Friday, March 12, 2010

N. T. Wright on the rapture...

Came across this piece:

I am always struck by how confident Wright is about things he really does not have enough evidence to be so confident about. He berates those who take Paul literally here. But one has to wonder if this is only some deep need on his part to "demythologize" the text at this point.

He is often ingenious. Note these two sentences, "Paul echoes the story of Moses coming down the mountain with the Torah. The trumpet sounds, a loud voice is heard, and after a long wait Moses comes to see what’s been going on in his absence. " Very clever! Possible! I don't think we have enough evidence in the text to do more than suggest it as a possibility.

Sometimes I think people like Wright are more clever than the biblical authors themselves... :-)


Randy Olds said...

I want to first say that I am a big fan of N.T. Wright, although I don't always agree with the conclusions that he reaches. I just finished the third of his 'big books' "The Resurrection of The Son of God" and am getting ready to read his newly released "Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision."

With that said, I agree with your statement that Wright is sometimes more clever than the Biblical authors themselves. He quite often nuances the Biblical texts to bring out points that simply aren't there, and is seemingly so confident of his own opinions that I end up second-guessing my own convictions.

On the plus side, while reading Wright I must constantly be reading my own Bible to see if what he is saying might be true. Wright constantly challenges me to examine my own beliefs and understanding of scripture.

On the negative side, a reader that is unable to or unwilling to challenge Wright while reading his books may end up being convinced of what he is saying simply by the force of Wrights own convictions and find themselves in error right along with Wright.

I enjoy Wright's writings but I also have a mind of my own and I take a good bit of what he writes with a very large grain of salt. I do have a lot of respect for him however and remain a fan.

Ken Schenck said...

I have a love hate relationship with the bishop. He is a massive intellect, a man of tremendous faith, an incredible force for good in the world, perhaps even the greatest theologian of the late twentieth century.

I actually mostly agree with him on very, very many things. It just seems he has to go to an extreme. It's not enough to say that "righteousness of God" almost always means God's faithfulness. It has to always mean that.

Also, I'm no doubt jealous of his brilliance :-)

npmccallum said...

They may be smarter than the biblical authors, but Christianity has always professed that the Spirit inspired the authors to say things they themselves did not intend to say. Without this basic commitment, pretty much none of the NT use of the OT makes sense.

Of course, I've never actually been a fan of Wright (despite his obvious intelligence).

Perhaps your hesitation is the Kierkegaard in you who insists that revelation (and indeed all encounter with God) is found within the moment of conscious choice? ;)

I hope to be in Marion in a few weeks to visit my Aunt (are you aware of her medical condition?). I'll stop by the office, it would be nice to see you again.

Marc said...

I suspect Wright's issue with the rapture stems from his abhorrence of the the theology which says: "let's escape this earth to a blissful, disembodied heaven". It's God's Reign coming to Earth which the NT speaks of and therefore the "parousia" is more likely a "grand entrance" of the King than a "sweeping away" of His subjects.

Marc said...

It's strange Ken that you take Tom to task on extremism. He's the biggest "both/and" theologian, even maddeningly so, that I've ever heard. I'm sure I've never heard him give an unqualified "always". He is forceful yes but that's what's giving the church a wakeup call...

Ken Schenck said...

Nate, we're all praying for your aunt. She's a wonderful person!

I am comfortable with the idea of God superintending intent on texts well beyond and even in contrast to their original intents. I do think God is creative enough to do this after the fact as well, using the intrinsic polyvalence of language. Of course since He knew He would do this later, it may not matter so much when He superintended it.

I'm less comfort with seeing these broader meanings as macro-continuities with individual author's original intent. It seems unnecessary and to require some strategizing to fit with the data. The only reasons I can see for positing such a thing is to prop up faulty paradigms.

Be glad to meet--you know where to find me. :-)

Marc, I suspect you're right about the "off to heaven" angle. Interestingly, I agree with him on this point. He's convinced me that we are meeting Christ in the air to come back down. What I don't get is why he is uncomfortable with the idea that we might literally meet Christ in the air!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

We live in or try to live in coherent realities, although it becomes increasingly hard to do when tyranny reigns. And tyranny is whenever another individual imposes themselves and their values, views and opinions onto others in matters than cannot be verified. And even then, sometimes science is politicized for monetary, or political ends of power.

Wright demythologizes the text because he seeks for a "real world" apology for faith. Others like to separate their understanding of faith from the real world. This is what has happened throughtout history in sects separating themselves from the real world for "purity" monasticism...

There are so many ways in whcih a free person can come to the own sense of values, and purpose, if they are empowered to do so. And part of that empowerment is liberty to pursue their own ends, not anyone else's, whether "God" or government's.

Kant understood that the individual was an end unto himself. Systems always by necessity enslave others, therefore we should not be part and parcel to these types of systems...but expose them for what they are. This is where balance of power is so important!

npmccallum said...

Dr. Schenck,

I was just joking about Kierkegaard and unintended meaning. I do think that Wright's example here is a stretch. But there are certainly some which are intended. John->Elijah, Transfiguration, 'so the son of man must be lifted up', etc. Learning to interpret in this tradition is hard, and many (including Fathers) don't always get it right. Its also why I bristle when people refer to all non-literal (whatever that means) interpretation as allegorical (insert references to the Antiochian/Alexandrian "schools" here). While this might be Origin's major use, the actual history of interpretation is, I think, far more subtle and, frankly, difficult.

I should also note that some reject all macro-continuities (or at least the one's they disagree with) as a way to prop up their faulty paradigms (I'm not suggesting anyone here is doing this, but its definitely out there). This is of course a difficult and dangerous process. I think anyone who is honest with himself must agree with St Augustine: "in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable."

I do however think it safe to say that any notion of "rapture" is a clearly modern interpretation which does not find precedent in ancient Christianity. This is of course only an argument of novelty, not veracity.

npmccallum said...

Angie, I'd like to challenge your notion that monasticism arose out of an escape from the "real world." For them, struggling with temptations and overcoming them was the real world. Monastics have throughout the ages taught that those of us who don't struggle against our passions and desires live in a false world. Monasticism arose out of the desire to overcome temptation and be wholly devoted to Christ. "The Kingdom of God is within you," not your local "tyrant."

Edward T. Babinski said...

He is.

More clever.

In his book on the resurrection he has a chapter in which he attempts a feat none of the biblical authors were able to accomplish even when aided by the inspiration of God. That feat was the attempted harmonization of all the stories of Jesus' resurrection in Paul and the Gospels.

How clever indeed.