The Gospel is often presented as: We're sinners. God is angry about that. Jesus took our punishment. Now, by believing He died for us and rose again, we can connect with God and go to heaven.
The theological term for Jesus' sacrifice like this is "propitiation" ... or "appeasing an angry god." The related idea is "penal substitution," the concept that Jesus took our punishment.
N.T. Wright argues that this idea is far more pagan than Jewish. Instead, he convincing contends that Jesus, being Israel's Messiah, must be viewed from within the Jewish context. In this light, His crucifixion isn't about absorbing God's wrath, but rather about proving purification for His people. Israel's animal sacrifices weren't about punishing the animals in place of people, but rather providing blood for purification. Jesus' sacrifice, His blood, then, provides us with purification rather than cosmic punishment.
This transforms the Good News of Christianity from "Jesus took the divine bullet for you" to a message more like: Christ has defeated the evil powers that held us captive and enables us to return to our proper position as people, namely "a kingdom of priests" who exist to bring healing to a broken world and through that praise to God.
Wright's book is a fascinating read even if you've never been bothered by the idea that God's justice requires Him to punish someone for sin. For me, what's more, N.T. Wright brilliantly addresses every single "issue" brought up in Mr. Deity episode 2.
So go check out Mr. Deity and then pick up The Day the Revolution Began.
Granted, I've only barely summarized what I see in Wright's technical argument which spans seventeen hours in the audio book version. Needless to say, there's a lot more to learn.
So let's learn more, together.