« Paul Yanosy, Responding to Ligon Duncan on Egalitarianism | Main | Linc Ashby, If Repentance Has a Face »

June 15, 2006


Bill, it's refreshing to hear you expound on N.T. Wright again. Well written article.

Take care; will I see you around any time soon?

--Grace and Peace--

- Hunter

Thanks for posting this.

One quibble/question. You write:

"our very distance from times and places where Scripture was written guarantees that much of what is there will seem a bit strange and unsettling at times. In fact, if it doesn’t seem so, it may be because we’re entirely too familiar with it. And when that happens, Scripture loses its distinctive voice and becomes, too easily, a mere mouthpiece for our culture or tradition"

What does that say about the first century hearers? Since they were at the same time and place as the text was written, does that mean that scripture lacked a distinctive voice and was a mouthpiece for their culture and tradition?

It would seem to be the horns of a dilemma: either scripture transcends all cultures and traditions, in which case its historical setting is of very little significance, or it's bound to its historical setting, in which case we improvise what to do with it in our own setting, instead of following it.

Thanks so much for your comments. It's late, but let me mention what comes to mind.

It seems to me that our distance from the times and places of Scripture simply exacerbatees the all-too-human (fallen) propensity to domesticate and distort its message. So, yes, the tendency is to make Scripture a mouthpiece for our culture and traditions. One need only recall Mark 7 where Jesus has a few choice words (from Isaiah) for the Pharisees on the traditions of the elders--or Paul who is constantly at pains to correct Jewish or Hellenistic misunderstandings of the gospel. Our own situation is then further complicated by our cultural and geographical distance from the text.

But this tendency doesn't mean that Scripture lacks a distinctive voice. Preaching "Christ crucified," for example, is rather distinctive; indeed, I think it's fair to say that the offense of the cross remains equally great in every generation. And ultimately only the Spirit can overcome this level of offense and certain misunderstanding.

But, then again, to be somewhat whimsical, first-century crosses didn't feature "pastel color crystals in a high fashion antique silver finish" (as one internet ad boasts) either. The Spirit has to change hearts and minds. But that two thousand or more years later we have a bit more explaining to do also seems obvious to me.

As for your dilemma, I think it sets up a false antithesis even on a merely human level. Transcendent or historically bound? Period? On that basis it would be impossible for even human genius (through, say, works of art) to transcend a particular culture and its necessarily inculturated forms. Does Bach not speak with a distinctive voice because his work is Baroque and fugues, say, are bound to their historical setting? Is Shakespeare silenced because he hails from the Renaissance and wrote Italian sonnets?

How much less does this antithesis apply to the God who reveals himself as the (eternal and transcendent) Word become flesh (in a very first-century Jewish historical context). He shows himself preeminently to be one who speaks with a distinctive voice in forms and language we understand (or can learn).

Well, that's the best I can do at the moment. Thanks again.

I don’t understand the finer points of his theology. I’m not interested in any of the debates. But one thing I do know: The dude can write. I frankly think many Christian books can be cut in third and still convey their messages. But NT Wright’s books already are cut in third because he’s removed every unhelpful and predictable word.

Granted, I've only read the short books, because I know the long ones would be *completely* over my head.

No, Alex, the long ones are every bit as engaging and, despite their length, have already been cut of every unhelpful and predictable word. (Hard to imagine, I know.)

Bill made the comment in class that N.T. Wright can write books faster than you can read them, and he's right. ;)


To better understand what you're trying to say about what Wright is trying to do, let me offer an analogy from the world of mathematics, and you tell me if this makes sense.

If I were to ask you to answer the following problem:

1 + 1 = ?

you, like most people, would probably answer 2. And, that's a perfectly reasonable answer. The "problem" is that you've made an underlying assumption when formulating your answer which is actually very critical to the solution. You assumed that the number system used for the arithmetic is either the integers or the real numbers. And, using those number systems, one plus one does equal two.

However, if I asked the question assuming that we were using the binary number system (the number system used by computers, calculators, and such), then your answer wouldn't make any sense to me. Why? Because in the binary number system, the set of valid elements is {0,1}. In other words, I don't know what a '2' is. Using the binary number system,

1 + 1 = 0

because a '2' in the binary number system is actually represented as a '10'. In other words, one plus one equals zero, carry one (much like we do in the base 10 number system when we exceed 9).

What's my point? My point is that unless we establish a basis (in this case, a base number system) for our discussion, we run the risk of both of us thinking we're right and the other person is wrong. And, we both are correct, given the assumptions that we've made.

So, if I understand you correctly, what Wright is trying to do is establish a basis for discussing Scripture based on history and context, and identifying assumptions that we make today and first-century Christians might have made at the time of the writing of Scripture. If that's true, then it makes sense to me that he would attempt to do so.

Now, I'm not saying that Wright is correct, nor am I saying that I necessarily agree with him. Frankly, I have read some of his stuff, and I just don't care much for it. But, if what I have stated about what he's trying to do is correct, then I certainly understand why he's trying to do it.

I'm certainly not a scholar of any sort, much less a biblical scholar but to try to frame a truth within its historical context makes sense to me. Any work of art regardless of its genre or style is literally framed, and carefully so, to help us better understand the meaning. that doesn't change the meaning, detract from it, simplify or lesson it.

I heard Bill Wilder mention the Wright set email group and I am having trouble finding how I can ;ink on to it. Can you help me? Thanks

The comments to this entry are closed.

Welcome to CGO

  • Welcome to Common Grounds Online. Readers of Common Grounds have suggested a website to continue the explorations they began in the book. In keeping with the interactions of Professor MacGregor, Brad, Lauren and Jarrod, the theme of this site is ‘learning and living the Christian story.’

    I have invited friends, and a few friends of friends, to communicate aspects of the Christian story that have been significant in their own lives. We’re all trying to find joy and pleasure in this life and the next, but often we forfeit the joy that could be ours by living out foolish, competing scripts. What distinguishes Common Grounds Online Contributors is not our own goodness, achievement or service, but rather the recognition of our need of God’s grace abounding in our lives.

Follow Us

CGO Contributors