Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Challenge of Easter - N. T. Wright

Leap for joy

The Challenge of Easter
Author: N. T. Wright
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 64

In Luke’s gospel we see the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus. Not long afterwards, Mary visited her relative Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with the child that would become John the Baptist. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, Scripture tells us that the baby leaped in her womb. Being suddenly filled with the Spirit, she exclaims, “Behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44 ESV). Someone might rightly wonder what this prelude to the Christmas story has to do with The Challenge of Easter by N. T. Wright?

Obviously, without the birth of Christ there would be no Easter story, but that is not my reason for reminding us of the joy surrounding two historic births. As I read this slim volume, and especially as I progressed into the practical applications of Christ’s resurrection, which Wright rightly sees as the beginning of God’s new order—along with the crucifixion, a pivotal event in history—my spirit like the baby in the womb was leaping for joy.

Why is it that reading N. T. Wright can make me leap for joy on the inside? Let me use his own words where he describes our work as Christians to provide somewhat of an answer: “Your task is to find the symbolic ways of doing things differently, planting flags in hostile soil, setting up signposts that say there is a different way to be human. And when people are puzzled at what you are doing, find ways—fresh ways—of telling the story of the return of the human race from its exile, and use those stories as your explanation.” In his books, Wright models this idea of expressing the truth in fresh ways. This, along with a winsome blend of wit, wisdom and his expansive views when I sometimes fail to see the big picture, is what I find so endearing about his writing.

In this book, it all starts with a look at the resurrection as a historical problem. Wright shows that from the beginning Christianity was not just a kingdom of God but a resurrection movement. He then goes into Paul’s theology of the resurrection as a two-stage movement: “The Messiah first, then finally the resurrection of all those who belong to the Messiah.” From there he moves to the gospel accounts where “John tells us quite plainly Easter day is the first day of the week…. Easter day is the first day of God’s new creation. Easter morning was the birthday of God’s new world.”

The last two sections deal with the practical outworking of it all. Being in the middle of “the beginning of the End and the end of the End, should enable us to come to terms with our vocation to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel, and in the power of the Spirit to forgive and retain sins…. We are like the musicians called to play and sing the unique and once-only-written musical score.”

Wright concludes by unpacking what it means to be “kingdom-announcers” and “crossbearers” as we model a new way of being human. Concerning the latter my spirit rejoiced at these words: “God forgive us that we have imagined true humanness, after the Enlightenment model, to mean being successful, having it all together, having all the answers, never making mistakes, striding through the world as though we owned it.”

In answer to the challenges of our day, he shares a beautiful way forward: “The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the postpost-modern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom.”

This book is excerpted and adapted from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is.

Thinking about this book reminds me of a popular worship song that includes the thought that nothing is the same; everything has changed. Christ is risen! A new order has dawned. The path of those who through faith in Christ have become God’s children grows brighter and brighter till it reaches the full light of day. When I hear about Christ, the resurrection and all that entails, especially when it is expressed in fresh ways, my spirit leaps for joy.
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