Another fine lecture by NT Wright, this presentation provided the most room for controversy. The tension lay in Wright's depiction of the "people of God" as what Paul calls a "new humanity" that is "neither Jew nor Gentile." Following the lecture, a panel of Fuller professors (a Korean male, African-American female, and Hispanic male) challenged Wright, calling attention to the need for retaining cultural identity as Christians work toward unity and oneness. I felt these were very valid concerns and ask related questions at the end of this post.
Main thesis: Paul is a Jewish thinker who's had his Jewish theology turned upside down.
A key Pauline foundation: God used Abraham to restore what Adam had failed at.
Paul has a consistent and clear view of who God's people are and it shows up in his letters.
Paul believes in a single continuous narrative stretching back to the creation event. We want to believe that something new has happened in Acts devoid of a backstory. Through Jesus he affirms and reinterprets the backstory.
Heaven and earth are not vertical and horizontal, they are interlocked and come together in the temple and the Torah, and in Jesus and the Spirit.
The Messiah represents Israel and vice versa. The Messiah does what Israel was supposed to. He demonstrates the faithfulness Israel was supposed to. Messiah is the living and dying embodiment of Israel. Monotheism and election meet in Jesus. The church is now commissioned to continue the story as the light of God to the world.
Romans 1:18-3:20, the redefinition of election. The passage is about Israel's vocation to be the light to the world. God called Abraham to undue the sin of Adam.
Three things accomplished on the cross (no single passage defines a systematic theology of cross, Paul says different things in different contexts):
- Paul uses the cross to move the narrative from neg. to positive. Sin is vanquished. The divine meets the physical. The story of God meets the story of Israel.
- Cristos victor, God overcomes the powers of sin and death.
- The astonishing act of divine love: God's love not only to Israel but through Israel to the world.
Israel's exile, like the exile of Adam from the garden, is a result of sin.
Election is now redefined around Spirit. How does it all work? It goes to work through the power of the Spirit, effective through the gospel. When the gospel is proclaimed and people believe it, that is the work of the Spirit; how else could it happen -- the gospel is foolishness otherwise.
The redefinition of the covenant people through the gospel. Covenant membership is now the identifying factor.
Justification takes place in the Messiah. All those who belong to him belong to the same family. All people who have messiah-faith are now part of the family.
We in the west are in danger of making the same mistake as Israel, that is, thinking that it's all about us, rather than about God and his salvific work.
Heaven and earth are not a long way away from each other, but are interlocking. That's the point of the temple.
Question: While I agree with the proposal of a new humanity in Christ, in the present-day multiethnic context, how do we also retain cultural distinction? Wright doesn't seem to have a good answer to this question outside of a few proof-texts. His approach to theology continues to be very classicist, Greek, Aristotelian. The danger is that other cultural representations of Christianity will hear only a white Westerner's interpretation of the kingdom. Wright answered this concern by saying that all cultures may retain their distinctives as long as they do not violate the basic tenants of orthodox faith. But this creates problems across cultures. Examples: Native Americans practicing pow wows, reverence for earth/spirits; African nationals/tribes engaged in polygamy; Asians who retain ancestral veneration, etc. It is not a simple task to decide what cultural distinctives are and are not appropriate, especially when white male Western theologians are drawing the lines of distinction.