Monday, January 14, 2008

Bishop Wright on Scripture, Gnosticism, and the Jesus Seminar

New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop of Durham N. T. Wright is at it again, this time in an interview with The Wittenburg Door.

Here's his response to the question, "Why do we need the Bible?"

The Bible is here to equip God’s people to carry forward His purposes of new covenant and new creation. It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have something of the beauty of God himself. The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made. It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going. And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.

Here's what Wright says about the dangers of interpreting scripture through the lens of personal experience:

Experience is a slippery slope philosophically and spiritually. It’s a fog in which all sorts of worlds can bump together. Now, no one wants to go to extremes. Some lines are drawn in the sand. For example, no one in their right mind would endorse mass murder. But we need to follow a path of wisdom and have standards.

When you come into the life of the Church, there is a way of life followed there. There are codes of conduct. It’s like when you come into someone’s home. You take off your muddy boots when you enter the house.

You don’t take tea and pour it down someone’s back. There are standards in how we live together. Experience needs to be affirmed, redirected, and rebuked by God’s authority. Because of our propensity to self-deception, we constantly need to check against scripture, whether we are allowing the word of God’s grace in the gospel, and God’s reaffirmation of us as made in his image, to validate what is in fact an idolatrous and distorted form of humanness. When, through letting scripture be the vehicle of God’s judging and healing authority in our communities and individual lives, we really do “experience” God’s affirmation, then we shall know as we are known.

Here's his brief take on the popularity of The DaVinci Code and The Gospel of Judas:

What we can see in this current passion for Gnosticism is a hunger for spirituality and purpose. We have to ask why our culture is so hungry for different kinds of spirituality. Also, the appeal of second century Gnosticism is that people in our culture are eager to find anything to rebuke or replace traditional Christianity. This myth—what I call “the new myth of Christian origins,” according to which Jesus was just an ordinary person who taught a new type of spirituality, that He didn’t die for our sins or rise again—is what’s lurking behind the Jesus Seminar. Many people in our culture don’t like traditional Christianity and are eager to find anything else at all to go with instead.

And this is Wright's explanation for calling the Jesus Seminar a "fantasyland":

They want to liberate the Bible from poor, oppressed fundamentalists. The Seminar has had to reinvent itself after the death of Robert Funk. Its new project is to tackle the origins of Christianity. But most scholars who have written about Jesus—whether they are Jewish, Christian, agnostic or whatever—never signed on to the Jesus Seminar in the first place. Most have held aloof, rightly seeing it as a wacky distraction from serious scholarship. Only a few great minds, like Dom Crossan, Marcus Borg and Walter Wink have stuck with it in the hopes of making something good out of it.

You can read the entire interview here.


Anonymous said...

Borg, Spong, Crossan are indeed great theologians, bold and uncompromising. It is purely because of such scholars and The Jesus Seminar that I call myself a Christian again. Christian fundamentalism is dead, and it goes agains the teaching of Jesus.

Bryan+ said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous.

When I first got back into the Church in the mid-90s after my "sabbatical," I would likely have agreed with you. But how different things are now!

For example, I recently tried to read Borg and Crossan's book The Last Week. I got about half-way through it and gave up, largely due to boredom. Then I came across N. T. Wright's recent book Surprised by Hope. I can hardly put it down!

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course. Personally, I have grown weary of the left-wing project that falsely divides the world into only two possible options (the "fundamentalists" versus the "enlightened") and deconstructs Christian faith to leave us with a pallid version of humanism.

This is yet another reason why I am a Creedal Christian and an Anglican Centrist.