29.10.03

Ok, so I am wierd. This morning I started writing some stuff, but I didn't get to finish. So I emailed it to myself and now I finished it at school. So here it is, again, it gets into some stuff that may not be of interest to everyone. Fair warning issued, enjoy.

Note: I have extensive quotations below from N.T. Wrights "Jesus and the Victory of God" as well as one of his sermons. I have not included footnotes or anything, but if anyone wants to know where to find this stuff, just ask in the comment section or email.

Jesus and the Victory of God: Questions evoked by Wright and life

Yesterday I finished reading N.T. Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God”. As I read through it, watching Wright one by one interpret sayings and parables in a way I have never thought of, nor seen, but which makes so much sense of so many things, I started to wonder. Wright puts Jesus into his day, and makes him radically relevant to his time and place. Jesus becomes political, eschatological, prophetic, and frankly, real. But, with each parable put into its appropriate context I found one more parable removed from my context. Wright succeeds in making the text “the Other” in a way that I increasingly, as I read his book, fail to see a way around. I started wondering, if that is really what Jesus was saying then what does it have to do with me? How can I possibly continue to claim this text still has something to say to my world?

While the bible has never been easy for me to read, and I think that preachers and pastors do much more harm than good when they claim that it is easy to read, even though their motive is good in that they just want people to actually read it. But I now see that I have flattered myself in claiming that I had stepped out of my horizon and engaged with the biblical horizon, when I am only beginning see just how extraordinarily foreign from my own it is. For example, Wright argues that when Jesus speaks of the coming of the son of man he is not referring to the son of man coming to earth from heaven, but the other way around. This is to read it in the Danielic sense, and Wright argues much more thoroughly for this in “The New Testament and The People of God”. But what a radical difference in reading this is from our common one.

To my initial delight, and my eventual chagrin, Wright himself realizes these problems. If you make Jesus a teacher you can translate his teachings into timeless truths, or at least apply them to today. If you make him a revolutionary then you have a model to imitate. “See him as an eschatological prophet announcing, and claiming to embody, the kingdom of the one true God, and you have a story of a man gambling and apparently losing. Einstein’s question, whether God plays dice, acquires a new poignancy… Place Jesus in his historical (that is eschatological and apocalyptic) context, and you risk making him massively irrelevant.” The very fact that he was so specific to his day, and to Israel, makes his teaching look less and less like timeless truth. “Worse: he promised a kingdom, and it never arrived.” And so how relevant, and in what way Jesus is relevant is no longer an easy question for me to answer.

Wright goes on to highlight another problem, much more serious, that he calls the real problem, which is to say that Jesus interpreted his death as the defeat of evil, but on the first Easter Monday evil was alive and well, and it still is. I myself have been faced with this question, posed to me by a fellow student in religious studies: “If Jesus died to heal the world, he failed. 2000 years is a long time to wait for things to change.” And why, if he failed, if evil still existed, do people two thousand years later still claim to be his followers?

My initial delight comes from the fact that Wright points to an answer: the resurrection. This has been the traditional answer, but it brings up its own problems. Again, Wright sees these. What did the resurrection prove or accomplish? If Jesus was a docetic figure, it proved he was in some sense “god”. If he was a teacher, it validated his instructions. But if he was a prophet/messiah then the resurrection declares that he has in principle succeeded, evil is defeated (which is not to say he didn’t have good instruction, or that he wasn’t God. It is to say that there is more here than we like to acknowledge). This is the picture, Wright claims, that we get from early Christianity: “they announced and celebrated the victory of Jesus over evil… there was still a mopping-up battle to be fought, but the real victory had been accomplished.” And here Wright points to an answer to the problem of relevance. My eventual chagrin came in the fact that Wright concludes his observations and ideas, which are unsatisfyingly brief, by claiming that all this will take us into another book. And another book he has written, which I hopefully will be getting in the mail soon.

Meanwhile, I find myself continually challenged by Wright’s words from his sermon entitled “The New Creation”, included in his book of sermons called “The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit”. This too deals with issues of relevance, but it does so in a way that is, frankly, terrifying. In this sermon Wright tackles the same basic questions from a more pastoral perspective. Responding to the same basic question, in fact a question almost eerie in its exact relation to the one my friend asked, Wright realizes that there is no reply to that question, not in words. He urges us to make the words flesh once again. John 1 says that “The word became flesh” and Wright laments that the church has too often turned the flesh back into words. “What changes the world is flesh, words with skin on them, words that hug you and cry with you and play with you and love you and rebuke you and cry with you and build houses with you and teach your children in school.” Go out into the world and tell them that Jesus loves them, that he died for them, that he is alive for them, that there is a new creation, a new celebration, and that there is a God who made them and yearns for them. And, Wright says, Jesus asks us to not “just tell them in words. Turn the words into flesh once more. Tell them by the marks of the nails in your hands. Tell them by your silent sharing of their grief, by your powerful and risky advocacy of them when they have nobody else to speak up for them. Tell them by giving up your life for them, so that when they find you they will find me… remember, follow me.”

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