Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: The Challenge of Easter

book cover

The Challenge of Easter
by N.T. Wright

Trade Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: InterVarsity Press
First Released: 2009

Source: Won this book in a giveaway by another book blogger.

Back Cover Description:
Why do we celebrate Easter? Lost among the colored eggs and chocolate candies is Easter's bold, almost unbelievable claim: Jesus has risen from the dead, and now everything is different.

Historian, biblical scholar and bestselling author N. T. Wright, in this excerpt from The Challenge of Jesus, takes a step back from the hoopla surrounding Easter to look at it in its earliest context, where we see a band of followers discovering the fulfillment of all the promises God had made to their people over the centuries, and pronouncing a new era that unsettled their friends and scandalized their oppressors. That era extends to our day, where to celebrate Easter is to receive an invitation to live as though God is among us, making everything new.

The Challenge of Easter was written by a New Testament historian who's also a bishop (in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I think). This book is more for professing Christians than unbelievers. The author assumed the reader would agree with him and so didn't give much actual evidence to back up his claims.

He mainly focused on how the Jewish disciples of Jesus would have viewed his resurrection and how they would have understood the phrase "the kingdom of God." Referring to the Bible (mainly 1 Corinthians 15), he showed that they really were claiming that Jesus died, came to life again, and had a physical body after his resurrection. He had some ideas that I've never heard before but appear to be Bible-based, so it made me think. The writing was also a bit formal and got technical at times.

The last chapter didn't make much sense to me and most of it didn't seem related to the Resurrection. It seemed to be about how we can apply the early Christian understanding of the kingdom of God to our lives today. He may have been referring to some Catholic teachings, as he clearly did so once without explaining what he meant. Since I'm a Protestant, this may have been the source of my confusion. However, I do know that some of what he said in this chapter went counter to clear teachings of the Bible.

People interested in Jewish messianic expectations in Jesus time would probably find reading this book worthwhile. Otherwise, More Than a Carpenter covered much of this same information in a more thorough, easy to understand fashion, so I'd recommend reading that instead.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
At the heart of the Christian faith lies the question of Jesus' resurrection. Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did? The early Christians themselves reply: we exist because of Jesus' resurrection.

There is no form of early Christianity known to us--though there are some that have been invented by ingenious scholars--that does not affirm at its heart that after Jesus' shameful death God raised him to life again. Already by the time of Paul, our earliest written witness, the resurrection of Jesus is woven into the very structure of Christian life and thought, informing (among other things) baptism, justification, ethics and the future hope both for humans and for the cosmos.

It has of course been argued, indeed insisted upon in many circles that whatever we mean by the resurrection of Jesus, it is not accessible to historical investigation. There have been several false trails in the investigation of this question, not least at a popular or semipopular level.

Barbara Thiering proposed that Jesus and the others crucified with him did not die, despite the two others having their legs broken, and that one of them was actually Simon Magus who was a doctor and had some medicine with him which he gave to Jesus in the tomb so that he revived and was able to resume his career, traveling around with Paul and the others, not to mention getting married and having children. This is simply a new and highly imaginative twist on an old hypothesis, that Jesus did not really die on the cross. As has been shown often enough, the Romans knew how to kill people, and the reappearance of a battered and exhausted Jesus would hardly be likely to suggest to his followers something for which they were certainly not prepared, namely, that he had gone through death and out the other side.


@bibledude said...

This is a good, informative review! I'm glad that the book challenged your thinking, and I appreciate the honest perspective on what it has to offer. I'm glad that I was able to get a copy of this book into your hands! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

Debbie, ChristFocus Book Club said...


I'm glad you liked the review, and thanks again for the opportunity to read it.