Simply Good News

Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good

By N.T. Wright

This latest book by N. T. Wright, Simply Good News, presents a compelling observation of the Western church — that we have developed a debilitating case of amnesia about the meaning of the word “gospel.”Wright believes that we have forgotten that the gospel is, first and foremost, news. And that it is not boring, stale, or irrelevant, but that it is supremely good news

By defining news as an unexpected twist or surprise in the plot of a long story – a development that changes everything – and good news as an event that points to vastly improved circumstances not only for the present but also for the future, Wright sets the scene for us to awaken our somnolent memory about what the gospel is, and why it has the vigor and strength to affect lives today.

One point of interest that appears frequently in the book, and about which Wright is obviously passionate, is the idea that Christians today separate heaven from earth, something he calls a “split-level universe,” and do not see them as being united through the salvation work of Christ. Over his many years of meeting people in his calling as a pastor, teacher, and speaker, Wright concludes that many people who come to Christ seem to think that life on earth is a long and dreary period of time that must be endured, that heaven is the one and only goal of the Christian life. Wright states that such thinking “is seriously misleading.” He goes on to say, “God made this world of space, time, and matter; he loves it, and he is going to renew it… The whole truth is that Jesus himself, in his risen, physical body, is the beginning of God’s new creation. He not only presides over that new creation; he is that new creation, in person. (Col 1:18) This is where the good news provides the launching pad, not for people to go to heaven, but for people to discover that God’s new world has begun and we can be a part of it. Welcome to the full meaning of the good news.”

Wright isn’t talking pie-in-the-sky lingo here. I believe he is saying that Christians may miss the idea that living the kingdom life on earth is the way that God intended us to be involved in his mission. Leonard Sweet put it well on his Facebook status from 3/17/15: “We are saved not for heaven but for the world. Our mission is not in heaven; our mission is on Earth. In the words of the angelic visitors, the ‘good news’ is of ‘peace on earth, good will toward all.’ God’s dream for humanity is not that we might become ‘angelic’ but that we might flourish as human beings.”

Wright touches on several thought provoking subjects in his book, such as the difference between good advice and Good News, the fact that resurrection is about life after life, and the nature of God as Creator, Judge, and Lover.

Here is a paragraph about God the Lover from the chapter called “Surprised by God”:

“The great medieval Italian poet Dante ended his masterpiece by invoking: ‘the love that moves the sun and the other stars.’ If today we hear that as a sentimental metaphor, it is because our vision of love is too small. Dante had grasped something deep within the thought of ancient Israel, deep within the good news of the first followers of Jesus, deep within the mind and heart and the vocation of Jesus: the good news that there is a God, a God who made the world, a God who made the world not because he was forced to but because his inmost nature is generous, exuberant love. This is the basis of all other good news: that the power behind the cosmos is not blind chance, nor yet brute force, but love.”

The final chapter in the book is called “Praying the Good News.” Here Wright shares his thoughts about the importance of prayer, and then goes through the Lord’s Prayer backwards. That is, he begins at the end and walks us through it from the final phrases to the opening words, as though walking through a house from the back door to the front door. Intriguing? Yes. And provocative and valuable. I believe it is a good thing to have the familiar broken open and spilled out afresh – both the Lord’s Prayer and the Good News.

Toward the end of Simply Good News, Wright says, “… what I have been concerned about in this book is clarifying what the first followers of Jesus meant when they talked about the good news, in order to clarify what that might mean for us today.”

I appreciate N.T. Wright’s ability to look at the big picture of the Christian life and see that somehow our perspective has become skewed as we read the sign over the church that says “Good News”. Wright is a skillful, scholarly and refreshing writer, one who can challenge the reader, but who also encourages us to look with renewed interest at a subject we thought we recognized and knew well. I enjoyed reading Simply Good News. I hope you will too.

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  1. How would you use the phrase, “good news” to describe the Christian life to someone who is unfamiliar with Christianity?
  2. What do you think about Wright’s unhappiness with the idea of a “split-level universe”? Do you consider it a “seriously misleading” way to think about Christian living?

Add your own comments and questions.  What did you think?