Thursday, 18 May 2017

Interview with Bruxy Cavey: (Re)Union


Bruxy Cavey joins me on the MennoNerds podcast to talk about his newest book, (Re)union: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

Historical Reasons for the Resurrection?



This past Sunday I did something that I had never done before as a Pastor. I preached on the historical reasons for the resurrection. It was not an easy sermon to prepare. There is a lot of material to cover in such a short time. I found myself a bit apprehensive to give a list of reasons why one might believe in the resurrection. (You can listen to that sermon above in the video player) 

You may ask, "Why the apprehension?"

Certainly, that is a valid question. 

Why should any minister of the Gospel be apprehensive on sharing the historical case for the resurrection? I guess my apprehension could be narrowed to the fact that I did not want to build an entire case on reason alone. I think it's dangerous to base our faith on a post-enlightenment rationalism that declares, "I have empirically proven the answer, thus removing the need for faith."

 Jason Micheli captures my apprehension perfectly when he writes,
 "The Barthian in me bristles at the unexamined assumption that that which is ‘objective’ and true must be empirically verifiable, it’s nonetheless true that the same Barthian in me is allergic to rational apologetics."- tamedcynic.org 
And so all of this left me with an uneasy feeling about putting together a sermon that compiled a list of reasons for believing the resurrection. I was apprehensive about a "wooden rationalism" that called for undeniable verification. Thankfully, both Jason & N.T. Wright helped me provide a proper framing of where to put these arguments for the resurrection. 

Jason Micheili cleverly asserts this dialectical statement:
To say the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical verification is true, for we believe God intervenes from beyond history to raise Jesus from beyond the grave. But to say the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical verification is not also to suggest that the resurrection of Christ is beyond historical plausibility, for we believe God intervenes to raise Jesus from the grave within historyIn fact... I do think the resurrection is the best- or at least a compelling- historical explanation for the resurrection of Jesus.

N.T. Wright, in his popular book Surprised By Hope, (and elsewhere) spends endless chapters laying out the historical case for the plausibility of the resurrection. Yet, after tirelessly laying out his through argument, Wright explains to his readers exactly where these rationalistic based arguments belong for followers of Jesus. He writes, 
"[T]hough the historical arguments for Jesus’s bodily resurrection are truly strong, we must never suppose that they will do more than bring people to the questions faced by Thomas, Paul, and Peter, the questions of faith, hope, and love. We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter. To do so would be like lighting a candle to see whether the sun had risen. What the candles of historical scholarship will do is to show that the room has been disturbed, that it doesn’t look like it did last night, and that would-be normal explanations for this won’t do. Maybe, we think after the historical arguments have done their work, maybe morning has come and the world has woken up. But to investigate whether this is so, we must take the risk and open the curtains to the rising sun. When we do so, we won’t rely on the candles anymore, not because we don’t believe in evidence and argument but because they will have been overtaken by the larger reality from which they borrow, to which they point, and in which they will find a new and larger home. All knowing is a gift from God, historical and scientific knowing no less than that of faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love."- N.T. WrightSurprised By Hope, pg. 74
So this is all to say, that while I find the various reasons for the resurrection compelling, I must always recognize that these reasons alone cannot form the basis of faith and trust in the resurrection. I must go deeper from reason to hope, faith, and love

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

This age. This era.















This age. This era. 
The age of anger & cynicism; 
Outrage & worry;
Fear & reaction. 

If it bleeds it leads,
Outrage is all the rage,
Anger is the new patience 
And our worries multiply.

Wordless groans.
O Spirit, help us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray
We do not know what we ought to say

Help us see the new age that is to come;
A new vision, a new creation, the age of: 
Love! Joy! Peace! 
Patience! Kindness! 
Goodness! Faithfulness! 
Gentleness! Self-control! 

We are frail and weak;
In need of the Helper.
Lord, have mercy,
Christ, have mercy,
Lord, have mercy. 





Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A Celtic Prayer


Canticle

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

Blessing

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Book Review: Derek Flood's "Disarming Scripture"



Today on my blog I am reviewing a great new book by author and theologian Derek Flood: Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence Loving Conservatives, and why we need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

General Impressions

Flood’s latest offering is addressing a deep problem in the way Christians have (mis)read our Scripture. The problem of violence is not just an anachronistic oddity of interpretation of Scripture. As Flood comments, “genocide narrative is a central theme of the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua, and constitutes a major component of the defining story of the Israelites as they came into the promise land.”[1] Sadly t
he Bible has a long history of being used to justify, and legitimate violence throughout history. Texts like the conquest narrative of the book of Joshua have been rallying points for crusades, manifest destiny, and genocide. The problem of the violence of the Bible is a problem for Christian precisely because we claim these Scriptures as our sacred text. Flood in his latest book, gives us the vocabulary and hermeneutic to address these problem passages head on.

What Derek Flood does exceptionally in this book is to challenge both liberal and conservative readings of Scripture. A liberal reading, according to Flood, is “to point to the good parts… deny the problem and simply whitewash over the evidence.”[2] The conservative reading of the violent texts is to “advocate for things we know are profoundly wrong in an attempt to defend the Bible and our faith.” [3] In so far as Flood has done this, you should expect to be challenged by this book. 

I personally grew up in a tradition that has more or less ignored the troubling passages of Scripture. This book has given me a renewed encouragement to re-engage those troubling passaging with a "faithful questioning" that asks tough questions of the text in light of how Jesus read his bible.

A good challenge that Derek Flood brings to those of us from traditions (like Anabaptist) who have a practice of Jesus-lensed interpretation on the violent passages, is to not base our understanding of Scripture purely on authority.  As Flood comments, "As long as we are basing something on authority, we are not understanding it. This is the way of unquestioning obedience which inevitably leads to hurtful interpretations because it has no means to differentiate between what is hurtful and what is loving." Instead, we need to take the next step to imitate the way Jesus reads and engages Scripture. Why is this important? Well, without giving away too much in the book, because ultimately Jesus did not speak out on all the issues that we may find morally problematic today. (e.g. slavery, discipline of children) 

Something I also appreciate about Flood in this book is his thorough engagement with some of the best academic minds and information in the field. Authors and theologians such as N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, James Dunn, Peter Enns, John Yoder, Susan Niditch and many more are being engaged and cited throughout this book. Flood does a great service in summing up arguments, critically engaging scholarship, and providing helpful footnotes all throughout this book. I honestly feel as if Flood is intentionally empowering his readership to engage his book as a launching point to further study. For this reason, I would encourage everyone who is interested in the topic of violence in Scripture to check out Flood's latest book.



Exceptional Particulars 


Chapter Three: Paul’s Conversion From Violence 

I think I share Brian Zahnd’s sentiments in that we both think this was an amazing chapter in the book. Basically put, Flood makes the convincing case that Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road is one away from violent zealotry of religious fanaticism and into an interpretation of his Scriptures in light of the non-violent Messiah. As Flood brilliantly comments, 
“Paul’s conversion to Christ was not one of a “sinner” who finds religion. Paul already had religion, and describes himself in fact as a religious zealot who could boast that his observance of the Torah was faultless… Paul’s conversion was one away from religious fanaticism. In other words, Paul did not see himself as rejecting his former violent interpretation of Israel’s scriptures, but rather as rejecting his former violent interpretation of them. Paul’s great sin - as he came to understand it- had been participation in what he understood as religiously justified acts of violence, motivated by religious zeal.” [4]

Flood then spends a good chunk of chapter three showing how Paul’s citation of Torah in his writings deliberately edits the original context to strip it of violence. One such example Flood provides is Paul’s quotation of Deuteronomy 32:43 found in Romans 15.
“Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles, and let all the angels be strengthened in him.For he will avenge the blood of his children; he will take revenge against his enemies.He will repay those who hate him and cleanse his people’s land.”-Deuteronomy 32:43


Paul, Flood argues, is not just being a sloppy exegete but, “artfully and deliberately reshaping [scripture] from the original cry for divine violence into a confession of universal culpability, highlighting that all of us need mercy.”[5]

A Trajectory Reading of Scripture

Flood has divided the book into two parts: (1)Violence in the Old Testament & (2)Violence in the New Testament. In the later half of the book, Flood invests considerable time introducing his readership to the concept of a trajectory reading of scripture. This I believe is an important point to consider in relation to how we formulate our ethics in the New Testament. Many Christians understand that Scripture is a progressive narrative from the story of Israel being fulfilled in the story of Jesus. We get that something new has arrived on the scene with the new covenant. What may be a surprise to many Christians is that the New Testament is not a static monolith of arrived ethical perfection. As Flood explains,
“If we read the New Testament as a storehouse of eternal principals, representing a “frozen in time” ethic, where we can simply flip open a page and find what the timeless “biblical” view on any particular issue is- as so many people read the Bible today- then we would need to conclude that the institution of slavery has God’s approval and maintain it today. This is in fact exactly how many American slave-owning Christians did read the Bible in the past. Yet all of us would agree today that slavery is immoral.” [6]


I often feel this unresolved tension and partial fulfillment in the writings of Paul. For instance, Paul in Galatians boldly proclaims, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [7] Yet in other instances we see the tension of Paul commending a slave Philemon to return to his Master, which is further exemplified by Paul’s multiple exhortations that slaves should, “obey your earthly masters in everything”.[8] How do we resolve this tension? Flood encourages us to read the direction and trajectory of the New Testament authors (e.g. Gal 3.28) and try to progress on that journey ourselves. 

From Unquestioning Obedience to Faithful Questioning

The problem we face our readings of Scripture is one of unquestioning obedience. Or in other words, our practices can sometimes be reduced to turning to any page of the Bible and yelling “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” This, Flood suggests, is not a faithful representation of how Jesus or Paul would read their Scriptures.

So a few basic points that Flood makes in favour of a faithful questioning:

1. The Hebrew Scriptures are multi-vocal documents of  sometimes opposing views- testimony and counter testimony. 
“In the Hebrew Bible, we do not hear only a single unified voice, rather we encounter multiple competing voices - each claiming to be the correct view, each claiming authority.” [9]

2. When Jesus & Paul read their Scriptures they did not affirm every voice and every assumption in the Hebrew text.

“Jesus, while embracing the prophets’ priority of compassion over ritual, rejects their common tactic of blaming the victim, and instead acts to heal those who are sick, effectively undoing God’s supposed “judgement” on them. Jesus, in fact, does not associate sickness with God’s judgement at all, but with the kingdom of satan, and thus acts to liberate people from its bondage, rather than upholding it as right and calling for repentance as the prophets do.”[10]

3. Faithful questioning requires us to enter into the discussion with humility, knowing that the function of Scripture, as summed up by Jesus, is to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves. 


“Because of the multiple conflicting narratives we simply must choose, we must take sides in the debate, we are forced to embrace some narratives, while rejecting others.” [11] 
“Jesus is calling us as his disciples, to a mature, intelligent, responsible and empowered reading of Scripture that is rooted in life and our shared human experience together. Our hermeneutical key then is that our interpretation needs to be evaluated on its merit - we need to look at the fruits. If we see that it results in love then this is the aim of Scripture.” [12]

Possible Points of Improvement

Is Judgement inherently violent? 

In the nine chapter, “Undoing Judgement”, Flood enters into a discussion on Matthew’s use of violent language. Flood highlights that the Gospel according to Matthew adds phrases that appear to highlight divine retribution. As Flood comments, “We read of the unfaithful being “tortured” (Mt 18:34), “tied hand and foot”(Mt 22:13), “cut into pieces” (Mt 24:51, par Lk 12:46), “thrown into darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13;25:30), and “thrown into the blazing furnace” (Mt 13:42 & 50).” [13]

Flood’s proposal is that, “Matthew has added apocalyptic language to the parable of Jesus with the intent of tapping into the hopes of the Jewish people for liberation from bondage.” [14] To this I say amen! I agree wholeheartedly. 

My “possible point of improvement”, alongside Flood's points would be to also suggest a partial preterist reading of some of the violent passages in Matthew. (This will not bring an easy resolution to all of Matthew’s texts) This is to say that if Matthew’s community is primarily Jewish, then we are to read much of Matthew’s judgement passages as warnings of God’s coming judgment upon Israel. As Fredrick Dale Bruner comments on the Olivet discourse, "Jesus saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world as being almost contemporaneous.” This is of course does not immediately resolve any tension without clarification to how God is judging Israel. Is it a matter of God being retributive or violent? Or is it a matter God surrendering us to this ontological realities of sin? I would like to suggest that God’s judgments are a matter of punitive withdrawal, which is God “giving us over” to consequences of our choices. This is not violence in any sense of the term but rather the very fulfillment of our free will choices. God’s judgement is not the position of an active tormentor, but of the Prodigal Father that willingly lets us divide our inheritance and go the other way. (Luke 15) This is the reason, I believe, why Matthew is being so vivid and apocalyptic is partly because this fate of the nation of Israel could have been avoided, and he is likely warning his faith community over danger of the rejection of the good news. [15] This perhaps would explain Matthew’s striking prediction of judgement to be fulfilled within “this generation”. (Mt 23:36; 24:34)

I think Luke helps us grasp God’s heart toward judgement on Israel, and subsequently a picture of God’s attitude to all judgement. Luke tells us that when Jesus was making his final journey to Jerusalem, 
He wept over [Jerusalem] and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”[16] 
 God in Christ arrives at the City that has rejected his way of peace which leads to them ultimately putting him upon the Cross of his execution and weeps over the state of affairs. It is striking picture of the God allowing us to rebel. To go our own way."If they had believed in Jesus as the messianic Prince of Peace instead of a messianic Lord of War, Jerusalem could have actually become the City of Peace. Instead, they chose the path that led to a hellish nightmare of siege, famine, cannibalism, destruction, and death."[17] I would suggest that this is God’s attitude in all  judgements. As N.T. Wright comments on the above passage:
“When you reflect on Jesus’ words and deeds of judgement, don’t forget the tears. And remember, with awe, … that those tears are not just the human reaction to a frustrating situation. They are the tears of the God of love.” [18]

What is violence?

I thought a helpful addition to Disarming Scripture might have been a focused discussion around the nature of violence.   I should note that I do not think for a moment that Flood has limited violence to the physical realm in his book as evidenced by many of the examples he provides. It is merely a "possible point of improvement" that I suggest a concentration on the nature of violence. Often the assumption is to limit the defining parameters of violence to the physical realm. This is certainly fits into the provided  examples of slavery and child discipline in the sixth chapter on "Reading on a Trajectory".  I believe that if we expand our understanding of violence beyond the physical and into other realms- such as cultural or sexual violence- we might be able to bring further understanding on just how necessary a trajectory reading of Scripture is to the responsible reader. 

An example that comes to mind of non-physical violence in the text is Paul's trajectory reading on the role of women. Certainly their can be no doubt that a first century cultural view of a woman was inherently violent and oppressive under a host of categories of violence.  "It was the view of Ancient Greeks that a woman was a 'failed man.' Women essentially existed on the same level with slaves. Wives always lived under the authority, control, and protection of their husbands. Women, especially wives, led lives of seclusion. Men confined their spouses to the household in order to make certain the legitimacy of their children.” [19]To many modern readers, violence is being perpetuated by Paul in his passages dealing with gender roles. Paul has often been labeled as a misogynist. But if we see the direction Paul was heading and the reasons as to why he gave the prohibiting passages, we might reconsider Paul, and hopefully reconsider that way that women are oppressed today. (You can read more about Paul and issue of women here.)


Thanks for reading! 

Citations

1. Flood, Derek. Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence Loving Conservatives, and why we need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did, (San Francisco: Metania Books, 2014) pg. 4
2. 18
3. ibid. 
4. 48. emphasis original 
5.56.
6. 123.emphasis original 
7. Galatians 3:28
8. Colossians 3:22 also see: Eph 6:6; 
9. 33.
10. 38. 
11. 41. 
12. 139. 
13. 210. 
14. 218
15. My proposal is of course dependant on an early dating of Matthew that is pre 70 a.d. 
16. Luke 19:41-44 NIV emphasis mine.
17. http://brianzahnd.com/2014/06/armageddon-left-behind/ 
18. Wright, Tom. Luke For Everybody,( Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2002) 233.
19. Gritz, Sharon Hodgin. Paul, Women Teachers, and the Mother Goddess at Ephesus. Lanham,(University Press of America Inc, 1991) 32. 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

N.T. Wright: "Our Politics Are Too Small"


N.T. Wright in his latest book, Surprised By Scripture, is offering direct commentary on a myriad of issues. I say, 'direct' because anyone who is familiar with Wright's style will know that he has a tendency towards the grandiose epic themes of Scripture. Wright, in this latest offering, has narrowed down to a singular concentrated topic. The book is laid out not as a single exposition but as a collection of essays that are meant to stand on their own. Surprised By Scripture is largely the result of Tom being asked to lecture on specific issues and topics, thus forcing an engagement and reflection into a presentable material. The result of years of speaking engagements has produced this book. 

Surprised By Scripture is not a collection of position papers. Wright remarks in the preface that he has published these collections of essays, "not as dogmatic pronouncements but as explorations into vast and exciting topics." I think that is an important preface to our engagement with the following  chapter, "Our Politics Are Too Small".


"Our Politics Are Too Small" 

Wright opens this chapter by musing that in the 1980s he never would have suspected that he would be so interested about "the question of God in public."[1] It was the work that Tom was doing on Jesus in the historical context that forced him to mature his thoughts on politics and God. This growth and maturity eventually led to Wright voicing his objections to political policies and practices. Tom writes,
"I have been used to getting plaintive emails saying, 'We like what you write about Jesus and the resurrection; we are fascinated what you say on Paul; but why are you so critical of our President?' And my answer is, " If you actually read what I say about Jesus and the Kingdom, and you understand what Paul was really about, you'll have to take the questions of God in public seriously in a whole new way. To say that I was confusing spiritual issues with political issues is simply to restate the old Enlightenment dichotomy at a moment when it is disastrously inappropriate as well as misleading." [2]

It is at this point that I want to highlight a major point that N.T. Wright is making. We have a tendency vis-à-vis the Post-Modern//Post-Enlightenment to dichotomize spirituality and politics. We incorrectly believe that spirituality is for the afterlife, whereas politics are a separate realm for this life. This assumption, according to Wright, is inherently Epicurean. Epicureanism, which stems from the third century BC Greek philosopher Epicurus, who declared that the gods, if they existed at all, were totally removed from the world and never intervened in its affairs. This is not the vision of Scripture. God is concerned about the state of this world. God is concerned about the treatment of the widow and the orphan. "[Jesus'] agenda of dealing with sin and its effects and consequences was never about rescuing individual souls from the world but about saving humans so that they could become part of his project of saving the world."[3, emphasis original]

Wright believes we can find a way forward through a fresh reading of Scripture, namely the four Gospels. The "fresh reading" will start by taking seriously the teaching of Jesus. He comments, "I have been increasingly concerned that much of evangelical Christianity on both sides of the Atlantic has based itself on the Epistles rather than the Gospels, though often misunderstanding the Epistles themselves."[4] The Western church has not wrestled seriously enough with the radical implications of the Gospels. "The four Gospels will not be able to say what they want to say but [because of Western lens] will be patronized, muzzled, dismembered, and eventually eliminated altogether as a force to be reckoned with."[5] 



So how do we read the Gospels afresh? 

1. We need to read the Gospels as an integrated whole. 



  • "Attention has been divided, focusing either on Jesus's announcement of the Kingdom and the powerful deeds- healings, feastings, and so on- through which it is insinuated or on his death and resurrection. The Gospels have thus been seen as a social project with an unfortunate, accidental, and meaningless conclusion, or as passion narratives with extended introductions." [6] 

2. The Gospels as wholes demand to be read in deep and radical integration with the Old Testament. 


  • "We do the Gospels no service by screening out the fact that each in its own way (as opposed to the Gospel of Thomas and the rest) affirms the God-givenness and God-directedness of the Jewish narrative of creation, fall, Abraham, Moses, David, and so on, seen as the narrative of the creator God's rescue of creation from its otherwise inevitable fate. The Gospels claim that it was this project that was brought to successful completion in and through Jesus."[7]

3. The Gospels demonstrate close integration with the genuine early Christian hope.


  • "This is precisely not the hope for heaven in the sense of a blissful disembodied life after death in which creation is abandoned to its fate, but rather the hope, expressed in Ephesians 1, Romans 8, and Revelation 21, for the renewal and final coming together of heaven and earth, the final consummation precisely of God's project to be present, as Saviour, in an ultimate public world. And the point of the Gospels is that with the public career of Jesus and his death and resurrection, this whole project was decisively inaugurated, never to be abandoned." [8]

It is with these three integrations that Wright invites us to see the political nature of the four Gospel's; albeit a political meaning that is deeply integrated with the theological. It would appear that much of Christian theology has wrongly concluded that we must derive our ethical guidance for life in the real world from other sources: common sense, calculation of what will work in a fallen world, non-Christian philosophical sources. N.T.Wright is pushing us to ask an essential question: Should we not begin with an assumption that God’s revelation in Jesus’ life and teaching might well offer clear guidance for our social ethics? Should we not consider the Gospels as the launching of a whole new world?  According to Wright, we can no longer justifiably bi-partisan our approach to politics and theology. "This means would-be theological interpretations that ignore the political dimension, as well as would-be political interpretations that ignore the theological dimension, are simply ruled out as naive and anachronistic."[9]


Wisdom for the Rulers- and the Church

Having now established a framework for thinking about theology and politics, Wright now begins to reflect on the nature of the church and secular rulers. Does the Lordship of Jesus negate our following of state rulers? Is the church meant to practice a separatist monasticism? N.T. Wright comments in this brilliant lengthy section:

"It is noteworthy that the early church, aware of the prevailing tyrannies both Jewish and Pagan, and insisting on exalting Jesus as Lord over all, did not reject the God-given rule even of pagans. This is a horrible disappointment to post-Enlightenment liberals, who would have much preferred the early Christians to have embraced a some kind of holy anarchy with no place for rulers at all. But it is part of creational view of the world that God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic, and that human power structures are the God-given means by which that end is to be accomplished- otherwise those with muscle and money will always win, and the poor and the widows will be trampled on afresh. This is the point at which Colossians 1 makes its decisive contribution over and against dualisms which imagine that earthly rulers are a priori a bad thing (the same dualisms, as I have been suggesting, that have dominated both the method and the content of much biblical scholarship). This is the point at which the notion of the common good, advanced afresh by the Roman Catholic bishops in the 1990s and now reemphasized (though I think without full clarity) by Jim Wallis, has its contribution to make.
The New Testament does not encourage the idea of a complete disjunction between the political good to be pursued by the church and the political good to be pursued by the world outside the church, precisely for the reason that the church is to be seen as the body through which God addresses and reclaims the world. Here, I think, the essentially anabaptist vision of Wallis and others may need to be nuanced with a more firmly creational theology. (I know there are many varieties of anabaptism, and I hope it's clear that I am in considerable sympathy with many of their emphases, but there comes a point when anabaptism holds back from the dangerous task of working with the world, which I believe is just as Christian an obligation as working against the world.) "[10, Emphasis mine]
I was challenged by the above quoted section in two ways: (1)My own tendency to apathy around political involvement (2)My self identified Anabaptism. It can be very tempting as an Anabaptist (I speak personally) to lapse into an against the world mentality. I think of the history of separatism, displayed through various Anabaptist sects, as a prime example of my own tradition's inclination to be against the world. I believe N.T. Wright's challenge to the Anabaptist community is one we must examine. How are we simultaneously working against and with the world? Failure to live in the tension of this question validates Wright assertion that, "We in the contemporary Western world have all but lost the ability, conceptually as well as practically, to affirm simultaneously that rulers are corrupt and must be confronted and that they are God-given and must be obeyed." [11] 

Thankfully for my own sanity, Wright clarifies what he means by obedience to the powers. Tom draws on Colossians 1:18-20 to emphasize that Scripture teaches that the rulers will be reconciled. The rulers of the age, while ultimately failing to bring new creation, (only Christ can do that) can still be used by God to bring order to the world. This, according to Wright, is the point of Romans 13. "Not as the validation of every program that every ruler dreams up... but as the strictly limited proposal, in line wither Isaiah's recognition of Cyrus, that the creator God even uses those rulers who do not know him personally to bring fresh order and even rescue to the world."[12] 


Wright is not advocating for a blind allegiance to the rulers and governments. Tom's insistence on God's calling of rulers is yoked to a deep conviction of the prophetic role of the church. He writes, "God working through earthly rulers only makes sense if the church embraces the vocation to remind the rulers of their task, to speak truth to power, and to call authorities to account."[13] "You can have as high a theology of the God given calling of rulers as you like, as long as your theology of the church's witness and martyrdom matches it stride for stride."[14] 



Concluding Thoughts

I am deeply aware that N.T. Wright has maintained the tension in this essay. I find myself being a bit uncomfortable at the lack of an easy resolution and simple answers. That, as I mentioned in the intro to this blog, was Tom's goal in this essay, to approach the issues "as explorations into vast and exciting topics." I think he accomplished his goal. Here are some questions I am wrestling with as a result of this essay:
  • How does the church collaborate with governments without the compromise of our prophetic voice?
  • How can we simultaneously work against and with the rulers? 
  • Is corrupt order and leadership better than chaos? 
  • Might our lack of cross-bearing witnessing weaken the church's prophetic witness? Are we willing to suffer for our witness? 
  • Why have we tended to ignore the political implications of the Gospels? What steps could I take towards integration?
  • How can participating in the flourishing of one specific nation be representative of the transnational Kingdom of God? Should Christians not work for the good of all, regardless of nationalism?


Thanks for reading.... Some of the questions I have asked are engaged in the following chapter(s) of the book. Notably the following passage from the essay, "How to engage tomorrows world":

"Jesus's way of life is the path of self-giving love, that mission and service can never be about imposing a would-be Christian policy or ethic on an unwilling or unready public, but rather allowing Jesus's way of bringing his kingdom to work through us and in us. The Church at its best has always sought to transform society from within."[15]


 Works Cited
1. Wright, N.T., Surprised By Scripture, New York: Harper Collins,  p. 163
2. p. 166
3. p. 170
4. p. 167
5. p. 168
6. p. 169
7. p. 172
8. p. 172
9. p. 174
10. p. 175-176
11. p. 176
12. p. 177
13. p. 178
14. ibid.
15. p. 183