Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Bishop Tom really said about church

In The New Testament and the People of God, N.T Wright laid out four questions for historical worldview analysis which could be asked of any people group. They were 1. Who are we? 2. Where are we? 3. What's wrong? 4. What's the solution?
In 1996's Jesus and the Victory of God he expanded this to five questions with 5. What time is it?

These were basic questions, used in JVG to assess how well the gospels picture of Jesus fit with a 2nd Temple Jewish worldview and an early christian worldview.
Most of Wright's work is historical.
Not on worship.

But he has written on worship. And to my knowledge he never has used these questions of our current culture in order to figure out how we should do church. To do so would be terribly anthropocentric and unbiblical.

If you want to know what kind of meta-narrative Wright has for church meetings, you could do worse than his article 'Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Rediscovering Biblical Worship' freely available on the obscurely named

In the article Wright touches on three New Testament stories, the heavenly worship of Revelation 4 and 5; the turning from idolatry to the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the New Passover of Jesus' death and resurrection.

Wright makes these points

"a) that the worship of the very earliest Christians grew directly from their conviction that in his death and resurrection Jesus the Messiah had accomplished the redemption for which Passover was the model and of which the new creation would be the goal;

b) that in this worship they put Jesus side by side with the creator God, while retaining a constant Jewish emphasis on monotheism over against pagan polytheism, not least the imperial ideology, and dualism;

c) that in this worship they believed themselves, through thus worshiping the one true God, to be being themselves renewed as human beings, bearing God’s image."

He draws three energizing and stabilizing principles

1. Worship has a Trinitarian shape, which leads to Christ like living

2.Worship is a response to God's grace which is pleasing to him

"we should be able to address head on the fact that Christian liturgy is itself an act of humility, of response, of obedience. We live in a culture where doing our own thing, breaking with the past and discovering our own identity from within, are urged upon us from all sides. The Christian gospel reveals much of this as a form of gnosticism, of pride, of refusing grace rather than accepting it. And the fact of using a liturgy which is not of our own making, in which God’s initiative is built into the very structure, in which we share the wisdom and prayer of previous generations and other cultures, is itself a sign of humility, a sign that we know we are responding to God’s grace, not taking the initiative ourselves. Christian liturgy thus declares in structure and content that we are creatures before our creator, sinners before our holy God, the redeemed before our redeemer. It is heavily ironic that in some Protestant circles the absence of official liturgy, and the reliance on what particular people decide to do at any given moment, is not recognized as what it is in form (though obviously not necessarily in content): an exercise in cheerful Pelagianism."
'Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Rediscovering Biblical Worship'

3.Christian Worship integrates all of human experience, head, heart, hands, individual, community. We hope for the day when the whole creation worships right

Then Wright addresses three urgent concerns
1. Unmasking the pressure for informality, as a product of enlightenment, romantic and existentialist thinking.

2.Ordering Worship around the gospel

"But, more particularly, Christian worship is dramatic, performative, setting out and celebrating God’s story with the world; to tamper with it on a whim is a form of arrogant vandalism. The biblical story from Genesis to Revelation is a great drama, a great saga, a play written by the living God and staged in his wonderful creation; and in liturgy, whether sacramental or not, we become for a moment not only spectators of this play but also willing participants in it. It is not our play; it is God’s play, and we are not free to rewrite the script. We cannot read the whole Bible in each worship service, but the selections we choose, whether through a lectionary or not, should reflect the larger story and remind us of its full sweep and flow."

3. Redeeming culture
All culture is to be assessed, old and new
"Good liturgy, planned carefully week by week and year by year, will bring the two together so that they complement and reinforce each other and, most importantly, build up the worshipers in the knowledge and love of God and send them out refreshed for their kingdom-tasks in the world. And if we know what we are about this should mean that in our worship, in its music and readings, in its drama and movement, in its silence as well as its speech, we are not only reflecting different cultures but contributing creatively and in the power of the Spirit to the culture which our God is bringing about in our own day."

This is obviously a long, long way away from the anthropocentric results of taking an historical analytical tool and misusing it as a normative guide for church meetings


byron smith said...

I feel I'm missing some context for your opening and closing comments about the five worldview questions. Did someone give a talk on NTW's view of worship using these questions as a guide?

byron smith said...

Though his stuff on informality as Pelagianism is a hoot.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Yeah, I feel like I'm missing the context here.

Anonymous said...

Knowing the context (a class discussion in which Wright's liturgical emphasis was described as a anthropocentric) I think this post is a thoughtful and helpful response.

byron smith said...

Liturgy as anthropocentric? I've heard it described as many things, but rarely that. How did the argument run?

Mike W said...

Sorry for my absence, and the lack of clarity.

The class was on what metanarrative we have operating when we gather together in a church service.

A number of 'options' were outlined.
While I hadn't read most of the people whose names appeared in the options, I have read a little bit of Wright.

The argument ran, Wright says meta-narratives are all about worldviews, he has these four questions to determine worldviews, so he uses these four questions of a culture to shape church.

At first I thought it might have been a slip up, until an entirely culturally driven way of thinking about church was proposed by a student and met with, 'And that would be falling back into the NT Wright way'.

My hunch is that there were other straw men in there too. My dissappointment was that it was otherwise a good lecture on an important subject

byron smith said...

But Wright's worldview questions (even if they were what he used to help frame his discussion of church serivces) are not anthropocentric, at least not in the answers that he gives for Christians. It is all about a narrative of God's redemptive action. It's a double straw man.

Matthew Moffitt said...

And aren't Wright's FIVE worldview questions historical questions rather than theological questions?

byron smith said...

To be more precise, they are questions of historical theology (i.e. questions seeking answers concerned what people believed during a particular period).