Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good


  • Print Length: 213 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (January 6, 2015)
  • Publication Date: January 6, 2015
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

My Reflections

Tom Wright is one of my favorite authors and always seems to have a way to bring depth of insight and understanding to topics central to Christianity. Many of Wright’s arguments in Simply Good News will be familiar to those who have read his other books: his writing about the Bible, Heaven, Jesus and Christianity all cover related ground. However, the narrower focus of Simply Good News allows Wright to repeatedly and forcefully drive home his central thesis. Even if you have read much of N.T. Wright’s previous works this is one I would recommend. And if you have never read anything by N.T. Wright previously this could provide a good introduction to his writings.

But the point is this: the good news of which Christians speak is indeed good news. To begin to discover the news about the present (the present challenge of God’s kingdom in the world, and of the transformation of your own life within that)— is to see the world with different eyes. To see God with different eyes. To see your neighbor with different eyes. To see yourself with different eyes. This is the challenge of the good news for today and tomorrow (p.151)

I know this book has received mixed reviews by many others but personally I really enjoyed it. Both for it’s succinct message and the much needed reshaping of perspective that it brings. The good news aka “gospel” isn’t just rooted in the past and the future but has significant implications for us today in there here and now. God has stepped into human time and invited us to be a part of his present yet not fully here Kingdom; and not merely as bystanders but active co-participants with Him and through Him as transformed people who are then transforming the world.

It has been done. It doesn’t need to be done again. The world is a different place because of Jesus. But when people believe this and find their own lives transformed by that belief, they are in turn recruited to be part of the continuing image-bearing work. They become transformed people who are then transforming the world. They become healed people through whom God brings healing to the world. They are put right with God (“ justified ”), so that they can be putting-right people for the world (“ justice”). (p.169)

Here I will provide some of my favorite notes from this book in a way that provides a summary of it.

1. What’s the News?

What good news regularly does, then, is to put a new event into an old story, point to a wonderful future hitherto out of reach, and so introduce a new period in which, instead of living a hopeless life, people are now waiting with excitement for what they know is on the way. The Christian good news is supposed to be this kind of thing. The gospel of Jesus Christ comes as news within a larger story. It points to a wonderful new future. And it introduces a new period of waiting that changes our expectations. I am writing this book because I think many people, inside the church as well as outside, have seldom heard the gospel story told in this fashion. As a result, all sorts of things get muddled. (4)

Good Advice, Wrong News

…while some Christian teachers have exchanged good news for good advice, others have preserved the gospel as news, but they are telling a different story from what the New Testament authors meant by good news. (5)

So instead of suggesting that we could escape the earth to go to heaven, Jesus’ good news was about heaven coming to earth. (7)

And–this is the point of what news does–in bringing one story to its explosive climax, it opened up another one. (9)

Roman Good News

That is what news does: it creates a new period of time. …living between the event that had just happened and the event that would shortly happen. (11)

Jesus of Nazareth was a real man, living and dying at a turbulent moment in real space-time history. His message, and the message about him that the early Christians called good news, was not about how to escape that world. It was about how the one true God was changing it, radically and forever. (13)

2. Foolish, Scandalous, or Good?

Something had happened. Something would happen. And in between, something powerful and mysterious was happening in the lives of all those who found themselves caught up in it. If we want to recapture the dynamic of the original early Christian gospel, we need to recapture this triple vision. and to see in particular what this tells us about the meaning of the word God. (34)

3. Surprised by King Jesus

Jesus was not offering a teaching that could be compared with that of other teachers–though his teaching, as it stands, is truly remarkable. He was not offering a moral example, though if we want such a thing he remains outstanding. He was claiming to do things through which the world would be healed, transformed, rescued, and renewed. (36)

A Different Kind of King

…plenty of people wanted God to sort everything out and rescue his people, but nobody quite knew how it would happen. (38)

[Jesus] had a different vision of God, God’s purposes, and God’s way of achieving those purposes–a different vision of what the real good news was supposed to be. (38)

When Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the temple, he accomplished in one gesture what he’d been doing to people’s cherished assumptions for the previous two or three years. (39)

Let’s put it like this. | The Jewish people of the first century were expecting their God to come back in person to rescue them, revealing his glorious presence, defeating their enemies, and reestablishing them as his people once and for all. | They got Jesus. (40)

This is central to the good news Jesus announced. It isn’t just that God is becoming king, through Jesus and what he is doing, but that God’s kingship is a different sort of kingship altogether. There is a different kind of power, and it is the power of the gospel–the power announced by the gospel, the power wielded by the gospel. It is the power neither of brute force nor of superior argument but of something that goes much deeper, into every area of human life. The early Christians called it the power of agapē. Our modern word love doesn’t begin to get near what they meant by that, but it will have to do for the moment as a signpost to a great, multidimensional, all-embracing energy, which swept people off their feet in the first century and continues to do so today. (42)

The Power of Love

The clash between Jesus and the powers of the world–between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans–was never about God simply having a bit more power than humans, so that he could manage to beat them at their own game. It isn’t that God has stronger tanks and bombs than everybody else. That’s what people expected in Jesus’s day (well, they didn’t have tanks and bombs, but you know what I mean). It is also what people expect and often want, today. (“Why doesn’t God do something to stop wicked dictators killing people?”) This is why the good news is often misunderstood. This is why it continues to puzzle and challenge people, as it always did. It’s also why people step back from the big claims in the Bible and turn the radical good news into something they find more believable. Something about “me and my relationship to God” or about “going to heaven.” Something more like advice than news. (43)

The kingdoms of the world run on violence. The kingdom of God, Jesus declared, runs on love. | That is the good news. (44)

What the resurrection reveals–apart from new creation, obviously, to which we will return–is that on the cross evil itself was condemned. (45)

What the Resurrection Reveals

First, the word resurrection always meant bodies. (47)

Second, Jews were the only people in the ancient world who believed that God would eventually raise the dead–that is, bring them back to some new sort of bodily life as part of his promise to renew the whole creation. … But–and this is one of the most important points–this resurrection was to be something that would happen to everybody, at the very end of everything. (48)

For the Jews, as for the early Christians, belief in resurrection drew together two other foundational beliefs. First, God was the creator of all things who had made a world full of beauty and power. Second, God intended to sort out the mess into which the world had fallen. (49)

In the resurrection stories, they seem quite independent–so much so that, like witnesses at a trial, they often disagree about superficial details while retaining a strong grip on the central point. (49-50)

The Real Good News

It’s hard to know what to say about where Jesus was between the afternoon of Good Friday and the morning of Easter Day. … Nobody explains what paradise means. It’s the only time that word is used in the New Testament. Whatever it was, that was life after death; resurrection was a further step, a huge leap forward into a kind of existence never before known. It was life after life after death, a new bodily life following the brief period of life after death, whether in paradise or elsewhere. … Neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John even mention heaven in their accounts of Jesus’s resurrection. (53)

The main point of the resurrection is that it is the beginning of God’s new world. (54)

Believe in Jesus’s resurrection, and we can make sense of God, of the world, of ourselves. Or rather, with this in place we discover that God has (so to speak) made sense of us. Sorted us out. Cleaned us up, dusted us down, turned us inside out. Made genuine humans of us. That’s what the message of the crucified and risen Jesus has always done. That’s what it still does. (54)

Life has come to life and is pouring out like a mighty river into the world, in the form of a new power, the power of love. The good news was, and is, that all this has happened in and through Jesus; that one day it will happen, completely and utterly, to all creation; and that we humans, every single one of us, whoever we are, can be caught up in that transformation here and now. This is the Christian gospel. Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off with anything less. (55)

4. Distorted and Competing Gospels

Can We Trust the Gospels?

Despite a continuing chorus of skepticism, I and many other scholars who have studied the material intensively within its first-century context have come to the conclusion that these stories are basically trustworthy. (58)

The stories about Jesus constantly portray him as saying things that even his family and friends didn’t understand. (60)

…Jesus believed his contemporaries–even his Jewish contemporaries, and how much more his non-Jewish ones!–had their heads and hearts full of wrong ideas, and he constantly ran the risk that they would hear what he was saying within the context of those wrong ideas and so twist it completely out of shape. Actually, this goes on being a problem all through history. Jesus’s message to his contemporaries, and the church’s message about Jesus, never fit what people expect. Often enough, they don’t fit what the church itself expects. … The good news is always different from what people think it will be.(60)

Our minds, which are intimately connected with our imaginations, our emotions, and our physical bodies in a rich and multitextured combination, need to be sorted out just like the rest of us. (61)

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Human rulers do things one way, but we’re going to do them a different way. For us, power comes through service, particularly through self-sacrifice. The reason Jesus went on talking about kingdom, despite the obvious risks of misunderstanding in his own day, was because he wanted to replace the ordinary sort of kingdom with a quite different sort. (63)

Jesus wasn’t content to leave existing structures in place an start up a nice, quite, unobtrusive movement somewhere else. (63)

I sometimes wonder whether people who object to Jesus’s language about kingship are really hankering after a world in which nobody will be in charge of anything. (63)

But the whole point of Jesus’s good news is that the one true God is not a tyrant. (63)

Turning the Good News into Bad News

Most people in the Western world think of Christianity as a system: a religious system, a system of salvation, or a system of morality. (65)

In particular, the church has latched onto a way of speaking about the gospel that goes like this: you are a sinner, deserving death; Jesus died in your place; therefore believe in him, and you’ll go to heaven after all. This can be shortened even further to something like, Jesus took my punishment. This assumes, first, that I deserved it, and second, that because Jesus took my punishment I therefore go free. There are many churches in which preaching the gospel means little more than repeating, explaining, and illustrating this statement. (65)

But there are serious difficulties with stating things in this brief and simple way. The Bible says a lot more about Jesus’s death than simply that he died for our sins. (66)

To imagine a gospel that has forgotten about creation and covenant; to imagine a gospel with an angry deity who is pacified only by the blood of an innocent victim; to imagine good news that, instead of restoring and completing the work of the world’s creation, is prepared to throw away the world and take some people (“souls”) to a different location, namely a disembodied heaven–this picture looks far more like a complicated form of paganism than genuine biblical Christianity. (74)

The Competing Gospels of Rationalism and Romanticism

Part of the good news in our own culture is that this split-level world doesn’t have the last word. There is an integrated worldview, and it’s available right now. The trouble is that both the secularists and the fundamentalists are committed to not noticing it. The secularist lives downstairs and has locked the door at the bottom of those stairs. The fundamentalist lives upstairs, though he constantly shouts down the stairs to tell people they should be coming up to join him. (79)

Because Western Protestants in particular have always claimed to be biblical, they haven’t noticed how far they’ve drifted from that first-century way of seeing things. There is thus an ever-increasing gap between those who understand–and explore–the gloriously many-sided world of the Bible and those who have taken one or two ideas from it, puffed them up into entire systems, and trumpeted them all the way down the street. This is part of the reason why understanding the original and quite simple good news is harder today than it ought to be. (79)

The early Christians, following from Jesus’s announcement, declared the good news that through his death and resurrection the kingdom he announced had been launched. That was the ultimate turning point of history. The modern world has been taught, and believes at a deep level, that the eighteenth-century Enlightenment was the ultimate turning point. | We can’t both be right. (86)

5. Rethinking Heaven

Once we understand the original good news, the news about something that happened in the events concerning Jesus, we also understand that the good news about the future cannot be about leaving earth and going to heaven. It must have something to do with heaven and earth coming together. Something to do with creation itself being renewed and restored. (90)

And if God will, in the end, transform the whole created order, flooding it with his presence and glory–and that is what we are promised–then what matters for us is not where we will be in the meantime but how we will get to share in that new world. (91)

The good news about the future is utterly dependent on the good news about the past. Christian life is shaped by both. (99)

6. Wrong Future, Wrong Present


If we had witnessed and survived the destruction of New York or London, what language would do justice to such an event? We would quickly find ourselves running out of ordinary words. We would reach for the language of cosmic catastrophe: the end of the world. That is what the first-century Jews did. Not because it was the end of the space-time universe but because it was the end of their world. That is how the language worked. (108)

Good News–for the World?

But whenever someone says that there is no point in working for justice in the world; whenever anyone says that it doesn’t matter what we do to the planet because God is going to throw it away one day and leave us in heaven instead; whenever anyone says that there is no point in working for unity in the church, for reconciliation between different nations, cultures, and ethnic groups–then we must protest. Jesus the Messiah is risen from the dead! A new world has come into being, and within that new world all kinds of new possibilities are now open. (116)

And if anyone tries to say that the good news is not about all these things–about freeing slaves, about helping the poor, about reconciling warring factions, ethnic groupings, and whole nations, about looking after the blessed world we live on and in–but instead is only about coming to faith in the present and going to heaven in the future, then we must replay that something has gone very, very wrong in their thinking. (116)

According to the Bible, the death and resurrection of Jesus–the very heart of the good news–are the foundation of God’s new world. There is no reason why we should not pray and work for signs of that new world to be born even in the midst of the old age, of the world that is still, as Paul says, “groaning in labor-pains.” In fact, there are excellent reasons for making these efforts a major preoccupation. Despite what skeptics and critics sometimes say, followers of Jesus have transformed the world in all sorts of ways in the last two thousand years. It was Jesus’s followers, after all, who went about caring for the poor, tending the sick, and providing education for people of all sorts (not only the rich or the elite). There is no reason why Jesus’s followers should not continue this work and every reason why they should. (117)


Getting the Balance Right

7. Surprised by God

The blunt monosyllable God all too easily gives a double wrong impression: first, that God, is an object in our world that can be discussed as such; second, that such a being is a monolithic little dictator who sits there giving orders. (127)

For the early Christians…[t]hey believed that it was only when you looked hard at Jesus that you understood what the true God was like. (131)

A Different Kind of God

To think that the real purpose of our inquiries is to enable us to hold a satisfactory picture of God in our minds is to make a fundamental mistake. Karl Marx said that the point was not to understand the world but to change it. With God–at least, with this strange God of whom the ancient scriptures spoke–the first and most important point was not to understand him but to trust him. The idea that you might begin by looking this God up and down, giving him a cool appraisal, and then, if you understood him and approved of him, you might respond to him, is to deny that he is God at all. If he is God, our primary role is not to analyze him but to worship him; it is not for us to figure him out but to let him figure us out. (132-133)

Creator, Judge, Lover

God is not an object in our universe. We are objects in his universe. (136)

Theologians have written about the problem of evil, but atheists less regularly write about the problem of good. (137)

Jesus doesn’t give an explanation for the pain and sorrow of the world. He comes where the pain is most acute and takes it upon himself. Jesus doesn’t explain why there is suffering, illness, and earth in the world. He brings healing and hope. He doesn’t allow the problem of evil to be the subject of seminar. He allows evil to do its worst to him. He exhausts it, drains its power, and emerges with new life. The resurrection says, more clearly than anything else can, “There is a God, and he is the creator of the world we know, and he is the father of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.” That is the first part of the good news about God. (137)

The second part…looks ahead to the good news about what will happen. (137)

…third and finally, that the God who made the world is the God of infinite, exuberant, lavish, generouslove. This is the center of the good news. (138)

The good news of what happened in Jesus is the central moment in the revelation of the good news that the one true God is the God of utter, self-giving love. (139)

The good news of Jesus is there not only to remind us of it but to transform us with it so that we in turn may become transformative people. (140)

…when this creative love encountered people who were overwhelmed with the weight of their own moral failings, it came out as forgiveness. (141)

Jesus’s public career, then, was aimed not only at announcing the good news that God was becoming king but at embodying it. (141)

…what he was doing with them was new. New in the same way that his vision of God’s kingdom was new. New because newness as what he was about. New exodus. New creation. New life, new hope. A new sense of the power and love of the one true God. Good news. (142)

Have We Really Met the True God?

8. Praying the Good News

I have a sense that the Lord’s Prayer is not just a list of key topics. It is a list of priorities. Most of us, I suspect, start our praying near the end and may never really get back to the beginning. Perhaps one way to learn about the good news and to become good-news people is to learn to pray this prayer in the order Jesus taught it. (154)


Forgive Us

Daily Bread

What Jesus was saying about good news was linked at every point with what he was doing to embody it. (159)

Here and Now

God’s kingdom does indeed address all these issues. But the way Jesus announced God’s kingdom–and the way he both enacted and explained it–meant that he was telling people to look up, beyond their concerns, beyond the way they thought everything out to work out. This is why his good news both was and wasn’t what people expected or hoped for. That’s the same for us, too. (162)

God made heaven and earth to be complementary. (163)

The good news is that the living God is indeed establishing his kingdom on earth as in heaven, though the finished work of Jesus, and is inviting people of all sorts to share not only in the benefits of this kingdom but also in the work through which it will come to its ultimate completion. To grasp that good news fully, or rather to be grasped by it, will mean being turned inside out by it, so that our self-centered prayers (for help, for rescue, for forgiveness, and for bread) will turn into the God-centered prayer for God’s kingdom to come in God’s way. (164)

Honor and Glory to Your Name!

Heavenly Father

Jesus was not teaching a timeless truth that might in principle have been articulated at any time or place. He wasn’t holding up an ideal and saying, “Let’s see if we can live up to this!” He was announcing a new reality breaking in upon a surprised an unready world. And in this prayer, he was inviting his followers to explore this new reality and make it their own. (168)

Becoming Good-News People

But the truth of becoming good-news people becomes supremely clear when you pray this prayer and allow its full dynamic to work out both in how you pray and in how you then live. (168)

Praying this prayer, then, and praying it in the right order allow us not only to know and believe the good news but to become part of it ourselves. (169)

All Christian prayer, then, and supremely the Lord’s Prayer, enables us to be fully at home in God’s house, whichever door we come in by. But we don’t come in simply to rest and be refreshed. We enter in order to learn and share God’s plans and purposes. … In prayer, we learn to become good news. (171)