Wright and the rescue of creation

Wed, 02/05/2012 - 20:35

Yesterday we made it all the way from Dubai to Duhok, in what used to be Assyria, via Abu Dhabi and Erbil. All in all a rather uneventful journey. I got a good 80 pages into Wright’s How God Became King - Getting to the heart of the Gospels, and so far I think my main prejudgment stands. He does his usual excellent job of putting the cat of Israel’s story among the pigeons of traditional theology, but for all his objections to dehistoricized readings of the Gospels (Gnostic, Chalcedonian, Reformed, modern Evangelical), he does not do justice to the historical contingency of the continuing New Testament narrative. I hesitate to say it, but I think Wright overstates the argument about Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s story. Here’s a case in point.

When you place the four emerging “canonical” gospels alongside the Jesus documents that others had written, again and again it appears that the canonical four are telling the story of the rescue of creation, not its abolition or abandonment—again, in other words, the essentially Jewish story. (17)

Now I agree with the general argument that he is making here, that the early church rightly resisted the Gnostic understanding of salvation as the “rescue of saved souls from the created order”—though I would add that a lot of what passes for orthodoxy today still has more in common with this sort of world-denying Gnosticism than with biblical notions of salvation.

But I am not persuaded that the “essentially Jewish faith” expressed in the scriptures had in view “God’s rescue of the created order itself”. This agenda does not appear to have been part of the Abraham story. Abraham was called to be an alternative to a creation that had broken down at all levels, from the personal to the social. He was not told that he or his descendants would save the world. New creation themes emerge in the course of the Old Testament (eg. Is. 65:17), but they always have to do with the renewal of Israel. While a restored Israel would dramatically alter the international landscape, I’m not sure that this really amounts to a rescue of creation in the sense that Wright intends it.

But in any case, how exactly do the Gospels affirm the “rescue of creation”?

The Jewish story that comes to fulfilment in the Gospels is one not of the redemption of the world, as far as I can tell, but of the transformation of Israel’s condition and status among the nations. This transformation entailed the making new of the people of God and the establishment of “kingdom”, but kingdom is not itself “new creation”. It has to do with the integrity and standing of God’s new creation people in relation to the nations, which is just as much an issue after Jesus as before him.

This, I think, is the political and historical dynamic that goes missing in Wright’s eagerness to bring Israel’s story to a climax. What changes in the New Testament, fundamentally, are the conditions of Israel’s existence in the world, in the midst of the nations, and not least in relation to empire. The people of God has been forgiven for its sins, has received the Holy Spirit as its new modus vivendi, has opened up to include Gentiles, and has been given Christ as head over all things. But the problematic of its political and historical existence does not go away.

Paul certainly affirms that creation will eventually be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21), and John imagines a new heavens and new earth, but this is well beyond the horizon of the Gospels. Perhaps I have overlooked something. I will keep reading as we travel to Mardin in Turkey tomorrow.

Image of How God Became King - Getting to the heart of the Gospels

On Amazon:

Tom Wright
SPCK Publishing (2012), Paperback, 304 pages, $25.98

Comments

Good journeying to you. I had a lecture on Armenian history today: The Medieval Armenian capital of Ani was known as “The City of 1001 Churches” for its prolific and magnificent religious architecture that rivaled that of Istanbul and Rome. Today, the city is a fascinating, uninhabited ruin in northeastern Turkey, separated from Armenia by a river and a heavily guarded international border with no crossing point.

Now - re creation, new song, birth etc. I think the Psalms testify to birth imagery that fits a creation/renewed creation model. Such a world / kingdom requires consistent and continuous work such as the human is supposed to give, and it requires an overcoming of our tendency to curse (Psalm 109) - perhaps this is answered fully in Ps 110 with the cost borne by the king.

Whether Wright writes of this rightly or now, I do not know. I gave up reading evangelical authors 30 years ago.

Bob,

I would say your error is your presupposition that the world being referred to is the physical world.

Am I missing something? What other world could be in view than the physical one?

Bob,
yes, I think you are. Just like Wright.

Take Paul’s statements in Romans 8:19-22
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.


The creation is Israel. They were subjected to futility by being placed under the Law, which placed them in bondage of corruption/sin/death. But God subjected them in “hope”, hope in their coming Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage. Ever wonder how Paul could, in verse 22, add to the creation so they both can “together”, the “whole creation”, groan with birth pangs. The addition is the Gentiles.

Christendom will always be hopefully lost in trying to understand the Scriptures because of its propensity for the physical. Genesis is not about the creation of the physical universe, but the creation of Israel; the creation of their Covenant world. The covenant world ended via Christ in AD70 when He ushered in a New Heaven and Earth, one where “righteousness dwells”.


People like John Walton are starting to finally see these truths (The Lost World of Genesis One), but still struggles with letting go of the physical. Even Walton after basically showing that Genesis isn’t about the creation of the physical will then turn around and try to wiggle it back into it somehow. He does this unknowingly because of his eschatology (which he refuses to venture into…what a shame). His eschatology holds to, in error, the end of the physical, so naturally he has to have the beginning be physical, because the Old Heaven and Earth (the one from Genesis) is done away with when the New Heaven and Earth is ushered in (Rev 21). One error leading to another error.


I can’t recommend Tim Martin’s book Beyond Creation Science enough to you. I think it will leave you dumb-founded that something so clear (once your eyes are opened to it) couldn’t be seen before.


Can read some comments here:

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Creation-Science-Timothy-Martin/dp/0979914701


Can get it directly from Tim here

http://beyondcreationscience.com/

I would also highly recommend Brian Godawa’s articles over on Biologos.com. He too is really starting to finally see it. He’s not 100 there yet, but I suspect it won’t be long as soon as he connects some more dots.

http://biologos.org/blog/series/the-collapsing-universe-in-the-bible

http://biologos.org/blog/series/reading-the-bible-plain-and-simple-biblical-hermeneutics-culture-and-scienc

Bob,

I think this article by Brian Godawa titled, “Biblical Creation and Storytelling: Cosmogony, Combat and Covenant” is one of his best. He really shows the relationship betwen creation and Covenant. He states it like this:

“… The creation of the covenant is the creation of the heavens and the earth. The covenant is a cosmos – not a material one centered in astronomical location and abstract impersonal forces as modern worldview demands, but a theological one, centered in the sacred space of land, temple, and cult as ancient Near Eastern worldview demands…”

You can download his paper here:

http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/godawa_scholarly_paper.pdf

I’ve seen Ani. It’s a spectacular place, but only a couple of churches still in existence, including a remarkable cave church.

Evangelical scholarship has come a long way in 30 years. At least, some of it has.

First, I think you’d be fascinated by a book on church history I picked up lately, “The Lost History of Christianity” byPhilip Jenkins. He describes the spread of Christianity from the to all points on the map in great detail and might challenge the notion that there is anything significant known as “Christondom”.

Second, maybe we can just define creation the way Paul did:

Colossians 1:23 (NKJV)
23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Do we really think he preached to every bug or mosquito in the world, or in the known world? Or, maybe we look at all of the NKJV uses of the term “creation”:

Mark 10:6 (NKJV)
6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’

Mark 13:19 (NKJV)
19 For in those days there will be tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be.

Romans 1:20 (NKJV)
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,

Romans 8:19 (NKJV)
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8:20 (NKJV)
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope;

Romans 8:21 (NKJV)
21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Romans 8:22 (NKJV)
22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Galatians 6:15 (NKJV)
15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.

Colossians 1:15 (NKJV)
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Hebrews 9:11 (NKJV)
11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

2 Peter 3:4 (NKJV)
4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”

Revelation 3:14 (NKJV)
14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

I’d suggest that just like Peter conceived of non Jews as dirty animals, and he was told that all of this dirty creation was now available for consumption, then “creation” in the NT is all of the people on the earth, regardless of race. In that sense, you and Wright are both correct. He will never budge from his position for eschatological reasons, however.

Doug

But I am not persuaded that the “essentially Jewish faith” expressed in the scriptures had in view “God’s rescue of the created order itself”. This agenda does not appear to have been part of the Abraham story. Abraham was called to be an alternative to a creation that had broken down at all levels, from the personal to the social.

On page 74, Wrights says: “The call of Abraham is the answer to the sin of Adam”. That this amounts to a rescue of the created order can be seen by following up the footnote reference to “The New Testament and the People of God” - pp 262-8. Wright introduces this section in NTPG by saying that Israel’s sense of her vocation was as the creator’s “true humanity”, and at the end of it says that “the fate of the nations was inexorably and irreversibly bound up with that of Israel” - p.268.

Wright illustrates through the NTPG section in question that the larger creational theme can be seen through Abraham’s story, continuing into Israel’s story. The commands issued to Adam are echoed in Abraham’s stroy. At key points in the story, Wright provides examples that “the narrative quietly insists that Abraham and his progeny inherit the role of Adam and Eve”. The theme continues in the Pentateuch, in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It continues into The Prophets, Wisdom Literature, Qumran, Other Second Temple Literature, and what is said of Israel and the Nations (Wright’s subheadings).

This seems to me to illustrate Wright’s point, which is that we have more than an alternative to a broken creation in view, but a developing rescue plan for broken creation.

Thanks. I can’t check NTPG at the moment. I agree that Israel’s vocation was to be a “true humanity” and that the fate of the nations was bound up with that of Israel, though I would press the historical and contingent aspect of that rather than the absolute. I would argue that the call of Abraham is as much a response to the sin of Babel as to the sin of Adam and Eve, perhaps more so, which itself anchors Israel’s “true humanity” historically and socially. But I don’t see anything in this that suggests that through Abraham’s family the broken creation was to be rescued as such. It depends, of course, on what we mean by the fate of the nations being bound up with the fate of Israel.

But the other part of this is the question of how such a rescue plan is conceived in the New Testament. Does the New Testament carry the idea that this broken creation will be rescued or that something will be rescued from it? The nations will be judged at the parousia and will confess Jesus as Lord, which I think is Christendom, in effect. But there is more to creation than the nations, even if we mean all the nations ever. And then it appears that the transformation of the cosmos comes about in the manner described by John in Revelation 20. That does not look like a rescue but a replacement.

At random...

The unfamiliar face of Jesus There is a classic image of Jesus that has predominated in Christian artistic traditions – a tall figure with long wavy, almost effeminate hair (because he’s worth it!) and beard, sorrowful eyes, white robe, and the original Jesus sandals...
Tim Keller gets a lot right but gets hell badly wrong Among the many responses to Kurt Willems’ defence of Rob Bell was a link to an undated article by Tim Keller on “The Importance of Hell” (thank you, Jake). Tim Keller is an outstanding pastor, but his argument about hell seems to be wrong...
The medium of En-dor and the question of life after death I argued recently that the New Testament conceives of any life after death in terms of the resurrection of the body and does not entertain the notion that some immaterial part of a person—the “soul”—survives the destruction of the body to...