Sunday, May 14, 2006

N.T. Wright, Creation and the Church

I'm past due for a post, but life, which tends to get a little too quick for me this time of year, has been busier than usual this last couple of weeks. A combination of a student conference and a basically busy week has conspired to prevent me from blogging.

The highlight of this week, however, was getting a chance to see Bishop N.T. Wright (of Durham) speaking at a conference put on by my wife's college. Before I proceed, I have to say that I'm an N.T. Wright fan. I've read his Christian Origins series (I'm even slowly acquiring it for myself--the books are a little expensive) and several other books and articles by him. I find him one of the more thoughtful and insightful New Testament scholars and theologians in recent times. If any of you have read the much maligned (by both sides) Windsor Report, you'll find N.T. Wright's fingerprints on it throughout. His ecclesiological vision, by itself, if we bothered to listen and act, is sufficient to stabilize our fragmenting Communion and allow us a chance to settle our difficulties with each other. That is a heady vision, I know, but the trick is that many don't accept that vision for various reasons.

Bishop Wright delivered three keynote addresses last week. Unfortunately, time and money meant that I could really only catch one which dealt with Romans 8, 18-25 and the topic of the Creation. I really don't have space to transcribe my notes on this, but his argument emphasized our responsibility for Creation which has been marred by the fall and our failures to live up to our calling at God's image bearers who reflect God's glory and care into Creation itself. Thus, by the Fall, Creation has been afflicted with decay and death which continues to hold sway. The good Creation, like the Promised Land before the Exodus, is held captive by the powers of decay and death, but has been released by Jesus' victory over death; a victory in which we participate now, but for which we still await the final consummation. And we are a people who are called to live in the hope and expectation that we are only living through the labour pains of the new age to come.

None of this is particularly new, mind you. I've seen similar arguments before. Yet, I enjoyed this reminder as well as the elegant and clear exposition of it (which I don't think I've even come close to conveying). And I enjoyed Bishop Wright's elegant refutations, especially his brief excursus on the Da Vinci Code, the Judas Gospel and their popularity. His definition of Gnosticism is masterful: (rough quotation)"At the heart of Gnosticism is the belief that Creation is evil, created by a stupid God". With Bishop Wright, I set myself against that view because I do believe that Creation was and is a good thing, even if it is currently in travail.

What I found particularly appealing about this talk, and which made me wish I could see another, is that Bishop Wright spoke with hope. Hope about the world as we find it. Hope that the evil afflicting Creation and us has already been beaten and undermined. And even hope that our Communion can get through our current crises and survive to pass on these other two, more important, sources of hope to the world around us. In some ways, this last hope is the one that feels the strangest. We can all, I think, grant the first two sources of hope because they are so general and so central to our faith. Yet, this third hope is harder because it is more intimately personal to the life of our Communion and is a place where emotions are rubbed raw. Yet, Bishop Wright's call for patience at a time in which our church travails is just as grounded in our communal hope as Christians. If we can have hope for the world in the state that it is in, how can we note have hope that we can work out our quarrels, whatever they are, in our Church?

Bishop Wright is a precious voice in our Communion today. He is learned. He is clear and firm in his opinions. His call for patience should slow us down, move us from our rigidly defended beliefs so that we can start trying to sort out what God wants of us. Our only chance as a Communion is to bring down the temperature and finally talk about what God wants of us. I pray that, in this corner of cyberspace, we can manage, even a little, to do some of these things in our discussions.

Peace,
Phil

6 comments:

Jim said...

Phil,

I am most taken by your quote/paraphrase of +Tom's comment on gnosticism. I may have mentioned to you that our Wednesday night bible study group elected (oer my objections) to read the "Gospel of Thomas." They all found it as far from their understanding of Christ and His kingdom as they can imagine. In fact, the most common emotion one heard as it was read aloud was laughter.

I suppose that reaction proves that I was wrong. Maybe we should encourage people to read Thomas and Phillip and some of the other gnostic stuff simplt so that we can expose it as the idea of an evil creation and a stupid god.

By the way, we are now embarked on the Revelation of St. John. The group is begining to think the Orthodox have a point in considering it appocraphal. :-) My sense of confidence in their judgement rises nearly every week.

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

I know, I liked Bishop Tom's comments too. And I definately think that the best refutation of Gnosticism is letting people reading the gospels in question. Personally, that was the feeling I had when I read the Gospel of Judas around Easter. It is just plain loopy.

As for Revelation, as far as I've seen the Easter Orthodox do accept it as part of the canon, even if historically there was some ambivilence about it.

I like Revelation, but it is a tough book because it is all too easy to dismiss it as wacky or to try to use it read the future. Just this morning, coincidentally, I read a short essay by Kathleen Norris about it in her book, Cloister Walk, .

She comments

"We do not value it [Revelation]for what it is, a unique form of truth-telling, and that is precisely wht John's Apocalypse seemed to be: uniquely true, true in its own terms, and indefinable--or just plain weird--outside them. Its images radically subvert our desir eto literalize them, and also expose the flimsiness of our attempts to do so. Mainstram and liberal Christians may denoucne apocalyptic imagry as negative thinking, and fundamentalists may try to defuse them by interpreting them as simple prediction. But the Book of REvelation comes with a built-in irony. Whther one believes John wrote the book, or regards God as the true author of all scripture, to interpret its images so literally is to show a strange disregard for the method its author employs."

Revelation is tough, but what it says to me is that, although we can expect a lot of trouble in the birth-pangs of the Kingdom of God (and they're likely to get worse as the time comes for its full emergence) God will win out. That I take as comforting.

Peace,
Phil

Jim said...

Phil,

I was using "appochraphal" as not for use in creating doctrine, which is I think the academic view, as opposed to the popular.

FWIW
jimB

Phil S. said...

I was using apocryphal the same way and I think the Orthodox would as well. Yet, I'm pretty sure that the Eastern Orthodox keep Revelation in the canon and, indeed, regard it as being as authoritative as the rest of the Bible.

Peace,
phil

dj said...

Hey guys...

Phil, you said,"I'm pretty sure that the Eastern Orthodox keep Revelation in the canon and, indeed, regard it as being as authoritative as the rest of the Bible.">

Well, yea... But toss this into the mix... we don't use the Revelation liturgically.

It's "canonical"... it's reliable... it's trustworthy... and yet it's not appointed to be read at ANY service. Go figure.

I've got my own opinion about why that might be, based upon how I've seen the book used in the last few hundred years... but that's JUST opinion.

Cheers,
dj

Phil S. said...

Thanks, dj. I appreciate the clarification in the Eastern Orthodox view. I think somewhere in the recesses of my mind I recalled something like that, but it didn't come up until you mentioned it.

Revelation is the book of the Bible which is used and abused with frightening disregard for sound exegesis. Yet, I would hesitate to throw it out. There is simply too much good stuff in it.

Peace,
Phil