The Wright Brothers (in Christ)
Scot McKnight says N.T. Wright and Christopher Wright show the future of theology.

Recently I was asked where theology was headed. I assured my reader that I wasn't "in the know" but that I would hazard a guess or two. First I thought we were likely to see a more robust Trinitarian theology, one deeply anchored in the great Cappadocian theologians like Gregory of Nyssa. But in some ways all the main lines of Trinitarian thought have already been sketched by great theologians like Karl Barth, James B. Torrance and others. With this first idea now set aside, I had a second idea of where theology is going: "The Wright Brothers."

No, not those Wright Brothers, but another set of Wrights (who aren't even brothers, except in Christ): Tom and Chris. Even if they don't map where all of theology is headed, these two scholars and devoted churchmen, both Anglican, do set before us two words that have become increasingly fruitful and I think will be the subject of serious theological reflection in the future. The two words are "earth" and "mission." Each scholar discusses both, but I will focus in this post on Tom Wright's focus on "earth" and Chris Wright's focus on "mission."

Increasingly we are seeing more and more Christians own up to the earthly focus of biblical revelation - the claim God makes upon this earth through his Eikons (humans made in his image). We are seeing a deeper reflection on what it means to participate in the historical flow, in government and politics and society and culture, and we are seeing a renewed interest in vocation and work. One of the more striking elements of this new surge is that theologians who are deeply anchored in the Bible also see our eternal destiny having an earthly shape.

And not only are we seeing the increasing presence of "earthly," but we are seeing a reshaping of theology itself so that God's mission in this world becomes central. Everyone knows that the latest buzz word is missional but not enough are thinking carefully about what mission means in the Bible and what it means to speak about "God's mission" (missio Dei). But there is a surge of thinking now about this topic and it will continue to spark interest both for pastors and professional theologians.

Now to the Wright brothers.

Tom Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, relentlessly critiques the gnostic-like preoccupation so many have with heaven as a place for our spirits and souls - the place where we really belong, and the sooner we get there the better. It is not that Tom Wright denies heaven; no, he affirms it robustly but he argues that the eternal home for the Christian is not that old-fashioned view of heaven but the new heavens and the new earth. And he argues the new heavens and new earth are something brought down from heaven to earth. (Read Revelation 20 - 22.)

August 15, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments

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October 29, 2009  7:41pm

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August 22, 2008  3:34pm

I think one of the exciting things about N.T. Wright's work, personally, is that his work and arguments have implications that, when taken to their full conclusion, challenge even some of his own self-identified beliefs. For example, if taken to their conclusion, his writings in "Jesus and the Victory of God" and "Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire" lead to an assertion of Christian nonviolence, but N.T. Wright declares himself to be a "just war" Christian. To me the fact that the obvious conclusions of the scholarship make the scholar uncomfortable is a good indicator of their quality.

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August 21, 2008  11:28am

The Catholic Church has been talking about the Christian message in terms of 'earth' and 'mission' for 2000 years now. In fact, the Church has always believed and proclaimed that the gospel is not just about the individual believer and his salvation, but about the reshaping of society as a whole, as Christians proclaim the salvific message of Jesus, (which does not simply include justification, but renewal and restoration through Christ's resurrection and new creation). This has always been the gospel: to renew man to his original image- the image of God - in Christ, the Second Adam. It is therefore very comforting to see the work of the "Wright" brothers as they reemphasize this message with the evangelical world. During my evangelical days I so much longed for this message - but now, my heart is filled with so much joy - all of creation groans for the Son of Man- and through Him, God has reconciled the whole world back to Himself. Christ has truly reversed the fall of man! This will not happen just when Christ comes back again. Instead, it began at His Resurrection!

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August 19, 2008  9:35pm

What about the word "kingdom" even if it coincides with Tom's "earth"?

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Todd Burus

August 19, 2008  9:55am

Joel, That wasn't at me, right? Cause I completely agree with you on the views of the 1, 2, and 3 John (Piper, MacArthur, and Edwards) and the rest of the new Reformed crowd. (Dang extra Todd's confusing things up in here . . . ) I heard Piper's sermon which corresponded with that blogpost you mentioned and I remember thinking to myself that he spoke to exactly what Emergent wants, but backed it up with a theology that they reject, showing that the real difference between emergent and non isn't in the goal, it's in the justification (double-word play intended).

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August 18, 2008  12:05pm

Here's a plug for a great book on Gregory of Nyssa - Passion and Paradise by J. Warren Smith. If you want to be "robustly trinitarian," the Fathers are a good place to start! The Trinity: Global Perspectives by Veli-Matti Karkkainen is also a great introduction to contemporary theologians on the Trinity.

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Joel Shaffer

August 18, 2008  12:04pm

Todd, That's quite a reductionist view of both Jonathons (Piper and Edwards) as well as the young, restless reformed people who read their stuff. The other day I blogged about Piper's view of piety (coming from his Desiring God blogsite), which he claims should produce a passion for social justice and practical mercy. So I guess there is much more to the Jonathons and some of their readers than the substitutional-atonement box than you have created for them. By the way, C.H. Wright's book "Mission of God" is the simply the best mission theology book that I've read, hands down. In my opinion, it supersedes such celebrated books on mission theology such as John Piper's "Let the Nations be Glad," David Bosch's "Transforming Mission," Lesslie Newbigin's "The Open Secret."

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mike rucker

August 18, 2008  11:44am

toddh - amen. even the humble magazine that is the umbrella of this site opined during the past year or so about the rise of calvinism. i doubt 'penal substitution' will go quietly into any good night. of course, the reason it won't is because all those guys just like saying 'penal'... m.r.

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Todd Burus

August 18, 2008  9:53am

toddh, I think it's a scary future if it doesn't carry the words "penal" and substitution." Now, I know Wright and many other British theologians have just decided to abandon penal substitutionary atonement, but they do so to their own peril. I'm not going to argue for it here myself, but I suggest readng The Cross of Christ by John Stott and The Future of Justification by John Piper (which is actually a response to Wright's teachings) to see why we can't deny PSA. Jake, I am aware that that is not what Wright believes about the second coming. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear earlier. The main teacher I am thinking of with this comment is Rob Bell.

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August 17, 2008  12:00am

I hope McKnight is right. It seems like there are plenty of others who think the future is the Jonathan brothers (Piper and Edwards) and the words "penal" + "substitution."

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