Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sometimes I wonder ... about N.T. Wright

I am a fan of N.T. Wright. Probably the greatest takeaway from my years at Asbury Seminary was the introduction to his thought. My Christian life has benefited, my ministry as a Priest has benefited and my preaching has benefited. I am a big fan. Hands down.

At the same time I often wonder about his deep dependence upon historical reconstruction for his interpretations. I am no historicist -- I think history is important and to reasonable degree knowable. But what would happen to Wright's project if new historical discoveries and historical reconstructions undermined his assumptions? To what degree would his project be diminished?

The fathers, medievalists and reformers did not ignore history (read Augustine's On Christian Doctrine). But they seemed to place greater emphasis on the Bible's ability to interpret itself through typology, etc. Bp. Wright of course pays attention to typology, so I don't mean to pit him against these folks.

Well, these are thoughts that have been scribbled in the margins of his books as I have read them. Perhaps I'll work out the answers sometime in the future.

2 comments:

jbertr said...

Peter,

You asked, "...what would happen to Wright's project if new historical discoveries and historical reconstructions undermined his assumptions? To what degree would his project be diminished?"

I don't think his project would be diminished very much. Aside from his specific conclusions based on what he considers to be Biblical exegesis in proper historical context, the main points of his "project" seem to be more about critical realism and historically informed exegesis (without a heavy handed regard for extra-Biblical traditions). These general principles are already making their mark on teachers, preachers, and theologians around the world.

I think that in the face of new historical discoveries (even if they did undermine some of his specific conclusions) his "project" would be further validated rather than diminished. After all, he has said many times that the point is to pay attention to Scripture above all and do the necessary historical investigation to be a faithful exegete. Such new discoveries, in essence, would echo his own point. They would remind us that understanding Scripture (necessarily in proper historical context) is the main goal.

Further, he applies this same type of logic when relating to the reformers. He points out that his and their primary interest is letting Scripture speak for itself. Just has Wright's work doesn't diminish the Reformer's, so future historical work won't diminish Wright's.

At least in my humble opinion. :)

Peter said...

I think you are probably right. But I wonder about how Wright's assessment of 2nd Temple Judaism shapes his understanding of things like the Kingdom and justification.

One example is the notion that 2nd Temple Jews saw themselves as still in exile. From that Wright interperets many of the things going on in the gospels. But what if that historical reading is wrong? Wouldn't a lot would change Wright reading of how Christ understands and promotes the Kingdom of God?