Sunday, April 25, 2010

‘Me and Jesus’? Yes please.

It is no secret that I have enjoyed Tom Wright's many academic contributions relating to Paul and especially Jesus. Yet the recent conference on Wright has given me space to reflect on my own relationship to Wright's theology. And, to be honest, in the past year or so I have started to feel critical about some of Wright's arguments – particularly as they relate to the Apostle Paul (Mike Gorman has done a terrific job gathering some key thoughts, many of which I deeply resonate with). Certainly, his many proposals are an important counterbalance to confessionally motivated eisegesis (as is arguably evident in the Pope's book on Jesus, or perhaps most strikingly in John Piper's recent sermon, which Mike Bird drew attention to – see also Andrew Perriman's reflections on this, who I think rightly speaks of Piper's 'yielding to dogmatic pressure and assimilating the Gospel narratives to a Reformed misunderstanding of Paul'). Yet there is a flip side to this. By protecting NT texts so thoroughly from eisegesis, his presentation of the gospel has sometimes been framed in a way that eclipses the significance of the good news for me. Yea, 'modern individualism' blah blah, but I challenge you to pick up Bultmann's NT theology without finding yourself addressed by a gospel that speaks a clear word of hope to you personally – not just creation generally. More to the point: Bultmann's theology, despite undoubted weaknesses, is constructed in a way to facilitate this encounter. Is Wright's? Why not? I used to wax lyrical in sermons about the gospel not being just about 'me and Jesus', that the Lord's prayer is 'Our Father ... our ... us', not 'me, myself and I'. But somewhere along the way I forgot that the gospel most certainly is also about 'me and Jesus'. And this part must be articulated with utmost clarity.


At 4/25/2010 9:33 PM, Blogger Phil Sumpter said...


At 4/26/2010 12:49 AM, Blogger Mark Stevens said...

So Chris, would you perhaps agree with some of McKnight's conclusions concerning historical Jesus studies?

Anyway, I love what you have written here, it says concisely what a lot of us who love what Wright has to say do inevitably feel after reading his stuff. Well said.

At 4/26/2010 1:42 PM, Blogger Ed Gentry said...

*with my hands in the air screaming 'weeeee' as Hegel's roller coaster careens down from the heights*

Even St. Tom can't escape the swing of dialectic.

Oh that the differential equations that govern our theological enquiry could be critically damped.

I too have been reading Gorman and completely agree with your analysis.

At 4/27/2010 2:40 AM, Blogger Edwardtbabinski said...

Chris, Can there be a theology in which God is both "your friend/buddy" and also "unquestionable Lord and master?" In the same sense, can a person be both pro-democracy and pro-autocracy?

Is the Biblical idea of kingship meaningful today in a more pro-democratic world? What about the OT idea that God directly guides every natural disaster and war between nations, and even directly commands genocide sometimes, either via natural disaster or human action?

In the ancient Near East people did not "love" their deities, but felt overwhelmed by them. Take Job. Even the idea of "love your God" in the O.T. does not mean "love" as we might understand it today. There's an article about that in The Christian Delusion that cites the Bible and ANE sources.

I'd also like to know whether there's much else except delusion involved in Christian beliefs. I'm agnostic. I was born again. But the more I studied the more I questioned. If there truly is a threat of eternal damnation why isn't everyone convinced beyond a doubt that "hell" even exists? Why isn't there knowledge beyond a doubt that "salvation from hell" exists? And why is it always human beings doing the preaching of such messages in every religion? If Jesus came back as Luke-Acts states, said he had flesh and bone, ate fish, to prove he was not a spirit and then led the apostles out of the big city of Jerusalem to Bethany and then rose up (Acts said Jesus stayed longer, teaching them for weeks before rising up), then why couldn't they have knocked on some doors, invited everyone in Jerusalem to come see Jesus, or gotten a crowd together to look up and see Jesus rising into heaven (look up in the air, it's Jesus!)? Why couldn't Jesus himself have preached the resurrection instead of leaving it to human beings to try and convince other human beings, seven weeks after Jesus' allegedly resurrection?

At 4/27/2010 4:56 AM, Blogger One of Freedom said...

One of the things I'm continually wrestling with as I dig into contemporary evangelical (North American conservative) theology is that need to land with the individual. The problem being that individualism twists this in ways wholly other to what Christianity should espouse. But the answer isn't to ditch the individual - but to understand the individual and their role as participants in both ecclesial and political realities. I'm finding that Carl Henry was onto something when he refused to let the individual go yet called for an intellectually engaged evangelical humanitarianism.

At 4/27/2010 7:14 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Hey Chris,

I've also been a big fan of Wright's over the years, but I've also found that I've drifted from him more and more as the time has passed. Probably for different reasons than the ones you mention though. What I find is a puzzling gap between Wright's scholarly writings and his pastoral writings. That is to say, I don't think Wright is able to follow through on the implications of his own studies (I'm tempted to think that this is because of his particular socio-economic location... but who knows). So, while I appreciate Wright's consistent emphasis upon the fact that the gospel is good news for us and for all of creation, I think he applies that good news in ways that are often deeply compromised or (dare I say it) not good at all.

That said, I think you make a good point here, and I reckon I need to remember this more often.

At 4/27/2010 1:27 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Hi Mark

"Chris, would you perhaps agree with some of McKnight's conclusions concerning historical Jesus studies?" - no, I tend not to agree wit him.

What do you think?

Ed, thanks for the brilliant comment - made me chuckle.

Dan and Frank, I think you are making related points, similar to those made by Walsh and Keesmaat, perhaps?

Ed Babinski! Thanks for your comment man - glad you are enjoing Father Ted.

"Can there be a theology in which God is both "your friend/buddy" and also "unquestionable Lord and master?""

I think so, yes.

At 4/27/2010 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


To what extent do you think he addresses this in his more recent work on virtue? It just seems like for Wright our relationship to Jesus is explored through the presence and activity of the Spirit within our lives.

At 4/28/2010 2:25 PM, Blogger Mark Stevens said...

I disagreed completely with his conclusions concerning the health of the historical Jesus debate and where it leads however, I wonder if he is trying (badly) to make the same point as you. At some point all of this study needs an existential reality to which it relates. Personally its why I find Barth so helpful. As a minister history only will not do - I need the next 10 words so to speak.

At 5/03/2010 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some conversation with parish members in the north of his patch might give a different picture regarding pastoral aspects of Wright.


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