Thursday, December 20, 2007

Something to think about from Tom Wright

N.T. Wright in Action
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Why do we need the Bible:

The Bible is here to equip God's people to carry forward His purposes of new covenant and new creation. It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have something of the beauty of God himself. The Bible isn't like an accurate description of how a car is made. It's more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you're going. And where you're going is to make God's new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.

How do we balance the experience of the church with the authority of scripture?

As we read scripture, we struggle to understand what God is doing through the world and through us. The phrase "authority of scripture" can make Christian sense only if it is shorthand for "the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture." When we examine what the authority of scripture means we're talking about God's authority which is invested in Jesus himself, who says "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." (Matthew 28:18, NRSV)

As I hinted earlier, the fifth act, in which the Church is called to live and work, is characterized by two things. First, it has firm and fixed foundations, including a definite closing scene which is already sketched in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1 and Revelation 21 and 22.

Second, it has the command, under the spirit, to improvise through the unscripted period between the opening scenes and the closing one. No musician would ever suppose that improvising means playing out of tune or time. On the contrary, it means knowing extremely well whether one is in the implicit structure, and listening intently to the other players so that what we all do together, however, spontaneously, makes sense as a whole. That is the kind of hermeneutic I envisage as I read, and preach from, Paul's letters today.

Please elaborate on the statement you made in "Evil and the Justice of God" that "the Gospels tell the story of how evil in the world reached its height and how God's long term plan for Israel finally came to its glory?"

The Gospels tell the story of the political powers of the world reaching their full, arrogant height. All early readers of the Gospels knew perfectly well that the word "gospel" itself—never mind any teaching about "God's kingdom"—was a direct confrontation with the regime of Caesar, the news of whose rule was referred to in his empire as "good news." Also, the Gospels tell the story of corruption within Israel itself, as the people who bear the solution have themselves become a central part of the problem. The Gospels then tell the story of the deeper, darker forces which operate at a suprapersonal level, forces for which the language of the demonic, despite all its problems, is still at the least inadequate. And the story the Gospels tell is a story about the downward spiral of evil.

These five points lead us to say that the story the Gospels are trying to tell us is the story of how the death of Jesus is the point at which evil in all its forms has come rushing together. Here I refer to the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, the belief that on the cross Jesus has won the victory over the powers of evil.

The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice. But it is an example nonetheless, because it is the exemplar—the template, the model for what God now wants to do by his Spirit in the world, through his people. It is the start of the process of redemption, in which suffering and martyrdom are the paradoxical means by which victory is won.

The point of following Jesus isn't simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is enormously important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life. We're called, here and now, to be instruments of God's new creation, the world-put-to-rights, which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus' followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents.

1 comment:

Eric Livingston said...

Wright's 2nd point about scripture, especially his Pauline hermeneutic, is a watershed ideal. I think the Restoration Movement's poor Pauline hermeneutic has been its most signficant stumbling block over the last 50 years. If we can come to an understanding more in line with Wright's, and allow ourselves lives of improvisation of discipleship, I think we could better live within the Kingdom. It would seem we've worried to much whether the piece was written in 2/2 or 4/4, whether we sharp or flat, and in doing so, we missed the majesty of the work of God.