Friday, August 1, 2008

Wright rights the ship

Bishop Tom Wright has given an outstanding address at Lambeth (particuarly appreciated by my bishop, Richard Ellena). Its on the Bible and mission, and involves along with Wright's ability to use words colourfully, a large canvas of a vision on which his theological imagination paints many insights us lesser mortals only see with the assistance of God-gifted people such as +Tom. Thanks to Fulcrum for publishing it - read it all here. A few excerpts:

"From the beginning no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my culture, so I must adapt the gospel to fit within it’, just as no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my surrounding culture, so I must oppose it tooth and nail’. Christians are neither chameleons, changing colour to suit their surroundings, nor rhinoceroses, ready to charge at anything in sight. There is no straightforward transference between any item of ordinary culture and the gospel, since all has been distorted by evil; but likewise there is nothing so twisted that it cannot be redeemed, and nothing evil in itself. The Christian is thus committed, precisely as a careful reader of scripture, to a nuanced reading of culture and a nuanced understanding of the response of the gospel to different elements of culture. You can see this in Philippians, where Paul is clear that as a Christian you must live your public life in a manner worthy of the gospel, and that whatever is pure, lovely and of good report must be celebrated – but also that Jesus is Lord while Caesar isn’t, and that we are commanded to shine like lights in a dark world. There are no short cuts here, no easy answers. Prayer, scripture and complex negotiation are the order of the day."

"Notice how empire and Gnosticism go together. Gnosticism arises under empire, because when you are powerless to change anything about your world you are tempted to turn inwards and suppose that a spiritual, inner reality is all that matters. Carl Jung put it nicely if chillingly: who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens. Welcome to the world of navel-gazing. That’s why second-century gnosticism arose when it did, following the collapse of the final Jewish revolt in 135 AD. And the empires of the world are delighted when people embrace gnosticism. Again in the second century the people who were reading the Gospel of Thomas and other books of the same sort were not burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions. That was reserved for the people who were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the rest. There is a massive lie out there at the moment, which is that the canon of scripture colludes with imperial power while the gnostic literature subverts it. That is the exact opposite of the truth. Caesar couldn’t care less if someone wants to pursue a private spirituality. But if they go around saying that all authority in heaven and on earth is given to the crucified and risen Jesus, Caesar shivers in his shoes. And going around saying that is at the heart of Christian mission, which is sustained and energised by scripture itself, the book that will keep not only individual Christians but whole churches steadfast and cheerful in that mission when everything seems bent on blowing them off course."

"In other words, though the postmodernist sneers at empire and its grandiose dreams, in the final analysis it colludes with it. It can scoff, but it cannot subvert. All those years of Jacques Derrida, and we still got George Bush. And Tony Blair.

So what does the Bible itself have to say on the matter? How can the great story I’ve been speaking of respond to the postmodern challenge – because make no mistake, if it doesn’t, our mission will shrink into a sad little parody of its true self. The answer is that the story of scripture is not a story of power, but a story of love – genuine love, overflowing love for the world God made. Note carefully what happens at this point."

And this great teacher of our age is vilified for what reason by conservative evangelicals?


Anonymous said...

Peter, church often is like secular politics in evoking loyaltiess, but it shouldn't be. Intellectual and spiritual discernment is called for. Evangelicals on the whole have appreciated Wright's 'critical realism' in arguing for historical confidence in the NT (over against the long shadow of Troeltsch and Bultmann over 20th century NT studies); likewise his defense of the historicity of the resurrection (though some think even here his arguments could be extended). People start to part company in his understanding of Paul and justification: not just John Piper but Simon Gathercole, Stephen Westerholm and Don Carson ('Variegated Nomism', 2 vols.) have their doubts on Wright's views(haven't checked Douglas Moo on this). For myself, I suspect Wright is over-egging the cake on the 'Jesus v. Empire' theme. Romans 13 doesn't sound like a revolutionary tract to me, likewise Acts and 1 Peter 2.17.
Others are not so enamored of his ecclesiastical politics (he was in full defense mode when Williams was universally assailed over his sharia remarks, and he whacked the Gafcon folk up the side of the head) or his equating the US with the beast of Revelation.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I am (of course!!) aware of the provocative and disagreeable nature of some Wrightian utterances, and also of the huge questions raised by his approach to Romans.
I guess I am disppointed with evangelicals who may be seeing the specks in his eyes!