Two books on Wright part 2 of 2
First, what do I appreciate about Wright's scholarship? Here are a few things, and a little biographical aside will help me explain my first point. I've come from a rather conservative Evangelical background, one which avoided academic thinking for one simple reason: fear - fear that theological study could lead to heresy and even unbelief.
However, theologically equipped and thus prepared by scholars like Richard Bauckham, John Goldingay and Walter Brueggemann, I purchased a book in the field which frightened me most, historical Jesus scholarship. That book was N.T. Wright's, Jesus and the Victory of God. Here was a book, written by an evangelical - someone I felt I could trust - about the scariest of all topics. And not only was the book a fascinating and massively educational read, it more importantly gave me confidence that I could think about faith without fear.
First, by locating the interpretation of scripture in the wider story of Israel, and the narrative of exile and restoration, I began to understand, negatively, the extent to which my own bible reading was influenced by unacknowledged "interpretative paradigms" (individualism, ahistoricism etc). Positively, I began to discover completely new, plausible and exciting ways of reading passages particularly in Romans, Galatians and the Synoptics. It all helped me to also understand how the bible could hang together.
Second, I began to grasp that academic theology could and should serve for the edification of the church. Wright unashamedly located his concerns in terms of church life, and this resonated deeply with me.
Here are some concerns I have about Wright's work. I will group them loosely under two points. First, given the historical issues raised by a correctly-understood early divine-Christology, I cannot now think about the historical Jesus without reference to the Gospel of John, and indeed I am starting to consider the christologies of the Synoptics in a rather different light now. I think Wright may be getting things the wrong way round on some of these matters. What is more, Wright's arguments concerning Jesus do sometimes smack of apologetic foundationalism, as detailed by Hays (see below) - but I do get tired of the constant critical reference to his (admittedly dubious) "dead rising from tombs" argument, as if this flaws everything else he says. It doesn't.
Second, while I have always appreciated Wright's reading of Paul, a few matters remain unclear. His exegesis of Romans has left me with many unanswered questions - his proposals do not seem to appreciate the theological tensions and problems involved in a coherent reading, especially of chapters 1-4. I also suspect that his grasp of justification and the law court is not without problems. What is more, he seems to have placed a lot of interpretive weight on potentially contingent features of certain letters (such as the language of "curse"), and much relies on narrative features that are assumed rather than directly evidenced in Paul's texts.
But this is really the reason I wrote this post: in this respect I must now mention the extremely helpful volume, Nicholas Perrin and Hays Richard B., eds., Jesus, Paul and the People of God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011). The line up is particularly impressive, with an important essay by one of the finest NT scholars to have ever lived (in my estimation), namely Richard Hays.