Wednesday, March 22, 2006

wright warnings

The blogsphere continues to be abuzz with warnings against NT Wright and his "ilk" (that one was for you Randy). Here's one such charge, "The argument is against selling out to a dishonest, postmodern notion of "scholarship" which demands that every truth be couched in disclaimers and provisos—until the authority and clarity of God's Word lie suffocated under a billion qualifications. " I would agree that intending to couch truth in disclaimers and provisos as a norm is not good. On the other side, I'd say that to speak on every topic in a dogmatic fashion is contrary to Scripture and reveals a hard, legalistic heart. It lacks humility and love and fails to understand that a truth may be communicated in various fashions and still contain absolute truth. And it is presumptuous since per Scripture we only know in part.

In this context, it also makes the generalization that postmodern thought is wrong but does not substantiate the claim. Back to Wright, here is a paraphrased story from DA Carson (I like both of these guys simply because they have no real names - NT and DA).
"An old woman calls you in the minute of the night, tells you she was told she has but a few minutes to live, and she's scared. Can you come? You rush to her side. The doctor tells you as you go in that she's in her last moments. She takes your hand, trembling, and says, 'I'm about to die, and I'm afraid. What must I do to be saved?'

"What do you tell her?"

Carson relates that Wright said, "Hm. That's a really great question. I'll have to think about that."
So the implication is that Wright doesn't know how to share the Gospel. And that is the conclusion one would reach if that was already in their mind about Wright. If one had in mind that there are many ways to share the same Gospel message and had no former prejudice against Wright, I don't think that would be their conclusion.

Here is Wright's response to "how do we train the average Christian to evangelize the people with whom they rub shoulders given a New Perspective on Paul's definition of the gospel?"
As the questioner knows, there are as many ways of leading someone to a living, saving relationship with God through Jesus the Messiah and in the power of the Holy Spirit as there are people . . . one of the old Puritans (Baxter?) said, wisely, that ‘the Almighty breaketh not all hearts alike’. As far back as the Acts of the Apostles we can see people being converted in a variety of ways, from the gentle heart-opening of Lydia to the earthquake etc of the Philippian gaoler. That’s where I start.

Having said that, there are of course constant features, which include the recognition

a. that God is God, the creator, calling us to worship, love and adoration;

b. that the crucified and risen Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, is the world’s true Lord, and hence MY Lord, calling me to gratitude (‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’) and submission (‘the obedience of faith’);

c. that this God, and this Jesus, promise to send the Holy Spirit to live within us to enable faith, hope and love;

d. that this extraordinary and wonderful message finds us unready, unprepared, and, worse than that, in a state of idolatry (worshipping false gods), rebellion (submitting to other lords), and that fractured humanness (for which the biblical shorthand is hamartia, sin) which is the very opposite of the genuine humanness the Spirit longs to create in us, so that the appropriate response to the good news about God, Jesus and the Spirit is contrition, recognition of sin and guilt, repentance with intention of amendment of life, in gratitude for that full dealing with sin which has been effected through Jesus’ death;

e. that in the Messiah and by the Spirit God has created and is creating a worldwide community of those now commissioned to shine his light in the world, and that this community, defined by the faith professed in baptism (Jesus is Lord, and God raised him from the dead) is the true home of all, equally, who share this faith and who together take forward God’s mission to and in the world, the mission through which the Lordship of Jesus as the world’s true sovereign (‘all authority’, he said, ‘in heaven AND ON EARTH’) is put into effect. Any and every ‘seeker’ needs at some point to be confronted with the challenge that if Jesus isn’t Lord of all (including our social, cultural and political lives) he isn’t Lord at all.

That’s already quite a mouthful, but if I were today leading a serious seeker towards full faith and commitment that’s what I would be aiming at. One way of doing it would be to read a gospel with them, perhaps (but not necessarily) John. Another way would be to talk through what it would mean to pray the Lord’s Prayer with each clause full of meaning. Another way would be to meditate prayerfully on the death and resurrection of Jesus (I have a friend who was converted from a liberal Judaism in his teens through a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion). I take it for granted that at some point (d) above would need gentle exploration to see what repentance might mean in this case, and that at some point (e) would be introduced to see what appropriate church context this person could make their own, with a view to sharing the life of a community dedicated to glad worship of God in Jesus and to following him in mission in the world. Far more important, though, would be gently and steadily exploring (a), (b) and (c), stressing particularly that all our ideas about who ‘God’ actually is need to be brought into line with who we discover Jesus to be through reading the gospels and through prayer (John 1.18). But depending on whether the person was ten years old or seventy, was male or female, rich or poor, well educated or uneducated, from a happy family or an unhappy one, all this would take a very different course. I have sat with some enquirers for whom (in Oxford!) it was natural to get out a Greek New Testament; and of course with others for whom that would be, well, all Greek to them. And, again of course, everything, but everything, needs to be soaked in prayer, the prayer of love which will give these people into the care of God himself, who is a far, far better evangelist and pastor than we ever will be.

I shall stop here before I feel another book coming on.
I think the charge that "the postmodern preference for ambiguity and uncertainty is seriously at odds with Scripture" is unsubstantiated and frankly, the accusers seem to demonstrate a greater lack of understanding of the Gospel than the accused. It seems to me that both sides have a clear understanding of the Gospel and how to present it. One side seems a bit distracted from the task and prefers to play the role of watchdog. I've read and heard some great preaching from that group. I for one think they would really contribute to the Kingdom if they got back to that focus.

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