When the good Bishop N. T. Wright has a new book out it’s an automatic purchase for me at this point. And Wright does not disappoint with The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright examines the meaning of Jesus’ death in his usual lucid style, with a focus on what understanding the first-century Christians would’ve had of that death.
Wright keys on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. This launches him on a review of the Old Testament idea of salvation and forgiveness of sins, and how for Israel “forgiveness of sins” was closely tied to the covenant promise of restoration from exile.
Wright then takes the reader through the various New Testament discussions of the meaning of the crucifixion to make the case that “salvation” isn’t really primarily about individual salvation (though individuals are saved), but is rather about the restoration and blessing of the whole earth through Israel in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham.
Wright, as usual, says some things that undoubtedly set some conservative theologians on edge. Notable among these is his contention that Jesus’ death isn’t really about some sort of penal substitution. That, says Wright, is still buying into a system of works righteousness – even if the works aren’t our works – that isn’t borne out in the Bible’s view of God’s love as shown in His covenant promises.
Wright makes the case that salvation is really about much more than we are led to believe. And while he acknowledges that theologians will typically provide a more nuanced view, he believes (and I agree) that at the lay level in evangelicalism, the understanding of salvation is very individual and transactional – people sin, which makes God angry, a price must be paid, Jesus pays that price to step in the way of God’s anger, people are saved to go to heaven. I don’t think that Wright would disagree with any of those statements… from a certain point of view. However, his picture of salvation is much wider and more appealing. It’s really worth a read and consideration.
This volume would be a nice companion piece to go alongside Surprised by Hope – which itself is still the volume I’d encourage people to read if they need an intro to Wright. Good stuff.