An Interview with N. T. Wright

Over at Christianity Today, Michael Bird interviewed N. T. Wright on his newest release, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. The questions raised by Bird and Wright’s answers are very significant. I found one answer in particular interesting. The questions are:

Tom, you describe Jesus’ death as the beginning of a “revolution.” What was that revolution and why does it still matter today?

Even as Western cultures grow more secular, we still find the Crucifixion presented in art and echoed in music. Plus the notion of sacrifice for others is still very much a Christian theme that novels like Harry Potter seem to borrow from. Why do you think the cross, its image and message, is so captivating?

We tend to think of the cross as a very churchy or religious symbol, like the Apple logo or the McDonald’s sign, but what did the Crucifixion mean for people in the first century?

A lot of preaching and teaching about the cross takes the form of a syllogism along the lines: He is a holy God; we are sinful people; therefore, we need a God-man to die on cross to take our guilt away. However, you suggest that while there is a kind of logic to that, it really misses the main point. The cross is not the resolution of two opposing premises, but rather it is the climax to a grand story. How so?

You provocatively say in the book that a lot of Reformation churches, including your own Anglican tradition, have often failed to know what to do with Easter. Well, what are we to do with Easter, in particular, Good Friday?

We often focus on what Paul or John thought about Jesus’ death. But what did Jesus think about his approaching death, how was it part of his messianic mission, and what did he think his death would achieve?

When the early church tried to explain why the Messiah had to die and what his death achieved, they naturally looked to the Old Testament. What biblical images or stories did they rehearse when it came to explaining the significance of Jesus’ death?

When we say that Jesus died for us, what does the “for” mean?

[Wright responds] The “for” is itself explained by “in accordance with the Scriptures.” In the Bible, Israel is God’s chosen people for the sake of the world; then various people, like prophets, priests, and kings are chosen for the sake of Israel; then, at the time of the exile, the remnant was chosen as a kind of “true Israel”—a concept we find in many writings of the time, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The point is that what happens to this group—and, in Jesus’ own vocation and the church’s perception, to this one man—happens on behalf of the whole world. So, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:1–4, there is “no condemnation” for those who are “in Messiah Jesus”—those who belong to him by faith and baptism—because in his death God “condemned sin in the flesh.” The millennia-old representation had narrowed down to one point, and the punishment of Sin itself—the dark force behind all our actual sins—took place once and for all. That is what we ought to mean when we say, as of course I do, that he died “in our place and on our behalf.” We should, however, beware of shorthand formulations (including my own!). In good biblical theology, the summaries mean what they mean within the larger story of the Bible as a whole and, not least, the Gospels as a whole.

There is a great hymn called “In Christ Alone,” which says that on the cross “the wrath of God was satisfied.” But you argue that we must not forget the love of God here either. So what does the cross have to do with the love of God?

Finally, if you had to preach one biblical text on the cross, what would it be, and roughly what would you say?

DOWNLOAD the whole thing and read Wright’s responses.

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