“The Good News and the Good Life”
with N.T. Wright and Richard Hays:
This is the full, unedited version of the Trinity Forum Evening Conversation with renowned theologians N.T. Wright and Richard on the subject of “The Good News and the Good Life.”
Transcription of “The Good News and the Good Life”
with N.T. Wright and Richard Hays:
Cherie Harder: It’s been said that the great questions of the humanities essentially boil down to just three: What is a good person? What is the good life? And what is a just society? In their remarks and conversation tonight, our speakers will essentially try to tackle all of these questions by looking at the relevance of the good news, or the gospel, to an understanding of what the good life is means and requires.
They’ll also argue that the good news truly is news: ground shaking, world-altering, paradigm-shattering, and with implications for our time and indeed all time. And that reading this news wisely is a key to understanding where we are, what we are here for, and where we are headed. Richard Hays and NT Wright, or Tom, as he is known to his friends, have been friends and co-laborers in the field of New Testament studies for over 30 years. They share a passionate commitment to the task of close and contextualized reading of scripture.
And unlike many of their colleagues in theological studies, they have developed and defended a big picture account of the theological coherence of all of the Christian Bible. Moreover, they each bring rich literary sensibilities to their interpretations of the text, but like most scholarly friends, they do have points of thoughtful disagreement as well.
Where Tom has sought to develop a historical account of Jesus emphasizing his setting within first-century Judaism, Richard has more strongly emphasized a literary critical approach to knowing Jesus as he is portrayed in the gospel narratives and interpreted through the church’s traditions and creeds, which leads us to the question.
Will such different approaches produce significant differences in their understanding of the good news that Jesus taught and its implications and impact, or will these two separate roads converge in a common understanding of what the good news is and what it means for human flourishing now, and in the future? Such questions promise to produce a fascinating and provocative conversation And it is hard to imagine two more expert or eloquent discussants than NT Wright and Richard Hays
We are delighted that they have both joined us tonight to discuss “The Good News and the Good Life.”
NT Wright: Thank you very much. It’s very good to be here. Although my body clock is telling me that it’s nearly one o’clock in the morning, I will do my best to stay awake and I hope I will enable you to do so as well. The topic is the good news and the good life approached in perhaps unconventional ways.
When Jesus began his public career, he claimed to be announcing good news.
Many Christians today, I find, have not really reflected on what that means- either what ‘news’ itself actually is or what Jesus’ good news might have been. Richard and I rather wanted to call this event ‘Reading the News with Jesus.’ Since, despite some disagreement on details, as biblical scholars committed to the life of the church, we both want to hold together the two things reflected in that title.
First, we must constantly refresh our vision of what Jesus himself meant when he spoke about good news. And This is why history matters- not to invent a new Jesus, but precisely to stop ourselves from inventing a new one by forgetting or distorting or ignoring what his original good news actually was. Under the same time, second, as Christians, we are called to look at today’s world with spirit-led and Jesus-focused eyes. To be ‘reading the news with Jesus’ in the sense of looking at current events and asking the question, what would Jesus say about this? And hence, what should we his followers be saying and doing about it?
And that gives you the framework for what we want to do tonight. However, briefly, to read in the four gospels, what Jesus’ own good news was, and to try in the light of that to glimpse something of a Jesus shaped vision of a good life in and for today’s and tomorrow’s world.
So first: Jesus’ own good news. What is news, exactly? Many people, including many Christians assume that Jesus came to give advice. To tell people how to live, how to go to heaven, how to pray, how to establish a personal relationship with God. Some people talk as if Jesus came to found a new religion. Now there are grains of truth in all that, but they all miss the central point: the news itself.
There’s all the difference in the world between news and advice. And the point about news is that something is happening as a result of which everything’s now going to be different. The baby has been born safely. Good news. The surgery has been successful. Wonderful news. The student has won the scholarship. A whole new world is opening up.
Something has happened which unveils a new future. And which then generates an interim time between the event itself and that ultimate future, the baby will be taken home and will grow up. The patient is still weak, but will convalesce and return to normal. The pupil must now prepare for an exciting academic career.
And so on -news generates a new moment of time.
Now there’s a word of warning here. Christians today are easily conned by the rhetoric of the enlightenment according to which nothing really changed with Jesus, except for a new possibility of a present spirituality and an ultimate disembodied salvation. The world stayed much the same.
That is a lie. Too many Christians have colluded with it. If you want an interesting read on this read John Ortberg’s book, ‘Who is this Man’ – remarkable exposition of what the church has done through the centuries, precisely because everything in fact changed with Jesus.
So what news was Jesus announcing?
The news is rooted in Israel’s scriptures, not least in Isaiah 40 – 55 and the good news there and in subsequent Jewish expectation, particularly in Daniel, is that Israel’s God Yahweh is at last taking his power and reigning. God is becoming King. The Psalms speak of this – heaven and earth rejoice because Yahweh is claiming his throne, reigning over the nations, doing justice and mercy.
This is just crystal clear in Isaiah 52, God will overthrow the pagans and rescue his people. He will return to Jerusalem in person and in power to fill the temple with his glory. This is then filled out in Daniel in large scale, expansions of Psalm 2 – the nations will age, but Israel’s God will take charge and will install his appointed son as the world’s rightful Lord and through him, he will call the nations to account.
Plenty of Jews in Jesus’ day, while longing for this to happen, there was no one size fits all pattern of expectation, but rather a set of swirling possibilities. Always with the scriptural narrative reaching its climax. The long story would arrive at its goal. The powers of the world would be overcome and God would take charge of the world in a whole new way. And Jesus’ message of good news was that precisely this was now taking place. When he healed people, this was what it meant. God was taking charge in a new way. When he celebrated with the down and outs and the ne’er do wells, this was what it meant. This your brother was dead and is alive again was lost and is found.
Resurrection is happening under your noses, even if you can’t see it. That’s why Jesus spoke of the renewed heart promised in scripture and now it seems available cause he was there. This is why Jesus called 12 special followers signaling that God was renewing his people, Israel. This is why he challenged the rich and the powerful and constantly focused on the poor: God was putting the world the right way up at last.
This was in particular why Jesus told parables. Because his message again and again was, the kingdom of God is arriving, but it’s not like you thought it was going to be. The parables are redefining the kingdom as only stories can – inviting Jesus hearers into a new way of understanding Israel’s ancient story and its sudden fulfillment.
But here we have a particular problem. Modern Western Christians, on being told that Jesus redefined Jewish expectations, usually assume that this means he was rejecting political or this-worldly Jewish meanings and offering spiritual or heavenly ones instead.
This is simply wrong.
When Jesus said to Pilot, “my kingdom is not of this world,” the Greek makes it clear that he means that his kingdom is not from this world. “Ek Tou Kosmou Toutou.” The kingdom has its origin elsewhere, but its destination is precisely for this world. That’s why the Lord’s prayer prays “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”
Jesus answer, the key to the good news and the good life, is the radical redefinition of power itself. The rulers of this world, he said, get what they want by bullying people and tyrannizing them. But he says, we’re going to do it the other way. Because the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. And Jesus drew together kingdom texts from Isaiah and Daniel and elsewhere, not to say that power was irrelevant, or that the only thing that mattered was what would happen to you after you died, something he hardly ever mentioned by the way, but to insist that the kingdom would come through the all-conquering power of self-giving love.
The way the gospels tell the story and the way Jesus himself conceived of this kingdom movement, it was all pointing to the cross. The kingdom means what it means in the light of the cross. And conversely, Jesus’ crucifixion means what it means because it is the ultimate kingdom moment. It’s the moment when Israel’s God having returned in person defeats the powers of darkness and launches upon the world the new way of being human.
Jesus chose Passover as the key moment to declare in symbol and parable that the temple was now redundant, that his followers were the spearhead of the rescued people of God, and that his own death would deal with Israel’s ancient sins and thus undo that elongated exile once and for all. Jesus would give himself as the ransom for many.
And you can see him doing it throughout his public career, and then supremely on the cross. So that by dealing with sin, he robs the unseen satanic powers of their power. And the resurrection then follows because death itself has been defeated because sin itself has been defeated, which is why the resurrection is the launching of the new creation.
This is the good news, the news which Jesus announced, the news, which the four gospels are telling us about Jesus. And don’t be fooled by the sneer of the skeptic who says that, well, Jesus spoke about God, but then the church spoke about Jesus, as though the church had just making up a bit of Christology to fill a gap.
Now, the whole point is that Jesus was telling stories about what Israel’s God was doing in order to explain what he himself was doing. At the heart of Jesus’ vision was the healing of creation, flooding the world with justice and joy as the waters cover the sea. And at the heart of Jesus’ vocation was the faith- awareness that he was himself embodying the returning and reigning God of whom he spoke.
But again, there’s a problem for us today. We’ve grown up under the shadow of 18th-century skeptics who say that well, Jesus wasn’t divine and that there isn’t life after death. And so we have been lured into the trap of supposing that the gospels were written A) to prove that Jesus was divine and B) to prove that he is leading the way to an other worldly life after death.
Not so. The gospels presuppose that Jesus is embodying Israel’s God, returning in strange, self-giving power. That is the key in which the music is written, but it isn’t the tune that’s being played. The tune itself is that in and through Jesus, the one true God is becoming King on Earth as in Heaven. And the ultimate life after death is not a Platonic disembodied immortality, but resurrection life in God’s new creation. And that new world began when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning.
That’s the good news. Something happened then as a result of which the world is a different place. And we are summoned not just to enjoy its benefits, but to take up our own vocations as new creation people, as Sermon on the Mount people, as spirit-filled and spirit-led Jesus followers, bringing his kingdom into reality in our world.
As I say that, one caution before we can proceed. God remains sovereign over the kingdom. God builds God’s kingdom in God’s way. We don’t build the kingdom by what we do here and now, but don’t let that rob you of the New Testament vocation. We are called to build for the kingdom. To do things here and now, which by the spirit participate in the work of new creation as genuine signs and foretastes of God’s new world. As true signposts. As advance symbols of the kingdom, which God himself will one day make.
That’s where the sacraments come in. That’s where feeding the hungry and welcoming the stranger come in. This is where justice and mercy, locally and globally come in. This is the good life. This is the formation of new creation people. And this is where the church in the Acts of the Apostles comes in.
When the disciples asked Jesus whether this was the time for him to restore the kingdom to Israel, his answer just as in the parables, was yes, but not in the way you think. You will receive the Spirit’s power and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. The kingdom, which was decisively inaugurated in Jesus, must be taken forward with the same methods of prayer and love and the word of God into all the world.
Jesus said, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.” Western Christians are usually quite comfortable about thinking that Jesus has all authority in heaven. We’ve hardly begun to think about what it might mean that he has all authority on earth. So where might this take us for today? As we think about this Jesus and then about today’s news and what our good life might look like in that context, there are two obvious mistakes to avoid.
On the one hand. It won’t do to say that. Well, we’re going off to heaven quite soon. So today’s news doesn’t really matter, it’s just sort of surface noise. It won’t do to say that. On the other hand, nor will it do to say that well, Daniel in Ezekiel and revelation, give us a 21st-century roadmap for end-time events in the Middle East.
And all we’ve got to do is decode the symbols and wait for Armageddon or the rapture. Those two views often reinforce one another, but the genuine Christian vocation is quite different. Jesus urged his contemporaries to read the signs of the times to think why is Lee about the state of the world and what God’s kingdom would mean?
And we must do the same. In particular, we must recognize that all human systems of government, including the various types of democracy, stand under God’s judgment and mercy. God is in charge through Jesus, but here’s the point which we often get wrong. God always wanted to run the world through image, bearing human beings, whether or not they acknowledge him. It’s the foundation of Christian political theology. God wants there to be human or authorities because anarchy is always even worse than tyranny. But what matters is not whether somebody has achieved a majority vote in whatever system and by whatever means. What matters is what they then do when they’re in office.
The ancient Greeks and Romans often put public officials on trial at the end of their term because they knew that an election wasn’t enough. It didn’t validate everything. This person would subsequently do. Doing justice and mercy in office is what counts. This is where the calling of the church comes in.
It isn’t enough simply to talk of faithful presence, as my good friend, James Davidson Hunter has done. Faithful presence is vital and James is its most eloquent exponent that I know. It’s non-negotiable, but it’s just the first step. And I’ve said this to him. It’s a conversation we have (laughter). Jesus said that when the spirit comes, the spirit will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment.
And the way the spirit will do that is through the witness of the church. Here, we have a problem because the media have taken that task to themselves, the task of holding governments to account, and they warn the church off the patch because they’re now claiming it as their own. That those who follow Jesus must stand on that patch, however, uncomfortably, and learn again painfully as it may be to speak the truth to power Jesus’ conversation with Pontious Pilot in John 18 and 19, which focuses on kingdom and truth and power. That must be our model in whatever system we live, adapting our methods, though not our ultimate message, to the different situations we face.
This applies, as you know, in a thousand different ways. Christians have in fact been doing all this since the beginning, caring for the poor and the sick, advancing education, reminding rulers of their proper tasks. That’s often happened under the radar, but it has transformed the world. Don’t be fooled by the 18th-century rhetoric, according to which Constantine falsified, the original message.
I know it’s very easy in your beloved great country to imagine that getting rid of Kings like George III was the thing you had to do Jesus really did transform the world, but Jesus did that not by sending in the tanks, but by sending in the meek, the justice, hungry people, the peacemakers and so on. That’s how it’s done. Anyway, perhaps the most urgent need right now, I’m nearly finished, is to recognize the folly of Western politicians and media when faced with the so-called Arab spring four or five years ago. We were simply parroting the normal Western narrative, get rid of tyrants and peace, love, and liberal democracy, and perhaps flower power, will spring up automatically. So we helped them get rid of a few tyrants. And now we are reaping the whirlwind.
And we can’t look on the refugees washing up on our shores and say it was all their own fault. It wasn’t, it was partly, not totally, but partly, our fault. We were following a false, idolatrous narrative. We urgently need to read the news with Jesus, to have our characters, our judgments, our thinking, and speaking, formed and transformed by his good news.
This is where to return to our title: the good news generates and sustains the good life. We are to read the news with the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, the Jesus who fed the hungry, the Jesus who gave his life as a ransom for many, and not to forget, the Jesus who as a helpless infant, was himself, an asylum seeker, a fugitive from tyranny. The incarnate son carrying the love of God, even then, into the places where the world was in pain. As Jesus himself was fond of saying if you have ears then hear. Thank you.
Richard Hays: Thank you, Tom, for that eloquent word.
Our topic tonight is a crucial one at this moment in history. Here in the U.S., we find ourselves at a time when the daily news conveys anxiety, anger, and most particularly confusion about Christian identity and mission. And so the time is right to consider afresh the news that Jesus brought.
Fourscore years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was engaged in a struggle to reassert the message of the gospel against powerful political forces in Germany, forces that were seeking to co-opt and corrupt the message of the church. He published a meditative manifesto entitled, Nachfolge, first translated into English as, “The Cost of Discipleship.”
In 2001, a new translation appeared under a simpler title that corresponds exactly to the original German, simply Discipleship.
On the first page of the preface, here’s what Bonhoeffer wrote. “In times of church renewal, Holy Scripture naturally becomes richer in content for us. Behind the daily catchwords and battle cries needed in the church struggle, a more intense, questioning search arises for the one who is our sole concern: for Jesus himself. What did Jesus want to say to us? What does he want from us today? How does he help us to be faithful Christians today?” End quote.
That’s the concern that Tom Wright and I bring to you tonight. We want to begin by asking what it was that Jesus wanted to say to us when he spoke, as he did continually of the kingdom of God, and we will then consider what he wants from us today and how we can be faithful to God’s purposes in the world in our time.
Tom and I are in very substantial agreement about the answers to these questions and he has brilliantly sketched the big canvas. My task now is to focus in more closely on just a few points. So first, the kingdom of God- what did Jesus say?
I want to underscore something that Tom said in passing, which is that the coming kingdom is God’s action. The good news that Jesus brought was not first of all, a new moral teaching about what we should do. Rather, it was startling news about something God was doing. God was bringing the long story of Israel to its climax. The inbreaking of the kingdom of God was the consummation of Israel’s hopes.
In chapter 63 of the book of Isaiah, the prophet laments that God’s people have strayed from God’s ways and no longer call on his name. And so God has hidden his face from them. Here is Isaiah’s gloomy diagnosis: we have long been like those whom you do not rule. Notice the importance of this verb “to rule.”
We are like those over whom you do not rule. Like those not called by your name. And so the prophet cries out at the beginning of Isaiah 64, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down so that the mountains would quake at your presence. So that the nations might tremble at your presence.
Hundreds of years later, the opening of the gospel of Mark narrates God’s answer to that prayer. At the baptism of Jesus, the heavens are torn open. The spirit descends, and Jesus is proclaimed as God’s son, the anointed one who will assume the kingship of Israel and proclaim that God does indeed rule, for the kingdom of God has come near.
Consequently, Jesus declares it is time to repent and time to trust in the great, glad news that he is bringing. This is not an otherworldly message, indeed, instead, it’s a message that announces God’s kingdom is coming on earth as in heaven. It’s not a story about how we get up to heaven, it’s a story about God tearing open the heavens and coming down.
Jesus proclaims that God’s kingdom is breaking into this world and transforming it. But that transformation entails startling reversals, the inbreaking kingdom casts a flash of illumination that causes us to reassess and reevaluate everything we thought we knew. Everything has changed because Jesus, as the embodiment of God in this world, does not come with an army to crush his enemies or to bomb them into submission.
Instead, he comes to call everyone to metanoia, repentance, the Greek word that means a change of mind. And so a message of reversal is deeply woven into Jesus’ announcement of the good news. Jesus mother, Mary already foresaw it while he was still in her womb. She sang joyfully, he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. She sounds a bit like someone who might vote for Bernie Sanders.
And years later when Jesus inaugurated his public preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, he confirmed his mother’s spirit-inspired intuition by reading from the prophet Isaiah, the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Now Jesus’ way of bringing this good news was so unexpected that it has triggered doubts continually from his day until the present time. One of the first doubters was John the Baptist who had initially pointed to Jesus as the one who was the coming deliverer, right? But as Jesus walked about Galilee healing the sick, hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes, and telling paradoxical parables about the kingdom, John, who, by the way, is languishing in prison while this is going on, became impatient and disturbed and he had hoped for some more politically effective action than he was seeing.
And so he sent messengers to Jesus to ask, are you the coming one? Or should we be looking for someone else? Are you really the King we’ve been hoping for? And Jesus replied by echoing Isaiah yet again, go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind received their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf, hear the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them, and bless it as anyone who takes no offense at me. He’s alluding here to Isaiah 35. Do we have ears to hear? Jesus this is saying that the heavenly kingdom comes with deeds of love and mercy, not with clashing swords. And of course the ultimate deed of love and mercy was Jesus’ self-giving on the cross. Again, hardly the sort of kingly act that John was expecting.
But does that mean when Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, he envisioned an alternative spiritual realm that simply left the world’s power structures intact? The gospels have often been read that way, but this is a misreading. I want to focus on just one key text, the story in which Jesus has asked for their paying taxes to Caesar is lawful.
There’s a long history of Christian interpretation that reads Jesus’ answer to that question is authorizing a two kingdoms schema in which Caesar’s authority over political and commercial matters is acknowledged, while that which belongs to God is cordoned off into a private spiritual realm.
But that interpretation, frankly, fails to make sense of the text. It’s an interpretation you can have only if you read Jesus’ response as a kind of soundbite detached from the story. But the question about paying taxes, we have to read the narrative, is posed by an unlikely alliance of Jesus’ enemies. It’s a trap.
The question seeks to force Jesus either to declare rebellion against Rome or to discredit himself in the eyes of the discontented people by endorsing a continued passive acquiescence in a Roman hegemony. Jesus then gives an enigmatic answer, give back to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and give back to God the things that belong to God.
Now, if that response means simply, as it has often been understood, yes, go ahead, pay the tax. If that’s all it means, then you see Jesus has fallen into the trap. He’s falling into one side of the trap they’re setting for him, the quietest collaboration of side. But in fact, however, Jesus’ interlocutors, far from gleefully celebrating that they’ve caught him out and trapped him in his words are, it says, utterly amazed by his answer.
Why are they amazed? Because his answer is a riddle which throws it was the task of discernment back upon the listeners. He’s forcing them to offer a judgment about what does in fact belong to God. And here’s the key to understanding the passage when we read the full story. Instead of immediately answering the question, Jesus, first demands that the questioners bring him a denarius.
On the face of this Roman coin, there was a graven image of the emperor accompanied by these words: Augustus Tiberius, son of the divine Augustus. And so Jesus puts a question to them- whose image is this? The Greek word is eikón. Whose image is this and whose inscription? And only after they’ve given the obvious answer to Jesus’ spring his own trap back on them, he declares that this idolatrous object with Caesar’s eikón on it should be summarily returned to its owner while the things that belong to God should be truly given back to him. But then what does belong to God? The full force of Jesus’ reply sinks in for us only when we read backward and recognize that Jesus’ question, who’s eikón is this, echoes the creation story of Genesis, where we learn that God created human beings according to his own eikón, according to his own image.
With this echo in our ears, we will understand Jesus’ answer very differently. It’s summons all who hear this imperative to give back our whole created selves, our whole selves, fully to the one whose image we bear. That’s why Jesus answer astonishes his questioners, but by recalling the Genesis creation story, it reminds us not only that everything belongs to God, the creator, but that human beings in particular, who are made in his image, belong to him and therefore not to Caesar. If God is King, he is King over the whole world and the coming kingdom of God. It makes a claim on the wholeness of our lives.
So let’s turn our attention to the wholeness of our lives. As did Bonhoeffer, we press on to act to ask all too briefly, a second question, “What does Jesus want from us today and how does he help us to be faithful Christians today?”
Notice that question makes sense if and only if the message of the resurrection of Jesus is true. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, we might now read his teachings with historical curiosity, seeing him as one more idealistic visionary, who’s crushed under the wheel of history. His brutal death at the hands of Roman authorities would in fact disconfirm his grand hope for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
But in fact, if Jesus was raised from the dead, his message of good news is validated. He himself has shown to have conquered death and the violent powers that claim to rule the world. The resurrection confirms that he is the one to whom ultimately every knee shall bow. Only because he does in fact live and reign, does it make sense for Bonhoeffer to ask what Jesus wants today and how he helps us today.
Notice that the verbs are in the present tense. Bonhoeffer’s not asking what the late departed Jesus of blessed memory would have wanted if only he were still alive now. He’s asking what the living Lord of the world wants and how he will help us to follow him and embody the fullness of the life that he proclaimed.
Time is short, so I focus on just one last text, this time from the Acts of the Apostles. As the earliest followers of Jesus began living out Jesus’ kingdom message, they encountered resistance and some of their leaders were arrested by the authorities as dangerous troublemakers. I urge you to reread the full account of Acts 4, of how Peter and John were arrested and subsequently released and how the Jerusalem church celebrated their release with a room rocking worship service in which they sang Psalm 2 to celebrate the triumph of the Lord and HisMessiah over the feckless rulers and authorities of this age. And the very next thing we find in the text is Luke’s summary then of how the early church in Jerusalem was seeking to respond to the good news of the kingdom and Jesus triumphed over the rulers of this age. Here’s what Luke writes: now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all for there was not a needy person among them.
Most English translations don’t translate that conjunction, but it’s right there in the Greek. It’s a gar. It’s very clear. Great grace was upon them all. Why? For there was not a needy person among them. For as many as owned houses or land sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold, they laid it at the Apostle’s feet and it was distributed to each, any had need end quote.
Now I want you to notice just three things about this passage:
First, the community’s life together is the embodiment of the presence of God’s kingdom. The community itself embodies God’s triumph over the false powers and idols of the present age, uh, that form of their life together.
Second, the most salient feature of that life together is that the church becomes a community in which there is no needy person among them. That is to say, reading backwards, once again, the church fulfilled God’s commandment to Israel and Deuteronomy 15, “if there is anyone among you in need, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor, you should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be” Deuteronomy 15:7-8. So what does Jesus want from us today? He wants us, like the church in Jerusalem to embody a faithful and imaginative response to God’s commandment, to Israel, to share with the poor and needy in our midst.
And the third thing I want you to notice is that the community’s practice of sharing their goods with the poor is the evidence. It is the evidence that great grace was upon them all. It is the empirical practice, the sharing of goods is the empirical practice that confirms the truth of the apostolic testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, again, quoting the text, “With great power, the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all for there was not a needy person among them.”
Now notice, I want you to notice carefully that what we’re talking about here in Acts 4 is not a set of rules or commandments about what the church must do, it’s a story. It’s a narrative that paints a joyful picture of how the church responded to the good news that Jesus proclaimed and that was embodied in his resurrection.
If we want to know what Jesus wants of us today, it seems to me this picture interrogates us. It’s a picture that leaves us with a question: What could we do to reshape the life of our communities in such a way that they bear witness to the great grace that is upon us? What must we do in our time to shape the life of our communities in such a way that the world can actually see the power of the resurrection at work? The more fully we live into answering that question, the more we will come to know the good life.
And the good life is of course, an ambiguous phrase in and of itself, right. It can mean the life of ease. As in the Beatles line, we live a life of ease every one of us has all we please, right. Or it could mean the good life in the sense of the life that is rightly ordered towards God’s purpose for us as human beings. The good life that was promised in the good news that Jesus proclaimed. Thank you.
Cherie Harder: There is a lot there to unpack and I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of audience Q and A. So we’ll keep this section fairly short but uh many questions come to mind. Tom, maybe we can start with you in that you talked a lot about reading our times. And of course, one of the things that immediately comes to mind is there are dangers associated with that. There’s certainly been harm done by Christians who claim to have special knowledge in reading their times and whether they talked about pinpointing the end times or seeking to identify the Antichrist or read what was going on in the Middle East. There has been real harm done by that. How do people of faith act wisely in reading their times?
NT Wright: Yeah, that, that has to be a great question. And I think we should say, um, it’s easier for me to take shots at people worrying about the end times in terms of today’s world and church and it kind of raises a laugh in some circles, including this one I found, but actually that’s something that’s happened in the church over many generations.
Some of the reformers did that. Luther famously thought that the Pope was Antichrist, et cetera. Some people in the middle ages, especially when the year 1000 came around, they thought the end times were upon them. So this is something that’s happened in different bits of the church at different stages and in a sense, that’s the reaction of people, particularly who feel that they’re, that they’re powerless, that things are out of control. There must be a secret somewhere if I knew they could find it.
It seems to me what we find in Jesus’ conversation with Pilot, which I go back to again and again in John 18 and 19, is much more kind of hard-nosed than that.
And it’s the most extraordinary conversation because Pilot is probably going to kill Jesus and Jesus knows that, and Pilot knows that, but Jesus is reminding Pilot of the true nature of the kingdom and of truth and power as well. And it’s as though those are the big issues which have to be renamed in every generation, according to the context, and for me, I go back again and again, to passages like Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11 and so on.
Psalm 72 is this extraordinary picture of the ideal King and the King who puts as his number one priority the needs of the poorest in the land, in the country of which he rules. And it’s as though that’s a guiding star.
When you have that there, you can see, as you look around institutions, are they serving their own power and prestige? Are they actually outward-looking, serving the real needs of the people in question? That’s not always easy to discern, that’s why we can’t just wing it and hope for the best. It’s why we feel urgent.
Sometimes have to be quite reticent because we need to collaborate with serious well-informed political thinkers to say, what is really going on here? Let’s not just have knee-jerk reactions, but it’s about discerning the spirits ultimately, and that isn’t just, you go into a dark room, you say your prayers and you hope that, you know, maybe sometimes that’s what to do, but it’s often about the actual reading of the wise English that can be said about the real issues that are facing us, rather than hoping for quick, instant solutions.
Cherie Harder: And Tom, I think you touched on this most directly, but it was implicit in your remarks as well, Richard, which was a criticism of James Davidson Hunter’s faithful presence, argument. And, uh, you talked about, well, I think most directly, standing on a patch of land, but
I was hoping you could walk us through what is the difference between the determined stance and the faithful presence.
NT Wright: I want to be very clear, James, his book, To Change the World is, is it seems to me an extremely important seminal book for our times though. I did tease James about this because the book is called to change the world. There is one page in that book, which refers to countries other than the United States, which, you know, I make no further comment.
But I think, I think faithful presence is absolutely vital and James is articulating that over against those who would withdraw and say, all we have to do is create the churches, appeal society, and maybe people will notice or something. He says, no, that’s just not good enough.
And there are many contexts in which faithful presence is all this is possible. I have a friend who I’ve never met, but we email a lot who is pastor of a local church in Tehran, in Iran. It’s all he can do to be a faithful presence. There’s not much chance he can do much more than that. So you have to read it according to where you are and what, what your opportunities and possibilities and limitations may be.
Um, But I want to say that that agenda, which I quoted from John 16, about when the Spirit comes, the Spirit will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. It’s rooted in the Psalms and Isaiah, and it’s a democratization of the Old Testament’s vision of what the true King should do. And it’s the democratization because the spirit is given to all of us to hold the world to account. It doesn’t mean going around, being judgmental and nasty and shouting at people, it means actually doing and saying the things which show that there is a different way to be human. There is a true way to be human in the light of which all the false ways of being human are shown up.
It seems to me, that’s a, that’s a positive thing, it’s not just enough to be a presence, it’s actually about, about going over into the other area, as it were and saying, no, this is, this is how this, and we don’t all have the opportunity to do that very much. Many Christians have very limited opportunities, but again, as Richard has stressed, we should be part of communities, which together can find ways of doing that.
Richard Hays: The word I kept thinking of, as you were talking there, Tom is witness, you know, the difference between presence and witness. Witness involves a more active attempt to articulate a vision for justice and mercy in the world than perhaps simply quietly sitting back. Would you agree with that? Yeah.
NT Wright: Yeah. I don’t think James would say that he was advocating quietly sitting back, but I think the point is well taken and
In the early church, the reason that people became Christians in the first two or three centuries when the Romans were persecuting them as hard as they could was not because of great ideas being passed from one great theological brain to another, that’s the backup system, that’s the scaffolding to keep the thing in place. The reason people became Christians was that in ordinary villages and towns, folk were living in ways, caring for the poor and for one another across traditional boundaries. Nobody had ever imagined it was possible to live like that. And they’d be asking, how does that happen? Why are you doing this? Then they would talk about Jesus.
Cherie Harder: You both are, uh, practitioners as well as proponents of a deep and contextualized reading of scriptural texts. For the nonscholars out here, how should they approach deep reading of the text? What advice would you give for the thoughtful lay leader in reading through the New Testament?
Richard we’ll go to use as the author of the “Art of Reading Scripture.”
Richard Hays: By the way, I should say that Ellen Davis, who is here is the co-editor of that book, the “Art of Reading Scripture”. So I won’t punt the ball to her, but I am tempted to say that one answer is read our books. Uh, that’ll help. Um, but I also think that, uh, what I said before about reading and community, to be able to find people who are wise and experienced readers of scripture whose lives embody the message of the kingdom in practice and to sort of try to engage in conversation with people like that. That will help more than anything else to help read scripture more than reading all the learned commentaries. That’s at the heart of it.
NT Wright: I often say to people, you need to do two things, which seem to be quite different, but we need them both one is to read large chunks of scripture at a run. You know, if you were reading some great novel or a Tolkein book or even a J K Rowling. You wouldn’t just read 10 pages and stop and say, I’ll come back and read the next 10 pages next week. You know, you’d be sitting up late and you’d read hundreds of pages at a run. Read Isaiah like that. Read Genesis like that. Read Matthew John. Um, And of course you won’t take it all in. You won’t remember it, but get the full force of the narrative. And it’s only when you do that, that the shape, the great, wonderful haunting shape of the scriptural narrative starts to emerge. We’ve allowed ourselves to get too stuck into little details, but then at the same time, well, not at the very same time, but the same people from time to time should also be doing the microscopic analysis of this passage, of this parable, of this verse or even word studies.
So the big picture and the small details. And if you don’t have any chance of learning Greek or Hebrew, then for goodness sake have at least two quite different translations of the New Testament, which you can compare and then when you’re puzzled by the comparison, go to somebody who has some Greek and Hebrew who can actually help you because that juggles you out of the easy assumption that this translation has said it all because no translation can ever do that.
Richard Hays: One of the most helpful things, by the way, in that regard is if you don’t know Greek and Hebrew, but you do know some other language, you know, if we read the Bible in Spanish or French or Chinese, or, you know, whatever other language, you know, alongside the one, you know, and, and you see it in another language and you say, Oh, wow, why does it say that? Why does it say it like that? Very helpful.
Cherie Harder: You’re widely known as one of the most distinguished literary scholars of the Bible, but it seems that often literary criticism is relegated to the academy in terms of popular interest. What insights of a literary critical approach to understanding the Bible are you the most eager to communicate to a lay audience?
Richard Hays: Well, we’re in a time I fear when we’re in danger in, in large portions of our society becoming a post-literate culture. And we are the heirs of a tradition in the Christian Church of believing that God has revealed himself to the world through the word. The word embodied in the flesh of Jesus with the word is has transmitted and passed along in the writings of the Old and New Testaments. And so I think the task of reading well and carefully is one of the most important, therapeutic tasks that we can do in and for the church and I think it’s also a part of the witness-bearing to keep alive the urgency of reading.
I would say two things. One of them is what Tom already said about reading big chunks- that we need to learn to read scripture and other texts contextually and not simply take out a verse at a time or take a sound bite at a time and a political discourse, if we’re not even talking about reading scripture. The church can model what it means to read contextually and see the whole message of a text and how the parts fit together.
The second thing is the matter of the slowing down and paying very close attention to what words and images are actually used in a text and how those, if meditated upon, can stimulate a deeper understanding of the text subject matter. Those are not, I think, just arcane, academic interests, those are practices of faithful reading that have historically characterized Christian communities and should continue to characterize Christian communities in our day.
NT Wright: It seems to me that the Bible functions like many great works of art, for instance, as something which is inexhaustible and which demands that every generation comes back to it afresh.
In other words, there’s no way that have many commentaries Richard or I, or anybody else write, that we will actually solve all the basic problems of our biblical interpretation so that subsequent generations will just have to look up the correct answers on the shelves and won’t have to think for themselves. This is the great thing- the Bible is the book, which demands that you think. It demands that you think afresh and however many rules of thumb you may have for what you think the Bible is about, fine come with those, but the Bible will probe and challenge and push those into new shapes. And every generation has got to do that work and what biblical scholars can do is to help tidy up some models and misunderstandings, but the next generation will face plenty of challenges as well. And I find that really exciting because this is in the best sense, it’s a never-ending task like reading Shakespeare or looking at a great painting is just inexhaustible.
And so I want to, I really want to say, go for it. You know, don’t be put off. Don’t imagine that you haven’t got something to learn and contribute yourselves.
Richard Hays: Can I give you just a tiny example from the lecture I just gave that the occurrence of that word image in the question about paying taxes, the eikón, when you recognize, oh, there’s a connection here to Genesis and you read the Genesis creation story alongside Jesus’ answer to the question, the text cracks open in a whole new way, and that’s not just some sort of clever recondite literary reading. I think it’s, it’s wired into the message of the text that is intended by the author of the gospel of Mark.
Cherie Harder: You touched on this, but we’re at a time when reading is in decline in America. Reading literature is in particular decline and the decline is steepest among the young, which doesn’t bode well for the future. But the Bible has given to us in written form and at least part of our understanding of God is as the Word made flesh. What implication, if any, do you see the decline of reading in America having our understanding of God?
Richard Hays: Well, undoubtedly to the extent that that’s true, it impoverishes our understanding of God. But I also have deep confidence that reading is not going to go away. And it’s like the argument sometimes we’ve heard, Oh, people are tired of these old liturgical practices in the church, you know, sacraments and things like that. That’s not relevant to us today. This just, isn’t true.
It’s simply not true that the churches that I see that are the most vital are the churches that are embodying precisely these practices of close, careful reading in conjunction with deep sacramental practice and service to the needs of the world around them. Those are complementary practices that lead to healthy churches and healthy discipleship.
NT Wright: But I mean, it is fascinating with all the new postmodern gadgetry where you can read the Bible or anything else on your iPad or your iPhone or whatever and you can experience words through quite other mediums and sitting with a book in your hands. Nevertheless, there’s something which is really quite extraordinary, not everyone knows this, that in the ancient world, most things that were published were written on scrolls and the Christians were in the forefront of the codex, which is the forerunner of the present book precisely in order that you could look things up, it’s much easier to look things up in a codex where you can do this, rather than in a scroll where you’ve got to wind and unwind it. And from the beginning, books themselves are a symbol of something to do with Christianity. Just like translation itself is a symbol of something to do with Christianity because Jesus, probably most of the time, spoke Aramaic. I assume he could converse in Greek as well cause everyone could around that part of the world. But the gospel was translated into different languages early on. And so their sense of freshness, and it’s a humanizing thing because learning languages is becoming more richly, human and discovering what that means and it isn’t just that we do that in order to understand the Bible, better, reading the Bible for all its worth makes you more fully human. Isn’t that wonderful?
Cherie Harder: It’s now time for audience Q and A, often the most exciting time of an evening conversation. And so Ben and Drew, do you have microphones and can kind of be ready to go, perhaps one on each side? Simply raise your hand and wait to be called on and to have a microphone. We’ll have one right here in the front row and as ever, we only have three requests of question askers, and that is simply that they keep their questions brief, civil, and in the form of a questions
Question Asker: It’s a, it’s an election year and some of us have jobs in government campaigning and so forth. In light of John, um, What are some ways that we can stand with our leaders and support the importance of what they’re doing without endorsing their immoral behavior?
NT Wright: We in the West play around with stuff is basically displacement activities. And in saying that I am trying to do what John 16 is about. That is to say I’m reminding the rulers and authorities of what their real job is and their real job is not, how can we play enough games and pay enough cash to ensure that we stay in power?
The real job is, how can we actually be genuine human beings, which involves taking responsibility for God’s world. And so many rulers and authorities, many public servants, probably many in this room, um, are actually doing that to the best of their ability and with an honest and good heart. And I honor that, I want to applaud that, but it can so easily turn sour, like all God’s great gifts and vocations, it can be used in the wrong way.
So the church has to discern that again and again and again, and not in a carping spirit of standing on the sidelines, but actually as involved members of the community.
Richard Hays: I would say to that in, in light of the, you’re putting that question in the context of a season of an election, that it ought to be the responsibility of Christians who are engaged in public political discourse to try to counteract rhetoric of fear and anger and violence and hatred of people who are different. To try to support candidates whose vision for the future of the country resonates more deeply with the kind of values of the kingdom of God that both Tom and I have talked about here tonight. Whether that I’m not sure that falls along party lines, it doesn’t always, but I will be candid with you, I find somewhat alarming the way in which certain sectors of professedly evangelical Christianity are aligning themselves with a rhetoric of war-making, fear, and disdain for people whose values or simply whose ethnic nationality may be different from one’s own. Uh, I just, I can’t, I can’t understand how the church has gotten itself into the position where we have that sort of, that’s what I, in my opening, where I spoke about the confusion about Christian values, that’s what I was talking about.
Question Asker: Both of you are great leaders, thought leaders. How do you see Ecumenism operating in local communities now?
NT Wright: Um, I had the privilege when I was working in Durham, of helping to organize an extraordinary experiment which was a Lenten ecumenical Bible study course where we had all the churches from the Syrian Orthodox and the Roman Catholics through to the salvation army and the and the Baptists getting together in local, often, not quite street by street, but neighborhood by neighborhood Bible study groups in a very simple way, it was, was called “The Big Read” and it covered the Northeast of England and it was, it was just a wonderful thing. And that started because the Roman Catholic bishops at the Senate of bishops in Rome in 2008, where I was the Anglican Observer, were all saying what a pity we can’t share the Eucharist with our Protestant brothers and sisters, but there’s no reason we can’t read the Bible with them, is there?
And I went home and said to my Roman Catholic opposite number, do you know what your guys in Rome are saying? He said, Oh Tom, that’s wonderful. Let’s do it! How should we go about it? And that was an extraordinary thing because a lot of those people had never belonged to any sort of Bible study group before, but certainly, none of them had ever belonged to any ecumenical Bible study and just listening to how other Christians read the text and in a very low key way, but just humbly being prepared to learn from one another and all sorts of things grew out of that.
You can’t predict what’s going to happen when folk get together, say a prayer and read scripture together, new things are going to happen.
Richard Hays: If I could just respond to that, one of the things I’ve become very much aware of because my wife has gotten very involved in working with refugee and immigrant populations in the city of Durham, North Carolina, teaching English as a foreign language to these people who’ve come and it’s, it’s intriguing to see how this has become an ecumenical effort that a number of different churches are participating in important ways to try to address the very real needs of these immigrant populations by having individual congregations sponsor. People are offering services in helping them become culturally adjusted and learning English language so that they can participate in our society.
There’s this old Chestnut in, in a certain kind of Christian theology that says, doctrine divides service unites. I think that that’s overly simplistic. I think the doctrine is also an important ground of unity, but if you focus on the kinds of issues about what do the gospels show us about the kingdom of God, according to Jesus, that’s both doctrine and service, and it calls us together to work across denominational lines, to try to become communities that embody the good news.
Question Asker: Thank you. You both talked about the gospel radically redefining the nature of power as self-giving. And, Tom you’ve said, when God comes to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks he sends in the meek and that’s something I, and I think many of my generation are really drinking that Kool-Aid right now we love that kind of talk, but then how would you talk to us about eschatological judgment and God one day wiping out his enemies and things like that.
NT Wright: I’m sorry to say it, but sooner or later, every time I lecture in America, somebody asked me about hell. (laughter)
I do think that God will eventually put all wrongs right. And I do think that those who persist in worshiping idols and serving them and thereby dehumanizing themselves and the world around them will find that they are opting out of the new world, which God is making. They’re saying, I don’t want to be part of this new creation.
Part of our difficulty here is that we are the heirs of a very long tradition going back at least to the middle ages, which, brought in to Christian discourse, all sorts of elements from ancient paganism, which are quite violent images of all sorts of nasty things happening to people after death and okay there are various stern warnings in the New Testament, and I take those very seriously, but we have often interpreted those in the light of what are basically pagan images of a malevolent or capricious deity.
And then we’ve, Heaven help us, invented atonement theologies to deal with the problem that we’ve then created, and then we’ve tried to read them into the New Testament and things go from bad to worse. So I’m, I’m not saying that God is not going to sort everything out or that actually none of this really matters because we’re all going to be Universalists and that’ll be fine. No, it is possible to worship idols in such a way that your humanness completely deconstructs and maybe that, of those around you, sadly.
And that is itself severe enough without invoking all those older pagan images. it’s a difficult topic, but, but that’s, that’s where I would come out. I don’t, I don’t think you and I’ve ever had this discussion.
Richard Hays: Well, I don’t know that we have exactly, but I do think it’s important to make a distinction between God’s prerogative to pass judgment at the end of time and an eschatological judgment and what our role in the present is as people of God and God’s followers. The classic parable about this as Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. And the message is very clear of that parable, Jesus is not sending out his disciples to pull out the weeds. The disciples are set out to proclaim good news and to heal. It is God who at the end of the age will send his angels to pull up the weeds and burn them in the fire. And you can work with that story, however you think is appropriate but I think it’s a story that is actually deeply suggestive about the fact that God is the one who has the final prerogative of judgment and I actually think that’s the way to read the book of revelation in the same way, by the way, it’s finally, God’s judgment that’s being portrayed there and the role of Jesus’ followers. Is to participate with him in that witness-bearing role that we’ve talked about.
Cherie Harder: We’ll take two more questions over here.
Question Asker: You both talked about the purpose of Jesus coming in and bringing this idea of the kingdom of God and the meekness and the non-violence and service and all that. I’m wondering what you both think about the, uh, the evolution of Reinhold Niebuhr, uh, thinking on this, on a similar topic. You know, of course, after world war one, started off as a pacifist and had a similar view of the nature of the kingdom of God. And then with the rise of Hitler and world war II, his thinking evolved and came to at least as I understand it, advocate that sometimes statesmen and politicians, have to use traditional tools of power, like violence and coercion in the service of good. I’m just curious what you both think about that.
Richard Hays: I’ll respond to that because I have a chapter on Niebuhr in my book, the moral vision of the New Testament. I think it’s very important to realize that when Niebuhr had that sort of conversion away from his earlier pacifist stance, he wrote an essay, very important to essay in his development of his thought called the relevance of an impossible ethical ideal. And what he meant by the impossible ethical ideal was the teaching of Jesus. And he wanted to argue that the teaching of Jesus is sort of pertinent to inspire us to do our best, but we always are going to fall short of the ideal. And so in the real world, we have to get our hands dirty and do things that are actually contrary to the teaching of Jesus.
And I think that, to me speaking as a theologian and interpreter of the Bible, that’s always a deeply troubling sort of position to take that poor old Jesus, he was kind of an idealist, but we now are wiser and know a lot better than he did. And so we’re going to find this other way of behaving in the world.
I’m giving you a very short answer. And if you want to know more about what I think about it, you can read the longer discussion of Niebuhr but the problem is that that Niebuhr shifted away from the particularity of focusing on what Jesus actually taught and put in its place the idea of ethical principles of love and justice which can only be approximated under the real conditions of history. I think that to me, that is finally at the end of the day, the response of Judas.
NT Wright: Wow. I think this, this is part of, this is part of a conversation that Richard and I have had. We disagree, but kind of obliquely, I think, um, I wouldn’t start with Niebuhr but then again, this is a British American thing.
The question I know, I know, but I know, I know it is, but the, but I would want to say, I would want to say if you want to address the underlying issues, it isn’t just for or against Niebuhr there, there are other things, there are other things to be said and among the things that are to be said are that God wants the world to be ordered wisely under wise government because if it isn’t then the bullies and people with wicked agendas will just get away with it and they will exploit and despoil the poor and the needy and if you’re going to defend the poor and the needy sooner or later, there has to be some kind of police system and it seems to me in the present age, it’s about inaugurated eschatology, really in the presentation that is necessary. The question then about international relations is what sort of policing might be necessary internationally.
And I suspect that most people in this room would agree with me when I say that it’s impossible for my country and your country alone all together ever to be a credible global police force. We’ve tried to do it and we’ve made matters worse. What we need is something quite different, which we haven’t got and that is a credible UN. That raises all sorts of other issues. And I see already some heads shaking as I knew they would, but, uh, either, either you back off and you say, okay, we’ll let the world just do what it wants or you say, we need to take a leap in our global thinking corresponding to the leap that in my country happened in the early 19th century when we moved from local militias under the rule of local landlords to a national police force. I don’t have the blueprint for how to do the equivalent thing globally, but it seems to me, we urgently need to be at least exploring that question. Otherwise, we’re just throwing our hands up and saying, okay, we’ll let people just go and kill each other it really doesn’t matter.
Cherie Harder: One last question over from this side, uh, if you could stand up so Ben can see you a little bit more easily. Yes. And, um, the microphone’s coming to you.
Question Asker: Hello, Madeline L’Engle wrote a great deal about her belief that Jesus calls us to be fully human in her book “Sold into Egypt.” And you’ve made reference to that becoming more fully and richly human, uh, through reading scripture. So I’m curious if there’s some theological foundation for this, or where that idea springs from?
NT Wright: The idea of becoming fully human?
Question Asker: Yes.
NT Wright: Genesis? I haven’t read Madeline L’Engle, you?
Richard Hays: Only a bit, but I haven’t read the book that she referred to yet. Yeah. But that language about becoming fully human, it’d be interesting to sort of trace, you know, how that’s been used in contemporary theology.
But I would say it goes back to John again, “I have come so they may have life and have it more abundantly.” The “image of God” language that we’ve been talking about here it’s that the new creation that is brought into the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus has as its purpose, the restoration of the full image of God that was intended by God in the creation and damaged through sin. That motif of restoration of the image of God and putting on the image of God as revealed in Christ is shot through the New Testament epistles as well.
NT Wright: Yeah. I mean, for me, I use that language quite a lot and I’m not aware of having found it in one particular theologian, but as Richard says, it’s in John, it’s in Colossians 3 renewed in knowledge, according to the image of the creator. And when you put that in the context of the whole of Colossians, it is about being made in God’s image, Jesus being the true image, and now discovering a renewed humanness and it has to do particularly with the image bearing idea, which is to do with what is then summarized in the Book of Revelation as the Royal priesthood: we are made to be worshipers, summing up the praises of creation and in the light of that, as we worship the God in whose image we are made, we are made to be stewards- that’s the Royal bit and that that rhythm of worship and stewardship is absolutely fundamental to the vision of what it means to be human in Genesis one.
It’s there supremely, I think in Romans 8. Very, very richly that Jesus might be the firstborn among a large family and that we might be according to his image.
So it’s there all the way through and in so far as other writers and theologians have tapped into it, I think it’s one of the big themes in all of the scripture rediscovering what it means to be human, which comes back to your fundamental issue of the good life, the formed life, the reformed life.
Cherie Harder: That is a perfect note to end on.
Richard and Tom, thank you very much.
As we wrap up, I just want to draw your attention to an invitation that should be on each of your chairs to join the Trinity Forum Society.
The Trinity Forum Society is one of the things that helps us put on events like this and invite people like you to enjoy them. We take this seriously. It is a part of our mission and our joy that amidst a culture where the discourse is frequently trivial and coarse, intellectual and cultural battles that often generate more heat than light in a media and social media environment that tends to reward sub-literate, invective, over-thoughtful discussion.
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We also hope that you will join us for future conversations. And if you are interested in doing so, you are in luck because we have one just one week from tonight at the room right next door. We will be hosting Andy Crouch who’s brand new book, “Strong and Weak” really presents a fascinating set of ideas on the need for both vulnerabilities as well as authority in human flourishing.
We’re also excited, we will have at least two more events with Duke. The next one will be in the fall, more details will be determined later. Keep your eye out for that.
And finally, it seems appropriate to simply end with thanks. And there are many people to thank, um, we are delighted again, to be able to partner with Duke, to bring this to Washington DC. Dan, it’s always a joy to work with you and want to thank again, our sponsors Price Harding and Peter MacDonald.
My colleagues do a lot of work behind the scenes and do it with grace and class. Margaret Everly, Colleen O’Malley. Alyssa Abraham, as well as our stellar interns, Britta Friesan, Drew Masterson and Ben Struble. We’ve also been assisted tonight by several volunteers, including some interns who have come back, which is great fun for us, Carrie Lucas and Nathan Towles, uh, as well as Emily Thrush and Alexis Stanford.
We also thank Baylor University Press will be handling all of the book sales for this evening and our photographers, Zach Miller and Catarina Price. Finally, thank you, once again, Tom and Richard, thank you to you all for coming and braving the elements, and goodnight.