Guest Reviewer: Dr James Graham, retired Christian GP from Glasgow.
Professor Tom Wright is an eminent New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham. He is the author of many books but this is the first of his I have read.
In the Preface he says of Jesus,
“The question is fairly simple: who exactly was he? This includes the questions, What did he think he was up to? What did he do and say, why was he killed and did he rise from the dead? The challenge is likewise fairly simple: since he called people to follow him, and since people have been trying to do that ever since, what might ‘following him’ entail? How can we know if we are on the right track?”
Immediately we get the impression that answering these questions is going to be anything but simple. All of us have preconceived ideas about Jesus, his mission and how we should try to follow him. We have favourite ‘proof texts’ or ways of interpreting the parables. We have observed Christians who should reflect Christ in their lives and we form distorted and often contradictory images of what Jesus and his message were and are.
Tom Wright uses the image of the ‘perfect storm’, which must have at least three elements. He begins with a physical storm in the north Atlantic in 1991 and leads us through modern political storms, theological storms and back to first century Judaism and the perfect storm which led to the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is brilliantly written, distilling as Rowan Williams says, “Immense scholarship into a vivid, clear and accessible form.” The book reads like a ‘who done it’ except that there is a what, a why, a when, a how and a where, as well as a who in the story. As I read it I found myself being drawn deeper and deeper into the story with keen anticipation of where we were going next.
If I have one criticism of this book it is a very personal one. As a person who reads for information rather than for the joy of reading I sometimes found myself muttering under my breath, “Hurry up and get to the point.” Others who enjoy reading for reading’s sake will find this a positive feature of the book. There is no doubt that Tom Wright leads us gently, with clarity and enjoyment through what could be a complex and confusing account.
The book is a good antidote to those who argue that Christians don’t think about what they believe but simply accept blindly what they are told. I thoroughly recommend this to all who want to know more about Jesus and especially to those who think they know him.