N T Wright on image-bearing in the world

I just came across this good quote from N T Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).

To put it in shorthand: in a world whose icons had been reflecting non-gods, the renewed iconography which informs and sustains the material symbolic universe of the Messiah-people begins with renewed human behaviour. And this dovetails exactly with the ‘new Temple’ vision … The spirit’s indwelling enables the Messiah’s people to be a dispersed Temple-people, the living presence of the one God launching the project of bringing the true divine life into the whole cosmos.

I often think that the “idols” (the “non-gods,” if you like) of our world today manifest themselves in terms of consumerism, materialism and individualism. It seems to me that the vocation of Christ-followers is to bear God’s image in the world through the empowerment of the Spirit. I would add that this image-bearing is indeed about cross-bearing—to live a life that is shaped by the suffering and death Jesus. As we do so, we bring life into the world. Our “temple” is not so much the physical church buildings per se, but the embodiment of God’s presence in a hurting world.

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The Cross and the Kingdom of God (N T Wright)

Recently the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) published an article written by N T Wright, entitled “The Cross and the Kingdom of God,” which can be found by clicking here.

Below are a few great quotes from the article.

“To suffer, and then come into his glory” – in other words, cross and kingdom. The very word “Messiah” already implies kingdom; now it is clear how that kingdom is attained. This is how the story of Israel comes to its climax: God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of her representative Messiah. In other words, the Messiah is the one through whose representative work Israel’s God will accomplish his purposes for Israel and the whole world. As the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel repeatedly demonstrate, the “Messiah” is a role made for God’s own use. The purpose is to establish the kingdom; the means is the obedient suffering of Israel’s representative. This role, and the accomplishment of this purpose, are tasks which only God himself can undertake. Here is the mystery at the heart not only of the New Testament, but of the Old as well.

What we call “incarnation” thus lies at the heart of the kingdom-and-cross combination that, in turn, lies at the heart of all four gospels. This means that one entrenched reading of the Creeds, and of the whole Christian tradition at this point, has to be challenged. The “divinity” of Jesus is not to be separated from his kingdom-work, his cross-accomplished kingdom-work. It does not, as a dogma, “come away clean.”

This highlights, too, the distortions that result when people construct an “atonement-theology” that bypasses the gospels. God himself will come to the place of pain and horror, of suffering and even of death, so that somehow he can take it upon himself, and thereby set up his new-style theocracy at last. The evangelists tell the story of Jesus in such a way that this combination of Israel-vocation and divine purpose come together perfectly into one. This, I suggest, is the reality behind the later abstractions of “humanity” and “divinity” – the humanity is the Israel-humanity, the divinity is the divinity of Israel’s God.

The resurrection, in short, is presented by the evangelists not as a “happy ending” after an increasingly sad and gloomy tale, but as the event which demonstrated that Jesus’s execution really had dealt the death-blow to the dark forces that had stood in the way of God’s new world, God’s “kingdom” of powerful creative and restorative love, arriving “on earth as in heaven.”

That is why the bodily resurrection matters, in a way that it never quite does if one is purely interested in a kingdom “not of this world.” The resurrection is, from Mark’s point of view, the moment when God’s kingdom “comes with power.” From John’s point of view, it is the launching of the new creation, the new Genesis. From Matthew’s point of view, it brings Jesus into the position for which he was always destined, that of the world’s rightful lord, sending out his followers (as a new Roman emperor might send out his emissaries, but with methods that match the message) to call the world to follow him and learn his way of being human. From Luke’s point of view, the resurrection is the moment when Israel’s Messiah “enters into his glory” so that “repentance and forgiveness of sins” can now be announced to all the world as the way of life.

(Source: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/05/28/4013711.htm)

 

Self-improvement, fulfilling our dreams, or following Jesus?

What is the Christian life about? Where is the line between achieving our own dreams and doing God’s will? How can we be sure that Bishop Tom Wrightwe are not trying to fulfil our own desires? Are we sure that, as we seek to fulfil our dreams, we do not in the process lose sight of God’s kingdom and his purposes for his creation? I think the answer lies in the Cross.

Here is something Tom Wright says in his book, Virtue Reborn (or otherwise called After you believe), page 100.

Jesus’s call to follow him, to discover in the present time the habits of life which point forward to the coming kingdom and already, in a measure, share in its life, only makes sense when it is couched the terms made famous by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Come and die”. Jesus didn’t say, as do some modern evangelists, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Nor did he say, “I accept you as you are, so you can now happily do whatever comes naturally.” He said, “If you want to become my followers, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8.34). He spoke of losing one’s life in order to gain it, as opposed to clinging to it and so losing it He spoke of this in direct relation to himself and his own forthcoming humiliation and death, followed by resurrection and exaltation. Exactly in line with the Beatitudes, he was describing, and inviting his followers to enter, an upside-down world, an inside-out world, a world where all the things people normally assume about human flourishing, including human virtue, are set aside and a new order is established. (Emphasis added)

Jesus would have said, of course, that it’s the present world that is upside down and inside out. He was coming to put it the right way up, the right way out. That shift of perception is the challenge of the gospel he preached and lived, and for which he died.

What this means is that the normal standards, even the standards of virtue itself, are challenged at their core. No longer is the good life to be a matter of human beings glimpsing the goal of “happiness” in which they will become complete, and then setting about a program of self-improvement by which they might begin to make that goal a reality. They are summoned to follow a leader whose eventual goal is indeed a world of blessing beyond bounds, but whose immediate goal, the only possible route to that eventual one, is a horrible and shameful death. And the reason for this radical difference is not obscure. It is that Jesus’s diagnosis of the problem goes far deeper than that of any ancient Greek philosopher. (Emphasis added)