The Day the Revolution Began

Screen Shot 2016-10-15 at 9.10.12 AMPersonal Thoughts, by John Frye

Scot McKnight is posting about The Day the Revolution Began, the latest book by scholar-historian-pastor N. T. Wright. I have read the book and found it fascinating, accessible, and courageous. Wright even admits that as he was writing the book, he reconsidered some of his own positions and changed them as he diligently examined the sacred text. Disagreeing with many who promote a traditional (Reformation-informed) view of the atonement as expressed in Romans 3:21-26, Wright walks the reader through that specific text (pages 295-351) with the skill of a jeweler examining the facets of a beautiful diamond. Wright’s uncanny ability to see Israel’s story culminating in Jesus the Messiah and shining through the prism of Paul’s letters to the Church is flat-out brilliant. As a pastor, let me share some of my thoughts about this book

Why do so many evangelical scholars treat theology as a museum to be curated rather than a Bible-embedded mountain range to be adventurously explored? I am so glad Martin Luther and John Calvin didn’t see their theological task as the process of preserving received Medieval religious views. Is theology only about preservation and not exploration? Is the theological orientation toward the past or toward the in-breaking eschatological future? Through Luther’s risky passion for the Books of Galatians and Romans, a stunning light flashed out into the theological world. I don’t think Martin Luther would envision future scholars merely encasing his findings in glass and leading guided tours for interested Christians. We honor the Reformers best by being Reformers in our own time.

Enter E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright who sparked a creative, if not controversial conversation by revisiting some tenets of Reformation theology. Those disagreeing with Wright have tried to examine, try, and convict him of, if not heresy, a serious mishandling of the New Testament text and the grand story of the Bible. What struck me is Wright’s repeated assurance that he has not undermined or done away with the sparkling Reformation themes. To reject theological formulations is not the same as rejecting the inspired text. An irony of the whole discussion is that Wright seems to diligently take the text much more seriously than most of his detractors.

Part Four “The Revolution Continues” is comprised of chapters 14 (“Passover People”) and 15 (“The Powers and the Power of Love”). Here N. T. Wright leads us from the theological classroom and from the historian’s study into the church and world. We are passionately led to the cross of Jesus (as informed by Wright’s findings). Without flinching Wright calls into the cruciform life. We must release a Western-culture informed triumphalism that is a shallow veneer of “Christian victory.” We must repent of our sophisticated idolatry in the church. Within the shadow of the cross, words like forgiveness, salvation, reconciliation, love, and gospel take on a depth sorely missing in our feel-good American evangelicalism. “[The cross] has lost none of its revolutionary and transformative power down through the centuries. … Celebrate the revolution that happened once and for all when the power of love overcame the love of power. And, in the power of that same love, join the revolution here and now” (416).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.