God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, by N. T. Wright
Continuing on my journey of the necessity of Christian cultural foundations if liberty is the objective….
There is much in Wright’s work on this topic regarding theology; as you know, I try not to bring this into the discussion. I look at Christianity as it was foundational to the liberties present in Western Civilization (and absent virtually everywhere else); I look at the Church (or churches, in our fractured era) as institutionally both large enough and with the right message – well, the right message if they would actually utilize the Gospels instead of the state-worshipping talking points. It is with this in mind that I work through Wright’s essays.
Wright suggests that Christians who look for a future of glory are missing their calling today; this is because they misunderstand the meaning of the Resurrection. My concern here is not a theological interpretation of the resurrection; my concern is liberty, therefore the call for Christian leaders to act today, in this world:
…God’s life-giving power is unleashed in works of justice and mercy and healing and beauty and hope already, in the present. The Gnostic, like the fundamentalist, can never understand why we Christians are called to work for justice and health in the present world, but with the resurrection there is no question. Of course we are.
I can’t say much about the Gnostics, but regarding the fundamentalists: After the resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples out into the world. He did not call for them to pray for rapture and Armageddon; urge unconditional support for Israel; cheer on perpetual war in the Middle East; turn Sunday into a day of state-worship and warmongering.
Yet, this describes many fundamentalist theologies. As if Jesus was kidding when he said “You shall know them by their fruits.”
And that is the basis, too, of the Christian challenge to empire, to the arrogance which assumes that we (whoever ‘we’ are: it was ‘we British’ a hundred years ago, it’s the Americans now, it will be someone else before too long) innately possess justice, freedom and peace and have the right to bestow them on others, by force if necessary. The thing about empires is that ultimately they rule by the power of fear, whose end is death.
The one thing I am not sure of: the fundamentalists in America love empire because they get to cheer the home team; when it is the “someone else” suggested by Wright, it will be interesting to watch how things play out on Sundays.
It is here where Wright introduces his analysis and critique of post-modernism and their deconstruction of every grand narrative. The resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the grandest of grand narratives of the west. It is both the history of the west and the tradition of the west; there is no such thing as western civilization without the resurrection specifically and Christianity generally as the foundational part of the story.
So…if your objective is to destroy western culture and tradition (and there should be no doubt about this objective) and your method is deconstruction, what is it that you go after?
Wright offers three “snapshots” of proper living for Christians in this world and at this time; examples that also stand in the face of empire. For the first he writes of a local church in Teeside, assisting refugees seeking asylum. A very Christian endeavor, keeping in mind that Christians are called to do this voluntarily and not lean on state support (a clarification not made by Wright). I have written before: one can certainly find other reasons to assist refugees, just don’t lean on the NAP for justification. The Gospel message is one such reason.
Second is an advertisement placed by the Salvation Army in the issue of the New Statesman referenced in my previous post. The advertisement was headed ‘Belief in Action.’
That page offered a far more powerful statement of God in public than any of the articles in the official feature which was supposed to be dealing with that subject.
Third, what of the debating chambers – Parliament, Congress, or the United Nations? Wright suggests that the major ethical and public-political issues are debated daily, with little or no input from those who can properly speak to the Gospel message.
…global debt, the ecological crisis, the new poverty in our own glossy Western society, the working and meaning of democracy itself, issues of gender and sex, stem cell research, euthanasia, and not least the [multiple] complex questions of the Middle East. Oh, and ‘free speech’ too.
My point isn’t to debate the list; Wright offers that these issues are addressed without a voice grounded properly in the Gospel and the message of the resurrection.
As long as these debates are carried out in terms of fundamentalism on the one hand and secularism on the other, they will never be anything other than a shouting match.
And in a nutshell, there you have the politics of the west – certainly the United States. Of course, not all people would frame it this way, but perhaps Wright offers a proper view of the problem at its root.
Wright suggests that we may have reached the point where the “Enlightenment dream has begun to eat its own tail.” With its emphasis on reason – ungrounded reason – as the method by which all problems can be resolved, all we have is everyone convinced that their own reason is the only correct reason. How do we judge? Why, by our own ungrounded reason, of course.
Perhaps part of the unintended consequence of the postmodern revolution is to reveal that if Reason is to do what it says on the tin we may after all need to reckon with God in public.
Wright suggests that for this we need wise Christian voices, voices both humble and clear. I agree completely. In the meantime, I will suggest that we have Jordan Peterson. While he says it will take him three more years to figure out if he believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus, he certainly has been doing the work of reckoning with God in public.
“But…he isn’t a Christian” voice, you insist. Well, yeah. But Jesus already has dealt with this objection:
Mark 9: 38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
The left is crushing Jordan Peterson – at least trying to. The reasons why are easy to understand – there is no universal political order without crushing culture and tradition, and the one universal order that has stood in the way of this in the west is Christianity.
Many fundamentalist Christian leaders are also after him. Superficially, it is because “he doesn’t believe in the resurrection.” Perhaps the reality is that Peterson is an indictment of their failure. Given the Christian quality of many of today’s Christian leaders, Jesus also has an answer here:
Matthew 7: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
The rulers of this age need to be called to account.
I would say calling today’s rulers to account is about as important a task that there is if we are to move toward liberty.
Whatever Jordan Peterson is doing, he is one man. There is no institution behind him. The only institution (if you can call it that) with both the reach and the message that is capable of calling today’s rulers to account are Christian leaders; and here, only if they return to the message of the Gospels.