N. T. Wright, How God Became King (New York: HarperOne, 2012).
Part Three of the Bishop's new book turns to "The Kingdom and the Cross." Here, Wright will bring together the themes of the book and address a more comprehensive reading of the Gospels based upon his proposals thus far. The three chapters in this section are pivotal to the themes of gospel and kingship which have been present throughout.
One of the fundamental challenges here, and I like this point a lot, is that the church has too often taken the Gospels and made them ordinary. Instead of seeing them as documents of a new world and a new kingdom, we have taken them down to the realm of average, and therefore have a message which is not transformative. Again, this is a powerful point, not only for the argument of the book but for the church as a whole. But perhaps we need to be renewed in our minds before we can be renewed in our ministry.
Wright contends that we have separated the kingdom from the cross, emphasizing one over the other instead of keeping them in proper balance (159ff.). "We have lived for many years now with 'kingdom Christians' and 'cross Christians' in opposite corners of the room, anxious that those on the other side are missing the point, the one group with its social-gospel agenda and other with its saving-souls-for-heaven agenda" (159). The emphasis, the Bishop contends, should be held in the balance of these two concepts - there is no kingdom without the cross; there is no cross without the kingdom.
One of the problems, which Wright includes in this chapter, is that what God has done to become king is counterintuitive to fallen humanity. He has become king through the path of humiliation, suffering and death of Jesus as Messiah, and has thus defeated sin and death through the power of the resurrection. This new creation has begun, though it is still not readily recognized by many in the course of the church and history. This is the truth of the gospel, too often pushed and discarded by our culture.
Combating this has been a challenge for Christians, who have not seen (or accepted) the complete story of the gospel and its impact on the world. An extended quote from Wright: "We owe it to ourselves, to the gospels, to the church, and, not least, to the poor and oppressed in the world not simply to produce a vaguely biblical echo of today's fashionable left-wing critique, but to read the New Testament afresh and to try to discern the deeper and more powerful pathways it offers through morass of social and political uncertainty. Perhaps we have been looking for hope in the wrong places" (168, emphasis mine).
Making a connection to power and empire in first century Judaism, Wright further pushes the point that what God has done to become king through Jesus the Messiah is in direct opposition to conventional wisdom and power. Wright calls this chapter "a necessary digression" (174), and perhaps it is off the rhythm of his main theme. However, it is a reminder of Where We Got Stuck and the need to hear the message of the gospel afresh within our hearts and our church communities.