The incomparable New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, who is the bishop of Durham, England, talks in this January 2007 Christianity Today interview about his recent book Simply Christian, restoring the political dimension of the gospel, and the continuing appeal of Gnosticism. Some highlights:
“It is possible to say more or less all the orthodox Christian affirmations, but to join them up in the wrong story. It’s possible to tick the boxes that say Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Spirit, Second Coming, and yet it’s like a child’s follow-the-dots. The great story—and after all the Bible is fundamentally a story—we’ve got to pay attention to that, rather than abstracting dogmatic points from it. The dogmas matter, they are true, but you have to join them up the right way.Read the whole thing here.
“There’s a certain kind of modernist would-be orthodoxy, which uses the word God in something like the old Deist sense. He’s a distant, absentee landlord who suddenly decides to intervene in the world after all, and he looks like Jesus. But we already know who God is; now I want you to believe that this God became human in Jesus. The New Testament routinely puts it the other way around. We don’t actually know who God is. We have some idea, the God of Israel, or of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator God. But until we look hard at Jesus, we really haven’t understood who God is.
“That’s precisely what John says at the end of the prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the father, he has made him known. John’s provided an exegesis for who God is. And in Colossians 1 as well, he is the image of the invisible God. In other words, don’t assume that you’ve got God taped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge of New Testament Christology.
“What happened with the Enlightenment is the denarrativization of the Bible. And then within postmodernity, people have tried to pay attention to the narrative without paying attention to the fact that it’s a true story. “
“For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.
“The longer that I’ve gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were actually talking about, the more it’s been borne in on me that that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work.”