Friday, June 23, 2006

N.T. Wright and the Historical Jesus

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"...rigorous history (i.e. open-ended investigation of actual events in first-century Palestine) and rigorous theology (i.e. open-ended investigation of what the word "god," and hence the adjective "divine," might actually refer to) belong together, and never more so than in discussion of Jesus. If this means that we end up needing a new metaphysic, so be it. It would be pleasant if, for once, the historians and the theologians could set the agenda for the philosophers, instead of vice versa."

-- N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.

N.T. Wright is, arguably, one of the great living New Testament / theology scholars. His breadth of knowledge is absolutely amazing. And, in my humble opinion, he is one of the few who gracefully move between the fields of New Testment scholarship and academic theology. In other words, he does what we all should do - use both fields to the betterment of the Church. Unlike Francis Watson, who struggles to hold the two together, N.T. Wright writes lucidly in both spheres.

Wright is at his best in historical Jesus investigations. The above quote gives an idea of how he tries to mediate the position between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. His critique of some of the great historical Jesus experts, A. Schweitzer and R. Bultmann, is sharp and insightful. Wright understands that reason tends to side on either the faith or the historical side of the argument. But, like the good Anglican, Wright seeks the via media, or the middle way.

Now, let me be honest: I'm no N.T. Wright expert. But, if I understand his argument correctly, I believe his point is that we Christians can maintain our integrity and intellectual authenticity in affirming the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. This is appealing for obvious reasons. The Jesus of faith without the Jesus of history is not only ungrounded, but irresponsible. Wright is right (pun intended) - the historical Jesus makes the Jesus of faith alive, fresh in our minds. And, this is a lot more radical of a thought, the Jesus of history cannot be separated from the Jesus of faith. In some sense, we must have "faith" that any figure existed in history - simply because we haven't met him/her. But that aside, the Jesus of history was a man who inspired his disciples and followers to have faith in him. What was it about the Jesus of history that caused his followers to continue a movement that has lasted for two-thousand years? I think you get my point...

I recommend Wright's analysis of Christian origins. He has the amazing ability to grapple with many differing arguments, all the while offering an insightful way to walk the via media. Though I'm no Wright expert, you can bet that I'll be at my alma mater next year when he is on lecture tour. I can't wait.


At 3:56 AM, Anonymous John said...

Bah Humbug!!

I much prefer the understanding of the limits and delusions of Christianity via the set of essays on this webpage.



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