Wednesdays with Bishop Wright–The New Testament and the People of God (Part 1)

Posted: February 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

Agree with him or consider him a heretic, Bishop N.T. Wright is arguably the most influential Biblical scholar in the world right now.  I spent some time outlining his general thought in very broad strokes by blogging through his popular work Simply Christian but now we turn to Wright’s more academic works. 

Now, don’t wig on me.  I’m not going to engage in a lot of academic jargon that only seminary nerds understand.  My hope is to present a more thorough outline of Wright’s work but in a way in which avoids, as much as possible, dense theological concepts (of which I’m always a little skeptical) and obscure vocabulary in order to open the conversation up to anyone who is interested.

For example, we will begin this jog through Wright’s work with his 1992 book The New Testament and the People of God, which serves as volume one of a projected six-volume New Testament theology.  The book opens with a discussion of how we interpret texts, including the Bible, and whether we can truly understand them given that we don’t have God’s perspective on everything and are seemingly disabled by our own prejudices. 

In his review of the book, scholar Mark Mattison writes:

Wright begins by grappling with the knotty issue of hermeneutics (broadly defined) and authority, arguing that theology must be worked out in conjunction with history and literary criticism. He recognizes, however, that epistemology must be addressed first. Epistemologically, Wright rejects not only the naïve positivism which imagines that texts and events can be interpreted “objectively,” but also the subjective phenomenalism which undermines public discourse. The middle road taken by Wright is that of critical realism: Whereas initial observation must be challenged by critical reflection, nevertheless it is possible to grasp something of reality. Though not advocating postmodernism, Wright nevertheless, in good postmodern fashion, makes much of stories as windows into worldviews.

Now, this is the kind of paragraph analyzing Wright’s work that I will NOT be writing over the next few months. 

With all that out of the way, let’s dig in to the introduction.

Wright opens The New Testament and the People of God (or NTPG in seminary circles) arguing that the New Testament has not been read or heard as fully as it can be or should be.  Typically, the Bishop sees the Bible expounded in a way that reminds us of a professor dryly delivering a lecture or as subjectively and emotionally as proof texts for whatever the speaker was feeling or thinking at the moment.  Wright calls these two extremes post-Enlightenment rationalism and anti-Enlightenment supernaturalism.

Wright calls for an approach to the New Testament that does not arrogantly presume that traditional Christianity with it’s belief in the miraculous is a fairy tale nor one that resists the difficult work of historical study. 

As we will see in the weeks and months ahead, Wright attempts to thread the needle and present a Christianity bigger than just a collection of liberal timeless truths and broader than just a way to go to heaven when you die.  You probably won’t always agree with Wright ( I don’t!) but it should be very interesting.

Stay tuned.

Grace and peace.

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