Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Bible ala N.T. Wright

I just finished N.T. Wright's Suprised by Hope last night. Absolutely one of the best reads for me in a long time. The point of Christianity is not, as he argues, to get to heaven, but to partake in the new creation that God is bringing about most notably through Jesus' resurrection, but also that the Church continues to witness to in its mission.

Wright writes the following about the Bible, and this passage is fine example of his engaging writing (Surprised by Hope, pp 282-283).
The Bible as a whole thus does what it does best when read from the perspective of new creation. And it is designed not only to tell us about that work of new creation, as though from a detached perspective, not only to provide us with true information about God's fresh, resurrection life, but also to foster that work of new creation in the churches, groups, and individuals who read it, who define themselves in terms of the Jesus they meet in it, who it to shape their lives. The Bible is thus the story of creation and new creation, and it is itself, through the continuing work of the Spirit who inspired it, an instrument of new creation in human lives and communities.

The Bible is not, in other words, simply a list of true doctrines or a collection of proper moral commands--though it includes plenty of both. The Bible is not simply the record of what various people thought as they struggled to know God and follow him, though it is that as well. It is not simply the record of past revelations, as though what mattered were to study such things in the hopes that one might have one for oneself. It is the book whose whole narrative is about new creation, that is, about resurrection, so that when each of the gospels end with the raising of Jesus from the dead, and when Revelation ends with new heavens and new earth populated by God's people risen from the dead, this should come not as a surprise, but as the ultimate fulfillment of what the story had been about all along. (This, by the way, is deep-level reason why the other gospels were not included in the canon. It isn't that they were the really exciting or subversive bits that the early church excluded in the interests of power and control. They were the books that had stopped talking about new creation and were offering a private, detached spirituality instead. The sudden enthusiasm for these other gospels in certain quarters of the Western world in our own day is a token not of the rediscovery of genuine Christianity but of the desperate attempts to avoid it. New creation is far more demanding--though, ultimately, of course, far more exhilarating--than Gnostic escapism.)

Thus, just as the proclamation of Jesus as Lord results in men, women, and children coming to trust and obey him in the power of the Spirit and to find their lives transformed by his saving lordship, so the telling of the story of new creation, of covenant and new covenant, doesn't just inform the hearers about this narrative. It invites them into it, enfolds them within it, assures them of their membership in it, and equips them for their tasks in pursuit of its goal.


Steven Carr said...

Gnostics would resort to escapism by writing such things as 'Who will rescue me from this body of death?'

Brian Bennett said...

Help me out here... are you saying Paul was a gnostic? Or something else?

Pastor Joelle said...

I've just begun the book. I think he's right but it's going to be a hard sell to get fight some of these ingrain unscriptural notions. Even I was a little chagrined when he pointed out the errors in some of my favorite hymns. I got in a lot of trouble one time when I suggested maybe our loved ones aren't up in heaven looking down on us right now.

Brian Bennett said...

It might be a hard sell, but I think there are ways and opportunities to speak about what Wright is trying to argue. For instance, I have started conversations with people I trust in the congregation saying something like, "So I am reading this book by NT Wright who argues for..." and that opens our conversation.

The other thing is that in sermons, I have stopped talking about heaven. Instead I might talk about eternal life, or life in the Trinity... or I will be clear about the life of faith lived now, pointing to the continued inbreaking of the kingdom... about our dying to sin and rising to new life now. The Church didn't get here overnight, nor will it change back overnight.

Diane said...

I think you can still talk about heaven, but, wait a minute, maybe you can't. The problem being that "heaven" when we die has become an ultimate goal, rather than what Wright is talking about, which I think, is the true ultimate hope. Every week we say in the creed that we believe in "the resurrection of the body"; I think people don't really think about what they mean by that.

If there's a "heaven when we die," that's not meant to be our hope. The new creation, as Wright says, is meant to be our hope.

I haven't read the book, by the way. Just looking at purchasing Simply Christian. Have you read that one?