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The Contemporary Quest for Jesus.

The Contemporary Quest for Jesus. By N. T. Wright. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, Facets, 2002. 104 pages. Paper. $6.00.

This Facets edition reprints Wright's 1996 book that was an excerpt from his lengthy work on the historical Jesus, Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress, 1996). In this reprint, Wright discusses scholars' contributions to the contemporary search for Jesus (termed "the third quest") by analyzing how their studies answer five key questions that investigate Jesus' relationship to Judaism on the one hand and the early church on the other. Overall Wright argues that today we cannot retreat from serious historical study of Jesus and that the long-term results of such study hold challenge and promise for the contemporary church's theological task.

In chapter 1 Wright provides a succinct review of the "quests" for Jesus over the last 200 years and their usefulness. His general conclusion is "that the Quest is vital, but difficult" (p. 21). In an extremely brief second chapter, Wright summarizes the published efforts of the Jesus Seminar and John Dominic Crossan as examples of "thorough-going skepticism," the label used by Albert Schweitzer for William Wrede's work.

In the opening section of his final extensive chapter (two-thirds of this short volume), Wright discusses assumptions and advances of "the third quest" for the historical Jesus--for example, its scholars' "attempt to do history seriously" (p. 31), their situating Jesus firmly within first-century Judaism, their focus on more Gospel material than the sayings of Jesus to understand the historical Jesus, and their homing in on key historical questions. In the remainder of this chapter Wright provides a comparative summary of how various scholars answer five crucial questions that have surfaced in the Third Quest: How does Jesus fit into Judaism? What were Jesus' aims? Why did Jesus die? How and why did the early church begin? Why are the Gospels what they are?

In this summary, Wright makes clear his own take on these five questions. Further, he asserts that the comprehensiveness and validity of any Jesus book rest upon how well the scholar's work answers all five questions. In Wright's judgment, most "third quest" writers highlight one or two of these questions at the expense of others. Before he concludes, Wright adds a sixth question--that of relevance. He emphasizes that current scholars need to discuss the implications of their historical-Jesus study for theology.

This brief and readable book should be of interest to biblical teachers, pastors, and lay persons who pay attention to the contemporary quest for Jesus. Wright has synthesized an enormous amount of scholarly work about the historical Jesus. He has done so not simply as an academic researcher but as a scholar who is deeply and passionately engaged in this "third quest." Hence he has framed his summary in light of his own long-term scholarly program. (Fortress recently published Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God, the third volume in his ambitious series on the New Testament.)

It will take time for the scholarly and theological world to assess Wright's lasting contribution to the study of both Jesus within first-century Judaism and the continuity and discontinuity between Jesus' agenda and the faith of the early church. In any case, his published work is clearly worth reading. This reprint offers an intriguing window into Wright's historical investigation of Jesus of Nazareth.

James L. Bailey

Wartburg Seminary

Dubuque, Iowa
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Author:Bailey, James L.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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