Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tom Wright at Westminster Abbey

To the Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey on Tues which was given by Tom Wright. It was great to see Tom again and to thank him for his wonderful book on Paul which I am reading with great profit.

Tom argued that misinterpretation of Paul goes back to the linguistic shift between dikiazwne which if often translated as righteousness but it really means primarily covenant-loyalty in Paul's thought. By this time this had gone into Latin as justicia  the concept seemed to be about judgement in a legal sense, and how you could get acquited before God and life after death. Then the Reformers basically said "no you have a different way of achieving justification" and this confusion was further amplified by the Enlightenment trying to push God and Religion into a purely "spiritual" matter that had no connection with the normal world.

Paul says that God has proven to be faithful to His covenant and to His creation. Through Abraham God has initiated his plan to rescue creation from the sin of Adam.  To be God's image is to be an actor: to reflect God into the world and the world before God. The destiny of Israel is to be the Royal Priesthood and we need to recover the idea that humanity's destiny is to be God's agents, and to be stewards of His creation.

Tom believes that God made us in His image against the day of the incarnation. The incarnation was not Plan B - although no doubt if Adam hadn't sinned the incarnation would have looked very different. The Kingdom of God is not just about God and His people. We are rescued so that we can be rescuers.  Image bearers are an angled mirror, connecting the "horizontal" to the "vertical".

He also speculated that if the Reformers had taken Ephesians as their key text rather than Romans the history of Western Europe would have been very different.  He points out for example that Paul is very concerned with church unity - Paul speaks of unity 10x for every time he speaks of justificiation. The splits in the church remain a global scandal.

Tom is of course very critical of the ideology of the "Enlightenment". He conceded that this was not an unmitigated disaster, but the myth of the inevitability of "progress" is deeply misleading. He was very emphatic about the right and duty of the Church to get deeply involved in "political" matters such as the letter from the Bishops on the benefit system.

Afterwards there was a small reception in the Jerusalem Chamber and it was great to see Tom again, meet the Dean of Westminster, and Claire Foster-Gilbert who runs the Westminster Abbey Institute but who I knew when she was supporting the Science Medicine and Technology Committee of the CofE which John Polkinghorne chaired and on which I served in the 1990s.

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