N.T. Wright on Blind Spots in American Evangelicalism

26 Apr

N.T. Wright is quickly becoming the most influential theologian of our age. At least that is my humble opinion. He has helped me tremendously over the last few years grow and mature as a follower of Christ and a teacher of the Bible. “The Bishop” has helped me develop a bigger gospel, see the connectivity between the Old and New Testament, and solidify both my Christian hope and eschatology. I have even given up on the NIV, because the Bishop says that I will never understand Paul’s view of justification if I stick to that one translation.

He spoke recently at Wheaton’s Theology Conference April 16-17. You can get the audio/video here:

During his time in the area, he had lunch with the staff of Wisconsin church. During the lunch, one of the guys asked the Bishop to describe the blind spots he sees in American Evangelicalism.He answered as a historian noting two different periods of American history. (Thanks to Jim Vining for the notes.)

Here are the two historical periods and the blind spots that the Bishop sees:

The 1770s
Americans not only revolted against the British government, they also rejected the Anglican Bishop’s authority over the Church. This may seem natural to Americans, but Wright noted two unhealthy trends in American Evangelicalism which he traces back, at least in part, to those events.

1. Isolation of Our Faith from the Global and Historic Church. Wright believes that church unity must transcend place and time. He sees much of American Evangelicalism indifferent to the church outside of itself.

2. Isolation of Our Faith from Our Public Life. Wright notes the tremendous influence of the Enlightenment upon the founding of America. This philosophy drives the idea that we can separate religion from institutions.

The 1860s
The Civil War has left a profound divide in American culture, and the Evangelical Church is not immune. Wright sees the Mason-Dixon divide as one of the roots of the culture war in modern America. He identifies two ways that this has harmed the American Church.

1. Limitation of Our Church Unity. Wright believes that Church unity is a centerpiece of the scriptures. However, the American church is almost as divided as the rest of the nation in our ongoing culture wars.

2. Limitation of Our Practice, Proclamation, and Discernment of Truth. Many Americans are so entrenched in their side in the culture war that they are not able to identify reality. Christians on the Left and Right often place a higher value on their team’s position than the teachings of scripture.

Bonus: Here are the notes from N.T. Wright’s chapel message at Wheaton. His 24 minute address was a good overview of his theological emphasis. He rooted his presentation in the book of Ephesians by picking out one verse from each chapter.

Below are Notes from N.T. Wright’s Chapel Address at Wheaton College on April 16, 2010

Six Verses in Ephesians to Shape us for the Future

1:10 – God’s plan was to gather together all things in heaven and earth under Jesus. There is no dichotomy between heaven and earth, no split level living. Jesus enables us to live the life of heaven and earth as a reality here and now.

2:10 – We are God’s art work. God created us to bearing fruit, to be co-creators in this world. God gives each of us a calling to bring to the world unique thing(s) that only we can do. We are each playing a real role in heaven and earth.

3:10 – The Church is called to be a diverse and counter-cultural community so that the wisdom of God might be known by the principalities and powers of the world. The very existence of the Church testifies that Jesus is the true Lord.

4:15 – The Church is called to hold to the truth in love, growing up into one, connected with the head, Jesus. This is not about us. We are growing together with the Church, under the authority in into the likeness of Jesus.

5:14 – The resurrection of Jesus displays the power of God to change our way of life. We do not have to live the old way of life. There is hope for a new way of life because of heaven and earth’s union in Jesus.

6:13 – We must put on the full armor of God. This is a battle. The powers do not want to submit to the just and righteous rule of Jesus. We are to live out the way of God’s Kingdom in the face of powers’ resistance to the true King.

(HT: Jim Vining)

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Posted by on April 26, 2010 in Theology



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