Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Interview with a bishop

I read this interview (or listen here) yesterday between American Trevin Wax and Bishop NT Wright, and I think it is great. So I would like to highly recommend to you. There is some really exciting things in the interview that Tom says, including stuff on justification, the resurrection, evangelism, and a really interesting kind of spiritual biography of the Bishop.

the bishop is looking for a research assistant, if anyone is interested, although sadly this is because he hasn't even started on his next brick in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series.

And look out for the sequel to Simply Christian, to be title Surprised by Hope. Here is a sample, but go check it out yourself.

Trevin Wax: You stress the Christian’s eschatological hope as the new heavens and new earth. You are also very strongly committed to issues relating to social justice as a way of anticipating in the present God’s restoration of the world in the future. Some of your works emphasize social justice and give scant or no attention to evangelism, church planting, discipling, etc. Where does evangelism fit into this task? And how important is it for Christians to actively evangelize unbelieving people?

N.T. Wright: I find it amusing that people have that perception because if you ask people in England where does Tom Wright sit on the theological spectrum, they say, “Well he’s an evangelical of course,” as though, come on, get used to it. And it’s only because, as Stephen Sykes once said, when you’re writing theology, you have to say everything all the time, otherwise people think you’ve deliberately missed something out.

I’ve been speaking from and to a tradition which has traditionally ignored social justice, ecological issues and the plight of the poor, etc. So I’ve banged on about them, but there they are in the Bible! Again, I didn’t invent this stuff! I’ve taken evangelism sometimes for granted, although on other occasions, I’ve been the first up there to say “Come on! We’ve got to do this!”

The new book of mine which is about to appear which is the sequel to Simply Christian called Surprised by Hope– the first main chunk of it is about eschatology: new heavens, new earth, resurrection, etc. But then the last section is about mission. And it’s the missiology which flows from this eschatology.

And I have a chapter there where I’ve done my best to show the full integration of evangelism and what we’ve pleased to call “social action” (that’s a rather clunky term; it’s not a rather good way of saying it). And it goes like this…

As I’ve said before, God is going to fix the whole world. He’s going to put the whole world to rights. But actually, the advance plan for that is to put human beings to rights in advance. And when that happens, which is what happens through the gospel, it isn’t just, Phew! I’m okay now so I’m going to heaven! It’s I am actually being put right, in order that I can be part of that ongoing purpose.In other words, it’s both conversion and call, which as it was for Paul… converted to see that Jesus is the Messiah, which he’d never dreamt of before, calledipso facto to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And in the same way, when the gospel reaches an individual, it is so that they can take part in God’s larger kingdom project.

Again, if we’d had the Gospels as our basis rather than simply Paul (and I hope no one will accuse me of downgrading Paul by putting it like that, me of all people), then I think we would not have had this difficulty. But it’s because we’ve shrunk the New Testament to fit these particular, much, much later models that we’ve then allowed ourselves to collapse into the Enlightenment “either-or” of either spirituality or social justice, but not both… and I know the damage that has happened by that division. That’s how I would put it together.

When you announce that Jesus Christ is the Lord of the world, crucified and risen, you are simultaneously saying, “And you need to believe in him for your own present and eternal justification and salvation,” but also “this means that he is claiming the whole creation as his own and wants to renew and restore it and flood it with his justice and his love, and if you’re signing on to believe in him, you’ve got to be part of that project.” If he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Standing or Falling

Any of my readers who are married may know the painfully slow process of working out who to invite to the wedding. If we invite this X, then we have to invite several other people from the same circle of friends, and so on. Of course, the most angst and emotion comes from discerning which family members to invite. Do we invite great uncle Fred who I haven't seen in ten years? Yes? No? My parents had a nasty habit of doing this - which was a rather drawn out process because they kept changing their mind every few weeks.

But it is an important issue - who do we invite to our wedding celebration? And I would suggest that it is an important issue in the bible as well. Who would God invite to his feast? OR if you say it more theologically, who is part of the covenant family (and how can you tell)? It is an issue that we see Israel's prophets wrestling with (cf. Habakkuk, Isaiah 1-12). It is an issue that the early church struggled with (cf. Acts 15, Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, etc.).

This is still an issue that the church in the 21st century is still grappling with. The lack of resolution to the current (and ever-continuing) crisis in the Anglican Communion can be traced back to a failure to tackle this crucial issue.

Crucial? It is only the doctrine which, to paraphrase Luther, the Church stands or falls. Luther's quote has been troubling me for some months. It is often thrown around to support the idea that Justification by Faith (JBF) is the Christian gospel. I don't agree with that anymore. Which is say that I would want to refine the statement and say that JBF is the major implication of the gospel, taking the gospel to mean that Jesus Christ is Lord.

However, I realized last week on the train (which is were I do all my thinking) that JBF is the doctrine by which the church really does stand or fall because is the great ecumenical doctrine. It is JBF that determines the character of the church - what it is to look like. It is JBF that says "If you're saved by grace, then you need to church by grace too" (cf. Romans 15.7) If you get JBF wrong, then your church may indeed just fall over.

If this is true, then church unity is not something to be thrown away lightly. We are united together through the faithfulness of Christ. We are united together in Jesus, who loved us so much that he died for each and every one of us. Upon this does the church stand or fall.

There is more to come...