like I do with all of his books, I highly recommend you check this one out. It is not a casual breezy read, it will be a commitment, it will challenge you intellectually and theologically, but it will be completely worth it.

nt wright

Book Review: “24 Hours That Changed the World” by Adam Hamilton (Lent Series: Part 2/3)

24 Hours

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 2 of 3

24 Hours That Changed the World (2009) is written by Adam Hamilton, who is the senior pastor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas and the author of 23 books.

This book is theologically rich, is packed with revealing historical information, and yet it is completely accessible for anyone to read. Throughout the book Hamilton discuses in great detail: the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial, His torture and humiliation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, including touching on various atonement theories.

One of the more disheartening things I read about was what the culture around Jesus was like when it came to issues of power and fear, and realizing how much of humanity today still seems to be stuck in the same place.

Fear performs its poisonous work within all of us. How often are we still motivated by it? In what ways does our fear lead us, individually and as a nation, to do what is wrong – what is at times unthinkable – while justifying our actions as necessary. (p. 50)

We must each be aware of the power of fear, and we must not forget the lessons of history. All of us, if we let our call to love be overshadowed by our innate fear, are capable of supporting and doing the unthinkable. (p. 50)

The question we must ask in our personal lives and in public policy as Christians is not “What is the thing that will make me feel most secure?” but “What is the most loving thing for me to do?” (p. 51)

Hamilton’s writing on the moment where the crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus was also an incredibly difficult thing to think about because I’m not confident our modern Western culture (including much of the Church) would make a different decision. Even with the advantage we have today over those in the crowd on that day, of having a Bible and knowing how the message, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus would impact the world for the last 2000 years, I am not confident the undying devotion to Jesus we sing about on weekends in our churches would be reflected in how we would choose our leader.

If you picture yourself as part of that crowd, which one do you pick? One is going to lead by force; throw out the Romans; reclaim your tax money, wealth, and prosperity; and restore the strength of the Jewish kingdom. The other’s leadership involves loving these same oppressors, serving them as they dwell among you, doubling the service they demand of you. Whom do you wish to see freed? Whom do you wish to see destroyed? When we see the choice in that way, it is not so difficult to understand the crowd’s choice of Barabbas over Jesus. They chose the path of physical strength, military might, and lower taxes over the path of peace through sacrificial love. (p. 73)

How far could such an approach be taken today? Is it possible to live as Jesus of Nazareth urged in our own world? Could a nation or government even survive that way? I do know that Jesus asks us to choose his way over the way of Barabbas; but I also know that while many admire Jesus of Nazareth, they feel safer, and prefer, Jesus Barabbas. (p. 74)

Please don’t read the above comments and quotes as a cheap instigation towards an argument between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. Jesus and the cross happened long before our political parties were established. Forget what your favorite political party champions, if you identify as a follower of Jesus, what does He call us to? What did He model with His words, life, and death? Was Jesus too much of an idealist? Was He being serious that it would cost us everything to follow Him? These are really difficult questions to answer in our increasingly complex world, yet for those who would call themselves disciples of Jesus, they are questions we must humbly and lovingly wrestle with in the context of true community.

24 Hours That Changed the World is a perfect blend of ancient cultural information, theological insight, and a call to action to live today in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you are looking for an outstanding book on the final hours of Jesus life, the meaning of the cross, and what it is to follow the resurrected Jesus, this is it. I highly recommend this book.

adam hamilton

Book Review: “Show Me the Way” by Henri Nouwen (Lent Series: Part 1/3)

Show Me the Way

Over Lent this year I decided to read three books as a part of my Lenten experience. I divided the books into daily readings so that each day I would get to read a portion from each book and still have them all read by Easter Sunday. The three books I chose to read were: Show Me The Way by Henri Nouwen, 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, and The Day the Revolution Began by N.T. Wright.

Part 1 of 3

Show Me The Way (1992) is a book of daily Lenten readings based on the writing’s of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Nouwen was a priest, a professor, and an author of numerous books including the well known: The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Each of the daily readings begins with a few verses of scripture, then a selection of Nouwen’s writings, and closes with a prayer. Unlike the other two books I read during Lent, Show Me the Way is not focused on describing ancient culture in great detail and unpacking difficult theological ideas, but rather the focus of the book is on heart transformation. With Nouwen’s writing being as beautiful and honest as it is, he is a master at writing for spiritual formation.

Throughout the daily readings Nouwen touches on a number of different subjects with subtle power, beauty, depth, and compassion:

loving our neighbor:

  • It is in God that we find our neighbors and discover our responsibility to them. We might even say that only in God does our neighbor become a neighbor rather than an infringement upon our autonomy, and that only in and through God does service become possible. (p. 22-23)

what the reality of God means for us:

  • …as soon as I say “God exists,” my existence no longer can remain in the center, because the essence of the knowledge of God reveals my own existence as deriving its total being from his. (p. 31)

finding our identity in our Creator:

  • By accepting our identities from the one who is the giver of all life, we can be with each other without distance or fear. (p. 44)

incarnational compassion:

  • Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human… (p. 44)

I highly recommend Show Me The Way to anyone looking for a book of daily Lenten readings. I found myself almost every day being blown away by the power of Nouwen’s words. This book is a deep dive into reflecting on the condition of your heart and how that translates into how we live in our world. To quote Nouwen again: “The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it” (p. 109).

Reading Show Me The Way through Lent was such a meaningful experience and it will certainly be a part of my annual Lenten experience moving forward.

nouwen