Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays (eds) (2011). Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
This is the fourth part of a series Brian LePort and I are tackling out of this book, which is based off the most recent Wheaton Conference. Scroll to the bottom of this entry and you will be provided with links to previous posts that cover previous chapters and moreover a schedule for future entries.
Nicholas Perrin, “Jesus’ Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet.”
Nicholas Perrin’s starts his discussion on Wright’s JVG by first talking about the work The Gospel and the Land by W.D. Davies. In this book, Davies examines the relationship between the land and the Kingdom of God through the lens of Gunther Bornkamm and George B. Caird. As I’m sure many of you know, the work of Bornkamm, to Caird, is as antithetical as Ken Ham’s views on Genesis to Francis Collins’. So, as Perrin says, they are “diametrically opposed thinkers”, “though not internally inconsistent.”
If you aren’t familiar with the work of Caird and Bornkamm, you’ll need a little background in order to understand Perrin’s critique of Wright. Bornkamm’s Jesus is neither “politically laden nor apocalyptically oriented.” For Bornkamm, Jesus wasn’t concerned with the political side of things in the first century milieu. Primarily, according to Bornkamm, Jesus was a wisdom teacher, a sage, your personal ethicist challenging you to change your wrong ways. Thus, the challenge posed by Jesus was a personal one, not a national one. To juxtapose Bornkamm, Caird’s Jesus was the hands in the dirt, rough middle easterner, apocalyptic prophet that has come to pronounce judgment on Israel as a whole for their corrupt aspirations. For Bornkamm, Jesus’ ethic was a personal one. While for Caird, Jesus’ ethic was a sociopolitical one.
After setting the stage, Perrin discusses “The promise of Wright and Wright’s Jesus.”:
- “Tom’s groundbreaking Methodology.” N.T. Wright’s methodology was thoroughly groundbreaking for the times. The Jesus Seminar when Wright wrote NTPG and JVG were the hot trend of the days. Their methodology was a minimalistic one, but promised accurate results. The unfortunate problem with their employed methodology was that “Jesus” wasn’t really Jesus. He was a middle-eastern man in which we pretty much knew nothing about. Wright on the other hand argues “Instead of examining one piece at a time without reference to their potential interconnectedness, why not get all the pieces on the table, see what fits, and then decide what the box top must have looked like?” Perrin likes Wright’s historical methodology so much that “the critical methodology employed in Jesus and the Victory of God seems to be almost as important as—if not more important than—its critical results.
- The second great contribution is “Jesus as a reader of Israel’s Scriptures.” Though I won’t expound upon this in much detail, Wright’s doing this settled Jesus as a man of the times. So, breaking off from the Bultmannian tradition where Jesus was a type of proto-Marcionite who transcended the Judaism of his days, to the contrary for Wright, Jesus was an actual thoroughbred Jew.
- The third promising point of Wright’s work stated by Perrin is Jesus’ identification with Israel and its royal Messiah. Israel, not as the state of Israel, “but rather the entire historical trajectory leading up to, including and climaxing his ministry.” And “Jesus was claiming to be both the embodiment and fulfillment of storied Israel.” Tied in with this, is Tom’s argument of exile and restoration, and that Jesus is the one who is bringing this restoration from exile (though not in the way expected) as Israel for Israel.
Issue with Wright’s Jesus in JVG
Resuming from where we began in this post: There has been a stressing pull between the eschatalogical ethic of Bornkamm’s Jesus and Caird’s Jesus. Primarily, Wright, in JVG finds himself in the trajectory of Caird’s Jesus who’s raison d’etre was to bring sociopolitical change. Though Perrin agrees with this, he furthermore argues that Jesus didn’t just focus on this, but also focused on the personal change of individuals amongst the body of Israel (MK. 10:17-22).
What’s interesting about Perrin’s criticism of Wright’s work in JVG, is that it’s exactly that. It is a critique of Wright’s work in JVG. He shows that in his later works, Wright actually does espouse a Jesus who wasn’t just sociopolitically minded, but also personally-minded.
In a very familial tone, Wright fully accepts Nick’s criticism in relation to JVG. Wright says: “I have been so used to seeing Jesus’ commands and warnings being reduced to the rather trivial moral challenges faced by young people in comfortable Western homes that I was determined, if I could, to draw out the much larger picture. Start with the big picture and you’ll get the details eventually. Start with the details and you may never know where you are on the map.” And “there was clearly plenty of ordinary, boring old sin going on too, and Jesus named and shamed it.”
For me this chapter was “alright.” I enjoyed the cordial discussion. I also agreed with Perrin on his criticism of Wright. But, unfortunately I found Perrin’s speaking style hard to follow. Which later made it even more impossible to understand while reading. Of course this is a personal gripe I have with Perrin, and may only effect me, not others. All in all, it was a good read and I recommend it; this is especially so if you want to grasp general themes in Wright’s work before tackling the beast itself.
Schedule for this series:
06/22: Nicholas Perrin, “Jesus’ Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet” (Daniel James Levy)
06/29: N.T. Wright, “Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies in the Life of the Church?” (Brian LePort)
07/06: Edith M. Humphrey, “Glimpsing the Glory: Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness, and the Beautiful Feet of N.T. Wright” (Daniel James Levy)
07/13: Jeremy S. Begbie, “The Shape of Things to Come? Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies” (Brian LePort)
07/20: Markus Bockmuehl, “Did St. Paul Go to Heaven When He Died? (Daniel James Levy)
07/27: Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and Protestant Soteriology” (Brian LePort)
08/03: N.T. Wright, “Whence and Whither Pauline Studies in the Life of the Church?” (Daniel James Levy)