Wright identifies four methods of reading the New Testament: pre-critical, historical, theological, and postmodern (7-9). Each developed as a corrective to the perceived failings of the method that preceded.
A particular problem emerges from this sequence, however: ‘the tension between a reading that seeks to be in some sense normatively Christian and that which seeks to be faithful to history’ (9). Christians have not dealt with this tension especially well. On the one hand, what has been conceived as a defence of orthodox Christianity against Enlightenment rationalism may in fact be merely the defence of a pre-critical worldview that is “no more specifically ‘Christian’ than any other”. On the other, we have failed to understand how the Enlightenment critique of Christianity may lead to the recovery of authenticity:
Here is the paradox that lies at the heart of this whole project. Although the Enlightenment began as, among other things, a critique of orthodox Christianity, it can function, and in many ways has functioned, as a means of recalling Christianity to genuine history, to its necessary roots. Much Christianity is afraid of history, frightened that if we really find out what happened in the first century our faith will collapse. But without historical enquiry there is no check on Christianity’s propensity to remake Jesus, never mind the Christian god, in its own image. Equally, much Christianity is afraid of scholarly learning, and in so far as the Enlightenment programme was an intellectual venture, Christianity has responded with the simplicities of faith (10).
Wright proposes an approach to reading the New Testament that combines the three methods: the pre-critical emphasis on the authority of the biblical text; the Enlightenment interest in history and theology; and the postmodern concern with the relationship between the reader and the text (11-28).