April 21, 2010

Wright, Hays, and a 3rd Option(?)

I've had my own reasons for being wary of NT Wright - or at least, of his angle on doing History. Richard Hays' presentation at Wheaton last weekend confirms that I wasn't alone in some of these observations. So let this be the second of my posts here reflecting on (the vids of and the reports about) the big conference. More will follow.

My constant impression, at every perusal, has been that Wright thinks with an overabundance of metaphor. His writer's voice is preacherly (homiletic), seeming at times too much after the more dramatic, thematic (subjective?) aspects of Jesus' Story. He's after a "grand meta-narrative". In some ways, honestly, that last bit sounds great to me, but all this together reveals a deeply literary mindset... in which case, whither Wright's "historical" approach?

I know enough else about Wright's work to realize that's not a balanced assessment, but it's still fair enough to stay on point for the moment.

The first piece I read by Tom Wright - somewhere online, two years ago - was about Paul's trip to Arabia. When he started talking about Moses in Arabia as if the symbolic significance of Mount Sinai was any kind of evidence for considering what Paul must have thought about his own trip there, I balked heavily. This, to me, was theological dogma driving historical thought.

Ironically, Wright's major criticism of Hays (reportedly) was that Hays' book was too theological, and too unhistorical. So Wright is the Historian, and Hays the Theologian? Yet, Wright's "History" is itself theologically driven. If so, there must be more room on the *H* side of that scale, beyond Wright. There must be something yet outside both their visions that's still being neglected.

Or at least, something outside their rhetorical boundary markers.

Another of Hays' major criticisms is that Wright's unified reconstruction "drowns out" some of the literary (and theological) uniqueness of each Gospel's "voice". Indeed, it seems one of Wright's goals for his Historical Jesus work has been to build a base from which to view Jesus better, so that we may review and/or revise theological opinions. (??)

If that's true, then maybe Wright's version of "the fifth Gospel" IS what church authorities have always been afraid of, actually. I don't know. Maybe, also, ANYTHING that reconstructs a "5th G" is going to get painted that way ANYWAY. Maybe.


What's the difference in what Wright's done, and what I'm wanting to see/do? I can't quite tell you clearly... not quite yet. But I can tell you that several conservative scholars have told me Wright does what I'm talking about doing. And then I go on and describe in more depth what I'm looking for. And then they all say, "Nope - you're right - nobody's done that before."

I'll take one quick shot at this, before closing. I'll even do it by metaphor! ;-)

In the game of basketball, one shoots the ball with two hands, but not with two hands. The player's dominant hand provides thrust. The non-dominant hand guides the ball. One hand pushes from below. The other hand holds steady alongside. It does not push. It "guides". More accurately, it holds steady, so the thrust does not go awry.

What church authorities seem to fear is that a "Fifth Gospel" might in fact (for some) wind up replacing the Canonical Four Gospels as the 'thrusting hand' of what drives our church theory and practice. Perhaps, done Wright's way, it might do just that. Again, I'm not really sure.

But what I'm suggesting is that Christendom DOES need - in as full blown a form as might be rationally possible - a "Fifth Gospel" of some sort (even though I don't like that term, but I'll use it for now). HOWEVER, all we need that historical reconstruction to provide is the 'guide hand'.

The Gospels are primary. They will always be primary. Their voice will never - should never - CAN never be "drowned out". But, yes. IF someone's goal in constructing a "Fifth Gospel" was to replace Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, then something would be heinously wrong.

Hays fears Wright may have done just that. I fear Hays thinks ANY positive reconstruction WILL do just that. But, logically, that simply can't be true. Can it?

What do y'all think?


Anonymous said...

I haven't been following the conversation, but based on what I think you're saying here, I can't help but wonder; If the 'thrusting hand' are the four Gospels, which most Christian scholars believe to be divinely inspired, then I think that many want to be able to know that the 'guiding hand' is inspired as well. Otherwise, they'll have a 'mixture'...leaven in the loaf, so to speak.

It reminds me of certain believers who 'only read the bible' for Spiritual nourishment as they believe that commentaries are too loaded with speculation, and agenda.

Bill Heroman said...

I was thinking the 'guiding hand' is the context, and the text was the 'thrust'.

But yeah, the whole point is that some people fear reconstructing a fuller context will amount to 'loaded' untrustworthy History.

I wouldn't want my preferred Historian claiming to have been divinely inspired in their Storytelling, however. That sounds dangerous.

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