In a recent comment, Mike says of N. T. Wright:
"Help me understand how this is much better than somebody like John Hagee. Doesn't Wright still rely heavily on superstitious beliefs that God will magically "fix" everything? I've always been intrigued by Tom Wright, but I've also had a hard time shaking his attachment to a supernatural eschatology."
Mike, your difficulty in understanding N. T. Wright is based on the fact that he challenges and subverts the very categories that you take for granted. If we want to understand him, we will have to expand our imaginations beyond the Enlightenment constraints to which they are often shackled.
In order to understand how inappropriate it is to compare N. T. Wright with John Hagee, we have to do some work on epistemology.
Let's take for starters your casual use of terms such as magically fix, supernatural, and external deity. Such descriptions only work within the thought world of the Enlightenment, which assumed that the world was somehow separate from God, and that God was a far away force external to it. I for one don't believe that God intervenes in history-- He doesn't need to intervene - he is already here! God is not some deistic God who is far removed and who occasionally crashes the party. Rather, God is with us always, acting freely according to his sovereign purposes. The best example of this is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, you ask something like: "Is it a literal resurrection + renewal of creation that will be done by a theistic (or deistic) being. Or, is Wright using this as a metaphor used to describe how we humans can and should change the world by doing Christ's work. In symbolic terms, I mean we become the eyes, ears, limbs (resurrected body) of Christ."
The answer is yes. The church is called to be the body of Christ, to continue His work in the world. We can have confidence that our work is not wasted because we believe in the resurrection.
Here is an example, from his book, Surprised by Hope, of how the answer is yes.
"The image I often use in trying to explain the strange but important idea is that of a the stonemason working on part of a great cathedral. The architect already drew up the plans and passed on instructions to the team of masons as to which stones need carving in what way. The foreman distributes these tasks among the team. One shapes stones for a particular tower or turret; another carves the delicate pattern that breaks up the otherwise forbidding straight lines; another works on gargoyles or coats of arms; another is making statues of saints, martyrs, kings, or queens. They are vaguely aware that the others are getting on with their tasks, and they know, of course, that many other entire departments are busy about quite different tasks as well. When they're finished with their stones and their statues, they hand them over without necessarily knowing very much about where in the eventual building their work will find its home. They may not have seen the complete architect's drawing of the whole building with their bit identified in its proper place. They may not live either, to see the completed building with their work at last where it belongs. But they trust the architect that the work they have done in following instructions will not be wasted..... The work we do in the present, then, gains its full significance from the eventual design in which it is meant to belong. Applied to the mission of the church, this means that we must work in the present for the advance signs of that eventual state of affairs when God is 'all in all, when his kingdom has come and his will is done 'on earth as in heaven.' " (209)
At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul's long discourse on resurrection, he does not say, "so sit back and wait for God to do everything." Instead he says, "Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain."
Again, Mike says:
"Now he wants us to buy into literal resurrection of all the decayed human bodies that ever lived. Keep in mind that most of the molecules that made up the bodies of those people have long been fossilized or consumed by other life forms. How exactly could that work? It seems Wright, like his American fundamentalist counterparts, fell victim to the same inability to recognize a metaphor or literary allegory. Get a grip. "
Here is Wright's response:
"Tertullian gives a brusque answer. It's God's business, he says; he's the creator, so he can and will sort it out. Origen, faced with similar questions, replies more subtly. Our bodies, he points out, are in any case in a state of flux. It isn't just that hair and fingernails grow and are cut off; our entire physical substance is slowly changing. What we today call atoms and molecules pass through us, leaving us with continuity of form but transience of matter (C.S. Lewis summarizing this argument, offers an illustration: I am in that respect, he says, like a curve in a waterfall). This argument is repeated by Thomas Aquinas a millennium after Origen and nearly a millennium before Lewis. It's a good argument: as we now know, we change our entire physical kit, every atom and molecule, over a period of seven years or so. I am physically a totally different person now from the person I was ten years ago. And yet I am still me. thus it really doesn't matter whether we get the identical molecules back or not, though some continuity is perfectly possible." (157 of Surprised by Hope)
Perhaps Mike is familiar with the work of John Polkinghorne. For 25 years, Polkinghorne was a theoretical physicist working on theories of elementary particles and played a significant role in the discovery of the quark. From 1968 to 1979 he was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University, and then he decided to become a priest and a theologian in the Church of England. N. T. Wright favorably quotes Polkinghorne's analogy for resurrection: God will download our software onto his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware to run the software again. (163)
N. T. Wright is the opposite of John Hagee. Hagee thinks the goal of the Christian life is to be raptured away from this terrible planet, so that we can live a disembodied life in heaven. (So it doesn't much matter what happens in or to this world). Wright (who doesn't believe in the Rapture) believes that the goal of the Christian life is to bear witness to the marriage of heaven and earth, the new creation that started with the resurrection of Jesus and continues now when we love in his name, and will be brought some day to its glorious fulfillment when this world is renewed, we will all be resurrected to share in glory, because the Earth that God made is indeed a good world after all. For this we pray each time we join together in the Lord's Prayer, and for this we live in hope of the resurrection, knowing that in the Lord, our labor is not in vain.
And Tom Wright is very familiar with how the Book of Revelation critiques the Empire. It also subverts the empires of our day. See his essay on Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire. Also see his essay on God and Caesar. (John Hagee is about as pro-empire as you can get).
Archbishop Rowan Williams was pleased to present the Ramsey Prize in 2005 to N. T. Wright for his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. Mike, in order to understand my point of view even better, you might want to check out the critique that Rowan Williams made of John Shelby Spong. He explains in even more depth about the misleading dualism that would have us come up with ideas like 'external deity.'
Thursday, June 26, 2008
In a recent comment, Mike says of N. T. Wright: