Thursday 27 November 2008

N.T. Wright on The Bible and Tomorrow’s World 2

The first main section of N.T. Wright’s Lambeth Conference 2008 address (‘The Bible and Tomorrow’s World’) discusses ‘Scripture and the authority of God’ (summary here); the second addresses ‘Scripture and the task of the church’.

Wright begins by commenting on the relationship between the Christian faith and culture, noting its ancient roots (from the confrontation between the Old Testament people of God and their surrounding cultures to Paul in Athens), and noting also that there is no one model which captures all the nuances about the relationship.

He focuses on three features of tomorrow’s world, which ‘call for a biblical engagement’:

• The Bible and Gnosticism
• The Bible and Empire
• Postmodernity

One feature of gnosticism is ‘a radical dualism in which the created order is irrelevant because we, the enlightened ones, are just passing through it’. Along with this is a religion of ‘self-discovery’, with the gnostic wanting to discover ‘who they really are’. Wright points out that, so far as Scripture is concerned, ‘you discover “who you really are” only when the living God, the creator, is rescuing you and giving you a new identity, a new status, a new name’.

With respect to empire, we need ‘to understand power the way the Bible understands it, as given by God to bring order to his creation on the one hand and, on the other, to anticipate in the present that final putting-to-rights of all things which we are promised’. Gnosticism and empire are linked, according to Wright, since ‘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’.

With postmodernity comes the deconstruction of truth, the self, and overarching narratives with their claims to power. Apart from pointing out that ‘the deconstruction of power-stories is itself a claim to power’, Wright notes 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’.

He finishes by saying we need the Spirit of Truth to pursue mission: ‘Truth is not something we possess and put in our pockets, because truth is grounded in the goodness of creation, the promise of redemption for that creation, and the vocation of human beings to speak God’s word both of naming the original creation and of working for the new creation – the word, in other words, of mission.’

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