Top critical review
Reviewed in the United States on August 12, 2021
N. T. Wright claims to have answers to all the big questions of life … or at least seven of them. By probing down below the surface “to see things the way God sees them,” Wright mines for us the golden truths that make sense of those innate human longings for universal ideals of justice, love, spirituality, beauty, freedom, truth and power. Wright knows why mankind has failed to realize these ideals in the past, and what must be done to manifest them in the here and now. You could hardly ask for anything more than that, so let’s take a look!
Wright finds his answers to life’s big questions and the solutions to all the world’s problems in the book of John. So, for example, we see that Jesus endured and overcame hatred with love, and so should we. Jesus endured and overcame lies with truth, and that’s what we should do. Jesus endured and overcame injustice with righteousness; go and do likewise. That’s about it folks. Need I go through all seven? Its quite underwhelming.
Does the esteemed professor really have nothing more to offer than the ’90s youth group fad bracelets “What Would Jesus Do”? If he does, I really couldn’t find it, notwithstanding Wright’s repeated proclamations that he is providing “fresh and unexpected insight,” and “fresh, creative ways forward,” and a “fresh understanding of the way the world is,” and a “fresh vision of spirituality” and a “startling fresh reality.” While the book may have lots of freshness stains on the outside, its just stale donuts on the inside.
Besides the banal message, there is a serious flaw in Wright’s methodology. If you are claiming that the answers to man’s existential questions are all in the Bible, its incumbent that the Bible be presented as authoritative, especially in these postmodern times when all metanarratives are suspect and postmodernism itself admits of a “legitimation crisis.” But Wright does not do that. To the contrary, when it comes to Scripture, he essentially adopts Bruce Lee’s maxim on the martial arts: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Wright’s ultimate authority is N. T. Wright, and that won’t cut it for most people.
Finally, Wright just can’t put out a book anymore without taking shots at the Christians he most despises, namely, those who have a present hope in the imminent return of Jesus Christ, and those who believe their sins have been forgiven by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. In mocking the latter in a recent book, History and Eschatology, he recast John 3:16 as stating: “God so hated the world that he killed Jesus.” Here he dials it down a bit by simply characterizing Biblical accounts of sacrificial atonement as ancient Israel’s misguided co-opting of pagan cultic practices.
As to those who look for Christ’s return, Wright dismisses their hope as escapist and claims they are shirking their obligation to transform the present world into a Christian utopia. Wright’s Prime Directive to followers of Jesus is to “bring the new creation into existence.” This type of talk calls to mind Friedrich Holderlin’s caution: "What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven."
I, for one, am not confident enough in Wright's supreme authority to want to live in a world of his making. To use his metaphor, while he's supposedly fixed the broken signposts, he's still not got them pointed in the right direction.