N.T. Wright is an eminent British New Testament scholar whom I have respected for many years. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (2012) is one his many books. It is mainly about the central message of the four gospels in the New Testament.
What Are the Gospels About?
As Wright (b. 12/1/1948) explains in the Preface, “the story that the four evangelists tell is the story, as in my title, of ‘how God became king’.”
Early in the book, he notes that Protestant Christianity has assumed atonement and justification “to be at the heart of ‘the gospel.’ But,” he insists, the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—“appear to have almost nothing to say about those subjects” (p. 6).
Further, the classic Christian creeds say little about the bulk of the four gospels: They “were all about God becoming king, but the creeds are focused on Jesus being God” (p. 20).
So, again, Wright clearly asserts that “the whole point of the gospels is to tell the story of how God became king, on earth as in heaven” (p. 34).
I think that basically Wright is right in what he writes here.
Where is the Kingdom of God?
Conservative/evangelical Christians have long emphasized that the Kingdom of God (KoG) will come into fruition at the end of the present world. It is seen primarily as being in Heaven following the end times.
Partly because the KoG is always called “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew’s gospel (beginning with Mt. 3:2), it has commonly been viewed as “other-worldly” and primarily about the future rather than the present.
However, there has been a growing recognition among liberal, moderate, and even left-wing evangelical Christians that the KoG is about the here and now as well as about “the sweet by and by.” This new understanding is based partly on the Lord’s Prayer for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
As I wrote in my Feb. 28 blog article, through the years I have come to understand that the KoG is as much about, or even more about, God’s reign on earth now than after the “end of the world.”
Indeed, if God became King in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection, as Wright writes, then the KoG is here and the KoG is now.
This basic understanding is also found in the recent writings of popular Christian authors such as Brian McLaren as well as in the books of Brian Zahnd, such as Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (2017), which I wrote about on Sept. 5 (see here). (Both McLaren and Zahnd hold Wright in high regard.)
Why Doesn’t It Look Like God is King?
The perplexing question, of course, is why, if God is King, doesn’t the world look more like what we would expect God’s Kingdom to look like? Please consider these brief suggestions:
1) There was no promise that the full realization of the KoG would come quickly—and considering the age of the universe or the history of Homo sapiens, what is a mere 2,000 years?
2) The KoG is being established, slowly, only by peaceful means and without coercion. Every use of coercion by Christians, and there have been a multitude of attempts to expand the KoG by force—has caused a setback.
3) There has been progress—although the struggle continues. As Wright acknowledges, “the story of Jesus” is seen in the New Testament “as the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world” (p. 138).
So we continue to pray, “Your Kingdom come”—while both working and waiting for that to happen.