Thursday, September 03, 2015

New Testament Reading For 2015-16

51YyKVMJh L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Some of you may know that I try to read through the New Testament each year accompanied by a corresponding commentary set or theology. My goal in this is to think through my own reading and the implications of it for me and my ministry at PIU and to the churches of Micronesia, but it is also to make these books accessible to my students, alumni and to the people in churches in the region. Of course, the big purpose is always to get people to read more books that will help them draw closer to Christ and think more “Christianly.” This year (I am a teacher so my “year” goes from September 1 to August 31) my New Testament reading will be Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. I have been wanting to read this for some time but it is a mammoth book so perhaps taking it in small bites throughout a year is a good way to do it. I will post quotes from the book on my Facebook page 3 times a week, on Mon-Wed-Fri, and about once a week or so I will sum up my thoughts about it on this blog.  I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. By the way I am using the Logos version of the book.

This week I have been reading the preface of the book. Wright sums up the thesis of the book there this way:

Paul developed something we can appropriately call his ‘theology’, a radical mutation in the core beliefs of his Jewish world, because only so could he sustain what we can appropriately call the ‘worldview’ which he held himself and which he longed for his churches to hold as well. Other worldviews have their sustaining and shaping practices, but for Paul these markers (circumcision, the food laws, and so on) had been set aside as inappropriate for the new messianic day, for the new messianic people. Only a robust reappropriation of the Jewish beliefs—monotheism, election and eschatology, all rethought around the Messiah and the spirit—would do. xvi

Wright sees Paul very much as a person of his social context who is influenced by the Jewish, Roman and Greek worlds in which he lived. Wright very much wants to understand Paul in terms of these influences and to the issues Paul was addressing in the 1st century churches to whom he wrote…

C. S. Lewis, speaking of what he had learned from literary historians, described the effect for which I am striving. Such writers have helped me, he says, by placing works in their proper setting, "thus showing me what demands they were meant to satisfy, what furniture they presupposed in the minds of their readers. They have headed me off from false approaches, taught me what to look for, enabled me in some degree to put myself into the frame of mind of those to whom they were addressed." xv

I have read several of Wright’s books including the first three volumes of the series, of which this book is the 4th, and I know that they have generated some controversy. When I look at the discussions, and I have read many of the prominent anti-Wright books, I would say that the difference is more emphasis than substance. I don’t see him denying the atonement, changing the doctrine of justification etc. I would see him emphasizing a different aspect of Paul’s theology as he describes here…

God’s solution to the plight of the world begins with the call of Abraham. Nor does this mean that ‘the people of God’ are defined, smugly as it were, simply as the beneficiaries of salvation. The point of the Jewish vocation as Paul understood it was that they were to be the bearers of salvation to the rest of the world. That, in turn, lies at the heart of his own vocation, issuing in his own characteristic praxis. xvi–xvii

He addresses those who say that he forces the data into his presupposed hypotheses…

Everyone comes to the text with pictures and controlling stories—and indeed with philosophical, theological, cultural, social and political assumptions and presuppositions. The question is whether these are laid out for discussion, and whether the subject-matter under investigation is given the chance as it were to object or answer back. xviii

I hope we do let the text answer back to us and enjoy some discussion on this book as I move through it.

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