Christian Origins and the Question of God Reading Challenge

I have been a fan of N.T. Wright for quite a while now. I have read a number of his books but they have been the popular versions (and his New Testament for Everyone volumes) rather than the scholarly tomes that inspired them.

I have long wanted to read his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, however, and even picked up used versions of Volumes 1 & 3.  But I had to be honest with myself. I was unlikely to read that many pages in small print paperback.  I didn’t want to shell out the dollars it would cost to buy all the volumes in Kindle format.

Well, as luck would have it, the prices changed.  You can now get a whole lot of Wright for a lot less money. As of right now you can all four volumes for $7.99 each:

The New Testament and the People of God (V1)
Jesus and the Victory of God (V2)
The Resurrection and the Son of God (V3)
Paul and the Faithfulness of God (V4)

Plus, as a bonus you can get Paul and His Recent Interpreters for $5.99!  That is over 4k of Wright for less than $40.  Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

However, therein lies the rub.  If you read all five books that is 4,145 pages.  Just the 4 Christian Origin volumes is 3,739.  That is a lot of reading.  And this is not light reading by any stretch of the imagination.

So how does one commit to something like this?  Well, I think you have to do just that, make a commitment.  So what I’m going to do is read Paul and His Recent Interpreters this year.  And commit to reading the Christian Origins and the Question of God series in its entirety in 2016.

Broken down over the course of 12 months that is only about 300 words a month; certainly doable.  The trick will be reading it in larger enough chunks that I get something out of it and end up with an understanding of Wright’s massive work.

This will be no easy challenge but I think it will give me something to shoot for in 2016.  Anyone else up for the challenge?

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright and he has had a big impact on my faith and approach to faith. So when I saw Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today on sale for $3 on Kindle I scooped it up.

Here is a rather lengthy synopsis:

Scripture & Authority“But what does scripture say?”

That question has echoed through a thousand debates in the life of the worldwide church. All churches have officially endorsed strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in their mission, life, doctrine, and discipline. But there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might work in practice. Individuals and churches struggle with how to respond to issues such as war, homosexuality, and abortion, and especially how to interpret biblical passages that discuss these topics. These disagreements often serve to undermine our confidence in the authority of the Bible.

Bishop and Bible scholar N. T. Wright delivers a new model for how to understand the place of scripture and God’s authority in the midst of religious confusion. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on how to read the Bible today, restoring scripture as a place to find God’s voice.

In this revised and expanded edition of the previously titled book The Last Word, Wright provides two case studies that delve into what it means to keep Sabbath and how Christians can defend marital monogamy. These studies offer not only bold biblical insights but also showcase Wright’s new model for how to interpret scripture and restore its role as the church’s main resource for teaching and guidance. Removing the baggage that the last 100 years of controversy and confusion have placed on this doctrine, Wright renews our confidence in the Bible and shows how it can once again serve as the living Word of God for our lives.

I found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking look at the subject of the authority of scripture. Wright gives a history of Christian thinking on scripture and its authority down through the ages; comparing and contrasting approaches and arguing for his own.

I read this in fits and spurts and I feel like I need to go back and re-read it to get greater clarity. But, not surprisingly given my appreciation for Wright, I think Wright is correct to see the proper approach in narrative and context within the church as the people of God. Anyone wrestling with the place of scripture in the life of the church and in the wider world would do well to read this book. 

Those looking for more of Wright’s views on scripture can check out the newly released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues which I hope to be able to read soon.

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright

I am a big fan of N.T. Wright and he has had a big impact on my faith and approach to faith. So when I saw Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today on sale for $3 on Kindle I scooped it up.

Here is a rather lengthy synopsis:

Scripture & Authority“But what does scripture say?”

That question has echoed through a thousand debates in the life of the worldwide church. All churches have officially endorsed strong statements about the centrality of scripture and its authority in their mission, life, doctrine, and discipline. But there is no agreement on what this might mean or how it might work in practice. Individuals and churches struggle with how to respond to issues such as war, homosexuality, and abortion, and especially how to interpret biblical passages that discuss these topics. These disagreements often serve to undermine our confidence in the authority of the Bible.

Bishop and Bible scholar N. T. Wright delivers a new model for how to understand the place of scripture and God’s authority in the midst of religious confusion. Wright gives new life to the old, tattered doctrine of the authority of scripture, delivering a fresh, helpful, and concise statement on how to read the Bible today, restoring scripture as a place to find God’s voice.

In this revised and expanded edition of the previously titled book The Last Word, Wright provides two case studies that delve into what it means to keep Sabbath and how Christians can defend marital monogamy. These studies offer not only bold biblical insights but also showcase Wright’s new model for how to interpret scripture and restore its role as the church’s main resource for teaching and guidance. Removing the baggage that the last 100 years of controversy and confusion have placed on this doctrine, Wright renews our confidence in the Bible and shows how it can once again serve as the living Word of God for our lives.

I found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking look at the subject of the authority of scripture. Wright gives a history of Christian thinking on scripture and its authority down through the ages; comparing and contrasting approaches and arguing for his own.

I read this in fits and spurts and I feel like I need to go back and re-read it to get greater clarity. But, not surprisingly given my appreciation for Wright, I think Wright is correct to see the proper approach in narrative and context within the church as the people of God. Anyone wrestling with the place of scripture in the life of the church and in the wider world would do well to read this book. 

Those looking for more of Wright’s views on scripture can check out the newly released Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues which I hope to be able to read soon.

Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective by Andrew Perriman

I will confess that the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s Love Wins has caused me to reconsider a number of my theological assumptions.  This reflection and development, however, is not tied just to Bell.  I had already begun to explore NT Wright and the New Perspective on Paul for example, but it certainly sparked a more focused meditation and thought process as I sought to make explicit what had been a vague collection of thoughts and instincts. (This will only reinforce for some that Bell is a false teacher leading people on the path to perdition, etc.)

Andrew Perriman 1
Andrew Perriman 2011 (via Flicker)

Somewhere along the line I discovered the work of Andrew Perriman and his narrative-historical approach to biblical study and a post-Christendom path for the People of God.  I find his work and approach fascinating, challenging and often quite convincing.  I have spent hours reading his blog; deep diving into scripture, eschatology and theology.  As I said, fascinating and challenging.

This in turn led me to Perriman’s books. And I started with his e-book Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective.  As I noted at Goodreads, it is hard to review this book as it is really a collection of blog posts. If you are interested in the subject and have some solid background in the issues involved you will probably find it fascinating (or perhaps infuriating if you don’t share the author’s perspective). I enjoyed immersing myself in Perriman’s thoughts on heaven and hell but did sometimes wish he offered more of a primer on the issues or had time to slow down and unpack some of the details, etc.

Spoiler alert! Perriman believes common conceptions of both heaven and hell are not biblical, and are products not of scripture, but rather are cultural and institutional developments (and products of a theology which has locked in systematic doctrine at the expense of an accurate and historical reading of scripture).

Perriman has a unique take on eschatology (a version of preterism, with narrative theology and new perspective aspects, I believe – although he would probably reject that description) which I find compelling in many ways but which is certainly not straightforwardly orthodox or traditional.  Traditionally eschatology would mean the study of end times or last things. Andrew’s perspective, however, envisions it as “decisive, theologically significant historical events in a foreseeable future.” So the New Testament is not focused on the “end of the world” per se but on the Jewish war with Rome and the fall of the pagan world and the triumph of the martyr church.

With this in mind, from his perspective scripture is primarily to be understood as historical and narrative rather than theological and metaphysical. He also stresses a community rather than an individual focus. As such he rejects traditional conceptions of hell (a literal place of eternal fire and torment, etc.) and heaven (a physical place believers go immediately after death to be with God and await the second coming) as cultural artifacts not scriptural formations.

Whether you agree with all of his conclusions, or all of his exegesis, I find his approach refreshing and useful for getting beyond stale and route arguments.  I like this quote in particular:

Theology should not flatten scripture into dogmatic abstractions and generalities. Theology should seek to follow, and sympathetically narrate, the tortuous journey of faithfulness as it picks its way across the complex, broken, mountainous landscape of history.

It is also worth pointing out that his theology and eschatology are based on a close reading and understanding of the biblical texts not on a desire to remove difficult or hard doctrines. It is post-modern in a sense (or perhaps post-Christendom) but not with the connotation of removing or denying truth, etc.  As I said, fascinating to me but not for everyone. And of course, if you wanted to you could read all of this on his blog.

So on to the book.  Keep in mind also that I read this book almost a year ago but have never quite got around to publishing this review until now (I have been fiddling around with it off and on). So some of this might be a little fuzzy.  I have, however, continued to read Perriman’s blog, and his other books, so perhaps have a better understanding of his overall perspective. Much of the argument is complex and detailed but allow me to outline the basics (most of which are noted here).

Judgement in scripture comes in the form of destruction; both of nations and people.  “The wages of sin is death” is the formula here.  God judges nations and people and they are destroyed. From the flood to the destruction of the temple to exile this is the pattern in the Old Testament.  There is not a universalized, metaphysical/spiritual conception of post-mortem judgement.

In the New Testament the perspective is the same but the focus looks forward to the coming judgement on Israel and the Jewish War with Rome.  And it is through this lens that passages about judgement should be viewed.  Perriman understands the images used in the NT to be motifs from the OT intended to prophetically warn Israel about their impending judgement at the hand of pagan Rome.  These images are about historical judgement and events not universal judgement for every individual.

The next horizon in the narrative is the judgement on Rome and the pagan world. God has judged his own people and then will judge their persecutors the idolatrous pagan nations.  After His resurrection Jesus is elevated to the right hand of God, and made ruler of the nations, and he will come to judge and to destroy.  The church must mirror Christ’s faithfulness to survive this time of judgement and enter the age to come. Christ will be shown to be victorious and those who remained faithful will be vindicated.

The third and final horizon is the culmination of this victory when death itself is destroyed and we see a new heaven and a new earth.  Again, in Perriman’s view, the passages in Revelation are not about personal torment but about the destruction of all that is contrary to God’s good creation.  The second death is just that, the destruction of all even death itself.

Perriman uses this focus or frame to analyze and discuss the relevant passages in scripture pertaining to hell, judgement, life after death, etc.  Some of this is in the specific context of the debate over Bell’s book and some of it is more general.  But Perriman effectively uses the debate to explore the issues. He moves from his general perspective, to the Bell debate, to addressing specific passages.  He agrees with Bell on some issues/approaches but brings a much more tightly argued and focused perspective.

But like Bell he is attempting to help Christians put aside their cultural and doctrinal assumptions and approach scripture with fresh eyes; letting scripture guide us rather than guiding scripture towards conclusions we want to draw.

Perriman than turns his eye toward heaven and deconstructs our conceptions of this term in much the same way:

By comparison with “hell”, which in its traditional sense is not a biblical idea, “heaven” ought to be a fairly straightforward theological concept to explain. Surely heaven is simply what belief in Jesus is ultimately all about? It’s where we go when we die.

[…]

Unfortunately, our popular beliefs about heaven are almost as misconceived as the belief that there is a place called “hell”, deep in the bowels of the cosmos, where the wicked – by “wicked” is often meant “those not chosen” – will be tormented for eternity. Heaven certainly exists, but it is opposed in scripture not to a metaphysical hell (as alternative final destinies), but to earth, in recognition of the fractured structure of creation. The fundamental problem addressed all the way through the biblical metanarrative is not: How are people to get to heaven? but: How is God to live in the midst of his creation?

In Perriman’s eyes the focus is not, with some limited exceptions, about going up to heaven but about heaven coming down to earth. It is about new creation; a people set apart to reflect the reality of the one true God, maker of heaven and earth, into the world.

Perriman than wraps everything up with another unorthodox proposal. He believes that scripture teaches a limited historical resurrection for the martyr church who will then reign with Christ throughout time until the new heaven and new earth.

This would mean that all except Jesus and the martyrs will be raised after the earth and sky have fled away. Including believers. We die. We are dead. We are raised at a final judgment. And if our names are not written in the Book of Life, we are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death, a second destruction (Rev. 20:11-15). The end.

As I noted at the start, this is not an easy book to review or summarize. It is largely a collection of blog posts but posts that include detailed exegesis and commentary.  Perriman’s perspective may be unorthodox but it is throughly grounded in scripture and based on a great deal of thought and study.  You may not agree with his conclusions but if you have an open mind and a generous spirit you will be challenged and given food for thought in your approach to the bible.

November is theology month at Collected Miscellany

I hereby declare the month of November as Theology Month here at CM.  (Yes, yes, I realize I have not had exactly stellar success with these sorts of campaigns previously but it is my blog and I can do what I want to.)

I have been reading a decent amount of theological or spiritual books lately and have been procrastinating writing the reviews.  So this will give me a chance to put the spotlight on those books and post reviews.

So stay tuned for some reviews focused on the New Perspective on Paul, Heaven and Hell, and the Book of Psalms, and more.  We will be looking at books by NT Wright, Andrew Perriman, and Alister McGrath, just to name a few.

UPDATE: Here are the books we have covered so far. I will attempt to update this list throughout the month.

All the Saints by NT Wright

A Long Faithfulness by Scot McKnight

 

November is theology month at Collected Miscellany

I hereby declare the month of November as Theology Month here at CM.  (Yes, yes, I realize I have not had exactly stellar success with these sorts of campaigns previously but it is my blog and I can do what I want to.)

I have been reading a decent amount of theological or spiritual books lately and have been procrastinating writing the reviews.  So this will give me a chance to put the spotlight on those books and post reviews.

So stay tuned for some reviews focused on the New Perspective on Paul, Heaven and Hell, and the Book of Psalms, and more.  We will be looking at books by NT Wright, Andrew Perriman, and Alister McGrath, just to name a few.

UPDATE: Here are the books we have covered so far. I will attempt to update this list throughout the month.

All the Saints by NT Wright

A Long Faithfulness by Scot McKnight

 

Revelation for Everyone by N.T. Wright

As I mentioned in my review of Mercury Falls, I have been reading the final volume in N.T. Wright’s New Testament for Everyone series, Revelation for Everyone.  Here is a a description of this series:

N. T. Wright has undertaken a tremendous task: to provide guides to all the books of the New Testament, and to include in them his own translation of the entire text. Each short passage is followed by a highly readable discussion, with background information, useful explanations and suggestions, and thoughts as to how the text can be relevant to our lives today. A glossary is included at the back of the book. The series is suitable for group study, personal study, or daily devotions.

I had previously read the volumes on Romans for a Bible study we did at church and found it very useful. For a variety of reasons, I recently developed an interest in the Book of Revelation and, as luck would have it, this volume was being released this month.  And through the fine folks at NetGalley I was even able to get an ARC for my Kindle. I tried to read at least a chapter a day and so get through it relatively quickly.

It was an enjoyable and insightful look at this most complex and potentially confusing of books in the Bible.

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