OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Re: Virtue Reborn – Tom Wright

Re: Virtue Reborn – Tom Wright

DY - I’m replying to the previous two posts in one - because the website won’t permit me to reply to them separately!


Response to Post 1

Your first post, containing quotes from Wright’s lecture on ‘God and Government’, is mostly standard Wright stuff, and nothing controversial, except that the church becomes controversial if it clashes with the state in the political sphere. This should not, of itself, be controversial, however. The issue is how the church handles conflict, or over what issues it seeks to oppose the state.

I don’t know if it was in the lecture, but the recent Equal Opportunities legislation which was going through the UK parliament was attempting to bring the church into line with legislation elsewhere, which meant that it could not discriminate against, for instance, gay people who were applying for a post in the church, or women who applied for church leadership! The church was to be given an ‘opt-out’, whereby those involved in presiding over religious ceremonies, or giving teaching at religious ceremonies, could be chosen selectively (which would be regarded elsewhere as discrimination!), but in other forms of church employment, eg youth leadership, such discrimination could not be exercised.

So Wright would be against gay people being ordained or given posts in the church, but not, I think, against women ministers (or bishops)! This is an example of where the church gets itself into problems over its ethical and moral stances, and where political confrontation may not necessarily be expressing something that all would feel is central to biblical teaching in every case.

A similar issue might be raised, for instance, where the church prioritises campaigning on abortion control, or marriage, or gay rights, over social issues (healthcare and the like).

So the church might well get itself into problems if it saw its role as imposing its agenda on the government of the day, because of disputes over what that agenda might entail.

Nevertheless, it is true that in the 1st century, being a Christian was a highly political issue, not because the church wanted it to be, but because religion (in certain areas) was a political issue, in the Roman and Jewish world.

Today, it’s arguable that, for the reasons Wright gives, the church has tended wrongly to separate itself from political concerns, and adopt a role as seeing itself only concerned with spiritual issues, or the life to come. This oversimplifies the actual state of things, but generally we have a theology which encourages this on the popular level.

So while there are dangers in political involvement of the church, I feel that Wright is, on the whole, encouraging a healthy engagement of the church in politics (though I don’t agree with everything on his personal agenda!). In the Equal Opportunities legislation, it was a conflict which the church had not sought, and, to my mind, showed it (the church) up as rather ridiculous. In the end, the clauses in the legislation were struck out. But the issues remain unaddressed and unresolved.



Response to Post 2

I still think Wright is tentative (in suggesting what may carry over into the new creation), and in doing that is not irresponsible, but simply raising questions which are in scripture itself (eg the picture of the new creation in Revelation 22:2, 15).

Also, I think you are taking what Wright says, and then speculating unfairly on the basis of what he does not say. Eg he does say that the ‘carry over’ into the new creation of what we do in this life is like stonemasons working on separate parts of the cathedral structure, which are only fully appreciated when put in place in the completed cathedral. But he does not say anything about those who were not working on the stone structure - which you then chide him for.

Also, unless I have not noticed it, Wright does not say anything about those who have not been working on the development of virtue in this life, in relation to the life to come. Maybe he should have said more about this, but that’s another matter. Here again, I feel you are chiding Wright on the basis of a silence. It might have been a fairer criticism to have pointed out the undeveloped side of the argument (by Wright), that this could open it to misinterpretation, and left it at that.

I don’t think Wright does simply talk about ‘absolute’ levels of virtuous attainment in relation to future rewards; he simply doesn’t look at the possibility of rewards on the basis of different starting points or backgrounds, where these might reward one person even thought their comparative level of attainment might not appear very great.

Also, Wright’s comments about patterns of brain activity seem to me to be warnings and encouragements for this life, not the life to come! I think his arguments here were not developed as fully as they might have been, and were therefore open to the kinds of criticism that you bring.

As regards being ‘agents of the kingdom’, I think you interpret ‘making it happen’ one way, and I interpret it another! Nevertheless, the phraseology is perhaps rather careless. I didn’t take it to mean that we should always expect success in every area, but maybe this needs spelling out more, with a better formed theological basis for saying so.

I find your argument about unnecessary provocation odd when applied to ‘commotions in the temple’ in Acts 4. Since Jesus was in himself the fulfilment of everything the temple represented only in shadow form, I think Peter and John had every right to proclaim him in the temple. Not least because the crippled man had just been healed there, as a demonstration of the power of the Jesus they were talking about.

I agree that street evangelism, even of a respectful kind, might not be entertained in this country (UK), or be wise, outside a mosque. However, the Jesus film was publicly shown in the square outside the main mosque of Niamey, the capital of Niger, a mainly Muslim country, not so long back, without any adverse reaction. Interesting what can be done elsewhere, but not in the so-called free West.

Also I think your final paragraph oversimplifies things. My reading of Paul in the NT is that he does not say that Christians will, empirically, never sin any more. Neither does he say that, empirically, they will! He does say that the system which was the source of sin ceases to have power over the believer in Jesus (Romans 6,7,8). Sin is not just an action, or even an attitude; it has roots, which Jesus by the cross has severed for those who trust in him as their Lord.

Virtue Reborn – Tom Wright By: peter wilkinson (10 replies) 23 February, 2010 - 16:48