Great Quotes: N.T.Wright

November 11, 2007
What does the church do when faced with this huge swirling set of cultural movements and tensions? Most of us learned our trade, learned Christianity, and learned to preach and live the gospel within the resolutely modernist and industrial world. Some branches of Christianity, it is true, have managed to hold onto a premodern way of thinking and even of living, holding the modern world, let alone the postmodern world, at arm’s length. But most of us traditionally have articulated the gospel to people who thought and felt as modern people, particularly as “progress” people—people who thought that if they worked a little harder and pulled their weight a bit more strongly, everything would pan out. That modernist dream, translated into theology, sustains a sort of Pelagianism: pull yourself up by your moral bootstraps, save yourself by your own efforts. And since that was what Martin Luther attacked with his doctrine of justification by faith, we have preached a message, of grace and faith to a world of eager Pelagians. We have announced a pure spiritual message, uncorrupted by political and social reflection.
That looks fine to begin with. If you meet a Pelagian coming down the street, give him Augustine or Luther. But there are two problems with this procedure. First, of course, it is not what Saint Paul himself meant by justification by faith, but that is another subject for another day. Second, with the move to postmodernity, most of our contemporaries already, and all of them soon, will not be Pelagians any longer. Those who have abandoned the smokestack economy for the microchip, those who have denied all objective knowledge in favor of a world of feelings and impulses, those who have abandoned the arrogant Enlightenment “I” for the deconstmcted mass of signifiers, those who have torn down the great metanarrative and now play with different interchangeable stories as they come along—those who live in this world, which is increasingly our world, are not trying to pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps. Where would they pull themselves up to? Why would they bother? Who are “they,” anyway? Goal, motive, identity—all of these have been undermined by the shifting sands of postmodernity.
Faced with this situation, many have tried—some are still trying—to deny the presence of postmodernity, to retain the modern world in which we felt so comfortable and in which (whether we realize it or not) we preached a modernist gospel. Many want to turn the clock back, culturally and theologically.

It cannot be done.

My proposal to you is that we should not be frightened of the postmodern critique. It had to come. It is, I believe, a necessary judgment on the arrogance of modernity, and it is essentially a judgment from within. Our task is to reflect on this moment of despair within our culture and, reflecting biblically and Christianly, to see our way through the moment of despair and out the other side. ~ N.T.Wright The Resurrection and the Postmodern Dilemma
(Originally published in Sewanee Theological Review 41.2, 1998. Reproduced by permission of the author.)

Read the whole article here.

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