Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The New Testament and the People of God

This volume, one of the early ones in Tom Wright's corpus on NT theology, was published in 1992. I have had a copy on my shelf for almost as long. This month I read it (mostly in Nigeria, during free afternoons whilst in Anyigba to teach at the seminary of the Christian Evangelical Fellowship of Nigeria and then preach at their annual Convention).

The book has about 150 pages of prolegomena on literature, theology and history and how they need to be studied to produce NT theology; 140 pages at the end on the church in the first century; and 200 pages or so in the middle on Second Temple Judaism (2TJ).

It is a good read. It helps to see Christianity in the light of the Judaism of the period (allowing for not taking Wright's interpretation of 2TJ uncritically) and this is certainly an area where I have done too little study in the past.

When reading Wright, one would really think that Jews of the era were just potential Christians waiting to hear of Christ, so friendly is his presentation of 2TJ. In reading the NT, one is in a different atmosphere altogether, whether in the letters of Paul or the gospels. But - it is interesting to note that when, in dealing with the areas of continuity between Judaism and Christianity, Wright seems to be drawing much more on the Old Testament - on which I am sure most of us would have little disagreement. 2TJ seems to feature rather less in this section, as if the degree of continuity between it and Christianity is not so marked.

Wright just hints at what will in later volumes become his re-interpretation of Paul and particularly the doctrine of justification.

Two things are particularly irritating about Wright's polemics against traditional evangelicalism: his setting up caricatures of his opponents, 'straw men', particularly that of the evangelical who apparently never does any serious study; and his little jibes here and there about conservative evangelicals who are (for example) 'more familiar with the Pelagian controversy than with 2TJ'. I have rarely met any evangelicals familiar with the Pelagian controversy. But the point Wright is trying to make of course is the hoary one about interpreting Paul through Lutheran or Augustinian lenses.

All I can say is that looking at the NT through Luther's lenses still gives a much truer and more consistent interpretation of the Scriptures than that informed by the Judaism of which Wright seems so enamoured.

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