Friday, September 28, 2007

What I Want to Write About When I Take/Have Time to Write

Hello all. My dear, dear friends, what a pleasure and honor to write here, even though I have a very short time to write. Soon my wife will be home, and my strange and challenging saga as primary breadwinner primary housekeeper continues...but hey, I can't complain too much. I have lots of flexibility in my time, even though today, with the cold weather coming in and my son staying with his friends after school, was rather lonely. The dark sky, the unending, unending, house work and house projects, the computer screen, my online classes.

But all around, the glory of the Sierra.

So, when I take/have time to write, what do I want to write about?

Spiritual practice (something I am beginning, hesitantly, to crave) and the historical gospel work of N.T. Wright. I know I've written about NTW a little, but what I was really doing up here (with all your indulgences) was scribbling notes to myself. I have begun reading his second volume on Jesus' life again, starting about midway through where I left off months ago. It is a remarkable work. As a writing teacher, I could make some suggestions regarding repetition, clarity, and style...but it is generally well written and the underlying ideas explosive. Not since Marcan priority took center stage has such important work been done on the synoptics.

But I must give a bit more than that teaser.

The truth is, I do not know what NTW thinks on many larger issues. I am familiar with his (still controversial, drawing on Sanders) work on Paul; that is not my area of interest. Believing, at this point in my journey at least, that the bible is a collection of very human books, what Paul really said is interesting to me, but not gripping.

Waht Jesus meant and said is another issue entirely.

No, my area of interest, as I believe I said long ago, is Wright's reading of apocalyptic in the synoptics, his interpretations of the judgement passages. These are some of the most difficult passages in the NT for two reasons: one, Jesus has often been taken to predict the end of the world as immiment (as in Schweitzer) and he was apparently wrong (I remember even CS Lewis wrestling with this); and two, the images of the unrepentant or unprepared being tossed into eternal fire (where the worm does not shrivel) or being thrown out of the wedding banquet to weep and gnash their teeth or tossed into the smolder of Gehenna, etc., these are remarkably disturbing to me as a Christian. Why? Because I have a conscience which uses reason and empathy in a grossly limited human fashion, this leads me to value mercy over all thihngs, and I hope God has these traits to an infinitely higher degree. And lo and behold, though I do not know what NTW thinks about the doctrine of hell, his reading of the judgement passages opens dynamic new ways of understanding. So far, at least.

In short, for NTW the judgment and apocalyptic language in the synoptic traditions exemplifies Jesus living the role of judgement prophet in Israel (as so many before); he is critquing Judaism from within in typically harsh prophetic terms; and in doing so, making significant use of apocalyptic metaphor as he describes the oncoming and predictable descent of Rome. There is more to it than that, but all this second coming on the clouds, the damned being cast aside like straw, NTW argues persuasively that the synoptic apocalyptic passages (like Mark 13, etc.) are not and never were about the end of the space-time world. They are warnings to Israel to repent on Jesus' terms. In short, Wright is undertaking a remarkable, dynamic revision (relying on the work of Caird, I know). Do I still have questions? Do some troubling passages remain? Yes, but NTW plods ahead with me as I read.....

Since this potentially alleviates the two problems I mention above for me as a believe I should be skeptical, surely. And I am. But while I do not have time to go into it now, Wright is making remarkable sense. Though I do not consider myself either emergent or postmodern (I have been told my theology is both a couple of times) I am a genuine believer in Mystery. There is much I do not and can not know about God and his purposes in this life; call my faith Christian existential, if you wish. But Wright's analysis is changing my thinking in remarkable ways. And strengthening my faith, slowly. My always battered and weak faith.

So, yes, I want to write about him in detail, when I can, and apologize for not doing so now. It's hard, because his ideas are built up over long chapters, many digressions, and multiple, multiple outside sources. But in the end, he is moving me, at least in the area of reading the Jesus apocalyptic language. For truthfully, while many critics dismiss that material as later church addition, there are compelling reasons why it is historically strong, in my view. One is its difficulty! That it began to be misunderstood by non-Jews in the diaspora makes good sense. But I am truly out of time.

Sorry for the teaser post. I just wanted to shout out to my few friends who I know will still stop by, and say that it seems God, once again, is finding me out in the dark mazes my mind tangles through. Second life recedes a bit at a time to a normal hobby; the horror of my own faith-questions begin to find answers once again. I still hope, when S is done with school and my son done with college (it will probably take that long, who knows) that I can do graduate work in the NT. You know, take a vacation from grading papers and write a few dozen :) Why not? May I live so long.

Love and peace to all. Sorry for the rough format here.