N.T. Wright’s tome Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the gospels. From the point of view of an aspiring scholar, this book was mind-blowing. Even if you do not agree with everything Wright says, he really makes you think. The critics may have dismissed JVG as simply another conservative theologian pushing his agenda. But I believe that if most everyday churchgoers and pastors read JVG, it would revolutionize the way we understand Jesus, the gospels, and the New Testament. Our understanding of many passages, parables, and quotes of Jesus would be more well-rounded and respectful of the original context. However, Wright does leave some issues unaddressed. The book would have been even better if he had addressed many of the questions that naturally arise.
Wright’s overriding concern is to read what Jesus said and did in the gospel accounts within their original Jewish context. This simple goal has huge implications for New Testament interpretation. I know from my life as a Christian reading the Bible by myself and even in church, that we normally take every word of Jesus as something directly meant for me in my 21st century life. Christ’s sayings are usually taken to be-and only be-what Wright calls “timeless truths” or “aphorisms” meant to teach good moral lessons for any age and place. When Jesus talks about judgment or “coming,” we in the Evangelical world so often jump to the conclusion that he is referring to his Second Coming. Wright says No. We must take into account the context Jesus was living in-the cultural, historical, linguistic, political, and theological. After we have considered the original context can we then infer how we, today, should live. This latter point-contemporary application-is unfortunately too light in the book, and I will return to that later.
Wright’s first section presents a short history of gospel interpretation and what modern scholarship is doing. It is a mostly sad story, with so few scholars believing that the Scriptures are Holy Spirit-inspired writings provided as a message from God to his people.  Wright is to be commended for his gracious tone in appraising other authors’ abilities. He recognizes the brilliance, intelligence, and sincerity of other scholars even if he disagrees with their conclusions. Wright though, in his British way, is unintentionally funny in his critique of J. Dominic Crossan:
John Dominic Crossan is one of the most brilliant, engaging, learned, and quick-witted New Testament scholars alive today…He seems incapable…of thinking a boring thought or writing a dull paragraph…[His recent book] is a book to treasure for its learning, its thoroughness, its brilliant handling of multiple and complex issues, its amazing inventiveness, and above all its readability….It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book is almost entirely wrong. 
This section of JVG helps demonstrate that N.T. Wright is a sincere defender of Christian orthodoxy against skeptics. Because of issues concerning the New Perspective on Paul, Wright’s name is often associated with error, heresy, or anything else evil. But the issues are much more complicated.
Wright uses Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son as a paradigm for his interpretation of Jesus’ ministry and teachings. It is jarring to read a completely different interpretation of a passage I have known for years, and to have the new interpretation ring so true. I do not know for certain yet if Wright’s construal is correct, but he presents a convincing case that fits with the gospel data. One of the principle aims of Jesus’ ministry was to pronounce judgment on Israel, and to declare that the true way of following Israel’s God was through his ministry as opposed to the Temple cult and sacrifices. The story of the prodigal presents Israel as the wandering child who is welcomed back by a loving God, yet there are some who grumble against it. Jesus’ retelling of Israel’s story through this and other parables brought him into serious conflict with the leaders of his day. If the message of the prodigal story was simply that God is loving and that we should be sure we appreciate him, why would anyone, even in first-century Judaism, object? Wright’s thesis is that they wouldn’t. People objected to Jesus’ condemnation of the present generation and the reorienting of Israel’s story around himself.
In the parable of the prodigal, as well as other parables, Jesus uses key Jewish themes of exile and restoration. These ideas were at the heart of Jewish mindset and longing.  They felt themselves to still be in exile, in this case under the Romans, and were awaiting the coming of Yhwh  to redeem them. Jesus was announcing the return of Yhwh through his own ministry and through the judgment on the nation which was about to occur within their lifetimes. The restoration was soon coming. “This hope is now being fulfilled – but it does not look like what was expected.”  Wright is saying that at the end of the day, many of Jesus’ teachings that we have normally received as good moral guidelines, or as information for people on how to “get to heaven,” are in fact primarily confrontational statements against the religious/political regime of his day. Jesus had an immediate mission to accomplish in first-century Israel. Wright does not deny the world-reaching effects of Jesus’ ministry, but he does not address this aspect.
Wright labors to show that Jesus acted like a prophet of God and saw himself as such. Jesus preached judgment, performed miracles, and boldly spoke against religious abuses of his day. He vigorously quoted and alluded to many Old Testament texts in support of his message and to color his pronouncements. The background of the prophetical books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah gave a powerful thrust to Jesus’ preaching. The use Jesus made of these books indicated a messianic self-identity at the same time retelling Israel’s history with himself as the focal point. Wright’s approach here is extremely valuable for the church in cultivating an awareness of the Old Testament background for the events and sayings of the New Testament. Many passages in the NT simply cannot be understood without the OT.
In keeping with the theme of Jesus as prophet, Wright puts emphasis on his dramatic action in the Temple. Like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, Jesus did not just speak his message. He acted it out in striking and unforgettable ways. The Temple-action was not primarily Jesus’ consternation about selling animals on holy ground or unjust money practices. He was acting out Israel’s future judgment. Again, I am not sure I agree completely with Wright’s heavy emphasis on the Temple-action, but at least it is thought-provoking. Wright, I believe, puts correct emphasis on understanding the prominence the Jews’ themselves put on the Temple, and how this related to OT texts as well as intertestamental texts. The Jews would have understood actions in the Temple differently than modern readers would.
Regarding the question of why Jesus raised the ire of Jewish leaders, Wright’s section on Israel’s symbols is illuminating. Jesus confronted the symbols which gave Israel its identity: Sabbath, food, nation, and land.  His words and actions indicated that he saw his life and ministry as making these symbols redundant. Follow Jesus instead, and he will give true meaning to all these things. When Jesus interacted with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and priests, Wright describes the confrontations as carrying this much weight: “Give up the interpretation of your tradition which has so gripped you, which is driving you toward the cliff-edge of ruin. Embrace instead a different interpretation of your tradition, one which, though it looks like the way of loss, is in fact the way to true victory.”  Jesus was not simply being nit-picky about rules and regulations, he was announcing a new era in history centered around him!
A weakness of JVG is that as one is reading this great work, many important questions arise that Wright does not address.  One gets the impression that as we are reading Jesus in his Jewish context, that nothing he says applies to us today! Everything he said was either explicitly against the Pharisees or Rome. We cannot even fall back on his Second Coming, because apparently he did not talk about that either.  The questions which come up are these: Since we do not live in the first century, what can we apply to us today? Is there a Second Coming? Did Jesus ever talk about it? Wright does not answer these questions, and does not give a framework on how to apply much of Jesus’ teachings to our situation. Maybe that was not the purpose of his book, but he should be careful not to prove too much about considering the original context.
A major flub of JVG was Wright’s treatment of Jesus’ divinity. While Wright does an excellent job proving Jesus’ self-awareness as Messiah, he strongly implies that Jesus was either unaware or only partially aware of his own divinity.  I am not here saying that Wright is completely wrong about this, but rather that Wright should not have stirred up this hornets’ nest at the end of his book and then devoted very little space to discussing it. Simply put: he owes his readers more discussion on such a huge topic.
In conclusion, Jesus and the Victory of God is a tremendous book, full of valuable insights and methodology in studying the gospels. Reclaiming the original context is crucial to understanding Jesus’ life and mission. The church today would do well to adopt much of Wright’s approach. Sincere Christians really do want to understand what Jesus meant by many of the puzzling things he said, and N.T. Wright has given us several keys to help unlock the puzzle.
 Wright may not have said it in these words, but this is my inference based on how NT scholars reject traditional authorship and carve up the gospels into pieces, claiming all kinds of later Christian interpolations, etc.
 N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 44.
 Ibid., 127.
 I am not sure why Wright relentlessly uses “Yhwh” throughout the book, except perhaps to stay literal to the original text.
 Ibid., 127.
 Ibid., 383. The Temple could also be included.
 With the book being 662 pages, an obvious reason for this is length. On the other hand, what’s another 10-15 pages to address important questions?
 Ibid., 361, 364, 632.
 Ibid., 653. Wright does not address many passages which bear on Jesus’ self-understanding: John 17, the “I am” passages, etc. I concede that Mark 14:62 may not be a divine proclamation, but there are other passages to consider.