Friday, August 19, 2005

I told you I'd post about N.T. Wright. nah nah na boo boo

The Right Reverend Father in God Nicholas Thomas Wright, by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham. Boy, those Anglicans sure have a way with stuffy titles. (Of course, I'm used to the Baptist and non-denominational version. We call our pastors by nicknames. And, ain't nobody above a pastor - except, as the bad joke goes, his wife.) Bishop Wright (or, more commonly, N. T. Wright) is a student of the New Testament and studies both Jesus and Paul within the frame of their Second Temple-era Jewishness and a very frequent lecturer. The following excerpts are stolen from his speech entitled "Jesus and the Identity of God" expressly about Jesus' divine identity and self-understanding.

The death of God's son can only reveal God's love (as in, e.g., Rom 5:6-10) if the son is the personal expression of God himself. It will hardly do to say, "I love you so much that I'm going to send someone else."

The positive reason for studying Jesus within his historical context and using all the tools at our disposal to do so has to do with that still-neglected factor, the meaning of Israel within the purpose of God. If we are to be biblical theologians, it simply will not do to tell the story of salvation as simply creation, fall, Jesus, salvation. We desperately need to say: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, salvation. If we ask the question of how this particular human being is the instrument of salvation and do not say as our first answer, “because in him God’s Israel-shaped plan to save the world came to fulfillment,” then we leave a huge vacuum in our thinking (and in our reading of scripture). I believe it is because of this vacuum that people have elevated minor themes, such as the sinlessness of Jesus, to a prominence which, though not insignificant, they do not possess in the NT itself. Thus it is not enough merely to say “earthly” or to allude to Jesus’ sandals, and then to proceed to construct a Christ-figure as a back-projection of a fully-formed theology. This approach is unacceptable for the same reason the approach of Crossan and others [The Jesus Seminar, a media circus run by non-Biblical scholars - many of whom would self-identify as 'Christians' - that purport to prove that the historical Jesus is vastly different than the Biblical Jesus, making claims such as Jesus was a simple revolutionary who died a rebel's death, Jesus never really died on the cross, but only passed out, he made no miracles nor claims to divinity, etc., etc,] is unacceptable: they call their Jesus “Jewish” while actually constructing a Jesus out of symbolic features of the wider Mediterranean world, ignoring many crucial elements of Jewish self-understanding. After all, it is precisely the cavil of the heterodox today that the Gospels themselves are the self-serving back-projections of a later, and perhaps corrupted, theology. I fail to see why we should provide such people with more ammunition than they already have.

At the human level, Jesus is like us precisely in this: he did not exist or think or feel or pray in a vacuum, but rather within a continuum, a web of socio-cultural symbolic resonances, a universe of discourse within which deeds, thoughts, and words carried layers of meaning. Orthodox Christians are frightened of letting Jesus belong to a world like this, precisely because we know that if he is like us in belonging to such a world, he will he very unlike us in that his world is not our world. We are therefore, eager to flatten his world out or to declare, it of little relevance, because we want to be able to carry him, his message, and his timeless achievement of salvation across to our world without losing anything in the process. In this eagerness we forget what the NT writers and above all Jesus himself never forgot: that salvation is of the Jews, not in some trivial sense, but in the rich sense that in order to save the world the creator God chose Abraham and said “in your seed all the families of the earth will he blessed.” It is precisely because Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of this promise that he is relevant in all times and places. It is precisely because he is The Jew par excellence that he is relevant to all Gentiles as well as Jews. This is the ultimately humiliating move for Gentile and Jew alike, precipitating an epistemology of humiliation whereby all may know this Jesus as the living, saving word of God, as different from us in the way that makes him the same as us, as over against us and therefore relevant to us.

[A] central feature of Jewish expectation, and kingdom expectation at that, in Jesus’ time was the hope that YHWH would return in person to Zion. Having abandoned Jerusalem at the time of the exile, his return was delayed, but he would come back at last. Within this context, someone who told cryptic stories about a king or a master who went away, left his servants with tasks to perform, and then returned to see how they were getting on must—not “might,” must point to this controlling, over-arching metanarrative [of the returning YHWH]. Of course, the later Church, forgetting the first century Jewish context, read such stories as though they were originally about Jesus himself going away and then returning in a “second coming.”

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