One of the career-long projects of N.T (Tom) Wright has been the “question of God,” and if you read his New Testament and the People of God you will remember his use of the lower case “god” in that book as he was setting up a major proposal as his (now) three volume set develops. (The other books are: Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God, with volume four on Paul now finding its way to completion as Tom chips away at it in St. Andrews.)
What has been your approach? Know God, see God in Jesus? or Know Jesus, see God? What happens to “theology” if Jesus is the revelation of who God is and what God is like?
At the heart of that project was that too many folks said “This is who God is and what God is like, now does Jesus fit that?” In other words, many presume they know what God is like already. Wright’s proposal was to work the way around (and there are echoes of Barth here but in spite of digging I’ve not seen anything explicit about Barth in Wright): namely, since we know who Jesus and what he was like, and since he is the revelation of God, we now know who God is and what God is like.
In Wright’s newest book, How God Became King, Wright explores the image of needing four speakers all set to the right settings to hear the Gospels well. If the first speaker concerned the Story of Israel, which speaker has become all but muted, the second speaker is the Story of Israel’s God. And Wright contends this speaker has been set to way-too-loud, and it screeches “Jesus is God, we know who God is, the deity of Christ is what matters, the creeds tell us this.” So it’s a matter of proving Jesus is God and showing those who deny deity are wrong. Wright helpfully warns us that we have to avoid letting the Enlightenment set the terms of what “deity of Christ” means.
So he sketches the biblical story of God: temple, image of God, dwelling with Israel, withdrawing and coming back again to re-dwell in the Temple with Israel. So the Story is the Story of God returning to Zion to end the exile of Israel.
It is right here that Wright is making his major proposal on God: we are to read the Gospels as the Story of God’s returning to Israel, to Zion, to the Temple and Jesus is that presence of God. He calls this a “high” Jewish christology. The approach here is not “we know what deity means” but “Does Jesus fulfill those expectations of the return of God to Zion?”
Mark: begins on this very note, that is, with the return of God to Zion as prophesied by Isaiah, and this presence is in Jesus himself. He points to God to explain what he is doing. “Who is this?” drives people to the Old Testament to find passages about God (Mark 4:35-41; cf. Pss 65:7; 89:9; 107:28-29). God’s “son” is along these lines too.
Matthew and Luke: Wright traces Israel’s God coming to Israel and returning to Israel to explain passages like Matthew 1 (name is Yahweh is salvation, Immanuel – God with us) and 28 (I will be with you), and Luke’s “day of visitation” — both Gospel say essentially “seeing Jesus, thinking God”.
John: John connects Israel’s Story and new creation and new temple all in Jesus, who “tabernacles” with us in John 1 and who is the temple and who fulfills the festivals and feasts.
We get a different view of God and we get it because we are to see in Jesus the return of God to Israel, and therefore there is an altogether new kind of kingdom.