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Faith can do what postmodernism can’t — ‘give life,’ Wright says


NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Living Christianly” is more than fulfilling a code of conduct — it is nothing short of a battle between God’s empire and human empires, said N.T. Wright, an Anglican evangelical scholar and bishop of Durham, England.

Wright spoke at an event sponsored by the division of historical and theological studies of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary March 10 in conjunction with the inaugural Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum March 11-12.

Both the call to live the Christian life in a modern and postmodern setting and the potential for such living to impact the world were the focus of Wright’s lecture before a standing-room only crowd in the seminary’s Martin Chapel.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ, he noted, ushered in the beginning of this new purpose in life.

“The whole New Testament is written from the point of view that new creation has already begun — that it began when Jesus of Nazareth came out of the tomb on Easter morning and that through His victory over sin and death there are indeed real possibilities which were not there before,” Wright said.

This new creation, he said, is most apparent in John’s Gospel.

He noted, for example:

— Mary Magdalene, the first human to encounter the risen Jesus, mistook Him to be a gardener, which echoes the Genesis 1 and 2 account of God in the Garden of Eden.

— Later in John 20, Jesus breathes on the disciples, thus reenacting the breath of life in Genesis 2.

— Jesus’ reinstating Peter and commissioning him to tend His sheep mirrors God’s commission to Adam in Genesis 2 to tend the animals.

“The whole chapter of John 21,” Wright continued, “has a sense of the disciples’ calling to live in a strange, unmapped, new land, in a world never previously imagined because it was never previously possible, in a world in which one can follow Jesus.”

Armed with the hope that comes from Christ’s resurrection and from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, possibilities now exist for lives to be healed and for communities to be mended, Wright said. Followers of Christ should strive to be the model and the means by which renewal comes about in the surrounding communities, he said.

“If we are even beginning to do any of this, we will also be, as part of our conformity to the pattern of the Son of God, people in whom the battle for the Kingdom of God becomes apparent,” Wright said.

Indeed, living Christianly in the present postmodern society often proves to be a battle, he said, while noting that postmodernism also can be a positive agent for the spread of God’s Kingdom.

“The task of postmodernity within the purposes of God has been to preach the Fall [of man in the Garden of Eden] to arrogant modernity,” Wright said. “I regard this as a necessary task.”

Modernism taught that mankind could rise to any level, even to the point of redefining good and evil and placing mankind in God’s place, Wright said, whereas postmodernism’s legacy is that it reminds proponents of modernism that knowledge leads to power and power often corrupts. However, postmodernism cannot complete the task, he noted.

“Postmodernity can condemn, but it cannot give life,” Wright said. “In putting down the arrogant modernist self, [postmodernism] collapses all human identity into a morass of invention and experience.

“It carries no possibilities of new creation,” he said.

Christianity must take up the challenge where postmodernism falls short, Wright said.

“Though postmodernity has shown the modernist empire to be dangerous, it can’t do anything about it. It can’t stop it,” he said. “Part of the task of living Christianly in today’s world and living by a new creation is the task of finding a way through postmodernity and out the other side.”

Wright challenged Christians to take seriously the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Thy will be done on earth,” and to find confidence in Jesus’ statement that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him.

“We have to learn — and I think this is the most urgent ethical task of the 21st century — how to live as new covenant people in new creation, submitting neither to modernism nor to postmodernism nor to empires or anything of the sort but to the Gospel imperative,” Wright said.

What would that look like in practice? How can Christians respond in such a way as to leave no doubt in the modernist’s or postmodernist’s mind that Christianity is the only solution? Wright offered several potential solutions:

He challenged Christians to work to bring freedom and justice to all peoples of the world. He also called for a renewed commitment to the sacredness of marriage.

“Marriage is a sign of God’s future world, as Revelation 21 insists, and it is a sign that must be honored in every way,” Wright said.

And he urged Christians to have a healthy respect and concern for the environment. This, at the least, would demonstrate an understanding that the new creation and new life offered in Christ includes the present world.
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    About the Author

  • Michael McCormack