Book Review—The Scriptures, the Cross, & the Power of God

The Scriptures, the Cross, & the Power of God: Reflections for Holy Week by Tom (N. T.) Wright. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. xi, 84 pp. $12.95/paperback.

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No indices

Front Cover | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover

ISBNs: 0664230512 & 9780664230517

LCCN: BT414 .W75 2006

DCN: 242.36 WRI

Subjects: Easter, Christianity

Tom (N. T.) Wright (b. 1948) is the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is one of Great Britain’s most respected New Testament scholars. In 1999, Christianity Today named him as one of the top five theologians in the world. He has authored several books and is most noted for his “Everyone” series of commentaries.

The significance of the events of Holy Week is sometimes missed in the midst of the pageantry and programs that are prepared to celebrate the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. In a series of messages for Holy Week 2005, Bishop Tom Wright draws our attention to some of those specific events in order to help us have “enriched understanding” and “empowered living out” of the Christian faith (p. x). He uses Matthew 22:29 as the challenge for all those who misinterpret the week and therefore miss some of its grandest teachings. In Matthew 22:29, Jesus declared that the Sadducees were in error about the resurrection because “they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (p. x). When the Scriptures and the power of God are properly understood, Holy Week takes on a whole new significance and has ramifications for Christian living, today.

Wright walks you through the Week with a new angle and gives a fresh perspective to a well trodden path.Each of these chapters was originally a sermon delivered in Durham Cathedral during the week. They were compiled with very little editing, so they read as they were spoken. His logic is generally clear, but you need to pay attention to his steps in order to keep up. Each address begins with Wright’s own translation of the passage. Beginning on Palm Sunday and going through Maundy Thursday morning, Wright takes a close look at the teachings and parables of Jesus in Matthew 21:33-23:12. On Maundy Thursday evening and into Good Friday, he moves to John’s Gospel to discuss the betrayal and trial of Jesus. He goes back to Matthew for the Easter Vigil on Saturday with a look at chapter 28:1-10. Finally, he ends with John’s account of the Resurrection (John 20), emphasizing the fact that Easter is more than just “life after death.” Easter is more importantly “the beginning of that ‘life after life after death’, that after-after life” (p. 80).

While adequately addressing the different issues of each parable, teaching situation, and physical event, Wright never lets his main theme for the week go unnoticed. For example, in the conclusion of his interpretation of the parable of the wedding guests in Matthew 22, Wright says the following:

The Scriptures and the power of God come rushing together in the person of God’s Messiah, only to go tumbling with Him, down, down into the dark, bottomless pit of sorrow and shame. And only when we have stood aghast for three days on the edge of that pit will be in any fit condition to speak once more of the wedding banquet, of the lavish welcome, of the new Temple, of robes of true holiness, and of hope. Only when we have pondered what it cost the king to prepare the wedding banquet of his son dare we once more call God Father and pray for the coming of his kingdom (p. 19).

Wright also weaves his theme into Christ’s discussion with the Pharisees about the Messiah as David’s Lord and David’s son, in this way:

Knowing the Scriptures and the power of God, he [Jesus] was rooted in those texts which spoke of the Messiah precisely as the one who would share God’s throne; and he combined them with those texts which spoke of the Messiah suffering and being vindicated (p. 37).

Wright later suggests in the context of the Upper Room that Christ not only knew the Scriptures and Power of God but was also the embodiment of the Scriptures and the power:

Like heaven and earth, they [glory and love] are joined forever in the Servant, the son of man, the wounded, betrayed but victorious Jesus, completing the scriptures, alive with the vulnerable power of God, made known to us in the breaking of the bread (p. 56).

Wright is a tremendous scholar, and the reader gets the flavor of his scholarship in these messages. He made many of his points by assuming that his audience knew the Scriptures well. This practice suggests that he was mainly speaking to a well-educated or clerical audience. Another area that may present difficulty for some is the use of Anglican liturgical terminology. Once again, the makeup of the audience would account for this issue.

The strengths of this book lie in the same place as the weaknesses. Wright uses his scholarship to artfully achieve his goal of looking at these passages from a new angle. Also, the major theme for the week was aptly applied and integrated into each message. These messages were also an ample seed bed for other themes surrounding Holy Week: Temple Cleansing (Literal and Personal), Money (Tribute & Betrayal), and Historical (Christ connection to the Intertestamental period).

I generally liked the book. It is a quick read, but it is most effective when read during the corresponding days of Holy Week. This is my first introduction to N.T. Wright, and I would not recommend it as a first read from him. I had to do some outside reading (mainly from online articles) to get a better perspective on his position. I would recommend this book only to someone who is already a fan of Wright and who is discerning enough to overlook the sprinklings of Anglican-specific doctrine.

Personally, I was challenged most by his message for Maundy Thursday morning. In the Anglican tradition, time is set aside on Maundy Thursday for church officials to renew their clerical vows. His message was from Matthew 23:1-12. He emphasized the need for integrity and humility in the lives of those who work in full-time ministry. Wright challenged the clergy with these words:

Pride at one’s own humility is one of the last-hiding places of the tempter—and it comes all too easily to those who, for social, cultural, or psychological reasons, incline naturally towards inverted snobbery, which is simply another form of pride (p. 45).

Then, however, lest we get too caught up in our self-abasement and introspection, Wright adds, “Part of genuine humility is to get up, shake oneself out of convoluted navel-gazing, and get on cheerfully with the work we’ve been given” (p. 47).

The Scriptures, the Cross, & the Power of God clearly emphasizes the need for Christians to have a thorough understanding of Scripture. As Scripture is fully understood, God’s power is revealed. In Ephesians 1:18-20, Paul prays that the Ephesian believers would know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward, who believe… . which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” Wright brings his theme to bear on us in this way:

The Scriptures and the Power of God are now yours, your strength, your energy, your comfort, your guide; because they point to Jesus, the Jesus who died and is alive for evermore and who meets you on Easter morning with greeting and commissioning. (pp. 73-74)

The same power that was used to raise Christ is now made available for all those who believe. The Scriptures teach us that we have the power to live every day victoriously as “Easter people” (p. 84).

hayden.jpgAnthony Hayden currently serves as the music director of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church (Lebanon, IN). Prior to his present ministry, he and his wife, Mary, taught for two years at a Christian school on the island of Saipan in the western Pacific. Anthony graduated from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) in 2000 with a B.Mus. in Church Music and an M.A. in Teaching Bible in 2002. Anthony and Mary have a one-year-old daughter, Mercy.
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