The Christian and culture – neither chameleon nor rhinoceros (NT Wright)

. . . The point is that these ideas had legs, and went about in the ancient world making things happen. They altered the way you saw things, the way you did things, the goals you set yourself and the ways you ordered your world and society. From the beginning no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my culture, so I must adapt the gospel to fit within it’, just as no serious Christian has been able to say ‘this is my surrounding culture, so I must oppose it tooth and nail’. Christians are neither chameleons, changing colour to suit their surroundings, nor rhinoceroses, ready to charge at anything in sight. There is no straightforward transference between any item of ordinary culture and the gospel, since all has been distorted by evil; but likewise there is nothing so twisted that it cannot be redeemed, and nothing evil in itself. The Christian is thus committed, precisely as a careful reader of scripture, to a nuanced reading of culture and a nuanced understanding of the response of the gospel to different elements of culture.

NT Wright The Bible and God’s Word (Lambeth, 30 July 2008).

NT Wright on Scripture, the Last Word, and publishers (Lambeth)

I finally got around to reading NT Wright’s lecture at Lambeth on the Bible and God’s Word (30 July 2008). He begins by drawing attention to his book on Scripture and the Authority of God and says:

It was published in America under the strange title The Last Word – strange, because it certainly wasn’t the last word on the subject, and also because if I was going to write a book called The Last Word I think it ought to be about Jesus Christ, not about the Bible. But such are the ways of publishers.

More seriously, for those of us who have read Wright before, there’s nothing entirely new, but I found it to be refreshingly enjoyable and helpful read.

Here is an outline:

1. Scripture and the Authority of God

a. Scripture as the vehicle of God’s authority

b. God’s Authority and God’s Kingdom

c. Scripture and the Story of God’s Mission

2. Scripture and the Task of the Church

a. Foundation: Bible and Culture

b. The Bible and Gnosticism

c. The Bible and Empire

d. Postmodernity

I liked this early quote

Debates about the authority of scripture have tended to get off on the wrong foot and to turn into an unproductive shouting-match. This is partly because here, as in matters of political theology, in the words of Jim Wallis ‘the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it’. And sometimes the other way round as well. We have allowed our debates to be polarized within the false either/or of post-enlightenment categories, so that we either see the Bible as a holy book, almost a magic book, in which we can simply look up detached answers to troubling questions, or see it within its historical context and therefore claim the right to relativize anything and everything we don’t immediately like about it. These categories are themselves mistaken; the Bible itself helps us to challenge them; and when we probe deeper into the question, ‘what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative’, we discover a new and richer framework which simultaneously enables us to be deeply faithful to scripture and energizes and shapes us, corporately and individually, for our urgent mission into tomorrow’s world.

Some more of my favorite quotes:

Continue reading

Heaven is not our home (NT Wright)

Christianity Today has a very good excerpt on resurrection from NT Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope.

wright-surprised-by-hope-2008.jpgThere is no agreement in the church today about what happens to people when they die. Yet the New Testament is crystal clear on the matter: In a classic passage, Paul speaks of “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). . .

    The traditional picture of people going to either heaven or hell as a one-stage, postmortem journey represents a serious distortion and diminution of the Christian hope. Bodily resurrection is not just one odd bit of that hope. It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God’s ultimate purposes. . . .

    When we talk with biblical precision about the resurrection, we discover an excellent foundation for lively and creative Christian work in the present world—not, as some suppose, for an escapist or quietist piety.

    . . . The mission of the church is nothing more or less than the outworking, in the power of the Spirit, of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. It is the anticipation of the time when God will fill the earth with his glory, transform the old heavens and earth into the new, and raise his children from the dead to populate and rule over the redeemed world he has made.

    If that is so, mission must urgently recover from its long-term schizophrenia. The split between saving souls and doing good in the world is not a product of the Bible or the gospel, but of the cultural captivity of both. The world of space, time, and matter is where real people live, where real communities happen, where difficult decisions are made, where schools and hospitals bear witness to the “now, already” of the gospel while police and prisons bear witness to the “not yet.”

    Read the entire article here.
    Read a full interview on the same topic on Preaching today – here.

    Links and Quotes (motorcades, bell-ringers, disconnected seminarians and . . .

    This is the way it works. I don’t actually have internet access at home, so when I leave the library for dinner, I open tabs for all the interesting looking links from my google reader, and read them off-line after dinner. Here are some of my picks from yesterday. (With a few links from today.)

    1. The motorcade
    2. new biblical studies list
    3. Disconnected seminarians
    4. Emerging strengths
    5. What Bach looked like
    6. so much for global warming the new Ice Age

    Links here only – no commentary below

    1. Ben Witherington begins a theology of work
    2. Real photos from Mozambique (I’m into real life.)
    3. Stuff white people like (still making me laugh at myself; guilty as charged)

    The Motorcade

    The day after the peace agreement in Kenya was signed, I sat down with two of my Kenyan friends over tea to discuss how this would actually work out. One of my friends said that the first order of business would be to figure out how big Raila’s motorcade should be. Sure enough front-page article in the Standard yesterday: Raila assigned state security, motorcade. Raila gets taste of power.

    [More details, quotes and comments below] Continue reading

    Links of the Day: Blogging, translation and the world

    NT Wright – “God in Public: Reflections on Faith and Society” Speech at the London School of Economics 14 Feb 2008.

    Lingamish (a bible translator in Mozambique) updates his “about” page and lists his 20 most popular posts from the previous year. What are people looking for in a blog? Wacky, humorous and a touch of irreverence. What we all really want is a touch of the tabloids from someone who seems a little bit like us, or maybe a little smarter and more righteous. He is a bible translator in Africa after all. His list says it all and is worth at least a quick look.

    John Hobbins discusses bible translation – responding to Karen Jobe’s article . “Faithful translation is about taking risks, not avoiding them . . .

    The Bible, I’ve noticed, is a resolutely non-superficial text. A faithful translation of it will be taxing on a contemporary reader in ways it was not for its original readers. It is a classic case of “no pain, no gain.”

    Jobes’s full paper is here.

    I always like to say, “It’s easy to get the main messages of the Bible. It’s a lot harder when you get to the the details.”

    [There is something here for everyone, but unless you are in the bible translation world, there are some insider terms and acronyms. Feel free to list acronym or term you want some explanation for in the comments section below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.]

    On a separate note, a new English translation of the LXX (Greek OT) is available free on-line.

    Chris Tilling reviews what looks like an interesting book by Tom Sine of “Mustard Seed Conspiracy” fame – The New Conspirators.

    A new paradigm in development economics

    Until very recently, if you spent anytime thinking about development policy, the chances are that you fell into one of three groups. One group believes the problem with developing countries is lack of resources. So the solution is a vast increase in foreign aid. A second group believes the real problem is lack of incentives. So the solution is more and better markets. The third group thinks the problem is lousy governments, so the answer lies with improved governance. . .

    But there is something new afoot. Increasingly, some people are saying the right way to approach development policy is to start with the view that we actually don’t know where the problems lie, to acknowledge that the key problems may differ from setting to setting, and to adopt an explicitly experimental attitude to policy selection and formulation so that you can learn about the environment in which you operate. In this approach, monitoring and evaluation are key, as you want to pull back from mistakes and improve policies over time. Indeed, you build the monitoring into the policy process itself so that learning becomes part and parcel of it–rather than something you leave to your researchers or economists. This way of thinking about development policy is radically different from the three schools I summarized above, as it admits much greater diversity and heterodoxy. It is humble about the extent of our knowledge but optimistic about our ability to learn.

    Thanks again to Michael Kruse who has great posts almost every day.