Last night, I finished up Tom Wright’s book, Simply Jesus. I plan to provide a short review of the book, along with its companion, How God Became King. But, for now, I thought I would share a quote from the book which I found challenging.
As is his approach in many of his books, in the final chapter, Wright brings out some practical implications on the subject at hand, mainly what it means for Jesus to be king in our world today. To this question, here are some of his thoughts on what this might look like:
The Beatitudes are much more than a ‘new rule of life’, as though one could practise them in private, away from the world. Jesus rules the world through those who launch new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing things: jubilee projects to remit ridiculous and unpayable debt, housing trusts that provide accommodation for low-income families or homeless people, local and sustainable agricultural projects that care for creation instead of destroying it in the hope of quick profit, and so on. We have domesticated the Christian idea of ‘good works’, so that it has simply become ‘the keeping of ethical commands’. In the New Testament, ‘good works’ are what Christians are supposed to be doing in and for the wider community. That is how the sovereignty of Jesus is put into effect. (p216, italics his)
There are 2 problems that can exist amongst Christians:
1) We reduce ‘good works’ to only our personal moral values.
Living out the life of Christ and his kingdom becomes solely about personal quiet times, only watching certain types of films or listening to certain types of music, not letting certain words be a part of our vocabulary, etc. Of course, when the rule of God transforms a human being, it affects deeply within the life of that person. But it also calls that transformed person to connect with the wider transformed community to affect the not-yet transformed community at large.
2) We identify such wider projects as part of a ‘social gospel’.
In the context, some might challenge this approach with words like this – People are only about being nice by helping the poor and disadvantaged, but aren’t too worried about their eternal destiny and making the gospel known to them. But that’s just it – Christ calls us to a) announce the good news that he is in charge and is making all things new and b) join in the project of seeing all things come under his rule and be made new. Of course, he has promised himself to make all things new. But he has still asked us to join in this project with him. Announcing the good news will, by implication, mean living it out as well. And if the good news is that God has become king through Jesus, and has now begun a restoration project for humanity and creation, and it certainly is this, then we need to enact these things as the transformed community of Christ. The life of eternity has already begun. The destiny of the life of the age to come is present now. And so we call people to be reconciled now and become even now part of God’s restorative rule.
This can take the form of so many varying things, as Wright suggest in his own words above. A centre for troubled youth, serving refugees on a weekly basis with games and activities, providing sandwiches and water for the homeless in a certain part of the city, etc. And, yes, this will open the door to input the life of Christ into people, to call people to our Father. But let us be careful to not approach these people as our ‘gospel projects’. Well, the only reason we are doing these ‘other’ things is so that we can get to the important stuff – telling them about Jesus and how they need to be saved.
Yes, we want to make Jesus known to people. But could we actually form relationships where we serve to serve? Let things come together authentically, not rushed or feeling a bit fake.
The world is waiting to see what it really means for Jesus to be in charge, to be the king who is making all things new. Christ is waiting for us to join in with him.
And so, I quote Wright’s final words of the book:
This is what it looks like, today, when Jesus is running the world. This is, after all, what he told us to expect. The poor in spirit will be making the kingdom of God happen. The meek will be taking over the earth, so gently that the powerful won’t notice until it’s too late. The peacemakers will be putting the arms [weapons] manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice will be analysing government policy and legal rulings and speaking up on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. The merciful will be surprising everybody by showing that there is a different way to do human relations other than being judgmental, eager to put everyone else down. ‘You are the light of the world,’ said Jesus. ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ He was announcing a programme yet to be completed. He was inviting his hearers, then and now, to join him in making it happen. This is, quite simply, what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned. (p229-230)