The new historicism wants to deconstruct the past in order to show us that all the values, all the institutions, all the cannons, all the truths, and all the texts by which we live our lives are simply imprisoning fictions that were created by some people in the past (usually white males) for self-serving purposes. These fictions are, therefore, readily susceptible to being destroyed by us in the present, in preparation for the emergence of a new, more just, more democratic order.This chapter was previously published in the New York Review of Books, November 1990.
Such a Rousseauian view, which assumes that knowledge of the fictional character of custom will itself free us, severely underestimates the power of the past and the power of culture. All the beliefs, values, and institutions of the culture may indeed be artificial fictions; but the historical fact of the matter is that they are fictions created by a process so complicated, involving so many participants with so many conflicting purposes over such long periods of time, that no amount of deconstruction, no degree of unmasking, can ever undo them. The culture, of course, can be - indeed, it will be - changed, but in ways that no one, including the radical post-Marxists and the deconstructionist literary critics, ever intended or wanted. Understanding this fact about the process of historical change is true historicism.
The New Testament at its best is a Story of how God moved in human beings in the earliest years of Jesus Christ, as he came into his Body. No matter how purely we see that Story, it will not fundamentally change the Institutional Church, as we know her. It can, however, provide a more living perspective on HOW God moves in his people, when they gather as Christians to pursue Him in his Kingdom... and THAT ought to be a benefit for anyone, whether hampered by pew sitting traditions or couch sitting conundrums.
There are many things driving change around Christendom these days. A fresher view of the New Testament Church is worth seeing purely for its own sake. And God help us all, after that.
Here is an honest question for you, bro: With all you have seen personally of the first-century story, has it truly revolutionized your life in this way that speak of? If so, how? Were you to drop your research today and begin seeking where to go and what to do in order to pursue the Lord in this way that you have seen, what would that look like?
Great question, Josh. My progressive forays into glimpsing the 1st century story did indeed revolutionize my life, and does still. From 1995 to 2006, and briefly in 2007, I was part of experimental church life. But, true to the end of the Wood excerpt above, the ongoing process ended up changing my own direction in ways I'd not expected. Now it's nothing but research, and yet, still the longing for more of community life.
Were I to drop my research today, I wouldn't be true to the calling I feel. This is just where I feel I'm supposed to be right now, sad as it sometimes makes me.
Meanwhile, I do expect we'll find some group of christians to be close with, before too long. But - again, as Wood said - it may not be the type of group that we'd expect, even today.
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