N T Wright, Bishop of Durham (England) is currently held up by some as the great theolgian of our time. Every encounter I have had with his writings was left me saying, "Huh?" I managed to get through his brief article, Kingdom come: The public meaning of the Gospels and, frankly, I am left surprised and baffled.
I am surprised that he reduces the significance of the Kingdom of God that Christ's life and resurrection ushered in to the Church confronting "secular" leaders to be accountable to Jesus/God's instruction or to be martyred in the attempt. He might insist that "advancing God's restorative justice" is of utmost importance but it is expressed solely in terms of "holding powers to account." Color me unimpressed.
Bishop Wright makes it abundantly clear that he believes that the "rulers of this world" govern by some sort of Divine Right. "God wants the world to be ordered, not chaotic, and that human power structures are the God-given means by which that end is to be accomplished.” Furthermore, “... rulers are corrupt and to be confronted yet are God-given and to be obeyed." In a way I admire Wright's fidelity to Paul's language. But are we really to resist overthrowing tyrants in our now familiar Enlightenment manner toward which the Bishop hurls such disdain? To indicate that martyrdom is acceptable when the tyrant does not welcome a call to restorative justice (whatever that means) would indicate that the answer is a firm No. "That sounds to us as though we are simultaneously to affirm anarchy and tyranny. But this merely shows how far our conceptualities have lead us again to muzzle the texts in which both stand together." To prove this by saying that Isaiah recognized Cyrus as a ruler glosses over the fact that God threw in some heavy signs of His sovereignty to keep Cyrus in line. I assume neither the Bush nor Clinton administrations received any such warnings. Hence my bafflement. We are to accept worldly authorities but to hold them accountable. We are “called to collaborate with compromise” with “overtly pagan” authorities but to “put them on trial” after they leave office.
Maybe “doing God in public” is about letter-writing campaigns, protests and 527 organizations. If so, why doesn’t Bishop Wright just say, “Get active in your community and lobby for prayer in schools and food stamps?” All this about God reclaiming the world seems like God is not doing much of anything other than sending the Holy Spirit to give a stirring pep talk during halftime. His followers are doing ALL the work. The God who stopped the sun and raised Jesus from the dead is reduced to this? As the founder of the Vineyard Church said, “Where’s the stuff?”
Finally, God’s apparent sloth has reached the point where 2000 years of slaughter and mistreatment by Christians, pagans and secularists have been allowed to transpire without any sign of God redeeming his creation. Wright has implied in his “debate” with Ehrman that reclaiming the world was an ongoing process. With Dr Ehrman, I would say, enough is enough. Wright can get as cranky as he likes toward scholars and the flippin, modern world but some of us would just as soon walk away from his God’s little project and see what can be done to end river blindness and to bring a tiny bit more peace to the world.
As far as I am concerned, paraphrasing Paul Kurtz provides a more succinct and useful statement than all the Bishop of Durham’s thick prose: “There is no God. We have to fix this ourselves.”*
• - sorry, can’t lay my hand on the exact quote.
Update: Found the Kurtz quote from the Humanist Manifesto II - "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves."