Saturday, October 21, 2006

N.T. Wright and the New Creation

Thoughts and summary from the N.T. Wright lecture in Georgetown this past Friday:

- He is an excellent, gifted communicator.

- New Creation theology, which is the idea that Christ in his resurrection has initiated a New Creation, informs ALL his theology and reading and thinking and application.

- As Christians, we are to live out this New Creation and even to bring this New Creation as we seek to restore the world to God's original design.

- N.T. is very ecumenical, urging Catholics, Orthodox, Pentecostals, Baptists all to work together as Christians. Something is up w/ his Pauline theology, because these different denominations hold very different understandings of justification and for him to consider them all as within the bounds of Christianity is confusing.

- The main purpose of the Church to live out New Creation.

- What about missions? Missions can be preaching the Gospel or it can be doing good works of New Creation, which would be a form of communicating the Gospel. We do good works so that people can ask why. Then we explain our story. He quoted St. Francis' "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words".

- We can work w/ other faiths, but some faiths can't embrace New Creation theology (for example, Buddhists), and so there will be disagreement. Again, his New Creation theology dominates his thinking.

- Repeated this theme of how God "deals", "defeats" evil at the cross. But he never clearly explains what that means. His New Creation theology causes him to emphasize Christ's resurrection and what that accomplishes more than his death.

- His treatment of worship, Israel, the temple, is excellent. If you like his stuff here, you should read David Peterson's Engaging with God, which is a great Biblical Theology on worship.

- Repeatedly, N.T. emphasizes on the importance of living out New Creation by fighting global warming (He got worked up on this one), fighting AIDS, or digging wells in Africa. Two comments:

1) These are all good things, and it would be a good thing for Christians to be active in them. However, it makes me wonder that the things he is advocating are the exact same things that Bono and Oprah and Apple and the rest of our culture is promoting. I'm curious... why doesn't he urge Christians to fight abortion? Why doesn't he urge churches to help persecuted pastors in Vietnam?

2) Pastorally, these are just not very helpful applications. In speaking to a group of 200+ young adults about living out your New Creation by digging wells in Africa or fighting global warming, maybe only 5 in that group has the freedom, resources, and ability to do this. By saying stuff like this, he is allowing these Christians to be affirmed in their faith and feel good that it can make a difference in the world, while at the same time not being really challenged to do anything. After all, with a task as huge and distant as fighting global warming, how can I do anything about that? Pastorally, he would do better to confront people more directly about their sin and challenging them to live out their New Creation more directly. Challenge people to invite a homeless man to dinner in your home and share the Gospel with Him. Live out your New Creation by turning of the television and spending your evenings building relationships and having spiritual conversations with co-workers. Live out the New Creation by getting rid of the pornography or taking advantage of your girlfriend, but working towards purity. Husbands love your wives and wives submit to your husbands. Disciple your children and stop neglecting them. Drive the senior citizens in your church to church on Sundays. Build relationships with your neighbors and those different from you. And as you do these things, should the Lord give you opportunity, certainly do your best to play a part in helping the environment or fighting poverty.

- At the book signing, I asked NT, "I appreciate your emphasis on New Creation. As I'm looking in the Bible, both OT and NT, and trying to understand this, I consistently only see the language of New Creation, Restoration, Redemption being used to describe the immediate work of God in history. Can you point out some parts of the Bible that might help me understand how New Creation, Restoration, Redemption are to be the work of Christians or the Church?"

He seemed a bit surprised, because every one else before me was basically gushing and telling him how much they loved him. He said that we are the agents of God's New Creation, not that we do it by ourselves, but with the Spirit. (I already knew that he thought this. He clearly doesn't believe that we do this New Creation by human effort. But this doesn't answer my question, because I'm saying that it seems that the Bible teaches that God doesn't use human means for New Creation/Restoration/Redemption, but rather always works those things immediately.)

Then he told me to look in the "Resurrection narratives" and "Romans 12:1-2". I'm not sure how these passages support a human role in New Creation/Restoration/Redemption.

Then I asked him, "So in these passages, does our work constitute the New Creation?" He said our work is a signpost to the New Creation. Then he told me to read his book.

If our work is to be a signpost to New Creation, but not the agent of the New Creation itself, then why all the emphasis on New Creation? If all he's advocating is the Lordship of Christ, the transforming, sanctifying work of the Spirit, which results in our good works in every area of life, then why the confusing language of Christians bring about a New Creation, which is really not a New Creation, but only a signpost to the coming New Creation?

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