Continuing an examination of N.T. Wright’s Gifford lectures, with Lecture 2 The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels.
The Reformed appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to renew the Christian faith. Rationalists appeal to ‘original meanings’ in order to undermine the Christian faith.
It is an interesting connection made by Wright, perhaps offering one of the most disastrous examples of a revolution (unintended by Luther though it had been) being hijacked. Certainly a case where the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy?
Since both Reformers and Rationalists were opposed to medieval Christianity, they effectively combined bringing a Protestant energy and style to the skeptical task, leaving Protestants who wanted to hold on to the Christian faith with a largely ahistorical platonic idealism.
Do you believe in the Virgin birth? Do you believe in the physical Resurrection? “Yes” is not allowed in polite company, in the rational and reasonable west. The Rationalists have torn such ideas to shreds, leaving those who want to hold on to the Faith with a bag of rocks.
The debate has manifested as “the confused noise which follows from the pursuit of social and cultural agendas by other means.” These are seen in the debates between right and left; we see the signs of this in the political discourse.
Wright discusses the current state of Christian eschatology: for heaven to come on earth, the current earth must be destroyed. The view is based on prophecies in Daniel and Ezra. Wright offers that this is a new idea, and one not held by those who wrote and lived at the time of the authorship of these books – who instead were considering a way out of the current condition: the exile.
Whatever one’s belief on end-time theology, it is certainly clear that many Protestants today cheer on war in the Middle East, offer unqualified support for the state of Israel, and look at the current situation as the sign that Armageddon and the 1000 years is imminently upon us. The current earth must be destroyed.
If the world is coming to an end, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God, the chances of inferring anything about the latter from the former are effectively nil. If heaven is coming, earth has to be abolished.
Since the current world must be destroyed to bring on God’s Kingdom, why bother looking for evidence of God’s Kingdom in the current earth?
And, when Europe was set ablaze by Queen Victoria’s squabbling grandchildren in 1914 – the Kaiser, the Tsar, the King – with all the rest cheerfully trundling off to war, it all came true: Valhalla fell…
…and the dying cheered.
A result of the rationality and reason of man set free from both the mystery and the history of God and Christ. The world had to come to an end so that something new could be born. Given that this end-of-the-world event was wholly created by man, we see that what was born was not God’s heaven on earth, but man’s hell: communism, fascism, liberal democracy, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, firebombing, the nuclear age.
Technology unchained from morality. We can only pray that this hell extends its reach no further. Sadly, in too many churches across the west, other prayers are being offered.
By the late 1930s – and believing that the Great War had done its cleansing, end-of-the-world duty – many believed the utopia was here, “either through Hegelian progress or the Marxist Revolution.” And when it didn’t happen – for example, when Ribbentrop and Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet pact – hope crashed to the ground.
So much for progress; so much, too, for Hegel.
Starting from the Enlightenment and its path to Epicureanism, heaven and earth were set radically apart from each other.
There is this dark side of the Enlightenment. It seems that the dark side begins and ends with man subtracting God from the equation – subtract the Light and what is left but dark? Nietzsche, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, announced the already-transpired event.
And what did man replace Him with? After chastising man for killing God, Nietzsche’s madman saw the future well, in 1888:
Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out.
"I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."
You can decide which part of that would benefit from adding italics.
The “tremendous event” can be found beginning in 1914 and continuing to this present day. The deed that was done long before? The Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the valid reasons for the Reformation – all played a role.
Take your pick.
Genesis 11:4: Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.