Greetings from the middle of America, dear reader, where we have been visited once again by tiny aliens from the sky. They come in pieces and they have the power to cause humans to drive horribly and buy lots of bread and milk. This time they brought what must undoubtedly be the bulk of their population as my house is currently surrounded by their expeditionary force piling up 10 inches in my yard. I have yet to figure out what they want other than they do not seem to mind me shoveling them out of the way (though they do delight in redistributing themselves back in my driveway if I am not vigilant.) Feel free to post your own close encounters with these persistent little creatures.
On to the task at hand. As some of our diligent readers will, no doubt be aware, I’ve been reading a lot of N.T. Wright. His Jesus and the Victory of God has persuaded me of some errors in my thinking about Jesus and the New Testament world. It goes with out saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this does not mean I agree with him about everything. Wright is an Anglican and I am most definitely not. Recently Wright and Reformed theologian John Piper have been having a vigorous debate about the meaning of “righteousness” in Paul. Piper thinks Wright is tearing down cornerstone of the reformation. I’m quite comfortable that Wright’s greatest critic and Wright himself would find much of my view of grace either the second coming of pelagianism or antinomianism disguised as grace. I usually know I’m on to something when my position is hit from both sides. Feel free to share your opinions on both of them. However try to refrain from sounding like this guy. (If all this sounds like some inside joke between theologians just ignore the last paragraph but do watch the video. Its very funny.)
But Paul said, test all things and cling to that which is good. And I think there is a lot of good in Wright (and Piper too.) In Wright’s New Testament and the People of God, Tom (that’s what his friends call him and we are friends–well, I’m one of his 5,000 or so Facebook friends.) presents a series of questions that are intended to to showcase the dramatically different worldview of Christians in the first century from the pagan world of the Roman empire and traditional world of Judaism. These questions are quite similar to Ravi Zacharias’ four questions (origin, meaning, morality, and destiny). Wright’s questions are 1) Who are we? 2) Where are we? 3) What is wrong? and 4) What is the solution? I thought I would quote each of these and allow you to comment. I’ll only quote the first two today and take up the second pair in my next post. Don Veinot and Bill Honsberger have both made a reasonable claim that the Church faces a world that is more like the first century than any other time since then. If so, perhaps Wright’s attempt to reproduce how most first century Christians saw the world and their place in it, will give us some inspiration as well. One word of explanation. Wright does not capitalize the word “god” for a variety of reasons. Mainly because “The modern usage . . . regarding ‘God’ as the proper name of the Deity, rather than essentially a common noun, implies that all users are monotheists and . . that all monotheists believe in the same god.” His use of “god” is idiosyncratic but its not intended to be irreverent. Here’s question one:
Who are we? We are a new group, a new movement, and yet not new, because we claim to be the true people of the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the creator of the world. We are the people for whom the creator god was preparing the way through his dealings with Israel. To that extent, we are like Israel; we are emphatically monotheists, not pagan polytheists, marked out from the pagan world by our adherence to the traditions of Israel and yet distinguished from the Jewish world in virtue of the crucified Jesus and the divine spirit, and by our fellowship in which the traditional Jewish and pagan boundary-markers are transcended.
Those boundary markers are things like class, race, national origin, that were constantly dividing lines in the ancient world and arguably even today. I do wonder what Paul and the Early Christians would have thought about Martin Luther King’s claim that the most segregated hour is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning? This still seems to be true.
Here’s question two:
Where are we? We are living in the world that was made by the god we worship, the world that does not yet acknowledge this true and only god. We are thus surrounded by neighbours [british spelling throughout] who worship idols that are, at best, parodies of the truth, and who thus catch glimpses of reality but continually distort it. Humans in general remain in bondage to their own gods, who drag them into a variety of degrading and dehumanizing behaviour-patterns. As a result, we are persecuted, because we remind the present power-structures of what they dimly know, that there is a different way to be human, and that in the message of the true god concerning his son, Jesus, notice has been served on them that their own claim to absolute power is called into question.
It is an interesting exercise to try and name the idols of the 21st century. Wright thinks they are essentially the same: Avarice, Eros, and Zeus or Money, Sex, and Power, respectively. He makes an interesting connection between the way the Greeks looked at their pantheon of gods and the way our society looks at celebrities. They are both capricious, dangerous, and yet enviable and we take guilty pleasure in their exploits. What do you think the gods of modern life are?