Monday, January 26, 2009

I Respectfully Dissent

Why is N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, lionized by so many evangelicals? Three reasons. The first, many respect not only his New Testament scholarship but the massive outpouring of such scholarship he produces every year. Second, Bishop Wright is one of the few Biblical scholars who has been able to reach a wide secular audience defending the historicity of the books of the New Testament against liberal challengers. Third, so many in my theological tradition, Evangelical Wesleyan Methodism, are ecstatic over the presence of such a renown Christian scholar who is not only not a Calvinist, but who can effectively challenge our Calvinist brothers concerning much of their theology. Yet I find myself not able to wholeheartedly endorse many of Wrights conclusions the Bishop has formulated in the writings I have studied.

In seminary, I heard nothing but unqualified praise for Wright. It was said that in Wright Wesleyans had a publicly acclaimed scholar they could proudly call their own. Having no time in school to delve into Wright's writings, I greatly anticipated my first opportunity to learn from his great outpouring of scholarship. About a year after graduation I purchased Wright's "The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was And Is." My reaction was one of stunned disbelief. While in this book he was quite correct in maintaining that to know Jesus in the context of His Jewish background is to understand Jesus and His mission better, the Bishop goes off the theological deep end when he speculates about when Jesus knew His true identity. From there Wright strays from good Biblical exegesis into the realm of fanciful speculation. While Wright is rightly concerned that Christ's Church not ignore scripture's commands to seek justice for those most vulnerable, he has the bad habit of reading political messages into specific Biblical passages that just are not there. The result is that much of Wright's Biblical exegesis bears no relation to what the Bible actually says.

Sometime in the near future "The Challenge of Jesus" will be examined on this blog in detail. For now, I will examine Wright's views of Jesus that he expressed elsewhere. Recently I read philosopher Antony Flew's "There Is A God: How The World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind." This book contains an appendix in which Flew asks N.T. Wright about the evidence both for Christ being an actual historical person and for His resurrection. Much of what Wright says in his answers are very good, especially what he says about Christ's resurrection. But there is a section where Wright wanders off into the same unfortunate speculation that he engages in in "The Challenge Of Jesus."

"I think Jesus staked his life-quite literately!-on his belief that he was called to embody the return of Yahweh to Zion" Wright says. He goes on: "...I really do believe that Jesus believed that he was to act upon that assumption. I think that was hugely scary for Jesus. I THINK HE KNEW HE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE WRONG. After all, some people who believe that sort of thing might turn out to be like the man who believes he is a pot of tea." (Wright in Flew's There Is A God, p. 193-194, capitalization mine.)

This statement stems from Wright's speculation previously mentioned concerning just when Jesus knew who He was. I myself cannot conclude just when Jesus was aware that He was God's Son, the second person of the Trinity. But He must have possessed the knowledge of His full identity by the time He began His ministry here on earth.

If Jesus was not sure who He was, then He had no memory of His earlier fellowship with the Father as the second person of the Trinity before He obeyed the Father's will to take on human form. Scripture tells us that Christ, being in the form of God, "did not consider it robbery to be equal with God ." Yet He humbled Himself as a bond servant, He lived among sinful mankind as a man and became obedient to God even to the point of dying on the Cross. (Phil. 2:5-8) If Jesus had no memory of His earlier fellowship with the Father, how could he understand His own sacrifice in ending that fellowship to become a man? How could He remember Satan falling like lightning out of Heaven? If Jesus was not totally sure of His identity, but gambled his own life on the belief that He was the Son of God, how could He with any integrity command His disciples to lose their lives for His sake to gain their lives? Or how could He promise His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them in Heaven? How could He give them such a hope? How could He do these things with a clean conscience? Can anyone answer these questions? If so, please don't be silent; let me hear from you. Some might say "Is all this really important?" My answer, read "The Challenge Of Jesus" and see for yourself how such speculation can mess up one's theology and view of Christ.

Some Calvinists have been vociferous in their criticism of Wright's "New Perspective" on Paul. They claim that it is a departure from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. While I do not adhere to the "New Perspective", I would not go that far in criticising it. Perhaps because Wright challenges Calvinistic theology in his "New Perspective", and very effectively I say, these same Calvinists have failed to aim their criticism at Wright's views of Christ, which I find more disturbing than his views on Paul.

I would caution my fellow Wesleyans to be careful in claiming a theologian and public figure such as Wright as their own merely because he is not a Calvinist. The fact that he is not a Calvinist does not necessarily make him "one of us."

I had hoped to read more of Wright before I began publicly voicing my concerns about his theology. However, after reading Wright's comments in Flew's book, I decided to express a preliminary view of my concerns.

A friend of mine recently told me he liked an earlier article on Wright that appeared on this blog. You can access the earlier article by clicking the N.T. Wright label below.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Does Obama Know The Latest On Stem Cell Research?

A few days ago President Obama lifted the Bush administration's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. It was clear during the campaign that Obama had a far rosier outlook on this branch of research than the evidence in the lab has produced. In fact, Obama and company gives the impression that no scientific studies using embryonic stem cells have been undertaken while Bush was President; however, the contrary is true and the results have not been as promising as research done on adult stem cells. Here are a few articles detailing the positive results in adult stem cell research:

In Spain, doctors have used the cells from a patent's trachea to construct a new one.

European Researchers have success treating patients with cells from the patient's own marrow.

Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have successfully transformed adult stem cells into their embryonic equivalent without the need of destroying embryonic stem cells.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Abortion Toll In Human Life Of Mothers

I recently read in the pro-life West Virginia publication "Life Matters" that there is a movement to increase the availability of abortions in Spain. Apparently those in favor of this are either ignorant of the toll abortion is taking on Spanish women, or they just do not care. Recently it has been announced that abortion is the number one cause of death for women in Spain. And in the US, it appears that illegal alien women have found a way to terminate their pregnancies without risking their illegal status being discovered: drug induced home abortions. However much these women fear deportation, they are risking their lives by this very dangerous practice. The women referred to in this piece come from Latin America. Latin American women have been targeted by the abortion industry. Here is a story about one abortion provider who preformed abortions for Latin American women who has been the subject of pro-life demonstrations for years. She has been jailed for operating without a medical license. The article laments the fact that one has to get a medical license to kill when such licenses are supposed to obligate those who receive them to act to save and preserve life. However, there are some doctors who want to take away their colleagues' right to refuse to perform abortions because their consciences forbid them; if they refuse to perform an abortion, then these doctors must refer the patient to a doctor who will, so says the doctors quoted in the story. If President Obama signs the Freedom Of Choice Act, which will remove all restrictions placed upon abortions since Roe v. Wade was decided, this right of doctors to refuse abortions will be taken away. The Catholic Church is contemplating closing the hospitals it runs if these hospitals are forced to perform abortions. The percentage of hospitals run by the Catholic Church in this country: one-third. This would have extremely adverse consequences for health care in America. To register your opposition to this act, go to the National Right To Life Committee's website, which can be found in the links section of this blog to the right and download the protest form. As to actively campaigning for the pro-life cause, here is a link to a successful model to follow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clouds Of Witnesses: 10 Year Old Indian Girl Forgives Attackers

"We forgive the Hindu radicals who attacked us, who burned our homes...They were out of their minds, they don't know the love of Jesus."

These are the words of a 10 year old girl, a young Christian from a Christian family residing in the Indian State of Orissa. Throughout the past year, Christians in Orissia have experienced a concerted violent campaign against them waged by militant Hindus. (For a detailed account of the violence, see here.) One of the many attacks was carried out against this girl's home. The house was burned, but everyone escaped injury. However, the perpetrators left behind a nasty surprise; a bomb hidden in a dresser drawer which when detonated burned the little girl's face and inflicted shrapnel wounds on 40% of her body. (An article describing in greater detail the attack and the girl's injuries can be seen here. Warning: the article contains a picture of the girls face after the attack and her recovery.)

Violence against innocents is happening all over the world, not just against Christians. In Afghanistan, girls who attend school have been targeted by Islamic militants. These militants oppose the education of females, and in one case, they threw acid on young school girls. In another attack, acid was thrown in the face of a female teacher. (Warning: This link contains a photograph of the teacher's face after the attack.) When those responsible for this act were caught, the teacher insisted that the attackers have acid thrown in their faces. It is not difficult to understand her anger at the pain and permanent damage inflicted upon her and her desire for revenge.

But the 10 year old Indian girl has not called for revenge against those whose actions permanently disfigured her. She has publicly proclaimed her forgiveness of the Hindus who did this to her. She is not bitter against God for allowing this to happen to her but thanks God for her deliverance: "Christmas is the time to thank baby Jesus who saved me from the fire and saved my face which was disfigured and wounded." What does she see as she looks into the future? She proclaims her desire to use what happened to her to glorify God by praising Him for saving her life and by allowing the love of God to shine through her disfigured face. "The world has seen my face destroyed by the fire, now it must come to know my smile full of love and peace...I want to dedicate my life to the spreading of the Gospel."