Friday, January 05, 2007

Link: N.T. Wright, “Mere Mission”

Lately I have tried to avoid posting links simply for the sake of posting links. This has brought down the volume of posts here at DET quite a bit. But, I believe that it has raise the quality of what I do post. In any case, I’m assuming that most blog readers out there have hopped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, and are therefore not dependent upon stopping by every day to see what is new. In any case, all that is neither here nor there.

The purpose of this post is to alert you all to an interview with N.T. Wright recently published in Christianity Today (they have an RSS feed, which is how I found this). It is called “Mere Mission,” and deals with Wright’s recent book, Simply Christian. There is the usual discussion of how to present the gospel to a postmodern culture, etc., and there are some interesting moments concerning the parallels between Wright’s work and C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, for any of you who are interested in the Oxford don (me, not so much).

But, in the course of the conversation, Wright touches upon something that I have heard George Hunsinger say basically verbatim, and I couldn’t pass up the chance of posting it:
“That's precisely what John says at the end of the prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known. John's provided an exegesis for who God is. And in Colossians 1 as well, he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, don't assume that you've got God taped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge of New Testament Christology.”
I persistently maintain that Wright is at his best when talking about Jesus.

9 comments:

GoobyNelly said...

Thanks Travis. Hunsinger will be using The Challenge of Jesus by NT Wright for our Systematic 1 class! I have a lot of respect for Wright, and I love how he's challenging evangelicals to think theologically. I've heard it said (probably by Hunsinger) that Wright's historicism becomes problematic. However, Ron Sider recently made a call for theological scholars to write books for lay people in addition to what they write for those in their field. Wright is surely an good example in this regard.

WTM said...

I heard that comment from Sider as well, and he certainly must have had Wright in mind as an example.

That Hungsinger would use Wright's "Challenge of Jesus" is a little surprising to me (I happen to have a copy; one of 3 Wright books I own). Be sure to let me know how he uses it.

You are right, however, about Wright's historicism. And, you are right that you probably heard it from Hunsinger (I have multiple times). Of course, it isn't so much that what Wright says is wrong, but that it is insufficient - there is a big difference of course!

dan said...

Well, as one who has more books by Wright than books by Barth (20:16 -- which is, IMHO, as it should be, since theology should be rooted in biblical studies!), I would be curious to hear more about Hunsinger's issue with Wright's "historicism." Somebody want to fill me in?

WTM said...

@ Dan,

Welcome, and it is a pleasure to have you!

You are certainly right about the necessity of grounding theology in Scripture (cf. my series on “Reading Scripture with John Calvin”) and, as I’m sure one who owns 16 books by Barth has noticed, this is one of Barth’s strengths. Indeed, much of the Church Dogmatics is taken up with exegetical excurses. But, to your question…

Re: N.T. Wright and historicism,

Wright’s historical work on the resurrection is all well and good as far as it goes, it just doesn’t go far enough. His focus has been predominantly centered on making arguments for why we should think that it happened as part of history, but he has not given sustained attention to the relation of the resurrection event to history. What I mean is, although the resurrection happened in history, it is certainly not of history – that is, it is a completely new thing that is not part of the cause-effect nexus of the spatial-temporal world we inhabit. The resurrection comes into this world from beyond the possibilities of this world. When we focus too much on the “history” of the resurrection, the danger is that we forget that it is supra-historical.

Jason said...

I still haven't figured out why modern theologians won't just redefine history or come up with some better category for describing God's actions in space and time.

Oh wait, somebody already did. It's called a "miracle." ;-)

That Wright claims that a miracle like the Resurrection happened and thus was observable just maintains that it actually happened where human eyes could see it. Besides, having read a lot of Wright recently, he makes the "supra-historical" point (in so many words) often enough that I think Dr. Hunsinger's critiques might be better aimed elsewhere. Wright has written a lot more than The Resurrection of the Son of God.

WTM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WTM said...

Jason,

No contest. :-) Although, it would have been nice if these concerns would have made it solidly into Resurrection of the Son of God as well.

Of course, I'm sure that Hunsinger's concern is less about whether or not Wright gets around to saying something about these matters than it is about wanting to develop a positive theological account of these matters. In other words, its great that Wright says it (in so many words, as you put it), but wouldn't it be great if it had emerged as a theme in its own right?

dan said...

Hey wtm,

Thanks for the welcome and the response!

Hunsinger's criticism seems to be but one example of a more general attitude that many theologians seem to express. It seems to me that accusing biblical scholars of things like "historicism" is one of the ways that theologians get around a lot of things that biblical scholars say. Such labels allow me to disregard, or take less seriously, the implications of what others have to say. Of course, I'm not accusing most theologians (or Hunsinger in particular) of having insidious reasons for engaging in this activity. It's probably just that they prefer voices from within their own discipline over voices from other disciplines (and, IMHO, this is pretty true of people in most disciplines). After all, there are reasons why theologians become theologians and not biblical scholars, and why biblical scholars become biblical scholars and not theologians, and so on and so forth.

Thus, when we do this (intentionally or not), we don't really give people the hearing they deserve -- and I think that may be what is going on with Hunsinger's comment on Wright. I am inclined to agree with Jason's remark that Wright does a fine job of stressing the "supra-historical" point in many other books, lectures, and sermons (and, I think, Wright deals with this to a certain extent in RSOG itself when he talks about "shooting at the sun").

Furthermore, I don't think that Wright's primary concern in the RSOG is historical -- I think it is more literary and exegetical. His concern is to make clear the story that is expressed by the various biblical texts. Thus, if I am reading him correctly (and it's been awhile since I looked at the RSOG so I may have to go back and look at it again), Wright is primarily saying, "Hey, when the authors of the NT talked about Jesus' resurrection, they were really talking about resurrection." Of course, this does have secondary historical implications, but to call narrative criticism, "historicism" seems to miss the point a wee bit.

Thoughts?

WTM said...

Dan,

Again, as I said to Jason – No contest! :-) I can generally tell when someone knows more about something than I do, and it is clear that you both are much more familiar with Wright’s work than I; so, I willingly concede the point. Although, I would like to reiterate what I said in my reply to Jason about Hunsinger’s comments likely having to do more with wanting a positive account of these matters developed. As you suggested in your bit about various disciplines, Hunsinger is a theologian and wants to chase down the theological weight of these things while, perhaps, Wight is more content to explicate the logic of the narrative. In any case, both are necessary and salutary endeavors.

Along the lines of what you were saying about disciplines, I have an anecdote to share about that. I was in a class once out here at PTS that broke out into smaller groups (called ‘precepts’) once a week to discuss readings with a PhD student (this happened to be a PhD student that I really respect; coincidently, he took his masters from my alma mater, Wheaton College, under the professor who was my undergraduate advisor). As a way to break the ice, this PhD student had us go around the room answering the question: Are you more of a Bible person or a theology person?

I think I’m going to use that question in my own classes someday in the future as answering that question reveals something about your orientation.