Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jesus and the Victory of God

This is an entry to the Christian Reconciliation Carnival in response to the topic:

Have you read articles, essays, or books by a Christian of a denomination other than yours -- and found yourself agreeing with much of what he or she wrote? How has this changed your understanding of the divisions in Christianity?
My favorite (contemporary) Protestant author is probably NT Wright. (I'm not terribly well read to begin with though) I've just (well almost) finished Jesus and the Victory of God and I was really impressed. My friend is an elder at a PCA Church nearby and he's one of the most well studied men I know... scratch that he is the most well studied person I know on a first name basis. Wright came highly recommended from him and I finally got around to reading his book on the historicity of Jesus Christ. (As a side note, I understand that Wright is causing quite a fuss in Presbyterian circles because of his work on Paul).

Wright attempts and succeeds and painting a historically accurate portrait of Jesus Christ. His work, I think, has done volumes for Christianity as a whole in an age where even the scholarship of many so called "Christians" sets itself above patristic witness and even Scripture. In this age of 'historic critical' methodology where we are deceived into thinking we have somehow discovered new secrets of antiquity that the neanderthals in the first few centuries were too dense to understand, it is refreshing to see such a well studied and respected scholar put all of these secular fantasies firmly to rest.

He points out certain facts that had never even crossed my mind... Secular opinion dates the synoptic gospels no earlier than 67 AD (at the very conservative end of the spectrum) beginning with Mark. Most secular scholars would probable place even Mark at or around 70 AD and depending on how far into 'fringe scholarship' you want to go, some (like Crossan) will place obvious Gnostic forgeries (like Thomas) earlier than that. Though his work is not apologetic in nature, it certainly has apologetic implications. Wright argues that by this time, it is well known (mainly from Paul's writings) that orthodox Christology had already been developing and Jesus was widely considered God by the Christians. Though much of the synoptic tradition would be inconceivable as Christian-interjected theology rather than actual history given this background. Why would any Christian forge Jesus saying "No one knows of that hour not the angels in heaven nor the Son but only the Father"? (This is but one example of course)

And how about the apostles? Their 'royal' (for lack of a better word) status in the very early Church as irrefutably attested to by Paul and later by Luke stands in stark contrast to the bone-head portrait painted by the synoptics. One final example from his book would be Jesus' eschatological warning for the Christians to flee Jerusalem by running to the hills found in Mark chapter 13. If this had been invented by the early Church (as of course, secularism demands that it must be since a fulfilled prophecy would be clear vindication for Christ) then no one would have ever claimed that Jesus said such a thing since 1. Titus' legions occupied the hills surrounding Jerusalem in the actual battle in 70 AD and 2. It hardly coincides with the tradition of the Christians fleeing to Pella before the destruction as recorded by Eusebius.

Wright's historical method of double similarity / dissimilarity is an ingenious proof in favor of the authenticity of the gospels and of orthodox Christianity. Since he is an Anglican, I think he fits the criteria for the carnival's post. Along the same lines, I'm also a big William Lane Craig fan. His apologetics have done a lot of good for Christianity.


Weekend Fisher said...

I think I'm going to have to bump up N.T. Wright a little higher on my reading list ...

Anonymous said...

"Titus' legions occupied the hills surrounding Jerusalem in the actual battle in 70 AD"

If the Gospel writer was active in a location remote from Jerusalem, then his knowledge of Titus' tactics might be sketchy at best. Knowledge of a flight to Pella would be unavailable as well. Hence, the author's use of the generic "flee to the hills" does nothing to prove the point one way or the other. In fact it may bolster the "secular" view in its lack of knowledge/inspiration.

Additionally, if the early Christians could not and did not flee to the hills but rather to Pella, the genuinely prophetic nature of Jesus' warning is greatly weakened if not destroyed.

I read Bishop Wright's exchange with Dr. Ehrman on BeliefNet and came away baffled by the Bishop's inability to break out of his Jesus-died-and-everything-is-going-to-be-okay mind set and address the issue of Theodicy directly. Very disappointing from a supposed intellectual.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Scott, neither of these points are able to prove anything of themselves you're right about that. They are only helpful as supporting clues.

But I disagree with your logic. On the lips of an agenda driven evangelist the phrase makes little sense on the lips of Jesus they are quite reasonable.

On the lips of Jesus, they wouldn't literally be a prophecy "people need to go up to the hills to escape the coming doom" but "flee to the hills" in a generic sense to mention nothing of a hearkening back to the beginning of the Maccabean conflict where Judas fled to the mountains. On the lips of the gospel writers (post 70 AD assuming we believed it to be that late) they make less sense.

The only thing this point argues for strongly is that if the evangelists were putting words in Jesus' mouth, they often chose poorly and this was an example.

You said knowledge of a flight to Pella would be unavailable but that is a tall order with no backing. I don't see any reasonable way of arguing that the gospel writer couldn't have known that (assuming such a thing actually happened). It is perfectly reasonable to leave open the chance that he may have been unaware but to state with confidence that the information would have been unavailable is quite another thing.

I've never read the exchange you're talking about, I've just read his book, heard one lecture and I'm currently reading his recent book on Paul. I have been mostly impressed with his work.