Bishop NT “Tom” Wright, former Bishop of Durham and currently a professor at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, visited the campus of Trinity Western University on November 16 and 17th as part of a Distinguished Lecture Series designed to introduce students and the general public to some of the most profound Christian thinkers in our time. Wright spoke at chapel services and gave a public lecture to about 1500 people at Langley’s Christian Life Assembly.
Wright’s topic, “The Call to be Human – Agenda for Tomorrow’s Church”, appealed to the “grand Biblical narrative” as an alternative to both the deism and secularism of the Enlightenment which led to the spiritual emptiness of much of Modernity, and to the challenges of contemporary post-modern thought. Wright believes that a coherent and thoughtful Biblical world view presents the best alternative for positive human community in terms of both “beauty” and “justice”.
In defining the ‘call to be human’ in terms of the Biblical metaphors of humanity as God’s image bearers and as a royal priesthood, Wright outlined major themes of both Hebrew and Christian scriptures and their continuity in presenting God’s continual call to us to celebrate God’s presence in the world and to act justly in human community.
Wright stressed that because of God’s desire to dwell in Creation, central to the creation narrative of Genesis themselves, ultimately God could only come to us as a human being. “Jesus is truly the ‘human one’, the true Adam who takes on Israel’s vocation as the bearer of God’s message of renewal and redemption”, Wright said. “This is the basis of the biblical narrative”.
The ‘royal priesthood’ aspect of human identity, is, to Wright, the “culmination of the human project as we are called to worship God and to participate in mission”. Our mission is to proclaim hope and to speak to the need for the whole world ‘to be filled with the glory of God’. We act justly and call out injustice as the people of God, because God expects nothing less of us. When political and economic as well as religious social orders fall short of God’s glory, our vocation is to challenge those orders and thereby help to redeem the times.
Wright’s analysis was based on a very powerful reading of the Genesis creation narratives. Appealing to the insights of Old Testament scholar John Walton as expressed in Walton’s 2006 book, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, Wright pointed out that readers contemporary with the oral and then written traditions which generated the opening chapters of Genesis would recognize the context of God’s creative activity: the building of a temple for God’s own dwelling place.
The six days of creation have nothing at all to do with 24 hour periods, but with the traditions around the building of a dwelling place for a god. God creates God’s dwelling place, and at the end of the sixth period of building places God’s very image, the human image of God which is humanity, in the midst of the temple – the crowning moment, if you will. Then God ‘sabbaths” – ‘takes ease’ and enters the temple, the world, as a dwelling place, surrounded by God’s image bearers – humanity itself.
Genesis goes on to tell us that in its quest for positive and productive community, the human image bearers of God mis-step, and God must continually call them back. Cain builds the first city community as recorded in Genesis 4:17 but the human ideal of community neglects God dwelling in its midst and is therefore tarnished. God’s promise of renewal is represented through the symbolic story of the Flood. But again, humanity as image bearers of God mis-step and the result is Babel, the confusion of tongues, a powerful symbol of the desecration of the very temple of God, the world in which God established God’s image bearing humanity.
In time, Israel’s mandate to carry the human image of God’s peace and justice to the world passes to one individual, the righteous branch of David (Jeremiah 23) who embodies the fullness of God. The One who gave himself a ransom for many as described in our Sunday Gospel reading from Luke 23 is the ultimate expression of the Royal Priesthood, the King of the Jews, whose Gospel of love, acceptance, forgiveness, of God’s mercy and burning desire for us to act as agents of God’s justice continues to inform us as the community of God.
Such is our ‘story’ as Christians, our narrative of a powerful call to live out reconciliation and redemption in the midst of all people. As we approach Advent, we prepare ourselves again for the continual coming of Christ into the midst of our communal life as we witness as communities of Anglicans to God’s love, acceptance, forgiveness and desire for justice for all people.
As God’s image bearers in God’s Holy temple, the world, we serve the One who was God walking among us in a very real way, and who, ruling in the very heart of our being, moves us forward. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.