Asbury Seminary’s Seedbed website has posted my review of How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by Nicholas Thomas Wright. This is an important book. Check it out by clicking this word right here.
1) In the Old Testament, Israel as a whole and individuals within the larger group repeatedly express their concern that God would be so gracious as to forgive their sins. For a random sampling check out Joshua 24:19, 1 Samuel 25:28, 1 Kings 8; Psalm 25:18; Psalm 79:9. And just open up the prophets pretty much anywhere.
2) The Old Testament is virtually devoid of any concern that Israel might have the privilege of going to heaven after death. One is buried with one’s fathers, or one goes to Sheol, or something. The afterlife in the Old Testament is alarmingly vague.
Therefore, Israel considered the forgiveness of sins to be very important and even urgent, but it was not because they wanted to be assured that a positive afterlife is waiting for them.
Question: Does this make sense to Christians?
If the Christian thinks Forgiveness of Sins equals “I’m going to heaven!” then it probably doesn’t make much sense at all.
So the next question is, What are we missing? Why should we yearn for God’s forgiveness in this life, on this day, and in this moment?
What Israel knew and what we so often don’t even acknowledge is that God is Father, provider, judge — and savior — now. He doesn’t only show up and he isn’t only important when you die.
If Christians were more in touch with the Story, particularly as it is revealed in the Old Testament, our proclamation of the gospel might not have deteriorated to the point that the most important question becomes “Do you know where you’d go if you died today?”
To do justice to the true nature of the biblical gospel, we need a better question. How about, “Do you know who God is?”
O my lord, I am not a man of words, neither yesterday nor before that, nor even in your speaking to your servant, for I am sluggish of mouth and sluggish of tongue.
– Moses, Exodus 4:10
So, they say, my letters are weighty and strong but my bodily presence is weak and my speech appalling.
– Paul, 2 Corinthians 10:10
These two great men, absolutely pivotal figures in the biblical story, readily admit that they don’t provide the allure of eloquence or embody a strong charisma.
And in our day, as Ben Witherington says, “We take the America’s Got Talent approach to deciding who does what in worship” (We Have Seen His Glory: A Vision of Kingdom Worship, 40). Yep. And some of our largest churches are pastored by people who could’ve fallen back on standup comedy. That’s not a coincidence.
As Paige Brown points out, what are the first (and heaven forbid, only) observations we make when evaluating people for ministry positions?
“She’s so darlin’!” “He’s so sharp.” “They are just so good in front of people?”
What about … Paige says … “Do they pray?” “Does she repent?” “Is he confrontable?” “Is she sacrificial with her time and with her money?” “Does he weep?”
These two great men, apparently lacking everything that we look for in our leaders. (Other records indicate that Paul may have been just downright unattractive).
What is it about them that made them God’s leaders?
Yahweh does not see what man sees. For man sees the appearance but Yahweh sees the heart.
-Yahweh, 1 Samuel 16:7