Frustrated by N. T. Wright
I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s, Surprised by Hope and I’ve found myself frustrated by N. T. Wright. As one example, in part 13 ‘Building for the Kingdom’, Wright engages rhetoric that is overly reactionary and to a degree mitigates the points he wishes to make. Under redemption, Jesus’ resurrection and the new creation of salvation, Wright places the work of garden keeping in the world of space, time and matter. Fair enough (carefully understood). Yet I am not sure how the case for ”garden keeping” can be built on God’s ultimate intention to redeem creation itself (something that God will do in the end). Because of God’s ultimate intention, Wright insists that we cannot picture God looking at the fallen world (and we might add, the groaning world, Romans eight) and saying, “Oh, well, nice try, good while it lasted but obviously gone bad, so let’s drop it and go for a non-spatiotemporal, nonmaterial world instead.” He then argues that since God intends to redeem rather than reject His created world (would ”rejecting” be the wrong word for what the apostle desribes God doing in II Peter 3), we should celebrate that redemption (what he calls healing and transformation) in the present as a means of anticipating what is to come. Along these lines, he pictures the Church as called to “implementing Jesus resurrection and thereby anticipating the final new creation.”
At this point, I am not entirely sure if he’s talking about some brand of Christian care for the earth or something more. He then anticipates what he calls “obvious objections” to his suggestion. 1. Turning mother earth into an idol. 2. Giving up on the earth until the Lord returns (the attitude that says, “Oh well, no sense shining the brass if the ships going under!”). At this point, Wright makes an interesting leap from Jesus’ resurrection as breaking into the present– to work for justice in ongoing campaigns for debt remission (something Wright is passionate about to say the least). It is all in this work Wright refers to as “implementing” God’s intended future in the here and now.
He also sets up a bit of a straw man view of ministry by picturing people who reduce it to merely saving souls for the future while letting the world go to corruption. I am sure there are some who irresponsibly hold such extreme views but using such examples to make a point frustrates me. Similarly, he laments “rampant belief in the rapture as a strong support for the attitude that says “who cares what the state of the planet is.” I know plenty of people who believe in the rapture (and, I assume Wright also believes in some sort of rapture in I Thessalonians 4:16-17) , but I personally do not know any who hold to this extreme view of the earth. Certainly, as II Peter 3 teaches, the day will come when, "The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” But, as the apostle wrote, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
These narrow visions for God’s work that Wright mentions seem to be from an older brand of fundamentalism that has been changing in encouraging ways over the past several decades (see my ‘History, fundamentalism and holistic ministry’).
Although Wright pauses to recognize that “the final putting to rights of everything does indeed wait for the last day” and aptly wants to reject the defeatist attitude that puts off the work of doing justice work in the here and now, I wish he would engage more seriously how this final act of God relates to the present type of garden keeping ministry he advances. When he writes of ministries of justice, I am not sure he is asking for much more than the holistic ministry advocated in Scripture (see these posts). But. I believe Wright uses some odd terminology and associations to call for such ministry.
(This post also appears at Answers for Life.)