Saturday, April 16, 2005

Wright on Virgin Birth

Well, I believe I am discovering the answer about Wright's view on the Virgin Birth, which also deepens my suspicion about his views on the Incarnation and the Trinity, not to mention his views on the authority of scripture. Consider this article. I think he has a pretty big "suspense account". He will not come out and say that he doesn't believe it, but he certainly does not affirm it, and seems to find the whole question inconvenient and beside the point, which is his account of Jesus-as-vocational-Messiah, as radical-young-first-century-rabbi, neither of which require that He be actually, essentially, God. He seems to want to dismiss all these questions as the wrong questions, that we wouldn't even ask if we understood first century Judaism as well as he does. Am I wrong? Come on, guys...prove it ain't so....


  1. N.T. Wright : Christianity :: Jacob Neusner : Judaism

  2. Joe,
    I think this discussion is hugely important. If N.T. Wright is really neo-orthodox in many respects but with a better understanding of Hebrew eschatology then we need to throw out the baby (his core erroneous beliefs regarding the creeds) and maybe only look at the bathwater (his study of 1st Century Judaism). I think that so many people, like the emergent folk, say good things but then do not realize that the TRUTH makes the true things (a theology of the kingdom) even more powerful. Is he trying not to offend other unbelieving scholars. I will let you and Derek tease this out. It seems the hype needs to be challenged more than a bit. I like His kingdom and "out of exile" themes but only if we embrace Jesus Christ as GOD ETERNAL.

  3. Is he perhaps adopting a stance of objectivity, so as to support his position as an "objective" historian? He seems inclined to believe the accounts of the virgin birth because it seems unlikely to him, as a historian, that Matthew or Luke would have made it up or so rapidly adopted a popular myth as truth. But what does this say about his view of scripture? Suppose he found it "likely", on the basis of historical analysis, that some portion of the story WAS made up? Do we doubt that account because it is not historically reasonable? How does this differ, in principle, from prior searches for the "historical Jesus?" Do we like Wright just because he, among other historians involved in this project, happens to agree with us? What if his continuing research changes his mind? If we accept the critique methodology when it supports our faith, we can hardly reject it if it begins to undermine it.

  4. Daniel: I don't know Jacob Neusner, so don't understand your analogy. Can you explain?

  5. Joe,
    OK good point. (kinda the opposite of my use of neo-orthodox) I thought you were saying, he was saying it doesn't matter if it is histroically true or not it is the psychology of the faith community that we are studying...
    I need to read way more to get his real method and point. I am going on a business trip this week and wil likely read 100 pages or so. I think it is important for my own education to get more acquanted with Wright's thought.

  6. Brad: There may be an element of neo-orthodoxy in the Barthian sense, as well. For example, if on the basis of his historian's analysis he decided that the virgin birth accounts were not literally true, I would expect him not to throw out the synoptic accounts but to accept them as good narratives reflecting how the first-century Jews came to think of Jesus. If the importance of narrative does not require historical verity, then any narrative will do so long as its themes fit the purpose. In the article quoted herein on the authority of scripture, Wright suggests:

    "So, more recently, we have seen attempts on the part of many scholars to make this very difficult text
    authoritative by suggesting that it is authoritative insofar as it witnesses to primary events. This
    emphasis, associated not least with the post-war biblical theology movement, at least has the merit of
    taking seriously the historical setting, the literal sense of the text. The problem about that, however, can
    be seen quite easily. Supposing we actually dug up Pilate’s court records, and supposing we were able
    to agree that they gave a fair transcript of Jesus’ trial. Would they be authoritative in any of the normal
    senses in which Christians have claimed that the Bible is authoritative? I think not."

    Wright's argument here, I believe, is a very subtle dodge. He has answered a different question from the one the reader thinks he is answering. When the reader proposes that scripture is a reliable witness to primary events, he means that the accounts are historically true. Instead of saying, "Yes, I accept the accounts as historically true", Wright interposes a different question: whether, if we had Pilate's transcript of Jesus' trial, we would consider that authoritative. If we say "No", as this rhetorical structure expects, we are led to believe that therefore our understanding of the Bible's authority as lying in its historical reliability would be similarly misplaced.

    Wright is admittedly difficult to get a hold of in classically orthodox terms. I think he is hard to pin down, and I wonder whether that is because he does not wish to be pinned down. If so, is that because he fears that being pinned down as an orthodox Christian will undermine his academic standing or his standing in whatever audience he wishes to address? Or is it because he truly is heterodox and knows it, and realizes that to be recognized as such will collapse his current popularity and standing in the Church?

    I shall have to read more. In the meantime, I would not recommend Wright to any but theologically established, well-eductated, and strongly committed Christians, ie, those whose understanding of the scriptures and of theology are solid enough to maintain a level of skepticism vis-a-vis Wright, and to recognize subtleties. I do not yet trust him enough to recommend him to young Christians.

  7. N.T. Wright responds to all of your questions here:

    First Question and Answer:

    RRJ - It has been said that you do not pay close enough attention to the confessions and creeds of the historic church and thus your interpretations, which sometimes break new ground in hermeneutics, are unsafe.

    NTW - I find this to be a defensive attitude. It is one I've met in all sorts of people, and is actually a Roman Catholic attitude. It's funny really, because it occurs in all sorts of conservative, Protestant circles. It says, "If something in the Bible really was that important then the church from earliest times must have understood that. Therefore, if we can't find the understanding that you're proposing in the great swathe of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, or whoever, then we are going to be deeply suspicious." I know what Calvin would have said to that, "God's word is God's word. Come on." The seventeenth century writer John Robinson said, "God has more light yet to break out of his holy Word." I believe this is what I am saying. The sad thing is I've always thought evangelicals believed the same.

    DJM - Me too!

  8. Derek: That link won't work...Did it truncate?

    I think I have read this interview, though. Whether true or not, the admonition that one is not open to "new ideas" about the scripture is hardly condemning. Every single heresy in church history was a new interpretation of scripture. I would submit that we do WELL to be suspicious. Sorry... If the accusation is that I don't embrace the new just cause it's new, and don't think being new is a recommendation either way, then that's spot on. It's an aspect of humility, in my opinion. Aquinas, Calvin, Augustine have been "triaged" by thousands of years of Christian reflection (taken together). Wright is "new". I think I'll be more cautious recommending his views till we've had a little more time to digest them and consider all their ramifications.

  9. The link to the interview works on my blog. It's pretty interesting because the interviewer asks some of the exact questions you did.

    Every single major break through in church history was consider a heresy by many. How unorthodox Martin Luther must have seemed! He didn't agree with most of the 1500 years of what the church had been teaching. Why? Because he couldn't get the Bible to say what the church was saying it said! And, frankly, sometimes, after being in evangelical circles for about nine years, I'm confused often too.

    Wright would be a little hesitant to say that what he is saying is "new." I think he would say that it is quite old. But I know what you are saying and agree. Certainly we don't simply grab onto things because they are new and interesting.

    Read over the interview again if you get a chance... I think it is pretty helpful.

    Blessings -


  10. Luther & Calvin & those with them were only unorthodox in their day by the standard of Rome, which was Rome's own self-proclaimed this-worldly autonomy as arbiter of scriptural understanding and source of truth for the people of God. Their challenge to Rome was to clarify & uphold orthodoxy, and to demonstrate that it was Rome who had left the historic confessions of the church on the points they were concerned with. That was their contention – not that 1500 years of church teaching was wrong, not that they ought to have been free to teach an interpretation of scripture agreeable to themselves.

  11. Derek's url for the Tamerius interview w/ Wright works for me too, by the way.