According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, May 21, 2012

N.T. Wright asks: Have we gotten heaven all wrong?



Christian apologist N.T. Wright's insistence that Christianity has got it all wrong seems to mark a turning point for the serious rethinking of heaven.
http://www.religionnews.com/faith/doctrine-and-practice/N.T.-Wright-asks-Have-we-gotten-heaven-all-wrong

by
May 6, 2012
Comments

(RNS) The oft-cliched Christian notion of heaven -- a blissful realm of harp-strumming angels -- has remained a fixture of the faith for centuries. Even as arguments will go on as to who will or won't be "saved," surveys show that a vast majority Americans believe that after death their souls will ascend to some kind of celestial resting place.

But scholars on the right and left increasingly say that comforting belief in an afterlife has no basis in the Bible and would have sounded bizarre to Jesus and his early followers. Like modern curators patiently restoring an ancient fresco, scholars have plumbed the New Testament's Jewish roots to challenge the pervasive cultural belief in an otherworldly paradise.

The most recent expert to add his voice to this chorus is the prolific Christian apologist N.T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop who now teaches about early Christianity and New Testament at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. Wright has explored Christian misconceptions about heaven in previous books, but now devotes an entire volume, "How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels," to this trendy subject.

Wright's insistence that Christianity has got it all wrong seems to mark a turning point for the serious rethinking of heaven. He's not just another academic iconoclast bent on debunking Christian myths. Wright takes his creeds very seriously and has even written an 800-plus-page megaton study setting out to prove the historical truth of the resurrection of Jesus.

"This is a very current issue -- that what the church, or what the majority conventional view of heaven is, is very different from what we find in these biblical testimonies," said Christopher Morse of Union Theological Seminary in New York. "The end times are not the end of the world -- they are the beginning of the real world -- in biblical understanding."

Still, the appearance of a recent cover story in Time magazine suggests that putting-the-heaven-myth-to-rest movement is gaining currency beyond the academy. Wright and Morse say they have both made presentations on heaven research at local churches and have been surprised by the public interest and acceptance.

"An awful lot of ordinary church-going Christians are simply millions of miles away from understanding any of this," Wright said.

Wright and Morse work independently of each other and in very different ideological settings, but their work shows a remarkable convergence on key points. In classic Judaism and first-century Christianity, believers expected this world would be transformed into God's Kingdom -- a restored Eden where redeemed human beings would be liberated from death, illness, sin and other corruptions.

"This represents an instance of two top scholars who have apparently grown tired of talk of heaven on the part of Christians that is neither consistent with the New Testament nor theologically coherent," said Trevor Eppehimer of Hood Theological Seminary in North Carolina. "The majority of Christian theologians today would recognize that Wright and Morse's views on heaven represent, for the most part, the basic New Testament perspective on heaven."

First-century Jews who believed Jesus was Messiah also believed he inaugurated the Kingdom of God and were convinced the world would be transformed in their own lifetimes, Wright said. This inauguration, however, was far from complete and required the active participation of God's people practicing social justice, nonviolence and forgiveness to become fulfilled.

Once the Kingdom is complete, he said, the bodily resurrection will follow with a fully restored creation here on earth. "What we are doing at the moment is building for the Kingdom," Wright explained.

Indeed, doing God's Kingdom work has come to be known in Judaism as "tikkun olam," or "repairing the world." This Hebrew phrase is a "close cousin" to the ancient beliefs embraced by Jesus and his followers, Wright said.

"It's the recovery of the Jewish basis of the Gospels that enables us to say this," Wright said. "We are so fortunate in this generation that we understand more about first-century Judaism than Christian scholarship has for a very long time. And when you do that, you realize just how much was forgotten quite soon in the early church, certainly in the first three or four centuries."

Christianity gradually lost contact with its Jewish roots as it spread into the gentile world. On the idea of heaven, things really veered off course in the Middle Ages, Wright said.

"Our picture, which we get from Dante and Michelangelo, particularly of a heaven and a hell, and perhaps of a purgatory as well, simply isn't consonant with what we find in the New Testament," Wright said. "A lot of these images of hellfire and damnation are actually pagan images which the Middle Ages picks up again and kind of wallows in."

Wright notes that many clues to an early Christian understanding of the Kingdom of heaven are preserved in the New Testament, most notably the phrase "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," from the Lord's Prayer. Two key elements are forgiveness of debts and loving one's neighbor.

While heaven is indisputably God's realm, it's not some distantly remote galaxy hopelessly removed from human reality. In the ancient Judaic worldview, Wright notes, the two dimensions intersect and overlap so that the divine bleeds over into this world.

Other clues have been obscured by sloppy translations, such as the popular John 3:16, which says God so loved the world he gave his only son so that people could have "eternal life."

Wright offers a translation that radically recasts the message and shows how the passage would have been heard in the first century. To hear it today is to experience the shock of the new: God gave his son "so that everyone who believes in him should not be lost but should share in the life of God's new age."

"And so it's not a Platonic, timeless eternity, which is what we were all taught," Wright said. "It is very definitely that there will come a time when God will utterly transform this world -- that will be the age to come."


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N.T. Wright - How God Became King

http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/01/nt-wright-how-god-became-king.html


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Theologian N.T. Wright

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N.T. Wright, Scripture & the Authority of God - "How to Read Scripture"


continued from -

N.T. Wright, Scripture & the Authority of God
"Enlightenment, Postmodernism, and Misreading Scripture"

http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2012/05/nt-wright-on-enlightenment.html


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Wright's 5 Recommendations
for Reading Scripture Today
http://rachelheldevans.com/wright-5-recommendations-scripture

by Rachel Held Evans
May 21, 2012

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to continue our series on learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be.

As part of the series, we’re working our way through several books, and have already discussed The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. Up next up is Inspiration and Incarnation, by Peter Enns. But currently, we’re discussing Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright, and today I want to discuss Chapter 8, entitled, “How to Get Back on Track.”

Wright really picks up the pace with this chapter, which begins with a reminder to readers of what he means when he talks about “the authority of scripture.”

The authority of scripture...

“The whole of my argument so far leads to the following major conclusion,” says Wright, “that the shorthand phrase ‘the authority of scripture,’ when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community...We read scripture in order to be refreshed in our memory and understanding of the story within which we ourselves are actors, to be reminded where it has come from and where it is going to, and hence what our own part within it ought to be.”

According to Wright, “this means that ‘the authority of scripture’ is most truly put into operation as the church goes to work in the world on behalf of the gospel.”

One thing I’ve appreciated about Wright’s approach in this book is the emphasis he places on dynamic, spirit-led activity—the call to God’s people to join in God’s work of redemption, reconciliation, peace-making, and creative activity in the world. This way of speaking about the authority of Scripture stands in contrast to how it is often spoken of among Christians, as a phrase invoked to shut down conversation and bolster one particular interpretation of Scripture. (For example: “I don’t believe in evolution because, unlike you, I believe in the authority of scripture.”)

To me, Wright’s approach makes the most sense of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The authority of scripture affects the work of God’s kingdom, “at every level, from the cosmic and political through the personal,” says Wright. “Though this can happen in the supposed ‘desert island’ situation,’ where an individual reads the Bible all alone,” he says, “it normally comes about through the work of God’s people, from those who translated and published the Bible itself (even on a desert island, one is dependent on others!) to those who, like Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, helped others to understand it and apply it to their own lives.”

In other words, the Bible is intended to be read, wrestled with, applied, debated, cherished, and celebrated in community.

Tradition....

Honoring the authority of scripture means living in dialog with previous readings and respecting tradition, Wright says. Those Christians who have come before us may have been wrong about some things, he notes, but “every key figure in the history of the church has left his, her or its mark on subsequent readings of scripture.”

“Paying attention to tradition means listening carefully (humbly but not uncritically) to how the church has read and lived scripture in the past. We must be constantly aware of our responsibility, in the Communion of Saints, without giving our honored predecessors the final say or making them an ‘alternative source,’ independent of scripture itself.”

This approach reminds me a little of Scot McKnight’s approach in The Blue Parakeet, where he encourages Christians to read scripture with tradition, not merely through it.

Reason...

Honoring reason in the reading of scripture means “giving up merely arbitrary or whimsical readings of texts, and paying attention to lexical, historical considerations,” says Wright. This keeps us from accepting readings that propose, for example, that Jesus was really an Egyptian freemason or that the book of Mark is about overcoming alcoholism. (Apparently, these views can be found in actual published books!)

In other words, the interpretation should make sense.

Honoring reason also means “giving attention to, and celebrating, the many and massive discoveries in biology, archaeology, physics, astronomy, and so on, which shed great light on God’s world and the human condition,” says Wright....

And it means engaging in civil, reasonable discourse. “This is why public discussions and debates, rather than shouting matches, are such an urgent requirement, says Wright. “Far too much discourse on contentious issues has consisted of rhetorical moves designed to wipe one’s opponent’s pieces off the board before the game has begun...Reasoned discourse is part of God’s alternative way of living, over against that of violence and chaos."

A good reminder.

Five recommendations...

Wright concludes with a five-part recommendation for approaching scripture today:

1. A totally contextual reading of scripture: “Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its on chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural, and indeed canonical setting,” says Wright. A contextual reading of scripture also means understanding and appreciating our own contexts and the way they predispose us to “highlight some things in the Bible and quietly ignore others,” Wright adds.Such a contextual reading is in fact an incarnational reading of scripture, paying attention to the full humanity both of the text and its readers. This must be undertaken in the prayer that the ‘divinity’—the ‘inspiration’ of scripture, and the Spirit’s power at work within the Bible-reading church—will thereby be discovered afresh.” (Love that.) This is an exhilarating process that will never be finished, Wright says, (with all the enthusiasm and joy of someone who truly loves his job as a biblical scholar).

2. A liturgically-grounded reading of scripture: “The primary place where the church hears scripture is during corporate worship,” says Wright. “This means, we must work at making sure we read scripture properly in public, with appropriate systems for choosing what to read and appropriate training to make sure those who read do so to best effect.” Anglican worship, (to which Wright is certainly partial!), at its best, serves as a “showcase for scripture” in which “the authority of God places a direct challenge to the authority of the powers that be,” and in which the reading of scripture together in community is itself an act of worship. (Wright offers some specific suggestions for preserving a liturgically-grounded reading of scripture—including warnings against dropping certain portions of scripture from liturgical readings because they are startling or strange, as well as warnings against making sermons the focus of corporate worship— that we don’t have time to discuss in detail here.)

3. A privately studied reading of scripture: “For all of this to make the deep, life-changing, Kingdom-advancing sense it is supposed to,” Wright says, “it is vital that ordinary Christians read, encounter, and study scripture for themselves, in groups and individually.” Wright notes that Western individualism tends to highlight individual reading as the primary mode, and liturgical reading as secondary, where he sees the two working hand-in-hand.

4. A reading of scripture refreshed by appropriate scholarship: “Biblical scholarship is a great it of God to the church, aiding it in its task of going ever deeper into the meaning of scripture and so being refreshed and energized for the tasks to which we are called in and for the world,” says Wright. This means honoring the “literal sense” of scripture—not by taking everything literally, but rather seeking to understand what the writer intended. Biblical scholarship can help Christians do this better, and therefore “needs to be free to explore different meanings.” Such scholarship needs to be accessible and applicable to everyday Christians.

5. A reading of scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders: Leaders must be trained and encouraged to keep the teaching and preaching of scripture at the heart of the church’s life, “alongside and regularly interwoven with the sacramental life focused on the Eucharist,” says Wright.

I think these are strong recommendations. I especially appreciate Wright’s emphasis on both individual and corporate readings of scripture. This is one reason why I love combining Episcopal worship on Sundays, with good, old-fashioned Bible studies on weeknights, with private “quiet time” with my Bible and a book of hours each morning and/or evenings. For me, this represents the best of all worlds, and powerfully integrates scripture into my daily life. (Too bad I rarely engage them all in a given week!)

What do you think of Wright’s five recommendations?

Where do you see your own church tradition excelling, and where do you see it falling short?