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Week 2.

  1. Literature, Story, and the Articulation of Worldviews
    1. Introduction 47
    2. On Reading 50
      • Introduction 50
      • Is there anybody there? 54
      • Reading and Critical Realism 61
    3. On Literature 65
    4. The nature of Stories 69
      • Narrative Structure 69
      • The wicked Tenants 74
      • Jesus, Paul, and the Jewish Stories 77
  2. History and First Century 81
    1. Introduction
    2. Not 'Mere History' 82
    3. This doesn’t mean 'no facts' 88
    4. Historical Method 98
    5. From Event to Meaning 109
    6. Historical Study of 1st century religious movements 118
  3. Theology, Authority, and the New Testament 121
    1. Introduction
    2. Worldview and Theology 122
    3. Theology, Narrative, and Authority 139
    4. Conclusion 143

On Reading 50

Introduction 50

What kind of 'knowledge' do we gain as we read?

The phenomenalist will say *the words are not 'about' reality, but are simply 'about' the opinions of the writer.

The naive realist will say, we are reading the text, gaining access to the author and thence the event.

Wright provides several diagrams on pages 51-69 showing the several ways readers interact with a text.

AuthorLensEventText
WriterPersonal ExperiencesSomethingText is created.
Valueshappened
Limits of perspective
emphasis
Agendas

Is there anybody there? 54

Wright captures in these pages how the author has their own bias, perspectives, agendas, emotions, and experiences. When an event is perceived, it is viewed through all of those things, and those things are impossible to ignore. Even when recorded as bare of facts as possible, it is like a surveillance camera: It can only pick up what is in view of where the camera is positioned.

The aim of criticism is to describe the effect of a piece of writing and to show how that effect is acheived.

The same holds true for a reader. There is text on a page, and it is read through the lens of the readers experiences, bias, perspectives, agendas, etc.

Then, when engaging with a text, the reader can ask what did the writer say? Was this the writer's intention or aim? What were the author's emotions and bias?

Finally, on page 59, when taken to the extreme in postmodernism, goes something like this: what does this text do for me? What do my experiences tell me about the truthiness of this text? How does this text make me feel now? In this view, there is no truth whatsoever.

Reading and Critical Realism 61

What we need is a critical realist account of the phenomena of reading in all its parts. It is important to consider that the authors wanted us to think about the subject of the work, and not the author themselves. We need to balance that the reader is a human and that the text is an entity of its own, not to be bent to the readers pleasing.

On page 64:

When applied to reading texts, this means that the text can be listened to on its own terms, without being reduced to the scale of what the reader can or cannot understand at the moment. If it is puzzling, the reader will take the time to struggle to understand it . When applying this to all three stages of the reading proves- the relation of readers to texts, of texts to their authors, and beyond that to the realities they purport to describe- it will be possible to make a number of simultaneous affirmations.

On Literature 65

Page 67 applies this approach to the parable of the wicked tenant, we saw above.

The nature of Stories 69

Narrative Structure 69

On page 71, we look at the elements of a story:

The wicked Tenants 74

Jesus, Paul, and the Jewish Stories 77

History and First Century 81

Introduction

It is impossible to talk about the origin of Christianity without being confronted by the question of god, just as, when considering theology, we will discover that the converse is also true.

The word "history" will be used in two different ways:

  1. The actual happenings in the real world.
  2. What people write about actual happenings.

It is the meaningful narrative of events and intentions.

Not 'Mere History' 82

*There is not, nor can there be, any such thing as a bare chronicle of events without a point of view (page 82). The enlightenment will say otherwise.

In order to make any statement about the past, human beings must engage in a massive program of selection. We are trying to make sense of the world. All history involves selection, and it is always human beings who do the selecting. No modern historian has escaped the necessity of selection, and selection cannot be made without a point of view.

All history, then, consists of a spiral of knowledge, a long drawn0out process of interaction between the interpreter and the source material.

Even when the voice on the line actually seems to be giving instructions, how can we determine that they are meant for us? And, if we are determined to use the epistles as authoritative, how can we do that without leaving history out of consideration, as has notoriously happened in much study of Paul>

This doesn’t mean 'no facts' 88

The fact that somebody, standing somewhere, with a particular point of view, is knowing something does not mean that the knowledge is less valuable: merely that it is precisely knowledge. It must be asserted most strongly that to discover that a writer has a bias tells us nothing whatever about the value of the information he or she presents. It merely bids us to be aware of the bias (and our own for that matter), and to assess the material according to as many sources as we can (p 89).

To say that the gospels cannot be read as they stand because their vie of the miraculous conflicts with the enlightenment worldview does not of itself mean that they can only be read as they stand from within a pre-critical Christian faith. The closed mind is damaging to scholarship.

At its basic level, the 'meaning' of history may be held to lie in the intentionalities of the characters concerned (whether they realize their ambitions and achieve their aims).

Historical Method 98

Hypothesis and verification. Using the scientific method, a hypothesis in different fields will need different sorts of strengths, and will have different appropriate verification systems. Wright provides an example of hearing sirens, and provides a hypothesis. Once he lays eyes on a car wreck, his hypothesis changes as new data is made available. And, a simple story is preferred over a complex, disjointed one.

The explanation mush make sense. It must take into account as much as possible. Creating a simple historical hypothesis is a major problem.

How can we do history without breaking our view of Jesus?

If there are two competing theories, which one will be preferred? The simple explanation will be preferred over the complex (page 105). So what makes something simple? It counts most strongly in human aims and motivations, in the continuity of the person. There must be coherence and stability of character.

It is thought that Christianity started simple and became more complex over time. This is just not true of ideas and how they work (page 108). There may be more than one possible hypothesis.

From Event to Meaning 109

We are trying to discover what humans involved in the event thought they were doing, wanted to do, or tried to do (p 109).

So, to look at societies and worldviews, we look at symbols, their characteristic behavior, their literature, and their symbols. Symbols provide an interpretive grid through which humans perceive both how the world is and they might interact with it. The task of the historian is to address "why".

A great summary is given on page 118.

Historical Study of 1st century religious movements 118

Exercise: what is OUR worldview? With a partner, answer these questions:

Theology, Authority, and the New Testament 121

Introduction

In order to answer the question "why" in relation to the past, we must move from "outside" of the event to the "inside". This involves reconstructing worldviews of people other than ourselves. Second, in doing this, we cannot stand outside our worldview own worldviews (page 121).

Worldview and Theology 122

Wherever we find the ultimate concerns of human beings, we find world views. World view in face embraces all deep-level human perceptions of reality, including the question of whether or not a god exists, and if so, what he/she/they are like. Worldviews do four things:

  1. Worldviews provide stories through which human beings view reality.
  2. From these stories, we can answer:
  1. Stories express worldview, and answer the questions listed above, are expressed through cultural symbols.
  2. Worldviews include a praxis, a way of being, in the world. The implied question of "what is the solution?" entails action (p 124).

Theology's storytelling and questioning activity is regularly focused in symbols, whether they be objects or actions.

Theology must take account of praxis. Prayer, sacraments, liturgy, almsgiving, acts of justice and peacemaking; all of these integrate with story, question and symbol to produce a complete whole. Theology is integrated closely with worldview.

"Theology" highlights what we might call the god-dimension of a worldview. Many thinkers, politicians, and even biblical scholars notoriously dismiss 'theology' as if it were simply a set of answers that might be given to a pre-packaged set of abstract dogmatic questions, but it cannot possibly be reduced to that level. After all, atheists have a theology too.

But what about Christian god-language? Clearly, if we are to understand the language that the New Testament writers used, we need to understand the specific nature of early Christian, and first-century Jewish, theology.

What then might Christian theology be? More than an account of what Christians believed in the past, or believe in the present, though those tasks will always be part of the whole. It will not just describe, but command a way of looking at, speaking about, and engaging with the god in whom Christians believe, and with the world that this god has created.

How should one set about doing 'Christian theology'? Those ways have been popular:

  1. A rearrangement of timeless truths, that simply reference themselves.
  2. Actively engage with the current concerns of the world. whether through confrontation or integration.

Christian theology tells a story, and seeks to tell it coherently. This story offers a set of answers to the four worldview questions:

Many branches of Christianity vary on some of these answers.

The overall point here is that a good deal of what is called 'Christian theology' consists of discussions and debates at the level of basic belief, not necessarily at the level of the Christian worldview itself.

The Christian historian does not go about finding material which proves Christianity 'true'. Rather, it means doing serious history in the belief that the creator of the universe is also the lord of history. ' It is clear that all study, all reading of texts, all attempts to reconstruct history, take place within worldviews.

Theology and biblical studies need each other.

  1. Biblical studies needs theology, because only with theological tools can historical exegesis get at what the characters in the history were thinking, planning, aiming to do. Early Christianity cherished certain beliefs and aims, which can be traced back to their underlying worldviews.
  2. Biblical studies needs theology, because only with the help of a theological analysis of the culture can people be aware of their own questions, presuppositions, aims, and beliefs.
  3. At the same time, theology needs biblical studies, since the claims of any theology must come into contact, or conflict, with the stories contained in the Bible (p. 138)

Hot take: There is simply no point in using the word 'Jesus' at all within theology unless one intends to refer to the Jesus who lived and died as a Jew of the first century.. Agree or disagree?

The Christian reader of the New Testament is committed to a task which includes within itself 'early Christian history' and 'New Testament theology' while showing that neither of these tasks can be self sufficient.

Theology, Narrative, and Authority 139

How can stories be a way to assert authority?

It might be that the retelling of the story of the previous acts, as part of the improvisation, is a necessary part of the task. The Israelites retold the story of creation and fall. Jesus retold, in parable and symbol, the story of Israel. The evangelists retold, in complex ways, the story of Jesus. This may suggest tha the task of history, including historical theology and theological history, is itself mandated upon the followers of Jesus from within the biblical story itself.

Conclusion 143

To sum up, I am proposing a notion of authority which is not simply vested in the New Testament, or 'New Testament theology', nor simply in 'early Christian history', but the creator god himself, the this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion. This is a far more complex notion of authority than those usually tossed around in theological discourse. That is, arguable, what we need if we are to break through the log jams caused by oversimplifications.

To me (Luke) this means he (Wright) is blasting through the categories, and creating his own path.

*Literary, historical, and theological exploration of the New Testament, and particularly of Jesus and Paul, is our goal.