Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Anglicanism 2 (Wright on his history)

Well, before I go any further with these posts, and even before I respond to Iain's insighful comments, here is what the man himself, NTW has to say about his evangelical background (excerpts are taken from here):

"Most theological students associate John Wenham with Greek grammar. Not me. I was in an undergraduate audience which he addressed in 1970. He urged Bible-loving Christians to consider theological study and a ministry of teaching and writing. His model was that of the stream from which Christians drink. The stream is polluted by bad theology. Our task is to feed in good theology. ‘Trickle-down’ theories are risky, but I think this one works. I had been heading for parish ministry; from that day on I knew God was calling me to an academic, though still very much church-related, vocation.
As so often, I attacked this vocation the wrong way. When I began theology, I assumed that all writers not published by the . . . Press, or perhaps the . . . of . . . Trust, were suspect. If I read the right books I would find the ‘answers’. Fortunately, after two years of soaking myself in the Bible itself, I was so gripped with the excitement of exegesis, and the new horizons it opened up that I didn’t worry so much about ‘sound’ answers. I continue to respect the Reformers, and men like Charles Simeon, of 200 years ago, John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, and whose work in a variety of ways created space for me to do things differently. Where I disagree with them it is because I have done what they told me to: to read Scripture and emerge with a more biblical theology. The evangelical tradition at its best encourages critique from within. It sends us back to the Scripture which stands over against all traditions, our own included...

I went to Canada in 1981 to teach NT studies at McGill, and to be involed with the Anglican College in Montreal. The Combination was superb: out of the lecture room, into chapel. My view of the Eucharist, which had started at a rock-bottom low as an undergraduate, had received an upward jolt through reading Calvin (yes, try it and see), and had been nurtured through my early years as a chaplain. It finally came together and started to approach that of Paul. . . . Passages I'd not understood before came alive. So did the joy of participating in the richest of all Christian symbols. Alone, I continued to read the NT in Greek and the OT Hebrew day by day, constantly finding a combination of personal address and intellectual stimulation which I have never been able to separate. (I was once advised to keep separate Bibles one devotional and one ‘academic’. Fortunately I took no notice.)

In 1983 I started work on my Colossians commentary. By the time I finished it in 1985 I had undergone probably the most significant change of my theological life. Until then I had been basically, a dualist. The gospel belonged in one sphere, the world of creation and politics in another. Wrestling with Colossians 1:15-20 put paid to that. I am still working through the implications (and the resultant hostility in some quarters): my book New Tasks for a Renewed Church is a recent marker on this route.
Back in Oxford in 1986, the two halves of my professional life came together in a different way. I teach and write about the NT and early Judaism, and especially about Jesus and Paul. I work as a pastor in a college full of students from all backgrounds and in all disciplines. And I have the joy, during term, of a regular celebration of the Eucharist at which, again and again, everything else I do comes into focus. I find myself held within the love of the triune God able to receive fresh grace for fresh tasks.

Privately I have found to my surprise that at least sometimes prayer is becoming more of a delight than a discipline—perhaps because I have drawn on traditions other than my own (charismatic on one side, orthodox on the other). Passages from Scripture still jump off the page and make me want to laugh and/or cry with the love and the pain, of God.
Unanswered questions remain. So does the frailty of my human self, as I struggle to be obedient to my multiple callings, both professionally and, more important (though not all Christians see this point), domestically. Who is sufficient for these things? Certainly not this muddled and sinful Christian. The great thing about that is what it does for your theology. The more I appreciate my own laughable inadequacy, the more I celebrate the fact of the Trinity. Without the possibility of invoking the Spirit of Jesus, of the living God, for every single task, what would keep me going? Pride and fear, I guess. I know enough about both to recognize the better way."

Anglican? Evangelical? What do you think?

(You'll also find a bio of NTW here, and if you're in a fun mood, here too).

1 comment:

cardboardsword said...

It seems to me that, in his case at least, you can't separate the two. His saturation in the Scriptures for the sake of emerging again and again with a more Biblical theology is an evangelical practice, as he himself says. And it seems that in doing this, he has found why many many of the aspects of the Anglicanism of which he is a part make sense and are beautiful according to Scripture (from what he said about the Eucharist), and why other parts of what He had learned to think and do needed to be challenged.

Call me a geek, but this reminds me a little of a product development cycle. You start by designing a product, then you test it, then you produce it. While you test it and produce it, you gather information about how the product could be improved. This information is used to design version two, which you then test and produce while gathering information to help you design version three, and so on. Wright's analysis of the Anglican traditions and how they fit with Scripture doesn't lead him to follow something other than Anglicanism, unless Anglicanism is by nature contrary to Scripture. Rather, it leaves him following the Anglican traditions in the purest way - which, given my understanding of the origin of Anglicanism, is the way which not only follows Scripture but is wholly subject to it.

It's hard for me to differentiate Anglicanism and evangelicalism, I guess, because I identify with both concurrently. Others may be able to draw differences more clearly.