N.T. Wright Reviews Pope Benedict

Wright reviews Pope Benedict’s JESUS OF NAZARETH Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection here. Excerpts follow:

Benedict’s venture has already been dismissed by many (including Casey) on the grounds that it treats the four canonical gospels as more or less straightforwardly “true”, whereas the entire modernist “quest for the historical Jesus” has wrestled with the challenges posed by H. S. Reimarus in the eighteenth century and a multitude ever since. The attempt to place Jesus historically (or the assumption of a particular answer to that question) has been a significant element within European and American modernism. But you would hardly know that from the Pope’s books, which proceed (as he says) more after the manner of Thomas Aquinas’s “theological treatise on the mysteries of the life of Jesus”. Reading Benedict feels more like being on retreat, pondering ancient and subtle wisdom, than attending a seminar to struggle with questions of history.

Yet he has not simply ignored history. He has read the great German exegetes of the past generation, Protestant as well as Catholic, and draws on them for particular points even though the format of his work does not make for detailed discussion. He denies the suggestion that he is producing a “Christology from above” (in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse) by arguing that scholarly exegesis of the New Testament “must see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character”, forswearing popular but shallow positivism and combining a “faith-hermeneutic” with “a historical hermeneutic” so as “to form a methodological whole”.

The Pope suggests that this is a step forwards. Many, though, will inevitably see it as a step backwards, to a pre-modern, pre-critical reading which simply pushes the problems to one side and allows the great ecclesial tradition to rumble on as if there had been, after all, no real cause for concern about the reliability of the New Testament in the first place. The parallels between this approach and the stance that the Church is perceived to take on some other issues will, naturally, raise eyebrows. The business of whether theology and history can actually meet without a serious explosion is of course a question which, in one form or another (whether through debates on science and religion, or on faith and politics), has stood behind a good deal of intellectual conflict in the West over the past two centuries. Many will take more convincing than is provided in Jesus of Nazareth before they will readily accept such a marriage.

Benedict’s book, for all that, is full of surprises. There is a welcome emphasis on the rootedness of Jesus and his followers in Israel’s Scriptures, something which older exegesis, both Protestant and Catholic, often passed over. The heart of the volume is an exposition of Jesus’s vocational understanding of his own death in terms of the Psalms and Isaiah, particularly the “servant songs” of Isaiah 42–53, leading to a clear statement of the cross as the moment of vicarious, substitutionary atonement. This, Benedict writes, “constitutes the most profound content of Jesus’ mission”. This is not a view that Protestants normally expect popes to hold. Some Roman theologians, I suspect, will be surprised as well.

There are plenty of details to keep the reader alert. Benedict’s own tradition shows through here and there, for instance on Mary. It is fascinating to watch him treading carefully through minefields: “the Jews” who demand Jesus’s death are not the nation as a whole, but only the Temple hierarchy on the one hand, and the supporters of Barabbas on the other. And the historical detail sometimes needs attention: first-century Jewish corpses were anointed for burial not (as Benedict suggests) to keep corruption at bay, but in order to offset the stench of decomposition as more bodies were placed in the same cave-tomb before secondary burial of the fleshless bones.

Two major linked emphases indicate the underlying strength and weakness of this book. First, Benedict stresses that Jesus believed he was constituting himself and his followers as, in some sense, a new Temple. This, I believe, is historically correct, and is near the heart of the Christology of all four gospels. But, second, Benedict insists that, with this, Jesus “achieved a separation of the religious from the political, thereby changing the world”. This, he says, “is what truly marks the essence of his new path”. Jesus “had inaugurated a non-political Messianic kingdom”. The cross indicates a radical stripping away of all power. This results in “the new community”, which Benedict describes as “the new manner of God’s dominion in the world”.

The problem with this is that the Jesus of the gospels (which, on Benedict’s principles, ought to be determinative) insisted that through his own work, Israel’s God was becoming King “on earth as in heaven”. The Pope’s proposed disjunction (reflecting, perhaps, a measure of penitence for earlier ecclesial power politics?) plays into that modernist split-level world which Benedict’s whole project is designed to outflank. The integration of history and theology that the Pope is proposing at the level of exegetical method stands in tension with the separation of politics and religion he is endorsing at the level of meaning.

Benedict offers, inevitably, an exegesis of the gospel passages that deal with Daniel 7, and the strange prophecy of “one like a son of man” who “comes on the clouds of heaven”. He takes the normal view, that these passages are predicting the “second coming”.

N.T. Wright in Boise

Back in April of 2003 I was able to attend an all day seminar with N.T. Wright on the resurrection. He had just published his massive book defending the resurrection of Jesus and was lecturing on that subject. I took notes on the occasion and I don’t believe I put them up on my blog, so here they are, six years later.

About thirty folks met at First Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in Boise on Monday with N. T. Wright. We were seated on the platform of the church under an enormous cross with Dr. Wright seated at a desk with a few books in front of him. I noticed the Septuagint and his new book amongst others. He
lectured from 9 am to 3 pm with a break for lunch basically covering the material from The Resurrection of the Son of God and doing a Q and A every hour.

I talked to Wright beforehand and he said the next major book in the series would be on Paul. He is also working on Galatians and Philippians and does not know when he is working what article will go in which book. He mentioned that it will be more difficult to work as the Bishop of Durham, but that he is looking forward to doing pastoral work again. He said one of the problems of being at Westminster is that you are always just dealing with the next 500 tourists and that he looks forward to having an actual congregation. He mentioned Paul’s pastoral inspiration, how he founded churches and wrote at the same time. He also made an aside about how pretentious it is to be enthroned physically at Durham, but he has to sort of go along with it all.

He critiqued the modern, fuzzy notions of heaven and life after death, and made a point of calling the resurrection the real goal, which is “life after life after death.” He dealt extensively with what was expected in the hereafter in pagan literature and then in the Jewish world. He said that the early Christian belief was originally close to the position of the Pharisees within Judaism, but with key mutations, six of which follow:

1. No spectrum of differing beliefs about the resurrection. All Christians believed in the resurrection with the exception of Gnostics who came later.
2. Periphery to Center. The belief was peripheral in Judaism, but became absolutely central in Christianity.
3. Transformation. In Judaism there was not an expectation of transformed physicality—i.e. a new body that was the same, but on a higher level. But in Christianity, this was the expectation (I Cor 15).
4. 2 moments of resurrection. Jesus first, everyone else second. This was not known in Judaism.
5. Different metaphorical use of the word. In Judaism res. could stand for national restoration as in Ezekiel, but in Christianity this meaning ends and it is used of things like baptism (Rom 7) and holiness (Col 3).
6. Resurrection of the Messiah. Jews did not expect the Messiah to rise again, because they did not expect him to die.

Wright had a lot of positive things to say about Polkinghorne’s work on the new creation as Polkinghorne is coming from a scientific background and so has a lot of insight into such things.

Wright called Rev. 21-22 the ultimate answer to Gnosticism. He said that of all the modern writers he read in researching the new book, C.S. Lewis’ chapter on the resurrection in “Miracles” was the best he came across (I read it today, it is good).

On the subject of hell and damnation, Wright said that it is not only possible but also certain that some reject God and say no to Christ. He said that we should all want to be Universalists in the sense that we don’t want to see anyone go to hell but that we should realize that we cannot. He said that worship is the chief thing that humans do and that those who continue to worship something other than God may in some sense cease to bear God’s image and ultimately become what Wright called “ex-human.” Just as the redeemed will be human on a higher level, the damned will be “beyond hope, beyond pity” so that the saints in the new creation will be able to experience joy without regret for those who are lost.

I had Dr. Wright sign my copy of the new book and out of curiosity asked him if he had met Martyn Lloyd-Jones at some point. It turns out that indeed he had back in the 70’s. He said he reviewed a couple of the Romans series that Jones had put out. Though he did not agree with Lloyd-Jones conclusions at all points, he had immense respect for the man and the devotion and time he had put into the book of Romans. He said Lloyd-Jones was deeply suspicious of him because he was an Anglican, but that he had been over to Lloyd-Jones for lunch. He remarked that the movement at Westminster Tabernacle that was so energetic in the 50’s and 60’s was not meeting the current climate of London intellectually.

Exile

Writing a few years ago, James Jordan discussed the theme of exile in the Bible. His thoughts follow:

Someone asked about the reservations some of us have about Wright’s exile-theology. Here are a few thoughts:
1. The Ur-exile was from the Garden of Eden. From that perspective, all of Old Creation history takes place in exile, until Jesus. Thus, Wright is surely correct to make exile a large category. (I dealt with this to some extent in my monograph *Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty,* where I showed that under the Old Creation, humanity was EXCLUDED from sabbath, and that this explains much of what the Law required regarding the sabbath day observances.)
2. Within this large Exile, there are sub-exiles and also times of return and establishment in semi-Edens or proto-New Creations. Descent into Egypt is a kind of exile, and Joshua’s conquest a return from exile. But then notice that in 1 Samuel 1-4 the Ark “Himself” goes into exile into Philistia (related to Egypt according to Genesis 10), defeats their gods, and then returns, eventually to be enthroned in Solomon’s Temple.
3. It’s been a while since I read/perused Wright’s works on the gospels, but he seems to argue that the Jews never REALLY came back from the Babylonian exile. I don’t think this is correct, and have the following observations:
3a. The books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah redefine the “land of God” as the Oikumene, within which a much smaller “holy land” is the center (much smaller than what Israel inhabited in the former days, from Joshua to Zedekiah). In Daniel 8, the leaders of the Oikumene are sheep and goats, members of this new larger flock. There is a whole shift in the definition of the “land” here that very few have noticed.
3b. After the first Babel, God gave a land to Abraham. This begins an historical arc that continues until the Babylonian exile in the days of Jeremiah, etc. There is a new land given, and a new historical arc begun, when God confuses the tongues (reading) of the second Babel in
Daniel 5. This new land is not the land promised to Abraham as concerns its boundaries, but is the double land of the Oikumene and the Holy Land within it. To wit:
3c. The release of the Jews from Babylon by Cyrus is not to go back into the land promised by Abraham, whose boundaries are no longer relevant. It is a double release. On the one hand, some go back into what is now called the Holy Land and Holy City (new terms in this new Restoration Covenant era). On the other hand, some are spread out as the “four winds of heaven” within the Oikumene to serve as witnesses. This is a double return, though a “spiritual” return rather than a geographical movement. The greater spiritual power and glories of this new age are described in Zecharia 1-6 and Ezekiel 40-48.
3d. There was a great apostasy from this calling to bear witness in the days of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, described/prophesied in Daniel 11. The priests of Jerusalem desired to remake the Holy City into a Greek city, with olympic-style games and all the rest. They tossed out the
Zadokite High Priest Onias III (committing the “abomination that causes desolation”), and took over the city. When Antiochus determined to enforce the Hellenization of Jerusalem, and provoked the Maccabees to revolt, he was only doing what he thought the leaders of the Jews wanted him to do — and in fact what the DID want him to do.
3e. This fall of the Restoration Covenant ushers in a new spiritual exile. It is not a geographical exile, but a spiritual one. The Maccabees did not reinstall the Zadokite line as High Priests, but took it over for themselves. There was never a true and valid HP in Judaism again (until Jesus, who was more than Aaron of course). There were valid priests for the offerings of the altar and holy place, but no valid HP for the Day of Covering in the Most Holy. (Jesus never attends the Day of Covering in the gospels.)
3f. Understood this way, Wright’s thesis can be reestablished on even firmer and stronger grounds. They were indeed in exile, an even worse exile than ever before. They were not dominated by Babylonians, but by demons, as we see from the gospels — the demons
apparently house in the synagogues!
3g. As for later Jewish literature, it seems that Jewish nationalists rejected their call to be a nation of prophets within God’s Oikumene, and considered that the Oikumene was a place of exile, and that someday they would have a Davidic nation of their own again. This was simple unbelief, and a rejection of their wonderful high calling to serve in God’s Oikumene. To the extent that Wright may agree with this woeful opinion, he would be in error.
4. In conclusion, the real failure is not with Wright, who is after all a NT theologian and specialist. The failure is on the part of the OT theologians he is reading, who utterly fail to deal with the distinctive qualities and glories of the post-exilic Restoration covenant and the new
larger and greater “land” of the Oikumene. By and large, the “post-exilic” time of the Old Creation is viewed as some kind of amorphous appendage to OT history. Not so. It is the first phase of the New Covenant, and a time of greater spiritual glory than ever before.

N.T. Wright on Predestination

In Wright’s commentary on Romans, he says:

Foreknowledge is a form of love or grace; to speak thus is to speak of God’s reaching out, in advance of anything the person may do or think, to reveal love and to solicit an answering love, to reveal a particular purpose and to call forth obedience to it…More particularly, this foreknowledge produces God’s foreordaining purpose…What we have here, rather, is an expression, as in 1:1, of God’s action in setting people apart for a particular purpose, a purpose in which their cooperation, their loving response to love, their obedient response to the personal call, is itself all-important. This is not to deny the mystery of grace, the free initiative of God, and the clear divine sovereignty that is after all the major theme of this entire passage, here brought to a glorious climax. But it is to deny the common misconception, based on a two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional understanding of how God’s actions and human actions relate to each other, that sees something done by God as something not done by humans, and vice versa….Woe betide theology if discussions of grace take their coloring from the mechanistic or technological age where all actions are conceived as though performed by a set of machines. God’s foreknowledge and foreordination, setting people apart in advance for particular purposes, are not equal and opposite to human desires, longings, self-questionings, obedience, and above all love. You do not take away from the one by adding to the other….Christian faith, ultimately irreducible to any analogy, and certainly not reducible to terms of “yet another odd paradox,” involves wholeheartedly and responsibly answering the call of sovereign love, gratitude, and obedience that come from the depths of one’s own being and are simultaneously experienced as a response to sovereignty, a compulsion even, to which the closest parallel remains that of the highest love. (on Rom 8.18-30)

He affirms predestination, but seeks to guard from an overly-deterministic mindset – something where I believe the Reformers agree with him, despite perceptions to the contrary.

In a footnote of his Romans commentary, Wright comments on Douglas Moo’s recent commentary which adopts the standard view of predestination in Romans and says:

…Moo allows his discussion to be overshadowed by the anachronistic debates between Calvinism and Arminianism…

Some of his comments:

“Paul is not, then, producing an abstract essay on the way in which God always works with individuals, or for that matter with nations and races. This is specifically the story of Israel, the chosen people; it is the unique story of how the creator has worked with the covenant people, to bring about the purpose for which the covenant was made in the first place. It is the story, in other words, whose climax and goal is the Messiah;
…These sections tell the story of Israel’s patriarchal foundation (vv. 6-13), then of the exodus (vv. 14-18), and then of God’s judgment that led to exile and, through it, to the fulfillment of God’s worldwide promise to Abraham (vv. 19-24).
9:11-12. The second explanation occupies center stage in this brief telling of the Jacob/Esau story: it cannot be that God’s selection of Jacob had anything to do with Jacob’s merits, since the promise was made before he and his brother were born. God’s choice has nothing to do with merit observed.
Nor (to meet the objection of a latter theology) could it have been foreseen, and hence explained in terms of God’s knowing how the brothers were going to turn out; Jacob’s behavior as a young adult, cheating and twisting this way and that, would scarcely have earned him favor with an impartial deity. The point is, though, that Paul is not here discussing what an abstract, impartial deity would or should have done; he is discussing the long purposes of God for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Central to those purposes is the principle that all must be of grace, “not of works, but of the one who calls.”
Paul is not, then, using the example of Pharaoh to explain that God has the right to show mercy, or to harden someone’s heart, out of mere caprice. Nor is it simply that God has the right to do this sort of thing when someone is standing in the way of the glorious purpose that has been promised. The sense of this passage (9:17-28) is gained from its place within the larger story line from 9:6-10:21–that is, as part of the story of Israel itself, told to explain what is now happening to Paul’s “kinsfolk according to the flesh.”
As in the parable of the sheep and the goats, there is an imbalance between what is said about the “vessels of wrath” and what is said about the “vessels of mercy” (Matt 25:34, 41). The former are “fitted for destruction,” leaving it at least ambiguous whether they have done this to themselves by their impenitence or whether God has somehow been involved in the process. The latter, though, have been “prepared for glory” by God himself.
“It isn’t a matter of willing, or running, but of God’s mercy” (v. 16); that text alone, even without its context, can bring solace to a troubled and anxious heart. That, indeed, is part of the point of expounding God’s sovereignty: not to terrify us with the sense of an unknowable and possibly capricious deity, but to assure us that the God of creation, the God we know in Jesus Christ, overflows with mercy, and that even negative judgments have mercy in view all along, if only people will have the humility and faith to find it where it has been placed. To be able to rest in the sovereign mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ is one of the most valuable aspects of the Christian’s calling.”

Wright on Rome

Over at Christianity Today there is an article on Protestants who defect to Rome. Bishop N.T. Wright is quoted in the article, but his full quote is not provided. Here is his full quote:

a. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.

b. ‘Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological’? If you gave me that list and said ‘Where in the Christian world would you find that?’ I could easily and truthfully answer: (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie  Smith’s new book, and you’ll see; (ii) in much of the best of the  charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies; (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ; (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

c. Trent said both much more and much less than this. Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology; transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices; communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them; and eschatological?? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world. Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get  something actually done. In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer,  at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the  root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary  claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational,  communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical. The best RCs I know (some  of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would  strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they  have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one  side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…

d. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed  a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd. It reminds  me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take  Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in  his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of  other options. To say ‘wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome’ is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair.  Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick  from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

e. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen. Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.
Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and  some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying ‘you guys were right after all’ just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .

Aside from what may be an implicit endorsement of women’s ordination in there, that’s pretty good stuff! I particularly like his rejection of Mariolatry in Rome. Perhaps Rowan Williams should listen to Bishop Wright more.

Baptism, Salvation

Writing on the Wrightsaid e-mail list, James Jordan addresses several topics and interacts with Wright a bit:

1. “Baptism saves.” But when someone affirms or denies this, it matters what he thinks “salvation” is, and whether a person can lose it. Consider the OT usage. The word yasha, found in the name Joshua and Jesus, does not imply a change of heart, but a transfer of a person from an old world into a new world. That’s just what Joshua did. I myself would say that baptism transfers a child — any child baptized — out of the old world of Egypt into the new world of the New Creation. Whether he will grow up and remain there is another question. But whether he does or not, he has objectively been given this gift from God, sovereignly bestowed on him by God via the church and because of who his parents are. If he grows up and rebels, that is also in the sovereign plan of God.

2. I would view baptism as God’s sovereign gift and call, which calls for us to respond in faith. And that faith is not a one-time acceptance, but is daily. Other Presbyterians seem to think that baptism is a sign of a person’s own personal faith, and is given to infants as a kind of exception. Well, these aren’t the same theologies of infant baptism. I imagine Wright thinks more along the former lines than the latter.

3. Can a person lose this salvation? Clearly, yes, in the sovereign plan of God. The parables of the sower and of the unrighteous steward who had his debts forgiven and then put back on him, make this clear. So does the book of Hebrews. But it’s all predestined. Continue reading “Baptism, Salvation”

Jordan on Salvation

James Jordan writes about Romans and N.T. Wright:

For me at least, the so-called “Old Testament” is very clear about individual salvation by faith alone. That’s exactly what the first of the Ten Words commands: “I did it all; you didn’t do anything; I’m your God, now put all your trust in Me and in no other gods.”

But historically, the Church has tended to despise the so-called OT, evening inventing the phrase “Old Testament” to describe it, as if the seamless Word of God is really two separate books (a notion not found in the Bible itself). Hence, it is as if the so-called NT has to start all over again.

And, since the Reformation, Paul has to start all over again. Paul has to say again what has already been said countless times in the Torah, in the Psalms, and in the Prophets. God through Ezekiel, for instance, repeatedly tells us that each person stands as an individual before the judgment seat.

I just think that this is a goofy assumption to bring to the Pauline writings and to the “NT” in general. The Bible is not a Tibetan prayer-wheel that just goes round and round over the same ideas in book after book. (It’s preachers who do that, preaching their pet ideas over and over regardless of what the text in front of them says.)

My point is that I’m not bothered if someone says that Romans is not about how to get saved. Frankly, I don’t expect Romans to be about that. If that’s what Paul wanted to say, all he needed to do was point to Exodus 20. Similarly, if “works of the law” means “earning salvation,” once again all Paul needed to do was point to Exodus 20.

I don’t need N.T. Wright to tell me this. I learned it 25 years ago in seminary. I’ve operated with it for all my ministry.

Of course, none of the above actually deals with the question of what Paul is doing in Romans. Maybe he is largely concerned with individual salvation in Romans. Maybe he’s not. My own opinion is that the book is largely about the resurrection of the human race, which was ripped in half (and hence slain) in Genesis 17, and which is reunited in the resurrection of Jesus. But there’s more in the book than that, obviously.

The Church is the Temple

James Jordan expounds on the origins of the Church:

I think a watershed in our  understanding of the Epistles is what kind of context we put them into. To  be crass about it (I intend no insult; I just want to get on with it): Either

1. The apostolic church started from scratch after the OT order  was cancelled, as a bunch of believers (new converts with no background)  sitting around in various houses and gradually coming up with new orders  that had no continuity with the OT orders; or,

2. The apostolic church was made up 99% of converted Jews and  God-fearers who were fully at home in the OT order and simply transformed  it, who used various homes as temples, who used temple worship in these homes on those occasions, and who very rapidly set up separate houses of worship when they could.

In my circles, this comes down to whether the Church “grew out of” the synagogue or the Temple.

For my money, it’s obviously the latter. The NT does not say that  the Church is the new synagogue, but the new Temple. Her worship consists  of living sacrifices and sacrifices of praise. All of the language about the Church is taken from the OT Tabernacle/Temple order. (The synagogue was never anything but a partial extension of the Temple anyway.) Unlike the synagogue, the church has two major temple elements: song with musical instruments and the breaking of bread as a covenant-renewal. ( Gasp!

Breaking bread at places other then the Jerusalem Temple! Hey, Josiah put people to death for that! So did Paul. But this only shows that these churches were TEMPLES!! If they’d just been synagogues there’d have been no scandal.)

The word kohen in the OT simply means “palace servant,” and is used occasionally of secular servants of David’s palace, but 99% of the time of the servants of the Temple (= Palace in Hebrew). Everything in the NT epistles sets a context in which there would be such special servants in the new Christian Temple. And that’s what we find.

When Paul and Peter tell these Christian Jews that they are a Temple of God offering sacrifices, he does not need to spell out to them that their meals should be supervised and initiated by Temple servants (Christian kohanim), nor that such must be men.

More, for a very long time protestants (at least) have ignored the “apocalyptic” context of the NT revelation. (I reject “apocalyptic” since the symbolism of such literature is actually “liturgical” and entirely comes from the Temple and sacrifices.) If this context were better known, however, we would know that all Jews knew that the Temple was an image of heaven, that the shoeless wing-dressed priests were angels, that the objects in the Temple stood in the place of worshippers, and that the entire liturgy took place “in the heavenlies.” Now in Rev. 2-3, the pastors of the churches are called angels. This is not some Brand New Idea, but is completely in continuity with the Temple/priestly tradition. Unlike, however, the Old order, where only such angelic priests might enter the Temple heavens and the rest of the believers were located there only symbolically in the various items of furniture, now in the fullness of time the symbolic furniture is gone and believers are able to enter the Temple heavens along with their “angelic” palace-servant special-priests.

Rev. 2-3 are not letters to churches. They are letters to the priest-pastor-angels of the churches. Jesus threatens THEM. If you want to understand this, read Numbers 18. The people will be punished for their sins, yes, but the Levites will be punished if they fail to warn them.

I submit that if the NT epistles are read in their actual Biblical and historical context, then it will be very clear that Apostolic worship looked a whole more like liturgical and even Eastern orthodox (sans icons) worship, and not in the least like Puritan, Anabaptist, or Brethren worship.

And bringing all this back to Wright, while I don’t know what on earth Wright would say to this, the fact is that he is part of a movement to recover the so-called apocalyptic and Jewish context of the NT writings. The more this context is recovered, the more it will be clear that this “Church came from the synagogue” stuff is nonsense, that this “believers sitting around in homes” stuff is nonsense, and that the epistles mean something very concrete and liturgical when they refer to the Church as temple, worship as sacrifice, leaders as men (women could be everything else in the OT, so saying men-only MEANS “priest”), etc.

Or do we continue the sad rationalism of the last few centuries, and see “temple” and “sacrifice” as mere theological ideas, and not whole-life liturgical matters? There’s about 90% of the trouble, you see. All of these “Levitical” matters are taken as nothing but snapshots of Jesus’ coming work. They are that, but they are also ritual processes that take place in time, means of worship. This is why the Church continues to “move” in a “sacrificial” manner. In Leviticus 1-3, the worshipper Ascends (ch. 1), with Tribute (ch. 2), and then sits down for Communion (ch. 3). This is what the Church also does: Enters, has Offertory, and then Communion. This is not some speculation on my part. It is what the epistles mean when they refer to offering ourselves as living sacrifices. This and nothing else is what the first hearers of these epistles would have understood.

But this is set aside. What WE hear is that these Levitical rituals were just ideas, just pictures of Jesus. And now our worship consists of sitting around and thinking and talking about it. That is NOT what the 1st century hearers and readers of the epistles would have taken from them. I promise you. Believe me. (Trust me!) They would have heard something quite different.

And this is why the Church, as soon as she was able, built Temples for worship, and instituted what to many of us is quite ritualized and liturgical forms of worship. This was no “fall.” It was simply the Church filling out in practice what the epistles teach.

This is NOT to say that anyone TODAY “has it right” or that the Reformers “had it right.” But it is to say that the epistles need to be read in context.

I’ll give one more example. When Jesus broke bread and said “Do this for My memorial,” the apostles knew exactly what that meant. It was the new form of Leviticus 2, something they were very familiar with since it happened every morning and every evening. But how many people today think of that? Precious few. Why? Because they do not put themselves into the shoes of being Jews of the 1st century listening to what Jesus said. They hear this completely out of historical context.

It would not have occurred to anyone in the 1st century that Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” to remind yourselves about Me. Not after 1500 years of bread broken as memorial, as something done to call upon God, to remind God, and to ask Him to come to us! “Do this in memory of Me” is utter nonsense. “In death there is no remembrance of Thee” says the psalmist? No way. “In death there is no performance of Memorial to Thee” is what he said. Memorializing is by RITUAL LITURGICAL ACTION. Don’t believe me? Look up the relevant Greek and Hebrew words. “Cornelius, your  prayers

have come up before God as a Memorial.”

We need to stop reading the epistles as if they dropped out of  heaven onto a blank-slate, and read them in the whole-life liturgical context into which they were written. They look rather different when we do so.

A Brief History of Theonomy

An excellent email from James Jordan to the Wrightsaid list:

The problem with interacting with this is that “theonomist” refers to three different groups of people. Bahnsen had a very airtight logical system that was almost completely devoid of any covenant-historical approach to the Bible. Rushdoony was looser, and was dealing with practical rather than theoretical questions.

Persons like myself, and under my influence Gary North, were very much covenant-historical from day one. I got my Schilder and Gaffin in the early 1970s at the same time I was reading all of Rushdoony’s works. What we all had in common, of course, was being “Whole Bible Christians” as against your evangelical “New Testament Christian.” (There is, of course, no such thing as the New Testament, any more than there is such a thing as the Pentateuch or Second Samuel. As far as the Bible is concerned, it is all just Scripture, one long book, one long story in several acts.) And we all understood that Jesus had set up a kingdom (Christendom) not an ideology (Christianity). That as one nation had been baptized (in Red Sea and Jordan) and discipled (under Divine law), so the great commission says all nations are to be baptized and discipled. We tried to hear the great commission in that way, which is the way the disciples heard it: theocratically. And we all took Psalm 119 seriously.

But, IMO, having put their hand to the plough, both the Bahnsenians and the Rushdoonians pulled back. They got a lot more of the Bible than evangelicals get, because they took the social principles of the law seriously. But when the rest of us continued on into the symbolic and ritual parts of the Bible, and the narrative, transformative history of the Bible, they renounced us.

The “theonomists” (and I never liked the word and did not use it, but there you are!) were the ONLY people in Christendom who actually believed 2 Timothy 3:16-17. They believed that ALL Scripture (including, say, Deuteronomy) is profitable for instruction in ALL of life (including, say, statecraft). They were the only people in Christendom who were not afraid of the so-called Old Testament.

Times are better now. But in the 1970s & 80s thinking about political and social issues with an open Bible was scandalous. I think the bottom line on post-recons and NTW is just that all of us post-recons are Total Bible people. We think Bible first — we don’t read it through the lens of the Westminster Confession. (The WCF plays the same idolatrous mediatorial role in conservative presbyterianism that the saints play in Medieval catholicism.) We are not Bibliophobic. So, we find lots of cool stuff in NTW — stuff that in no way conflicts with historic Reformation thought, btw — and so we chow down on it.

But we also chow down on Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Rene Girard, and lots of others. Another aspect of this is that Recons were/are catholic. Most of us had mixed ecclesiastical backgrounds (Bahnsen didn’t, and he was not very catholic). Rushdoony had been both presbyterian and episcopalian. My background included Lutheranism and a lot of other stuff, including Roman Catholic grammar school. So, it was natural for us to be Bible-first Christians. Which meant that we did not care a fig for denominationalism. Plus, believing in paedocommunion meant that there was no denomination that would really want us.

Anyway, a whole lot of the prejudice against NTW in conservative presbyterianism is there simply because Wright is not “one of us.” He’s an Anglican. The world is following after him, when it should be following after us presbyterians. Plus, how could his work be any good, since it was “not invented here”? And, becoming at home in the so-called OT also plays a role here as well, I think. The “NT” cannot stand alone. If you pull out the OT foundation, you put something else as foundational. The NT cannot be read alone; it demands a context. Hence, “NT Christians” adopt all kinds of trash from prevailing philosophies. They do it unwittingly, but they do it. That’s a lot of where denominationalism comes from. For instance, your average “NT evangelical” thinks that the great commission says, “Go and make disciples in the nations, baptizing those individuals….” Which is not what it says, and not what the apostles heard. But your “NT” Christian does not even perceive what it actually says; he reads right past it. He reads it in a context of rationalistic individualism, which is the philosophy he has substituted for the OT. So, having an OT background tends to evaporate denominational prejudice.

But finally, only the Theonomists had the guts, the cojones, to look straight into the face of hard questions and think seriously about them. Only a theonomist would have the guts to suggest that maybe (maybe, I say) Charlemagne was right to march the Franks through the river. Only a theonomist would have to guts to ask if maybe the death penalty for homosexual acts is a good idea. After a while, being a theonomist, you get used to thinking the unthinkable, and you get very used to people screaming at you for daring to do so. So, then you read NTW. He says some new things. Yawn. People are screaming at him for daring to say some new things. Yawn. Been there. Theonomists have been lied about, called names, and excluded from positions a whole lot more than NTW has. Back when I was in those circles, it amazed me that the people writing to criticize it never, ever, dealt fairly and accurately with what theonomists were saying. Well, now we see the same thing with NTW. All of which is to say, I guess, that post-recons are not going to be upset by NTW, and because NTW is putting out good stuff exegetically, post-recons are naturally going to read and appreciate him. That’s probably way more than you asked for. But I had to assume that lots of younger people on this list did not know what you were asking about.