Tuesday, 11 June 2013

In Which N.T. Wright Answers My Question

I was thankful and overjoyed (giddy like a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, actually) that a question I posed to New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright was selected for a blog interview of reader-generated questions at one of my favorite blogs: the blog of Rachel Held Evans.

I asked about the relationship between his views of eschatology and social ethics. Is the pursuit of justice for this world, full of people who will ultimately not be saved living on a planet yet to be fully redeemed, worthwhile. N.T. Wright is perhaps most well known for his book Surprised by Hope (which I cannot recommend highly enough, especially if you have never thought outside the 'Left Behind eschatology' box and never sat down to realize that the resurrection should be, actually, central of our faith and particularly our eschatology). My question was largely revolving around his particular eschatological views and why exactly doing good in this world, in this body, matters (as he contends it does).  You can read my full question and his full response at the original post at Rachel's blog, here.

One line from his response particularly struck me. Wright writes (I love saying that), "The point of justice and mercy anyway is not ‘they deserve it’ but ‘this is the way God’s world should be."

This reminds me of some thoughts I've written about previously, particularly on what I like to call 'the frivolousness' of God's love. [some have challenged me on this language so I say it with some tentativeness. read the original post on the subject, linked to just above, for a fuller explanation].  That is, noting the way that God shows love as an end in and of itself; risking that those whom He shows love to might still reject Him. Care for the other is central to His nature and is acted upon for its own sake. He shows love abundantly, toward all.

The Spirit is at work in the believer to make them like Jesus. As we share in His death and His resurrection life we become increasingly like Him. This is how the eschaton filters into our own day and age. This is how our future resurrected, glorified, selves begin to come to life in the here and now. To be like Jesus is to be frivolous with our love; to show love unequivocally. Showing mercy and justice to the undeserving - which is the significance of very central act of Jesus, His sacrifice - regardless of the response or consequences. Pursuing justice in the world around us matters, because it is in showing justice and mercy to all people unequivocally that we become like Jesus and the 'not yet' becomes a bit more 'now.'

I think the lesson to learn here is that N.T. Wright's particular eschatological views are not entirely necessary to believe that seeking justice is important... but it is better than some views in this respect. What is most important, however, is that we are called to follow Christ's example even though we don't have all the details figured out of why and what becomes of the good we do. We are called, first and foremost, to be obedient to what we know God wants us to do, and what we know is consistent with His character. We know that He is a God who desires to redeem creation and calls us to be a part of that work, in some way or another (this does distinguish us from some, particularly extreme dispensational, views). That is enough to tell us to get to work.

"Christ did not know measure in His love for people, — and in this love He lowered Himself in His Divinity to the point of being incarnated as Man and took upon Himself the sufferings of all. In this sense He teaches us by His example not of a measured limit in love, but rather an absolute and immeasurable surrendering away of oneself, by definition a laying down of one’s soul for others."
- Saint Maria Skobtsova of Paris

I highly recommend you check out the original post to see the question and answer in their fullness. There are some great questions about sexuality, reconciling God's justice and mercy, open theism, and others.


Thanks, Dr. Wright!  


  1. What is this business with frivolous love? Is God's love frivolous because we don't understand it? Or is it about of the divine mystery? I think unequivocal love isn't frivolous--indeed, isn't that how God draws us in (1 John 4:19)?

  2. What I mean by frivolous is that God shows love as an end in itself. Not just as a means to an end. Or maybe both as a means and as an end. He shows love for its own sake, regardless what the outcome (some still choosing to reject him regardless). it's predicated on the assumption that God shows love to some that He knows will reject Him and in this sense it is 'frivolous' or 'wasteful.' It is not shown with some practical consideration or based on its efficacy, but as an end in itself. Perhaps the word choice is too extreme? Has too much baggage?