Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wright: Finishing chapter 1

Well, here's the rest of chapter 1 of N. T. Wright's Paul and the Faithfulness of God, finished reading it about three weeks ago. :-(


Chapter 1
1. The Basics of Philemon
2.i-iii. Philemon and Christian Worldview
iv. History, Exegesis, "Application"
v. Sources

vi.Worldview, Theology, History
In this section, Wright finishes setting up his analytical system. He has already reminded his reader of the components of worldview he uses: story, praxis, symbols, and basic questions. He has also set up a quasi-matrix for analyzing Paul: history, exegesis, theology, and "application." Now he tries to connect the two.

In a person or community, there are basic beliefs (theology) that flow out of a person's worldview. These basic beliefs provide a person or community's basic aims (history). As a natural consequence of such basic beliefs, there are consequent beliefs (theology) that are a natural by-product and play out in more detail. These are more negotiable and lead to our more specific intentions in life (history).

Then to complete the loop back to earlier in the chapter, basic beliefs/consequent beliefs/theology all relate to the worship dimension of a community. Aims/intentions/history then relate to the culture of a community.

Finally, Wright brings in the complication that no interpreter is objective. There is a gap between us and the text. We have our own worldviews, worship, and culture that get in the way of seeing the text. We tend to infect our reading of Paul with what we are looking for or from him.

How complicated! The real world is complicated, but I can't imagine that this Rorschach has any staying power. Wright is brilliant. He has tried hard to upgrade his initial idealist software with numerous real world plug-ins, but the result is clunky.

Wright's fundamental personality and bias remains very rational, despite the way he has tried to take on board all the correctives and insights of philosophers, sociologists, and anthropologists. His account of worldview is light years ahead of van Til but for all Wright's distancing from these arch-presuppositionalists and antihistorians, he is still their child. He still assumes that real life aims and intentions flow from underlying beliefs.

So he has all the elements, but he remains a structuralist in his thinking. He sees the underlying pattern as more primary than the world from which he abstracts it. Rather, human thought is epiphenomenon, a mechanism for living in the world. Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs gives a more accurate picture of what stands behind human aims and intentions. Behind our lives are more fundamentally drives, not ideas.

Our ideas are collections and clumpings of family resemblances, not deductive masterpieces. Our identity-giving stories are more often short vignettes than large metanarratives. Human thought is much more atomistic and a front for more basic urges than anything like tidy systems.

vii. Philemon as Allegory
Wright ends the chapter with a fun allegory, which of course is not the meaning of Philemon but we are delighted at this intentional sensus plenior. Philemon represents theological orthodoxy. Onesimus is the Enlightenment project of historiography. Some historical approaches have left the Paul of faith behind. Meanwhile, some (John Piper) do not want the Paul of history to come back.

Paul himself knows that he must unite his whole self. He must send history back to theology. A unified Paul--both of faith and history--can be recovered. Such is Wright's aim.


Susan Moore said...

You know, Dr. Schenck, the sadness in the oppression of women (people), is not that the Spirit will fail to be expressed through them in whatever way He sees fit, the sadness is for all the oppressors who will miss the opportunity to know God through them. Why would God grant grace to someone worshipping an idol?
For whatever it’s worth, I have a confession to make to you.
I used to not trust you, and I used to not like you, but now I do.
Thank you for that.
Thank you for just being you when you blog. And thank you for putting up with me as I grow.
My last 4 credits for my undergraduate degree at IWU begin in two weeks. I’m taking some time off to fast and celebrate what has been the last leg of this race, and the first leg of the next one.
Besides finishing up loose ends and organizing some corners of my life, I’m planning on spending some time with an old friend, and read a couple of devotionals he written. :-)

Ken Schenck said...

Test the spirits... :-)