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Answers in Genesis Attacks N.T. Wright for Being Unfaithful to Scripture

Answers in Genesis Attacks N.T. Wright for Being Unfaithful to Scripture

NT Wright

I was thumbing through my Twitter feed today and saw that AiG had just put out an article attacking NT Wright. In his book, Surprised by Scripture, Wright had mentioned that young earth creationism is a false teaching, not a viable scientific claim, and it actually makes it harder for Christians to be taken seriously by the world, because YEC tells everyone that their position is the Christian position, when in reality it’s not. Earlier this year I did a book review on Surprised by Scripture, and reviewed the chapter that AiG took issue with. 

In any case, reading articles like “What Motivates Christians like N.T. Wright to Accept Evolution,” quite frankly makes me want to scream. It is so dishonest and judgmental that it shameful. Let me just comment on a few things in the article:

Quote #1

What Christians face today is a choice between earning the respect of the secular, unbelieving world by accepting evolution, or being faithful to Scripture.” Hence, the article is clear: N.T. Wright is not faithful to Scripture, and just wants to suck up to the “secular academy.”

N.T. Wright is the leading New Testament scholar of our day, who has done more to illuminate and teach Scripture than AiG ever will—but instead of actually engaging with what Wright actually says, AiG resorts to what it always does: flat out slander. How dare they accuse N.T. Wright of not being faithful to Scripture. Tell him that he could use an editor to trim down some of his insanely long books, sure–but accuse him of being a sell-out to the “secular academy”? That makes my blood boil.

Quote #2

“What Christians, like Wright, who accept evolution need to realise is that theistic evolution is neither biblical orthodoxy, nor does it win the respect of the world (not that the Christian should be looking for the respect of the world) nor is it good science, for it is just as scientifically flawed as is atheistic evolution.”

Let’s be clear: everything in the above quote is 100% wrong. To say that theistic evolution is not biblical orthodoxy is the equivalent of saying that Einstein’s theory of relativity is not biblical orthodoxy—such a statement is inherently nonsensical. What AiG is really trying to claim is that their young earth creationism is “biblical orthodoxy”—and that is a historically-provable, flat out lie. YEC has never been the universally held view of the Church. The Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and most Protestant churches reject YEC. YEC is a novel teaching that sprang up in the 20th Century—therefore it is a historical fact that for the first 1900 years of the Church, such a view did not even exist. Sure, Christians had varying ideas regarding that age of the earth, but no view was ever held as orthodoxy.

Also, to say that evolution is not “good science” and then to essentially say it’s the same thing as “atheistic evolution” is again, pure slander. The fact is, it is good science. That doesn’t mean there are unanswered components to it, but the scientific theory of evolution is science, and it is pretty solid. And here’s another point: nothing in the theory is “anti-God,” or “anti-biblical,” or “anti-Christian.” Again, to give you an idea as to how deceptive AiG’s accusation is, it would be like me saying, “Einstein’s theory of relativity isn’t ‘good science,’ and it is just as flawed as ‘atheistic relativity.’”

You see? That statement is trying to give the impression that the theory of relativity is some sort of attack on God; and I’m sure everyone can see just how ridiculous such a statement is. You can’t say that the theory of relativity is not “good science” on the grounds that it is some sort of “anti-biblical philosophy”—when it is obvious to everyone that it isn’t a philosophy in the first place.

Yet that is the heart and soul of what AiG does: it lies to people when it says that evolution is an anti-God philosophy/worldview, and then it claims it isn’t “real science” because it is an anti-God philosophy…but it isn’t a philosophy in the first place, and to discredit it as such by claiming it isn’t really science—well, that just doesn’t make sense.

Quote #3

Here’s a third quote: “Belief in supernatural creation stands against a dominant intellectual system that establishes what is called ‘credibility’ in the secular academy.” 

Here’s the bait and switch often done at AiG: belief in YEC is not the same as creationism, or supernatural creation, or belief that God is the ultimate creator. Simply put, YEC is not biblical creationism. The extent of true biblical creationism is this: there is one God, He is good, He is a God of order, therefore His creation is good and ordered for a purpose. If you understand that, then every Christian is a “biblical creationist.”

AiG, though, has high-jacked the true biblical statement about creation, has injected into it loads of pseudo-scientific garbage that is not found anywhere in the Bible, and then has the gall to not only label itself as “biblical creationists,” but also to accuse any Christian who doesn’t adhere to their unbiblical view as being unfaithful to Scripture. Such deception should be obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear.

Quote #4

“Wright’s view of Genesis is not based upon credible exegetical conclusions but is the result of abandoning the authority of Scripture for the praise of the academy.

As a biblical scholar, this one makes me want to scream. Again, everything in the above quote is slander and a lie. Proper exegesis makes is abundantly clear that AiG’s interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is utterly unbiblical, and would have been completely incomprehensible to the original audience. To claim that Genesis 1-11 is God’s hand-written modern science textbook is to completely reject the inspiration of the Bible, pure and simple. God inspired a message that the original audience would have understood. AiG’s interpretation of Genesis 1-11, therefore, is not biblical—it is, by definition, heretical.

Quote #5

“Satan’s method of deception with Eve was to get her to question God’s Word (Genesis 3:1). Unfortunately, many scholars and Christian lay people today have had their minds corrupted by evolutionary teaching and are falling for this deception and are questioning the authority of God’s Word when it comes to Genesis 1–11.”

No AiG article would be complete without accusing Christians who don’t agree with their heretical interpretation of Genesis 1-11 of being “deceived by the serpent.” The only deception going on is coming from AiG. Anyone who continual presents evolution as either a philosophy or religion or worldview is a deceiver and a liar. Evolution is a scientific explanation for the variety of life in the natural world, nothing more, nothing less. You can be convinced by it, you can be not convinced by it, you can be convinced by parts of it but not others—it’s just science, and it has nothing, absolutely nothing to the Christian faith, any more than the theory of relativity does.

The theory of evolution is not “anti-biblical” and it does not question the authority of God’s Word because the Bible does not attempt to give a modern scientific explanation of exactly how God created the world. It’s addressing a completely different topic.

A Final Thought…

To claim that evolution is an attack on the Bible has about as much sense as saying, “The theory of relativity contradicts God’s Word, because God’s not relative! He doesn’t change! Psalm 110:4 says He doesn’t change His mind! Einstein has been deceived by Satan!” Or it would be like saying, “Don’t believe those scientists who say black holes exist! God is light! Jesus is the light of the world, and he has shone into the darkness, and darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5)! Therefore, to say that there exists ‘black holes’ that swallow up light is a denial of Jesus and undermines biblical authority!”

Both of these examples are so obviously nonsensical that if anyone actually claimed that, we would laugh that person into oblivion. The same holds true for YEC…yet somehow it has gained a following in part of the Evangelical world. That should frighten every thinking Christian.

So next time you come across Ken Ham and AiG, and you hear them spout of about how evolution is anti-God and anti-Bible, just remember this: that has as much sense as denying the existence of black holes because Jesus is the light of the world.

Now, I’m sure N.T. Wright believes black holes exist, and I’m sure he believes Jesus is the light of the world. And I’m pretty sure he knows the difference between the two kinds of statements. So do I.

Unfortunately, that is something AiG cannot claim.

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”–Wrapping Things Up

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”–Wrapping Things Up

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Even though N.T. Wright has three more chapters to Surprised by Scripture, I believe I can adequately cover them in this post. “How to Engage Tomorrow’s World” (Ch. 10), “Apocalypse and the Beauty of God,” (Ch. 11), and “Becoming a People of Hope” (Ch. 12) all serve as challenges by Wright to Christians of today to actively engage the world and provide answers to the problems that we in the modern world have.

In chapter 10, Wright’s main point can be summed up as follows: “Since Jesus’s way of life is the path of self-giving love, that mission and service can never be about imposing a would-be Christian policy or ethic on an unwilling or unready public, but rather allowing Jesus’s way of bringing his kingdom to work through us and in us. The church at its best has always sought to transform society from within.”

I think that is a very important thing to remember, especially when Christians get involved in politics. Now obviously, we should be involved in our country’s political process—but we shouldn’t be deluded into thinking that if we just “passed some Christian legislation” that we’d “get our country back to God.” That’s not, and has never been, the modus operandi of Christ’s followers.

Unfortunately, I think some in today’s Evangelical church have a brand of Christianity that is a lot more in the image of the GOP than in the image of Christ. I say that, mind you, as someone who is fairly conservative, and will not be voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders! But it scares me to see some Evangelical Christians blur the line way too much between being a Christian and being a Republican. “Getting prayer back in public school” isn’t going to change a thing—and the supposed “demise” of our country didn’t start when prayer was taken out of public schools. If you want to play that game, I can come back with, “Well, it was after prayer was taken out of public schools that the civil rights movement finally started seeing results and that black people started to be granted equal rights!” Do you really things were morally awesome before prayer was taken out of public schools? I don’t think so.

In chapter 11, Wright takes on understanding the Book of Revelation. I imagine I’ll be discussing that in later posts, so I’ll summarize his thoughts here. Here goes: Tim LaHaye’s and Hal Lindsey’s dispensationalist take on Revelation as some “future in advance” history of the rapture, Nicolae Carpathia, a seven year tribulation of Christians, and end of the world—no, not at all. For the first 1850 years of Church history, nobody thought that.

Wright’s emphasis in the chapter, though, is that the Book of Revelation, being an apocalypse, is a highly literary and artistic genre of literature that sought to speak to Christians undergoing persecution—it was to comfort and encourage them that God was still king, and that he was actually saving and redeeming the world through their suffering, because they were imitating Christ’s sufferings. Wright’s point is that it is a highly artistic work, and Christians need to appreciate the fact that the most profound biblical truth often comes in the form of art.

It’s true all the way around. Think of the most moving films you’ve watched, ones that have challenged how you’ve viewed the world or understood the truth about an issue. Don’t those creative films have a bigger impact on your worldview than reading a textbook? There’s a reason for that: we are creative beings made in the image of a creative, Creator God. We understand truth best when it comes in the form of artistry and creativity. Evangelical Christians have misunderstood Revelation because they don’t understand the artistry of apocalyptic literature. That’s a shame, because the bold truth of Revelation is lost on most Evangelicals, and they end up interpreting Revelation along the lines of a really bad Kirk Cameron or Nicholas Cage movie.

Finally, chapter 12 encourages Christians to be people of hope. We are to bring forgiveness and love to the world, and often that takes patience. Just like Jesus was patient with Thomas, and even patient with Peter (Peter couldn’t bring himself to say the “agape” word to Jesus, but Jesus took what he could get), we Christians have to be patient with unbelievers’ skepticism, and people’s shame and hurt that hinders them from being able to love. All we need to do is live out the resurrection reality, and have faith that the hope of resurrection will be realized by people who see Jesus’ love in us.

So there it is…N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture—a wonderful and thought-provoking book. I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts on it.

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 9: Our Politics are Too Small

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 9: Our Politics are Too Small

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Yes, it was only a matter of time…but you knew the subject of politics was due to come up at some point. After all, if the two things you never talk about in public are religion and politics, then that’s just an invitation to talk about religion and politics. And so, in chapter 9 of Surprised by Scripture, Wright dives in.

Secularists and Fundamentalists: They’re Playing the Same Enlightenment Game

As with seemingly everything else in his book, Wright starts off by taking us back to the Enlightenment, and the dramatic shift in western society’s worldview that took place at that time. I’ve touched upon that dimension of Wright’s argument in past posts, so I won’t rehash it here. But Wright’s point in this chapter is that, ever since the dawn of deistic/Enlightenment thinking, society has drifted in one of two directions. First, there is the militant-atheist/secularistic worldview of the likes of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris—Wright points out that these “new atheists” aren’t really “new” at all. They’re just spouting the exact same rhetoric of earlier thinkers like Voltaire and Nietzsche, with a hatred of Christianity, the GOP, and Fox News. Second, especially in America, there are the ultra-fundamentalist Christians who have essentially equated Christianity with the politics of the Republican party.

As opposite at these two sides may seem, Wright correctly points out that both are simply opposing wings of a thoroughly discredited Enlightenment worldview. Let me provide an illustration to help make sense of that. The secularism of Richard Dawkins and the fundamentalism of Ken Ham are like the archrivals of the Yankees and Red Sox, battling it out on the baseball field—that baseball field is the Enlightenment worldview. To extend the illustration (as a nod to my Canadian friends), we’ll say the Christian worldview is the hockey arena. Fundamentalists come to the baseball field with their hockey sticks and pucks and proceed to try to play baseball for Jesus, not realizing that that’s not the game Jesus has called them to play. Consequently, in the eyes of the world, fundamentalists tend to look stupid…and they do, because they’re essentially trying to “defend Christianity” yet are playing within the rules and worldview of the secularist.

Wright says that both secularism and fundamentalism are deeply flawed; both are playing on the wrong field. The modern political parties of both the Democrats and the Republicans are working off of Enlightenment assumptions and an Enlightenment worldview—therefore, since it is so obvious that everyone is disgusted with both parties, maybe it’s time we should ask “Why?” Wright’s answer is that that Enlightenment worldview is totally inadequate to ever adequately address the pressing issues of our day, be it global debt, the ecological crisis, growing poverty, race relations, gender, gay marriage, the Middle East—all of it. Those issues can’t be resolved by either party, because both party’s politics are too small.

As a side note, I have to say as a Christian that it is high time that Evangelical Christians realize that the answer to our country’s challenges do not lie in the GOP party platform. I’m certainly not saying it can be found with the Democrats, don’t misunderstand me. But, along with Wright, I’m saying we should be living out the politics of the Kingdom of God, not those of either political party.

Kingdom of God Politics

So what does that mean? Wright says in order to understand what that means, you have to look to the four Gospels. Unfortunately, Evangelical Christianity has tended to take its cue more from Paul and his epistles than the four Gospels. Consequently, it has tended to interpret the Gospel through the lens of Paul, rather than interpret Paul through the lens of the Gospels.

Okay, what does that mean? Basically, that means we tend to think the Gospel is all about how you get saved, how to avoid hell, what you need to do in order to “go to heaven when you die.” And we have a slew of nice systematic terms and formulas to explain it. But Paul’s writing isn’t about spelling out some sort of “salvation recipe” to follow. His epistles, rather, show a “real time” glimpse of how Paul was encouraging the early Church to live out Jesus’ Kingdom of God politics. And that we get from the Gospels.

What does the rule of God look like as it breaks in to this this world? The Gospels show us. As Wright puts it, “the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is not to impose an alien and dehumanizing tyranny but rather to confront alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God—the God recognized in Jesus—who is radically different from them all, and whose justice aims to rescue and restore genuine humanness.”

The Kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed seeks to restore humanness, hold tyranny to account, to bind up the wounds of those suffering, and by doing so, remake us into God’s image so we can care for His good creation. Wright calls on the Church to embrace its vocation of reminding rulers of their task, speaking truth to power, convicting the world of sin, and bearing witness to the resurrection reality of Jesus in the world today. We are to “do God in public,” for sure…but we are to act as an influence on both political parties, and we should be wary to aligning ourselves too much with either party, and not enough with the Kingdom of God.

Honestly, despite the rhetoric of either political party, does “restoring humanness” really sound like anything they really try to do? Of course not. Why is that? Because a country’s political system and parties will inevitably reflect the worldview in whose image the country is made.

The final thing Wright cautions against is the glorifying of democracy, as if that is the magic cure for all of the world’s ills. We’ve almost deified democracy in the Western world, and have unwittingly bought into the Enlightenment’s equating the “will of the people” with the “will of God.” We should realize by now, given the failures of so many “democracy experiments” throughout the world, and the glaring failures in our own, that a democracy that is based on an Enlightenment worldview ends up with those in power manipulating an ignorant populace in order to garner votes and stay in power.

The truly Christian view has always been no matter how a ruler gets power—monarchy, democracy, or any other way—the Church is to challenge that ruler to rule in a way that heals and protects people—the kind of rule that would reflect Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Our current democracy in America doesn’t really do that, does it? It’s because our politics are too small, too power-hungry, and too spineless to be truly human and Christ-like rulers. So if you’re a Christian, despite what political party you tend to agree with more, keep your eyes open, and remember, you are first and foremost a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and neither the Republican or Democrat platform can ever re-make human beings in the image of God.

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 8–Idolatry 2.0

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 8–Idolatry 2.0

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Unlike chapter 7 in Surprised by Scripture, where Wright took a look at a really big “worldview” issue, chapter 8 gets pretty specific and to a direct point. So what is “Idolatry 2.0”? It’s actually pretty simple: it’s the same old pagan idolatry, but without the pagan names. Let me let Wright explain…

First, Wright reminds us of the ancient Greek philosophy of Epicureanism that basically said, “If there are gods, they are far away, and don’t have anything to do with mankind.” It was a reaction to the rampant paganism of ancient Greek thought that claimed that the gods were everywhere (just read The Odyssey or The Iliad if you’re not convinced of this). And on that point, Epicurus was right: if you go to sea, Zeus is not going to get in a fight with Poseidon because you didn’t offer a nice enough sacrifice before you got on the boat.

Second, that being said, Epicureanism, unlike what some modern people have claimed, was not the foundation of modern science (for that matter, modern science came out from the distinctly Christian worldview). Instead, Epicureanism was the foundation of what Wright calls scientism: the belief that the natural world is all there really is, and that it was completely autonomous from any perceived God, gods, or the supernatural. This mindset, Wright points out, gave eventual rise to the Enlightenment’s claim to scientific autonomy (i.e. scientific inquiry all by itself can solve all our problems). This sort of rebellion against any kind of perceived authority—be it God, a king, or a Pope—has marked the modern western world ever since the time of the Enlightenment.

Third, Wright points out that this mindset has given birth to modern secularism, that basically says, “It’s okay if you believe in God, gods, or fairies, or leprechauns—that’s your private business. But you can’t bring that belief or talk about it in the public sphere. ‘Religion’ is for private use; de facto atheism is the foundation for the popular secular square.

There you have it: that’s the modern western world and its worldview in a nutshell. So what does that have to do with idolatry? Wright’s answer is simple: despite the name “secularism,” and despite all our “scientific-sounding words,” the pagan gods still rule our lives…we just use different names.

Take for example the three pagan gods: Mammon, the god of money; Aphrodite, the goddess of erotic love; and Mars, the god of war. Those were the names given by ancient pagans to three specific gods that tended to run roughshod over human society, wreaking constant havoc wherever they went. So, now that we are in the modern world, has anything really changed? Wright invites us to consider the “prophets” of our modern world: Nietzsche said the driving force in the world is really all about power and power-plays; Marx said it is really all about economics and money; and Freud said it is all about sex.

They’re right, sort of…but they haven’t really discovered anything new. They’re just re-hashing what the ancients already knew. Sex sells, be it Aphrodite, pagan temple prostitutes, Nicki Minaj or Kim Kardashian. Money still has his dominion, be it Mammon, Wall Street, the Koch brothers, or George Soros. And power? Are you kidding me? Mars is always waging war somewhere, be it Africa, the Middle East, or 20th century Europe.

Wright makes a very simple point: “In each of these three cases—Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars—these ancient and well-known gods have not gone away, have not been banished upstairs, but are present and powerful—all the more so for being unrecognized.”

Then Wright points out that these new “gods” of sex, money, and power are still as much “divine” as the old “gods” of Aphrodite, Mammon and Mars in two distinct ways. First, there is the old biblical truth that you become what you worship, and those who worship these gods become like them. It doesn’t take a genius to see that we moderns are becoming like these gods because in a very practical sense we worship them. We bow down to the outright obscenity and pornography that passes for pop music (let alone the actual porn business!); our politicians bow down to rich donors (and before you get on a political high horse, let’s state the obvious, both Democrats and Republicans do this all the time); and just think of how we glorify war (yes, it sometimes is necessary, but should it ever be glorified?).

Idolatry 2.0: it should now become quite obvious what that means. Wright says it best when he writes: “Our society, claiming to have got rid of God upstairs so that we can live our own lives the way we want…has in fact fallen back into the clutches of forces…that are bigger than ourselves….” Ouch…he’s completely right. Our “modern and enlightened” society is still completely enslaved to the old pagan gods.

The False Enlightenment Claim of Private Religion

Wright ends his chapter by stating that it is utterly impossible to separate religion from society. There can never be a total “separation of Church and State,” if you will. At its heart, religion isn’t just about saying your prayers in private, having daily devotions, and hoping one day to fly off to heaven. Throughout human history, religion is an integral part of societal formation—it impacts every aspect of culture: the arts, literature, music, politics…everything. You simply cannot get away from that fact. And as Wright points out, if you insist on “keeping religion a private affair,” and “making secularism the rule of the public square,” you’re really insisting on atheism as the public religion—and modern atheism has proven itself to be just ancient paganism with scientific-sounding jargon substituted for the names of the gods.

So what impact does that have on how we should understand  Christianity’s role in society? That’s certainly food for thought. I’ll say this though: no, it doesn’t mean we should force Christian morality through the courts. I think it means we should live out our Christian faith and morality in the neo-pagan society, regardless of what the government or courts say. Let them do what they do–but bear witness to Christ, and let God take care of the rest.

Science and Religion: The two are not at war

Wright’s final point touches upon something that every these days—both Christian and secular—seems to get wrong: the assumption that if you accept the findings of modern science, that you are going against Christianity and are colluding with atheism. Such an assumption, Wright says, simply confuses science with scientism.

Modern science studies how the natural world works—and it has discovered a lot. There’s nothing to be afraid of, even when it talks about the theory of evolution.  Scientism, though, is something radically different—it’s not science at all, but the philosophical assumption that autonomous science can tell all there is to know about reality, and reality consists only of the natural world. Scientific discoveries can be proven or disproven; scientism is an unprovable assumption. It is essentially a worldview, just like Christianity is a worldview.

Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians have wrongly declared war on science, thinking that science and scientism are the same things. In doing so, they are making a huge categorical mistake. But the supposed “war” between “science and religion,” or “evolution and creation”—that’s a topic for another day!

The point to remember from this chapter is simple: the pagan gods still rule our modern world, precisely because the modern world has regulated “faith,” and more specifically Christianity, to the private world of personal, individualized spirituality.

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”–Ch. 7: The Bible to the Modern World

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”–Ch. 7: The Bible to the Modern World

 

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***Let me first apologize for the long post, but it is such a good chapter!

If you have read all my posts on Surprised by Scripture, chances are your head is spinning over all the things Wright covers. There’s a lot to digest. Well, when we come to chapter 7, I hope you’ve put on your stretchy pants, because a full-out banquet of Worldview goodness is going to be served up.

For me, chapter 7 is possibly the most important chapter in the book because, whereas most of the other chapters tackle specific issues and topics, chapter 7 takes aim at the much broader topic of worldview. If you will, Wright erects the over-arching biblical and Christian framework for a proper worldview, and then puts it in stark contrast to the modern secular worldview that, unfortunately, even a lot of Christians hold.

Epicureanism and the New World Order

This might come as a disappointment to many conservative fundamentalists, but America was not “founded” on Christianity. Yes, it claimed that Christian morality embodied and articulated “natural law,” but Christianity the actual religion? Not so fast. Wright correctly points out that the foundation of the grand experiment that is the United States was a purely Enlightenment philosophical outlook. Look on your paper money folks: “A New Order of the Ages!” And what was the “old order”? –Not just monarchy, but also the Christianity that most of the rulers of Europe held to as justification for their rule. America, from the very beginning was to be a democratic, Enlightenment experiment.

Now not everything that came out of the Enlightenment was bad, but Wright points out that there were two distinct features to “the Enlightenment project” that impacted the United States more than anywhere else.

Feature #1: Enlightenment Epicureanism

First, there was the Enlightenment’s embracing of Epicureanism (mentioned in an earlier post) that essentially split the world into two, at least philosophically. Thomas Jefferson himself didn’t identify as a Christian—He in fact said, “I am an Epicurean.” This view essentially said, “The natural world, which can be objectively studied through science, is completely different than the supernatural world, which is not based on any evidence, and is just a matter of private belief.” Translation? The “natural world” = reality; the “supernatural world” = not reality.

Combine that worldview with the “three revolutions” of the 17th and 8th centuries (the theological revolution—Protestantism against Catholicism; the political revolution—the American and French Revolutions that wanted democracy instead of monarchy; and the scientific revolution—all the technological advances)…and you got an over-arching mentality that said, “Screw the old way of doing things! We can build a completely new world order!”

What happened in America, then, is that there essentially became an ever-widening divide: on one hand there was the secular Enlightenment thinkers who thought that science held the key to an ever-progressing better world, and forget “God” because that’s “faith” which isn’t “real” and can’t be “proven.” On the other hand there were the “old-timey religion” Christians who viewed science with suspicion, and advocated instead that we needed to get back to the B-I-B-L-E, because that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the Word of God…the B-I-B-L-E.

And the thing was that both sides viewed the Bible wrong: secularists (like Richard Dawkins) assumed that the Bible was just a book of factual, scientific distortions that “science” had not proven wrong; “old-timey religion” Christians—let’s call them biblical literalists (like Ken Ham) insisted that everything in the Bible was scientifically factually accurate, and “those scientists” who say otherwise are just working for the devil…just read your Bible and get saved so that you can obtain your individual salvation and be taken away to heaven, away from this world of sin (and science!), when you die.

Because of this Epicurean worldview, there came the rise of theological liberalism and modern biblical criticism: it claimed to be an objective scholarship of the Bible, but in reality it was no such thing—its starting assumption was that the “supernatural claims” in the Bible were obviously false, and so we need to “objectively” find “what really happened.” Sadly, such an assumption (or at least part of it) still dominates Christian thinking: the very assumption of “miracles” betrays an Epicurean worldview (see my post on Ch. 3 for more on this). The assumption that God occasionally intervenes in the form of miracles into what is normally a world run by “natural laws” is a “Christianized” and “bastardized” take on a fundamentally Enlightenment-Epicurean assumption regarding the natural world.

Feature #2: The Secular Gospel of Progress

The second Enlightenment feature Wright mentions is the Enlightenment myth of “scientific progress.” Ever hear of the modern political term “progressives”? Here is where it comes from: the liberal democrat worldview that through science and democracy, we are bringing about a new world order! It is the advancement of history for the betterment of humanity! Unfortunately, as Wright points out, things like the French Revolution, Auschwitz, and the Gulag were all done by societies that embraced this notion of “scientific progress for the betterment of humanity.”

But such horrors don’t seem to deter the optimism of progressives. “We just need to work harder for the utopia we can achieve!” Now yes, that opens the door to an entirely different (and political) discussion, but I want to focus on what Wright says, which is this: Enlightenment philosophy and the Bible tell two completely different stories of reality.

The Enlightenment philosophy, “tells the story of the world as having reached its destiny, its climax, with the rise of scientific and democratic modernism.”

The Bible, though, “tells the story of the world as having reached its destiny, its climax, when Jesus of Nazareth came out of the tomb on Easter morning.” It was the birth of the new creation.

Unfortunately, many Evangelical Americans have taken the Biblical story, reduced it to “the Bible” as merely a collection of “facts and laws,” and then have tried to “argue for and defend the Bible” from the philosophical base, worldview, and assumption of the Enlightenment. Think about it: most churches, when they talk about the resurrection of Jesus, portray it as simply “proof that Jesus is God,” that “he then went up to heaven,” and he will come back and take us to heaven, away from this world.” I’m sorry…that’s not the message of the Bible. That a bizarrely mutated interpretation of the resurrection from an Enlightenment assumption of reality.

Wright points to the truly bizarre theology of dispensationalist movement within some Evangelical churches as case in point. Don’t know what “dispensationalisim” is? Are you familiar with The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye? That’s it!

So What’s a Christian to do in this Modern World?

The first thing a Christian should do is to recognize and categorically reject these two Enlightenment-features that have marked so much theological and political antagonisms in America. I have to warn you, though, when you do that, you’re going to find a little bit like you’re in exile: no one will seem to understand you, and every theological and political ideologue will hold you in suspicion and contempt because you don’t fall in completely in line with them.

What do I mean by this? Simple: I know people in both the far Right and far Left political camps in America, and both “sides” accuse me of being in league with “the other side.” I know people ultra-fundamentalists who call me a theological liberal because I don’t think the universe is 6,000 years old, and I know ultra-progressive Christians who think I’m a homophobe because I say that the Bible clearly states that same-sex sex is not good. But then the ultra-fundamentalists think I’m too liberal because I say that the Bible doesn’t condemn someone for simply being attracted to the same sex—neither side really sees the difference between attraction and behavior because they are too firmly entrenched in their ideological agendas. Ah, but I digress…

Wright says that the key thing a Christian needs to do is to regain the biblical worldview of the world: “Heaven and earth are the twin halves of the good creation, made to overlap and interlock, so that God who lived in heaven would also be present, though mysteriously so, here on earth, and the dwellers on earth would always be within arm’s length of heaven.”

Or to use a more concrete example: we need to see, from the very beginning of Genesis, that God has intended this natural world to be His Temple—where He would dwell with the image-bearers He created. Instead of a pagan temple with the statue of a god inside it, God’s good creation is God’s Temple, and He has put us—creatures made in His image—in it to represent Him, and to rule and care for His creation as His priests, His stewards, and His kings. We are His kingly-priestly-custodians of His good creation-Temple.

This biblical understanding, Wright argues, has tremendous implications for how we view creation and what our purpose as human beings is. He takes us back to Genesis 1-3 and points out that they were never meant to be read as scientific accounts. Instead, they are highly poetic and metaphorical narratives intended to creatively show us what our purpose as God’s image-bearing king-priest-custodians really is.

Unfortunately, there is a segment within Evangelicalism today that is determined to try to “prove” Genesis 1-3 is factually and scientifically accurate. Of course, the only way men like Ken Ham can argue such a thing is to make a up a fictitious category of “historical science,” then define it as “belief about the past that can’t be tested or observed,” and then turn around and claim that Genesis 1-3 is science…historical science…that is now defined as untestable belief.

Why do some Evangelicals buy this sort of illogical nonsense? Because they have unconsciously bought into the Enlightenment-Epicurean dualism of reality that says, “It’s only true if it is scientifically true!” They’re trying to prove the truthfulness of the Bible using false Enlightenment definitions and assumptions.

The Bible and Human Knowing

By the end of the chapter, Wright addresses the concept of knowledge, and how we come to know truth. He states, “When we let [the Bible] be itself, we find a mode of knowing that is neither the brightly lit supposed objectivity of post-Enlightenment scienticism, nor the fuzzy and indistinct subjectivism that is its opposite.” The Bible gives us a radically different worldview and a radically different take on knowledge, specifically in three ways.

First, being made in God’s image, human beings come to a better knowledge of God, not by “proving facts” about Him, but by reflecting His wisdom and care into the world, and by reflecting the praises of creation back to Him.

Second, in contrast to the Enlightenment assumption that the only real kind of knowledge is scientific, the Bible reminds us that knowledge comes to us through a wide array of channels: the philosophical, the artistic, the musical, the poetic. All are equally needed and useful, and to elevate only one type of knowledge above all others is ultimately a perverse form of idolatry.

Finally, all knowledge takes place within the context of community. We in America, with our hyper-individualism, have to be constantly reminded of this. Specifically as Christians we must remember that we come to a deeper knowledge of God as we participate as a Church community as we care for creation, as we study the Scriptures, and build each other up and invest in each other’s lives.

So what does the Bible say to the modern world? How should the Church address the modern world? Wright gives us plenty to think about and reflect on, doesn’t he?

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 6–The Problem of Evil

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 6–The Problem of Evil

Surprised By Scripture

In chapter 6 of Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright tackles the problem of evil: how can you reconcile the reality of evil with a belief in a good God? That is a question that has challenged people for centuries. If you were an ancient pagan, you wouldn’t ask that question, because you didn’t believe there as a “good God” to begin with—all the gods were petty and violent, and you just lived your life in a perpetual “duck and cover” mode, trying not to tick any of them off. If you are a Buddhist or Hindu, you wouldn’t ask the question either, because you don’t believe in a singular “good God” either—all is one, and even what we call evil is still just a part of the ultimate reality, of which you are a part.

The problem of evil really only comes up in Christianity, because Christianity teaches that there really is a good God, there really is evil, and that God hates evil. If so, then why does God allow evil to exist in the first place? Hence, the problem of evil—a uniquely Christian conundrum.

In addressing this problem, Wright takes us back to the Enlightenment and points out that many of the major wrestling of Enlightenment philosophers had to do with the problem of evil. The “Enlightenment answer” that has dominated Western culture for the past 250 years, as Wright points out, is what he calls the “doctrine of progress.” Everything is slowly getting better, and science brings progress, and eventually we’ll make this world a utopia. If you have to break a few eggs to make that utopian omelet, well then, so be it—it’s for the good of humanity in the long run.

Well, WWI largely crushed much of that 19th Century Enlightenment optimism, but old habits die hard—despite the dreadful atrocities of Auschwitz and the Gulag of the 20th Century, many still view the world and people as “basically good and moral”—all we need is a little more democracy, capitalism, socialism…name whatever “magic pill” you put your faith in. It will all get better!

Wright points out the naiveté of such a mindset. In fact, he says that we pretty much ignore evil until it hits us in the fact, and then are completely surprised when it actually does. The result is predictable: we over-react and lash out in very immature and dangerous ways. Wright points to the reaction of Britain and America after 9/11 as a prime example. Let’s admit it, he’s right.

In light of all this, Wright makes three key points: (1) there are no easy answers to the problem of evil; (2) the line between good and evil does not lie between countries or political parties—it runs down the middle of every human heart and society; and (3) we need to distinguish between the evil of terrorists, for example, and the destruction of natural disasters.

Wright then turns to the Bible for answers and shows us that the biblical writers spoke of evil in a variety of ways—too many to detail in this post. But what should be noticed is that God chooses a family rife with evil (i.e. the family of Abraham) to somehow bring about an answer to the problem of evil. Try to get your brain around that—it’s tricky.

Furthermore, by the time you get to Isaiah, you find in chapters 53-55 a radical string of passages. Isaiah 53 is about the suffering servant who embodies God’s rescue operation for both Israel and the world; then in Isaiah 54 we have the concept of a new covenant; and Isaiah 55 ends with the concept of the new creation. What Isaiah prophesies ultimately gets fulfilled in the suffering of Christ, and a redeemed humanity that takes part in God’s re-creative salvation of the world through participating in the suffering of Christ.

Simply put, as Wright says, “To our amazement and horror, we see this renewal come into focus in the suffering and death of the servant.” So if you’re a Christian, guess what? That’s what you should expect in your life as well: suffering that brings about the salvation of the world, bit by bit.

The Cross and Evil

What this all means is that we need to refocus our minds on just exactly what the message of the cross is: it is not “Jesus suffered so I can be taken away from this world of evil.” Rather, it is “Jesus suffered to bring about the redemption of this world and the solution to the problem of evil; and that’s what I am to do as well if I follow Christ: offer up my suffering that has been brought about by evil, and by doing so, aid in the redemption of the world.”

Wright says, “God chose the appropriate and necessarily deeply ambiguous route of acting from within his creation, from within his chosen people, to take the full force of evil upon himself and so exhaust it.” That is the message of cross: that is how God deals with evil—he actually uses it up to bring about redemption.

And so, as Wright points out, we as Christians are called to implement that victory of the cross in the world. As he says, “The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice.” Suffering and martyrdom become the paradoxical means by which we implement the victory of the cross and the redemption and renewal of the world.

Now, before you marvel at how wonderfully poetic that sounds, think about it: that’s what it means to “take up your cross” and follow Christ. It’s not fun. If you’ve ever been the victim of true evil and suffering, you will understand just how hard and painful it is. Simply put, it sucks! And yet, that’s what we are called to do.

Wright doesn’t explain where evil ultimately comes from. But he does explain the cold, stark reality that the message of the cross is that God uses evil within his salvation plan. Instead of looking to avoid it, Christians are to take evil upon themselves, just like Christ did, and let it exhaust itself and die, so that resurrection and new life can come. “Evil is still a four-letter word,” Wright says, “but thank God, so is love.”

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 5: Jesus is Coming—Plant a Tree!

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 5: Jesus is Coming—Plant a Tree!

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If you do any amount of reading of N.T. Wright, you will quickly see that one of the biggest things he emphasizes about the original gospel proclamation of the early Church wasn’t simply to argue the fact that Jesus was resurrection—although they certainly did do that—but that what Jesus’ resurrection implied about all of reality itself. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the fundamental proclamation of the early Church was that the resurrection of Jesus signaled the beginning of the New Creation, and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into this present world order.

The resurrection, therefore, was not simply some sort of magic trick Jesus did to “prove he really was God.” It signaled the defeat of death and corruption, and it, as Wright says at the end of his chapter, “…is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill the [creation] mandate at last.” Simply put: creation is good, yet because of our sinfulness, we have rendered ourselves incapable of being God’s image-bearers to the rest of His creation; through Christ, it is now possible to be re-made into God’s image bearers so we can be the kind of human beings He always intended for us to be: royal priestly caretakers of His good creation.

Unfortunately, as Wright points out, that is not the message your typical Western Protestant gets. Somehow the good news of God redeeming all of creation through Christ has been twisted into this bizarre dualism where we believe we’re going to “fly away to spirit heaven” when we die, and that eventually this icky, material creation will burn. Therefore, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is to get us a ticket out of this dump—well, sorry, that’s not Christianity. That’s just a modern form of ancient Gnosticism.

Romans 8
Like the good Bible scholar that he is, Wright proceeds to prove his point about the New Creation being a central part of the proclamation of the Gospel by taking the reader through a number of New Testament passages. I will summarize them briefly.

First, read Romans 8, specifically 8:18-27. Romans 8 serves as the climax to Paul’s entire argument in the first half of Romans. When you read Romans 8:18-27, you should see everywhere that Paul is talking about the New Creation and the glorification of God’s children. That “glory” isn’t talking about how Christians will get to chill out an relax in a heavenly hammock for all eternity—it means that they will be restored to their original design and purpose: “to be God’s stewards, ruling over the whole creation with healing, restorative justice, and love.”

Furthermore, in 8:21, Paul says that creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption. What Paul is saying is, as Wright puts it, “When humans are put right, creation will be put right.”

And then there’s all the talk of “groaning”—the “groaning” Paul is talking about is precisely that of birth pains, and the expectation of the re-birth of all creation—not groaning until we’re whisked away to “spirit heaven,” but the groaning of the re-birth and redemption of God’s good creation—his material creation, once enslaved to corruption, but through the power of the resurrection of Christ, will be freed from that corruption and death: that’s the significance of the resurrection.

Wright then takes us back to Romans 8:12-17, where Paul talks about believers, being like Israel in the wilderness, have received the “Spirit of sonship,” and therefore as children of God, will receive the “promised inheritance.” Once again, Wright points out that this “inheritance” Paul is talking about is not heaven. It is the renewed and redeemed creation itself: God’s ultimate “holy land” is all of creation. And we are being remade into the image of God, to be like Christ, to be like a redeemed and transformed Adam…so that we can care for God’s good creation. That is who we were created to be. And even more importantly, Paul emphasizes that salvation has already begun—the resurrection and Pentecost have signaled the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, as you are being transformed into the image of God’s Son, you at the same time take part in transforming and redeeming God’s good creation.

The Second Coming
Wright then has a section about the Second Coming. Why? Because most people mistakenly think that the Second Coming means that Jesus will whisk us away to heaven, while letting the material creation burn. But here’s the thing, although the New Testament is filled with talk of Christ’s Second Coming, it sometimes talks as if it is a future event, but then also as if it is a present reality. Stephen, right before he is killed, says he sees Christ standing at God’s right hand; Jesus tells the chief priest that he will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.

Wright makes the point that if we are to better understand the concept of the Second Coming, we should give up the idea that heaven is “somewhere out there,” as if it in another place within our space-time continuum. He says, “Jesus is not far away; he is in heaven, and heaven is not a place in the sky, but rather God’s dimension of what we think of as ordinary reality.”

Let that sink in for a minute. I’ll be honest, I’ve thought that very thing for years. When Wright says that heaven is “a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere in numerous though mysterious ways,” I’ve got to say, it makes sense to me. But I’ll admit it, that’s a concept that will take some time to get your head around. The point is, though, when you think about the Kingdom of God and the Second Coming, you should be thinking about the reality of heaven “filling up” this fallen reality of ours, redeeming it, and transforming it into the likeness of God’s Son—you should not think of it as being whisked away to another place in the universe.

I’m Going Away to Prepare a Place for You
Wright also mentions the famous verse in John 14: “I’m going away to prepare a place for you.” He points out that the Greek word translated as “place,” specifically means “lodging house”—a “place to stay awhile and rest and be refreshed until it’s time to continue your journey.” Therefore, Jesus isn’t saying that you’re going to have a “mansion in the sky” after you die. He is saying that from the time you die until the time he comes again and creation is fully redeemed, there is a place prepared for you to rest, “where we can wait in the presence of Jesus until the final day.”

I Thessalonians 4: Not About a Rapture!
The most fascinating part of the chapter is Wright’s take on I Thessalonians. He argues that Paul is using an incredibly array of mixed metaphors to describe the Second Coming and the redemption of creation—but he isn’t talking about some “secret rapture” where Jesus literally flies down on a cloud, and then snatches the faithful away to heaven so that Nicolae Carpathia can unleash his antichrist “hell on earth” seven-year tribulation.

Wright breaks it down quite simply. Paul says five things will happen at the Second Coming: (1) those who are alive will be with those who have previously died; (2) the Christian dead will be raised, and the Christian living will be transformed, to a new transformed bodily life; (3) this will be the great day of vindication for those who have suffered for the faith; (4) Christ will be revealed as king of the whole creation—like Caesar, but a whole lot more; and (5) the reappearance of Jesus will be like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, but a whole lot more.

The mixed metaphors Paul uses here are the “trump of God” (i.e. Moses on Sinai), the “coming” of Christ (i.e. the Greek word “Parousia” designates the victorious coming of Caesar after a military victory), and the “clouds of heaven” (i.e. a reference to Daniel 7—the day of vindication for God’s people). Then, when Paul says that we will “go out to meet him,” he is referring to the custom that the people of a city would go out to meet their victorious king and then usher him back into the city as a conquering hero.

The point of all this is that Paul is saying the Second Coming will be when Christ is revealed as the true Lord of God’s good creation. These are metaphorical images that are not to be taken literally.

Conclusion
Wright packs a few more things into this chapter, but I think this is plenty to cover. His ultimate point can be summed up as follows: [God] “…calls me and you to live in him and by the power of his spirit, and so to be new-creation people here and now, giving birth to signs and symbols of the kingdom on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring forth real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation even in the midst of the present age.”

Even though Wright doesn’t go where the title of the chapter suggests—he didn’t go into a full-fledged “ecological” message to save the trees—nevertheless, his focus on the new creation, and the goodness of God’s creation, and the purpose of salvation so that human beings can fulfill their vocation and care for God’s creation…all that helps us put into perspective and clarify just what we are called to do and be as God’s image-bearing stewards of creation. And caring for creation is certainly part of that, to say the least.

What I take away from this chapter in those terms is this: all our modern technological advances are certainly a good thing. And although ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution many of these advances have increased pollution, as stewards of God’s creation, we shouldn’t completely ditch those technological advances. Instead, we should (as we already are) continue to perfect and advance those technologies to make them not only pollute less, but perhaps even to aid in keeping creation clean. By doing so, we fulfill, however small, at least a bit of our vocation as God’s image-bearing stewards of His good creation.

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 4: Should Women be Ordained?

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 4: Should Women be Ordained?

Surprised By Scripture

Should women be ordained as ministers? Should women have leadership positions in the church? Generally speaking, your answer to that question pretty much pigeon-holes you into one of two political camps: if you say “no,” then you clearly are a conservative; if you say “yes,” then you clearly are a liberal. This is a good example, though, of just how too political we have let our Christian faith (especially in America) become. When Christianity is identified more with the political right or political left, than it is with what is actually said in the New Testament, that becomes a big problem—welcome to the American brand of Christianity in the 21st Century.

N.T. Wright, though, is not only British, he’s also a New Testament scholar, so when he tackles this thorny issue of “women in leadership positions in the church,” perhaps we should consider what he says. As with the previous three issues in his book, Surprised by Scripture, Wright goes rather in depth on this issue as well. The thing is though that he never directly answers the question regarding the ordination of women—but by the end of the chapter, it’s pretty clear what his view is: there is no biblical case against having women leaders in the church. But before we get to that conclusion, let’s look at what Wright brings up in his chapter.

Galatians 3:28
Wright’s first point is that the early Christian community made it abundantly clear that women are a part of the family of God in Christ, and were not, as was the case in the pagan and Jewish worlds, regulated to second-class citizens. He then points to what Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no ‘male and female.’” Wright points out that many translations wrongly keep the same construct, and have “neither male nor female,” but in the actual Greek it reads, “no ‘male and female.’” Wright argues that the reason Paul does this is because he is purposely quoting Genesis 1:27.

Why does he do that? Because he actually responding to the synagogue prayer that Jewish men often prayed, which thanked God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Paul was a theologian of the new creation, and his point is that in the re-created people of God in Christ, everyone enjoys equal status. The Jews of his day often referred to Genesis 1 to justify their own male privilege. Wright points out that Paul’s response was “No…none of that counts when it comes to membership in the renewed people of Abraham.”

Other Areas in the Bible
Wright’s second point is that when you read the Bible, women play a prominent role, and were, in fact, leaders in the early church. Even though Jesus chose twelve men to be the apostles, it was Mary Magdalene and the other women who were “apostles to the apostles” when they brought news of the resurrection. Also, in Romans 16:7, there is the husband and wife team of Andronicus and Junia, who are “great among the apostles.” Then there’s the famous story of Mary and Martha, in which Mary, instead of doing the women’s work with Martha in the kitchen, was sitting at the feet of Jesus in the male part of the house, listening to and learning from Jesus as a student and disciple. Jesus clearly makes it known that Mary has every right to do so—and in that culture, that was quite scandalous. Finally, in Acts, we find that when Saul was out to catch and imprison the ringleaders of the new sect of Christians, he targeted both men and women alike.

At the very least, it is clear that in the early church, women enjoyed privilege, equality, and in some capacity were leaders.

I Corinthians 14:34-35
Wright then turns to other passages. We’ll summarize them quickly. First there is I Corinthians 14:34-35, which clearly says women are to remain silent in the churches. Another NT scholar, Gordon Fee has argued that these verses were not part of the original letter—I personally find it a very convincing argument, as does Wright. But he also says that the focus of the entire passage was on church order, not about requirements for leadership. And in that culture, apparently, women would often ask their husbands during the service about certain things, and it was causing a disturbance. Therefore, the point was 14:34-35 really was simply saying, “Don’t ask questions during the service—there’s a time a place for that.”

Wright then addresses the odd passage in I Corinthians 11 regarding head coverings. Without going into all the details, Wright argues that Paul’s point is that when worshipping, both men and women should maintain gender distinctions, and, as those being renewed in God’s image, they should celebrate the genders that God has given them. In addition, the only women in Corinth who probably didn’t wear any kind of head coverings were prostitutes. So what Paul was essentially saying was, “Don’t dress like a prostitute, and celebrate the gender you are.” So no, I doubt Paul would be impressed with Bruce Jenner, or a society that celebrates that sort of thing.

I Timothy 2:8-15
Wright finally addresses I Timothy 2:8-15, possibly the most seemingly-obvious “women-hater” passage in the New Testament. Wright points out a number of things though: (1) the passage does, in fact, state that women should be allowed to study (hurrah for the 1st century women’s liberation movement!); (2) the talk of “being in full submission” is actually about being in full submission to God and the gospel, not to men.

Wright makes a particular point in regards to 2:12, though. Whereas it is mostly translated as, “I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man,” Wright argues that it should be translated as, “I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.” Why would Paul say this? Well, in Ephesus, where Timothy was, the pagan cult of Artemis had women priests who exercised authority over men worshippers of Artemis.

So basically, Paul was encouraging women to learn and study, just like men, but he wanted to point out that the purpose of allowing Christian women to study was not to be like the cult of Artemis—he wasn’t trying to have women “rule the show” as men had usually done. The Christian proclamation was one of full equality between men and women.

What about the reference to Adam and Eve, though, in 2:13? Wright argues that Paul says this as a way of encouraging women to study and learn: after all, Eve was deceived! Women need to learn just as much as men do.

Conclusion
As you can see, Wright makes a convincing argument that women have every right to learn and study just as much as men; and he also makes convincing argument that women were in positions of authority in the early church. But as for the specific question, “Should women be ordained?” He never comes right out and says it, but it seems clear he has no problem with it. Historically and biblically, he makes a good case.

I personally think the entire debate is misguided, though. Back in the first century, they didn’t have seminaries—however you were gifted, you had a place in the Church to use your gift. Therefore, today, as it was back then, if your gift is teaching, whether you were a man or a woman, you should be allowed to use your gift. Within the Church, women and men are equal before God.

As an Orthodox Christian, I asked an Orthodox priest why only men were priests. His answer made sense to me. He said that the liturgy is essentially a re-enactment of the Last Supper, and the priest plays the part of Jesus. Since Jesus was a man, the priest is a man. That doesn’t mean the priest is more holy or better than women; it just means when it comes to the specific task in the Church regarding communion, that role has to be played by a man.

Besides, I think there is something wrong with this obsession some have over “authority” in the church. Should or should not women be allowed to have that position of “primary authority” in a church? My response would be, “Is that even a Christian mindset?”

In any case, my personal position is probably close to Wright’s. Women have every right to use their gifts in the Church, and have every right to have pastoral/leadership positions. It’s biblical. As an Orthodox Christian, I also support the Orthodox reasoning for male priests.

So what are your opinions, thoughts, questions, regarding the role of women in the church?

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 3: The Resurrection

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 3: The Resurrection

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In N.T. Wright’s third chapter of Surprised by Scripture, he asks the question, “Can a scientist believe in the resurrection?” In fact, this question does not need to be limited to scientists—it can easily apply to anyone who says, “How can any rational person be a Christian? We all know that dead people can’t come back to life. Science has proven it.”

To that mindset, Wright starts off by stating that the revered “scientific method” of the modern world, while certainly a tremendous method to understand how things work in the natural world, is not—indeed cannot be—the only way to understanding in all areas of life. Science obverses and strives to understand the repeatable facts of nature; historical events and occurrences on the other hand are essentially unrepeatable: there was only one Battle of Gettysburg, Waterloo, Destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. Therefore, as wonderful as the scientific method is to understand the natural world, it simply is not possible to use the scientific method when trying to understand historical events.

And so, when we come to the resurrection of Jesus, Wright points out what should be obvious: (1) Jesus’ own disciples claimed he had physically come back to life, and (2) the early Christians were not under the impression that things like Jesus’ resurrection had happened elsewhere. Basically, it was physical, and it was unique and unrepeatable.

Wright then points out that the concept of resurrection was a thoroughly Jewish concept—it was the belief that when God returned to His people, that the righteous who had died would be resurrected. “Resurrection,” therefore, when hand in hand with the dawn of the new Messianic age. That being said, though, not all Jews believed in the resurrection. “Resurrection” was a  belief of some Jews.

But Wright points out that with the dawn of Christianity, there were seven “early mutations” of the traditional Jewish view of resurrection.

  1. Unlike within Judaism, all Christians held to the belief of the resurrection. There was no variation among Christians.
  2. Whereas with Judaism, resurrection was important, but not the most important thing, within Christianity, the resurrection took center stage. As Wright says, if you take away the birth accounts of Jesus, you lose four chapters in the New Testament; if you take away the resurrection, “you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well.”
  3. The third mutation concerned the Christian view of the resurrected body. Simply put, it would be like the body of the resurrected Jesus. It would be a “Spirit-driven body”—meaning, it would be incorruptible; it would “run,” if you will, on the life of God Himself.
  4. The fourth mutation was the Christian proclamation that “the resurrection” had split in two. It had happened with Jesus, but another “phase” was yet to come: the future resurrection of his followers at the renewal of creation. This concept is the bedrock worldview of the entire Christian worldview. It is what scholars call “inaugurated eschatology,” or more simply, the “already/not yet” understanding of the resurrection.
  5. The fifth mutation was what Wright calls “collaborative eschatology”: the Christian belief that “God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.” Remember was what said in the previous post about the “vocation” of Adam? This is it. We are God’s image-bearers, and we work out salvation in Christ throughout the world.
  6. There was now a new metaphorical use of resurrection: baptism was a living metaphor for dying an rising again, for example. Look through Paul’s letters, you’ll see the “resurrection as metaphor” everywhere when discussing living the Christian life.
  7. Finally, resurrection now became associated with messiahship. Nobody in Judaism expected the Messiah to die in the first place. He was supposed to defeat the Romans, not get killed by them. Yet the early Christians pointed to Jesus’ resurrection as proof that he really was the Messiah and Lord of all. Why? Because he had defeated a far greater enemy than Rome; he defeated death itself.

Wright’s point is that all these things are the object of a historian, not a scientist. We are not dealing with repeatable natural occurrences. We are dealing with historical claims, so what can we make of them? Wright points out four interesting features of the Easter stories:

  1. Throughout each gospel, there are hosts of Old Testament quotations and allusions; but strangely, the resurrection narratives are almost entirely void of any OT allusion. That is quite an odd thing, don’t you think?
  2. The fact that each account emphasizes that women were the initial witnesses of the resurrection. Given how women were held in such little regard in the first century, no one in their right mind, would simply make up a story involving women as the key witnesses.
  3. Then there is Jesus himself: he wasn’t some phantom or angelic feature—he clearly had a real physical body and was a real human being. But then there was something strangely different about it—it had been transformed into something the disciples recognized but didn’t fully understand. It was a “new physicality.” It seemed quite at home in heaven and earth, and it was no longer corruptible.
  4. Finally, in the resurrection accounts there is “the entire absence of mention of the future Christian hope.” The significance of the event was clear: Jesus had been raised, therefore he is the Messiah and the Lord of the world.

Wright points out that all these features are very, very early. If you want to know what the earliest Christians believed, this was it.

History, Science and Easter

Wright emphasizes that the best historical explanation regarding Jesus what that (1) the tomb really was empty, and (2) the disciples really encountered him in ways that convinced them that he wasn’t simply a ghost or hallucination. And more importantly, the kind of body that was raised seemed to be a new kind of physical body. Given that fact, Wright points out, “if something like this happened, it would perfectly explain why Christianity began and why it took the shape it did.”

What does that mean? Wright makes it simple: the New Testament proclamation, with Jesus’ resurrection as the bedrock foundation, is that of a new creation—not something merely symbolic or metaphorical, but a very real new creation. Therefore, as Wright says, the resurrection of Jesus “is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world.”

Wright goes on to say, “If there really is a new creation on the loose, the historian wouldn’t have any analogies for it, and the scientist wouldn’t be able to rank its characteristic events with other events that might otherwise have been open to inspection.” So where does that leave us?

Wright concludes by saying that faith in Jesus risen from the dead both transcends but includes what we call history and science. It is something Wright calls “The Thomas Challenge”:

[With the scientific method] “…when something turns up that doesn’t fit the paradigm you’re working with, one option at least, perhaps when all others have failed, is to change the paradigm, not to exclude everything you’ve known to that point but to include it within a larger whole.”

The resurrection, as Wright argues is the lynchpin of an entirely new worldview that is not beholden to the corruptible reality of this age. He states, “…the resurrection sis not…a highly peculiar event within the present world, though it is also that; it is the defining, central, prototypical event of the new creation, the world that is being born in Jesus.”

And the way to know and understand that new creation is through faith and love. As Wright states,

“…although the historical arguments for Jesus’ bodily resurrection are truly strong, we must never suppose that that will do more than bring people to the questions faced by Thomas and Peter, the questions of faith and love.  We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter. To do so would be like someone who lit a candle to see whether the sun had risen.”

So can a scientist (or historian) believe in the resurrection? Sure. But science and historical inquiry only can get you to the nature of the question, and the doorstep to a new reality. The old instruments, even though they get you to the door, will be found wanting once you walk through.

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 2–Do we need a historical Adam?

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 2–Do we need a historical Adam?

Surprised By Scripture

The second chapter in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture tackles a subject that tends to be an extremely hot-button issue within American Evangelicalism today: the historicity of Adam. Now, the fact that it is even a hot-button issue might surprise some people. Ironically, some people’s response is basically, “How can there not be a historical Adam?” while others will undoubtedly response with, “How can anything still think that there could be a historical Adam?”

Now, that topic alone, with all the scholarly ink that has been spilled on it, could fill a book all by itself—and if you check Amazon.com, you’ll find that there are, in fact, many books on that topic. N.T. Wright, though, takes a rather different approach to the question—one that I appreciate.

He first points out that too often that in many western, Protestant/Evangelical traditions, even though they claim to be rooted in scripture, in fact “have by and large developed long-lasting and subtle strategies for not listening to what the Bible is in fact saying.” Translation? We Christian in modern western civilization often completely neglect even attempt to find out what any given biblical passage said to its original audience, and we simply assume that the Bible speaks directly to our 21st century questions and concerns.

Biblical Authority
If we want to truly let the Bible speak to us today, we first must make sure we understand the questions, answers, and worldview that the Bible was putting forth in its original context. Unfortunately, because we don’t often do this, what ends up happening is that well-meaning Christians simply rip completely de-contextualized verses out the Bible to that “support” their particular political or social views, and then claim that they are basing their political and social views on the “authority of Scripture.” In reality they aren’t.  They’re using the “authority of Scripture” as a way to mask their own agenda, and their cherry-picking of verses. This sort of thing happens all across the political and social spectrum.

In any case, Wright makes an incredibly important point when it comes to biblical authority: If we really value the authority of Scripture, we need to understand the original context. We need to make sure we are understanding the authoritative message that God and the inspired authors originally intended. Why? Because the “authority” of the Bible doesn’t rest in the Bible itself—it rests in the authority that was given to Jesus by the Father, and that he in turn bestowed on his followers. Therefore Wright points out that the phrase “authority of scripture” really is simply shorthand for “the authority of God in Jesus, mediated through scripture.”

The next thing Wright points out is a question: “What is God’s authority in the Bible there for?” Well, it’s not simply to give a lot of true information…even though the Bible certain does. Wright points out that the authority of God in the Bible has a purpose, and that purpose is to redeem His creation through an obedient humanity. Or as Wright says, “The Bible is then the God-given equipment through which the followers of Jesus are themselves equipped to be obedient stewards, the royal priesthood, bringing that saving rule of God in Christ to the world.” So what is the Bible “there for”? The very thing Wright just said.

Before he goes on to address the topic of Adam, though, Wright briefly mentions the value and role of the traditional Church creeds. I’ll make it simple: the creeds are indeed useful, but they are really just “Cliff Notes” to the much deeper truths of the Christian faith. The creeds are essentially guard rails that make sure you don’t get off track in your Christian faith. But if all you do is constantly inspect the guard rails, and never take off on the journey of faith, the guard rails won’t do you much good.

Paul, Adam, and the Next Testament
With all that in mind, Wright then sets out to illuminate his readers on the intended biblical message concerning Adam. He starts by addressing the common claim in ultra-conservative circles that “If you don’t believe Adam was a real human being, then you can’t believe anything else in the Bible.” Wright’s reply is a basic, “No, that’s not true. You need to first ask, ‘What is the intent of the talk about Adam in the Bible?’” Particularly, if you look at Romans 5, what was Paul’s purpose when he was referring to Adam? Was his purpose to make a historical argument?

Wright’s answer is, “No.” Paul’s point in not only Romans 5, but in Romans 1-8 as a whole, was to emphasize what the human vocation is. In other words, he’s not primarily focused on explaining how one gets saved (that would make little sense, given the fact he’s writing to Christians who are already saved!); rather, he’s explaining the goal and purpose of redeemed humanity that salvation has made possible.

For Paul, God’s holy land now is no longer just the “holy land” of Israel. Because of Christ, the entire world is God’s holy land, and through Christ and his followers, He is going to redeem all of creation, and thus bring the Kingdom of God to all of creation. If you understand that’s the complete “end game” that one’s individual salvation in Christ becomes a part of, then you’ll be in a better position to understand Paul’s use of Adam in Romans 5.

For Paul, the fundamental problem in creation is that, because of human sinfulness, “God’s project for the whole creation (that it should be run by obedient humans) was aborted and put on hold.” The answer to that problem, therefore, is found in Christ: through Christ, humanity can be redeemed, and thus become obedient stewards of God’s creation. Through Christ, human beings can become what Adam and Eve failed to be. In other words, the goal of salvation is not some individualistic “I get to go to heaven when I die” sort of thing; rather, it is, “I get to be part of a redeemed and obedient humanity (i.e. Christ, the second Adam), so that I can fulfill God’s purpose to have human beings care for His creation, where He will dwell with human beings.”

Does that sound a bit out there? Well, Wright points you to Romans 5:17 to prove it is true. Paul starts by saying, “If by the trespass of one, death reigned through the one (i.e. Adam)…” and then Wright says we expect Paul to then finish that thought with, “…how much more will life reign through the one” (i.e. Jesus).” If that was the case, then one could possibly argue that Jesus, a historical figure, is paralleled with Adam, who would then be also a historical figure.

But that’s not what Paul says. Instead, he ends with “…how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace, and the gift of covenant membership (i.e. righteousness) reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Wright’s point is that the focus of Paul’s argument isn’t on whether or not Adam was a historical person, or whether or not “Adam” represents all humanity. Paul’s focus is on the vocation of humanity—to fulfill our calling as image-bearers of God to reign in life over His creation. Through Christ that has been made possible. In fact, as Wright says, that is what it means to be a royal priesthood: “looking after God’s creation is the royal bit; summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit.”

Wright’s Conclusion
NTWrightWright’s point is that one cannot go to Romans 5 (or I Corinthians 15 as well), and argue that since Paul refers to Adam in his theological arguments, that he must have thought Adam was a historical person. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Adam was a historical person, maybe the Adam in Genesis 3 is symbolic and archetypal for all humanity. The point is that that issue is not what is being addressed in Romans 5 or I Corinthians 15.

Wright further points out that when it comes to Genesis 1-3, that the Jews of Jesus and Paul’s day would have undoubtedly seen the story of their own nation in those chapters. Think about it: Adam is placed in a garden where God rests and reigns; Adam is to obey God’s commandment, or else suffer exile from the garden and ultimate death. Does that now sound much like the story of OT Israel as well?

Simply put, there is a whole lot more going on in Genesis 1-3, as well as the New Testament’s use of Genesis 1-3 than our modern “Was Adam a historical person?” debate. It certainly seems, Wright argues, that neither the Old or New Testament writers, not even Jesus himself, seemed all that concerned with “proving” this point. Their use of Genesis 1-3 often was to make other theological arguments, other than trying “prove” there was a literal Adam.

So what should this tell Christians? There might have been a literal Adam, there might not have been—it’s not spelled out in the Bible either way. Therefore, it is entirely okay to speculate on that “origins question,” as long as you keep in mind what the theological message of passages like Genesis 1-3, Romans 5, and I Corinthians 15 really is.

Some Christians view the Adam of Genesis 1-3 as a purely symbolic figure representing all of humanity, so that “Adam’s story” is “our story.” Some, like N.T. Wright speculate that at some point in the past, “God chose one pair from the rest of the early hominids for a special…vocation,” but that pair (call them Adam and Eve if you like) failed in their task. Obviously, Wright has no problem with the theory of evolution explaining the gradual creation of human beings from lower life forms. Others, of course, think that the Adam and Eve of Genesis 2-3 were the first two people in history, specially created and distinct from every other creature.

Regardless of your particular opinion, you should be honest and admit that that particular issue is not spelled out in Scripture. The thing to remember is whether you hold to the “symbolic” view, Wright’s view, or the literalistic view—they are all speculation, and none of them really have any bearing on the truth and authority of Scripture and what it is teaching about mankind state in need of salvation, or mankind’s fulfillment of God’s vocation in Christ.

So here’s a question for you: what is your view of Adam and Eve? Do you think Wright’s comments hold any merit? What questions do you continue to have?

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