The Millennium Myth: Hope for a Postmodern World

By N. T. Wright
WJKP. 1999. 128 pp. $12.95. ISBN 0-664-25841-7

Reviewed by Michael D. Bush


While too much of the Christian world is coming off the rails in expectation of a divine cataclysm on Jan. 1, 2000, N. T. Wright offers us a challenge to celebrate the millennium as a Christian festival, rather than standing by passively or ex-citedly, waiting to see if the world will end. He issues the challenge in few words, with the clarity and good sense we have learned to expect from him in his New Testament scholarship.

His argument goes like this: The calculation that assigns next year the number 2000 is fraught with problems, leaving any thought that the world will end when the new year dawns without historical or theological reason. Yet, those who calculated and adopted this calendar encoded in it their conviction that Jesus is Lord. This conviction is a problem to postmodern culture, as it was to modernity. Nevertheless, the appropriate way to celebrate the millennium is by repeating in our time what Dionysius Exiguus originally said with the calendar: Jesus is Lord, and the worldly powers that come and go are not. One appropriate way to celebrate the millennium in light of these facts would be to reclaim the biblical idea of a year of Jubilee, and express this by forgiving the national debts of Third World nations.

The first four chapters of the book are easy to praise. They are lucid, enjoyable and full of insight. They say helpfully why the apocalyptic view of next year is nonsense, and propose a Christian celebration of the millennium that has integrity, assuming history will continue.

How we should evaluate the “Jubilee 2000” proposal for forgiving Third World debt, which he supports in the last chapter, is a question better left to more politically astute minds than mine. Yet I can almost hear Reinhold Niebuhr speaking in epigrams about what motivates international finance, and pointing out the creative egomania of the despots who run much of the “Two-Thirds World,” who surely would find ways to keep the benefits of such a Jubilee for personal gain. Wright has no illusions about these issues, but it is not clear whether the Jubilee 2000 movement itself has dealt adequately with them.

Wright has brought up, without exploring to any great depth, the idea of celebrating the new year as a year of Jubilee, a year of forgiveness and freedom. The theme is underdeveloped because the book was written mainly to support a religiously inspired political movement, and fully developing the theology in its local application might have been a distraction. Yet the thought is suggestive for the Christian life and for the church, and we who read the book will learn from thinking it through for ourselves.

Whatever we may decide about forgiving the debts of the poorest nations, we can celebrate the 2,000th year according to our calendar as a year of renewal in our dedication to the One it honors as Lord, living in personal, commercial and international relationships the kind of life to which he calls us. It is to such a celebration that Wright has invited us.