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Wright’s Wrong Reaction – EN

This is my column in this months Evangelicals Now

WRIGHT’S WRONG REACTION

The well-known theologian/author/ broadcaster N.T. Wright had an article in Time magazine in March in which he cautioned against ‘knee jerk’ reactions from Christians.

file_qela2ps2aer7w7vtch3swplgfsiv3ptuAmongst the ‘silly’ reactions he included arguing that the coronavirus was a sign or a punishment. He told us that rationalists look for an explanation; romantics look for relief; but that the biblical position is to lament. As with all N.T. Wright’s writings it is well written, thought provoking and stimulating.

He set me thinking about the knee jerk responses – including his own. There will be those like the worst of the American televangelists who seek to monetise every disaster by claiming that they have power over it (and please send them the money to use that power). The press can always find a pastor somewhere in the tens of thousands of churches who will solemnly pronounce that Covid-19 is because of abortion/same-sex marriage/Disney. The wackier you are, the more likely you are to get on the telly.  Many evangelicals seek to avoid being cast in the same mould and inadvertently end up giving our own stock-in-trade knee jerk responses. These tend to fall into three groups.

Firstly, those who just reiterate what the government, good citizenship and common sense require. ‘Wash your hands, care for your neighbour, obey the government and be nice to everybody – and don’t forget to clap for the NHS (but don’t be political and say too much about the lack of proper protective clothing for front-line medical staff!).

Secondly, there are the apologists – ‘Where is God in all of this?’ Again there is nothing wrong in giving apologetic answers, but I wonder if it is a question of timing. Maybe there is a time to be silent. Or at least not to offer the stock-in-trade theodicies that one hears after every major disaster. Sometimes it is better to observe grief rather than explain the problem of pain. To be honest, when books are rushed out – even the most excellent with the most genuine of motives – it does look a little bit like war profiteering!

Thirdly, there is the knee jerk response that N.T. Wright exemplifies in his own article. Don’t blame God – we can’t have any of that judgement and signs stuff. Just lament and remember that God is with us in our pain – but He has nothing to do with it. Wright argues that it is the Christian vocation ‘not to be able to explain’, but to lament and then new acts of kindness, new hope will come. This is a hopeless and ultimately meaningless position for any Christian to hold.

Because there is an explanation – although we may see it only partially. And above all there is hope. And the hope is not just that God weeps with us until we get it right.

Wright talks about how in the story of Noah God was grieved that He had made humanity. But he misses out the fact that we are told that this is an explanation. An explanation as to why the earth was flooded. God was so grieved at humanity that He judged it by destroying people.

Does this mean that every natural disaster is to be seen as a judgement of God? Not at all. But does it mean what Wright seems to imply – that God stands helplessly by as His creation is destroyed by natural events?

When Jesus was asked about the 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them, did He say ‘I feel your pain – all we can do is lament’? No, He was emphatic, answering both those who believe only in an impotent weeping God and those who believe in a judgemental, unforgiving God. ‘I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’

In this recent Covid-19 crisis it has struck me how the knee jerk reactions of many Christian leaders have managed to leave out the whole question of repentance. It is clear that when the economies of the world can be stopped and the idols of our culture be torn down by a tiny virus, the response of humanity and our rulers should not be ‘we are great, we can fix this’, but rather humility and repentance. The response of our Christian leaders should be more in line with Christ – and with Solomon who prayed at the dedication of the temple:

When famine or plague comes to the land … whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel – being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands towards this temple – then hear from heaven your dwelling place. Forgive and act (1 Kings 8:37).

Humility, repentance, prayer and compassion should be the responses of those who seek to follow Christ.

As C. S. Lewis famously pointed out: ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts to us in our pains.’

But it appears we still prefer to stick our mammon-fattened fingers into our cloth ears, denying even the possibility that God might be saying something to us. We prefer to be told there is no explanation and no hope (outwith ourselves), rather than admit we are helpless and cry out to the God who offers both help and hope (as well as explanation).

We do not need a knee jerk reaction seeking to justify the ways of God to men, but rather a knee fall reaction – kneeling in prayer and crying out the to Lord to save us in His mercy. And let it begin with us – the church and especially those of us who are church leaders. Of all people we are the ones who most need to repent.

What does the Book of Revelation say about Covid 19?

Can Systems Be Sinful – Evangelicals Now

Three Bible passages to Replace Fear of Coronavirus with Hope in God

 

68 comments

  1. Very perceptive. 2 Chronicles 7.14 always seems to me to be the starting point in such a situation as is presently upon us, and the message Jesus draws from the Tower of Siloam re-inforces the message to ‘never mind the whys and wherefores’ – just be ready to meet your God.

  2. My only quibble is that you write that those who write about the plague should maybe be silent, whilst writing about the plague! For what it’s worth, I think John Piper’s book on Coronavirus and Christ is good. Surely as people question where God is in all of this, this isn’t a time to remain silent! We have a great commission to fulfil.

    Having said all that, thanks for your generally excellent writing, keep up the good work, and be encouraged, I didn’t write the above to discourage you.

    As I think about it, I also want to acknowledge that there is a time to be silent: that was the best thing Job’s friends did for him! I’m now posting this comment wondering if I should have stayed silent! 😀

    1. Thanks Robert – but your quibble is unnecessary because I didn’t say that people shouldn’t write about the plague. And Piper’s book ….and Lennox’s are both very good. Havn’t read many of the others. I question whether people are questioning where is God is all of this? I suspect that it is Christians who think that people will think like that. In my world most people don’t blame a God they don’t believe in….and those who do blame God are not asking questions but making accusations. But I really appreciated your comments – iron sharpens iron! Don’t keep silent – keep them coming!

      1. Thanks brother. Anecdotally, a work colleague asked whether my (Christian) Italian in-laws were afraid, and I was able to say no, because they know where they’re going. Another couple of anecdotes are people online scoffing at God, or thinking He’s “got it in for them”!

        Having said that, in Revelation, plagues don’t seem to lead to revival so much as people cursing God, so although I pray for revival, I don’t hold out much hope!

  3. Brilliant. If only church leaders and representatives who end up in the media would give such godly, wise and Biblical answers.

    Hopefully this will get wide circulation and be picked up by the media!

  4. Have you ever seen an angry lamb? The degeneration of the human character is the root cause of the ‘wrath of the Lamb’ in Revelation 6.16. The Church has lost the faith to change people and many ‘have the appearance of godliness but denying its power’. Jesus is both Saviour and Judge of all.

  5. In progressive evangelicalism in Australia people like to drop two names- that they went to Moore College and are reading N T Wright.

  6. Thank you for sharing this perspective, David. It reminded me of George Wishart’s ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the plague breaking out in Dundee in 1554. John Ker, in his books on the Psalms records that Wishart ‘no sooner heard of it than he hastened to the place. “They are in trouble and need comfort; perchance the hand of God will make them now magnify and reverence the word which before, for fear of men, they set at light part.” He preached on Psalm 107vs20, standing on the east gate, the infected being without and the whole (healthy) within.
    Knox says, ” By this sermon he roused up the hearts of all that heard him, so that they regarded not death.” He visited the sick relieved the wants of the poor and exposed himself fearlessly to the risk of infection. Dundee became one of the foremost towns in the cause of the Reformation. Wishart himself, not long after, suffered at the stake in St Andrews, and was the forerunner of Knox.’ A truly Biblical response.

  7. Something I once read, and it has stuck, is that the best time for theodicy, for those gifted in it and daring enough to try, is *before* a disaster strikes – and preparing for a crisis in advance is, observably, a good idea all round.

    Or alternately, long enough after for some recovery to have started and hearts be able to withstand revisiting the trauma. Right in the middle of it, as you rightly say Job’s friends found, is the worst time and you can’t fairly expect people to listen attentively or even hear well-meant words of comfort over the roar of pain. I think the Jews – and indeed Job’s friends before they spoiled it all by speaking – have the right idea with just *being there* during shiva so as not to leave the sufferer abandoned and alone. The time for deep dives into the “meaning” of it all is not the midst of the fire.

    As a former auditor trained in asking “what could go wrong” and requiring businesses to address financial system threats *before* a crisis happened, and in former days a volunteer trained in basic infection control, I have no problem in criticising the decisions repeatedly made to ignore the clear results of practice exercises. Even the carnage in care homes wasn’t inevitable, or unavoidable:
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/long-term-care-covid-19-eatonville-ivan-franko-1.5546938

    Please God we learn and change, and don’t just rush back to try and put everything “back to normal”. The history of the English Statute of Labourers (after the Black Death) is just one example of such futile attempts to reimpose “the way things were before”.

  8. Thanks, very helpful. I was left scratching my head at NT Wrights response at the time.

    The question of suffering will always be with us and as I wrote recently, I don’t think we have the capacity….yet….to understand.

    I mean, Jesus could have addressed that implicit question in the tower of Siloam. But he didn’t- rather he turned it around to us “unless you repent”.

    He has the standing to question us, we lack the standing to question him. But we really don’t like that, nor the call to repent. It’s going to take more than Covid to drive us to our knees I think.

  9. Do you really mean to imply than anyone against “abortion/same-sex marriage/Disney” is whacky? If so, what’s the nature of the things we should be repenting of.

  10. David you say: ‘Does this mean that every natural disaster is to be seen as a judgement of God? Not at all. But does it mean what Wright seems to imply – that God stands helplessly by as His creation is destroyed by natural events?’

    Where in his article does Wright _imply_ that ‘God stands _helplessly_ by…’ (my emphasis). I suggest that Wright implies the exact opposite of that. In fact he states in his second last paragraph that God has NOT stood ‘helplessly by’, or don’t you believe in the Incarnation?

    Because Wright does not dot the i’s and cross the t’s of Calvinistic evangelicalism it does not mean he is wrong.

    1. Thanks Bruce – but thats not what he says in the in the second last paragraph. He does not state that natural disaster can be seen as a judgement of God or that the incarnation of Jesus is God coming to deal with these events. He actually says Jesus came to lament.

      Who said anything about Calvinistic evangelicalism? Why do you feel the need to tribalise and label things? I was just responding to Wright’s article – in which he mocks those who think that God may be speaking to us through these current events.

      1. David, I think you have avoided my question: ‘Where in his article does Wright _imply_ that “God stands _helplessly_ by…” (my emphasis) [?]’. Now you have attributed _mocking_ to Wright. What in the article produces that response?

        Isn’t Wright suggesting a more robust understanding of biblical lament as a Christian response to COVID-19, and a better understanding of ‘explain what’s happening’? You also believe that not ‘every natural disaster is to be seen as a judgement of God’. Why then did you feel the need to respond to Wright’s article at all?

      2. I’ve answered those in the article…he who has ears let him hear!

        Wright argues that Christianity has no answers…. He speaks of the ‘usual silly suspects’ and identifies those as people who think that God might be speaking to us through this pandemic. I call that mocking. I’m not sure what you would call it.

        Lament is of course an appropriate response. But it is not the only one. The reason I responded to Wright’s article was because it was so extreme in its portrayal of God as a helpless being who can only lament. He even sent Jesus to cry for us. I don’t believe that Wright believes that – but it is what he wrote in a secular magazine and it is what many will read.

        It’s strange how tribalised people are in the Church. You are have to believe that Wright is of the devil…or you believe that anyone who dares to critique Wright is either of the devil or someone who believes that Wright is of the devil. Me…I just thought he was wrong in this one – it was a somewhat pathetic response to a great opportunity.

  11. David, I think I can understand why you see Wright’s article as a ‘somewhat pathetic response’. But I wonder if you are really appreciating the faith and hope that is expressed in biblical lament? Lament does NOT see God as helpless. Nowhere in the article does Wright say or imply that God is helpless. Emmanuel (God WITH us) … yes, but not helpless. ‘God [coming] to his people in person — the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about’ (Wright) was surely God’s response to our predicament. This is what God has said to us (which isn’t mentioned anywhere in your article??)

    I really cannot figure out your second to last sentence.

    1. Yes – I know what biblical lament is – I grew up and have continued singing the psalms. And Wright does portray God as helpless…”nothing to do with me, guv, I just weep with you….nothing I can do’. And I wasn’t answering the question what has God done….I was talking about what Wright said.

      1. David, thanks for your response. Three points:
        1. I’m not sure how singing the Psalms helps people appreciate what biblical lament is and does.
        2. You put a statement in quotation marks but it is NOT what Wright said and other people have not read it in the same way you did. Are you able to accept that you might have read Wright wrongly?
        3. Wright was talking about what God has done. So if you were wanting to show where Wright was wrong SHOULDN’T you have been ‘answering the question’ about what God has done?

      2. Thanks…
        1) Singing the psalms does help us appreciate biblical lament – because there are many psalms that ARE biblical lament. I wonder if churches that don’t sing psalms can grasp what biblical lament is?

        2) Yes – I may have read Wright wrongly – but it is how virtually every non-Christian and most Christians I know have read him. He is an excellent communicator and knows how to say what he means. I’m afraid I can do nothing about the post-modern ‘thats not the way I read him’ argument!

        3) Wright was talking about how Christians respond to the Covid 19 crisis – not about what God has done. He as at pains to express what God has NOT done and what God cannot do…there was very little about what God has done – apart from weep – and loads about what we can now do…!

  12. I and many others really appreciated NT Wright’s article. One person commented as follows, very very succinctly summarizing my view of what Wright was doing: “obviously subverting simplistic answers and calls, instead, to embrace the long-forgotten tradition of lament…”

  13. David, I am sorry. My first point in my last reply (which of course you are free to delete) was far too harsh. Singing the metrical versions of the Psalms might twist the syntax around so it is a bit hard to grasp immediately but that does not mean that you have not thought about them deeply — almost certainly the opposite. My apologies.

      1. David thanks for your response.
        Your claim is that Wright is ‘at pains to express what God has NOT done and what God cannot do…there was very little about what God has done – apart from weep.’

        I guess one way to test this is to count the number of clauses where God is the actor. I counted 15 such clauses. In your piece I found 13 — fairly even, but certainly enough to question your conclusion, yes?

      2. Good grief…I’m not reducing myself to parsing the Holy text of Wright! It has nothing to do with the subject – which is Wright’s argument about God and Coronavirus! It’s clear what Wright has said…..I suggest you ask some of your non- Christian friends to read the article and ask ‘what is he saying?”

  14. No David, not being reduced ‘to parsing the Holy text of Wright’, but rather, looking at what Wright actually wrote and pointing out that, contrary to your claim, there are at least 15 bits of language in what he wrote that talk about things that God did/does. That includes ‘God came back to his people in person’. Isn’t that worth considering in the pandemic? I mean, it would seem to be the ‘answer’ that God has provided. Good grief, indeed!

    1. Ok I’ll play the silly game. Wright says that Jesus quotes Ps 22. he cites Ps 88 saying God causes our neighbours to shun us (whilst he denies that God does any such thing). God laments. God grieves. God came in Jesus.The Holy Spirit groans. The healing love of God dwells in us as small shrines. That’s 7 not 15. And it proves what I said. Wrights answer is that Christianity has no answers (unlike Wright) but God laments and long ago he sent Jesus. Christianity has no answers to the Coronavirus – other than ourselves being little shrines and remembering what Jesus did a long time ago. Wrights Jesus might as well be dead for all the good he does!

  15. David, you know that final sentence is not really a fair statement about Wright.
    In all this I’m not sure how you are expecting Christians to respond to this pandemic. Acknowledging God in reality with us in the incarnation and through the Spirit and by lament and by being helpful would seem to be a good start — which is what Wright is suggesting. The events of Jesus’ death resurrection and ascension (embryonic in the incarnation) are a part of the second conversation.

    Just for the record, the bits of language where the ‘author’ says God did/does something in Wright’s article:
    Para 3 ‘God is doing this’ (1)
    Para 5 ‘Be gracious to me’, ‘heal me’, ‘you stand far off’, ‘you hide yourself’, ‘you forget me’, ‘Jesus quoted’, ‘you (forsook) me’ (7)
    Para 6 ‘you have caused friend and neighbour to shun me’ (1)
    Para 7 ‘God also laments’, (1)
    Para 8 ‘God was grieved’, ‘He was devastated’ (these two could be omitted as non-active), ‘God came back’, ‘(Jesus) wept’, the Holy Spirit (groans)’, (5?)
    Para 9 ‘the Spirit laments’. (1). Total 14-16.
    You might think this a ‘silly game’ but I might call it part of analysing the text.

    1. ‘Analysing the text’? I knew you were ttn it asholy writ! I was just dealing with Wright’s smug and superior attack on his fellow Christians and his appalling failure to present the Christian Gospel in a secular magazine.

      ‘be gracious to me’ heal me’ is not God acting – but the Psalmist asking him to act. You stand far off, you hide yourself , forgetting…is also not God acting – but the Psalmists expression of his own feelings. (Are you sure you understand the psalms of lament?).

      Wright was not just making a start to a conversation. He was seeking to end it – by mocking those who do not agree with his simplistic, this ain’t nothing to do with God, he just laments…and he sent Jesus to encourage us to do better. Maybe that is not what he believes – but that is how, in his attempt to be clever, he sounds.

      1. David, no, I’m not ‘ttn it asholy writ’. I’m simply doing what any linguist does when they analyse a text — I could have called it ‘discourse analysis’ but I thought you might have jumped to some ridiculous conclusion about post-modernity. I don’t think Bob Longacre and Michael Halliday & Co considered they were playing ‘silly games’ in their work on text in the 1980s & 90s.

        Yes, of course, the psalmists are expressing their feelings. But these are clauses with God as the actor — what God _does_. The point is that God seems not to have been doing these things in the particular situation the psalmist is in. Isn’t that how the _language_ here works? Isn’t biblical lament expressing dashed hopes and expectations to _God_? ‘God, this is what you do, this is what you are like — so why am I in this situation?’

        ‘he sent Jesus to encourage us to do better’??! What then is the function of Wright’s statement ‘the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about’? In the _language_ of Wright’s last paragraph how do we become the ‘small shrines’ and what are the results of that? David, please try to read what Wright said if you are going to throw words like ‘mock’ and ‘simplistic’ around.

      2. Thats the point…I’m not analysing a text. I’m just commenting on what Wright wrote – without feeling the need to parse every verb!

        Yes I read what Wright said…as did many others. And its not that difficult to work out what he was saying. Christianity has no answers to Covid 19. I don’t agree….you can parse away to your hearts content but you can’t change what he said – or didn’t say!

  16. The point David is that I have been suggesting you are drawing the wrong inferences from what Wright said and I have been trying to get you to identify what bits of Wright’s text you have used to come to the conclusion you have drawn. Call it ‘parsing’ if you want to, other people might call it ‘understanding’ a text.

    As with any communication the hearer/reader needs to ‘fill in the gaps’ from what the speaker/writer has said from their understanding of the world. No, you can’t change what Wright said or didn’t say, but you _can_ change _your_ understanding of what he said to what he might have intended. Clearly you are not willing to do this. I am really wondering why?

    1. You really are struggling! I’m just commenting on what Wright says – you feel the need to parse it, fill in the gaps and make him say what he is not saying..

      “No doubt the usual silly suspects will tell us why God is doing this to us. A punishment? A warning? A sign? These are knee-jerk would-be Christian reactions” So in a couple of simple sentences Wright dismisses everyone as silly who would see this as a punishment, or a warning or a sign.

      What does God do? According to Wright – he laments. And that’s it. Thats all that Wright says God does in this specific situation. In the hope that we too will lament and become shrines and thus ourselves be the answer to the problem.

      That’s what Wright says – but you feel free to parse, add and defend. Which you will. And then off course you will attack – ‘I wonder why you won’t change your understanding of what he said’? IF that is a genuine question then the answer is simple. I won’t change my understanding because I do Wright the credit of assuming he means what he says – and doesn’t need any special exegesis!

      1. OK David we have reached an impasse over what Wright intended to communicate in his article. Why don’t we ask him what he intended? After all he is the author and presumably intended to communicate something. Please, would you write to him and ask him what inferences he expected us to draw from his article?

      2. My interest is in what he communicated – not in the post-modern what he intended or what the reader sees. I would write to him – but he won’t answer and so I won’t waste my time. Been through this many times before. I don’t mind – why should he answer – he’s a big fish and I’m just a wee flea!

  17. Thank you for your insightful comments. This article agrees with you:

    https://christianityexplained.net/to/muslims/covid-19-context-and-christ/

    It is looking at the bigger picture surrounding the Corona Virus and at some aspects of what the religions of Islam and Christianity have to say in the current crisis. Finally, it is examining Christ’s prophecies and remedies for it. They help us to cope successfully in the present situation.

    For those who do not like to read 7 pages of that article, here is a 4.4 minutes summary of it:

    https://youtu.be/oHBlInXeUP8

    Hopefully people may want to use it and send it to others as a way of sharing the Gospel with Muslims and others in the days ahead, especially now in Ramadan.

  18. David, ‘what he intended’ is anything but ‘post-modern’. And I think you misunderstand how communication works in human languages especially how context and inference contribute.
    I understand N.T. Wright is very good at responding to questions.

    1. Its your attempt to make what he intended something other than what he said which is post-modern. I, at least, did him the courtesy of believing he meant what he said! And I am fully aware of how communication works…

      1. Let’s see, David, who is reading what Wright wrote. The conclusion that you have come to is to say that according to the article, the only thing that we can do as Christians is lament, ok? Oh, and sort of act as little shrines?

        In the piece in Churches Now (the pingback below) the writer came to the same conclusion but without the ‘little shrines bit’. So the stark conclusion there is that ALL that Christians can do is lament. In the Churches Now piece Wright’s conclusion is quoted as “[i]t is no part of the Christian vocation … to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain — and to lament instead.”

        Two problems: (1) no mention of ‘little shrines’ — so what Wright is advocating is simply left out; (2) in the quotation (where the elision mark is) Wright WROTE ‘then’. Leaving this out actually destroys the cohesion of the whole of Wright’s article and shows a misunderstanding of what he was saying.

        Discourse analysis does have its uses. And if we are going to read something we need to read it as it is written and infer what the writer intended us to infer.

      2. It’s strange how you are so into literary criticism and textual analysis and yet you seem incapable of reading or understanding what I’m saying. I never said or argued that Wright wrote that the only thing Christians can do is lament – his article was about God – and it seems as though Wright’s God doesn’t do anything in this crisis except lament – (and perhaps inspire people to do more by the story of Jesus).

  19. Your position, then, is that “Christianity’s” response to pandemic doesn’t contain enough guilt and fear, which is all you people have to keep the flock in line and, as your VP Pence commanded, sending their tithes and offerings.

    Do you actually wonder why increasing numbers of people are getting fed up with your theocratic nonsense and your pretensions to divine wisdom?

    1. You are completely wrong! I am saying the reverse….it IS guilt and fear that is keeping people in line. I’m arguing for the opposite. It seems as though your atheism is struggling to cope with its own irrationality and prejudice. Maybe next time read and then think about what you read – before you comment?

  20. David, I’m not too worried about what you are saying, I’m worried about your misreading of Wright’s article.

    How is God not doing something in Wright’s conclusion? ‘As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.’ Why are you misreading ‘as’, ‘within’, ‘so’, ‘presence’ and ‘dwell’. Can’t we infer from Wright’s statement ‘God works in and through his people’? In Wright’s last paragraph, where do the ‘new possibilities’, ‘new acts of kindness’, ‘new scientific understanding’, ‘new hope’ and even ‘new wisdom’ come from? He tells us: ‘out of the PRESENCE and healing love of God’ (my emphasis).

    1. It is extremely confusing isn’t it when an intelligent man doesn’t speak clearly! Are you suggesting that its only Christians who can have the new possibilities, acts of kindness, new scientific understanding etc? After all you say that he is talking about working in and through his people?

      1. OK that was my inference/paraphrase and I do not think that it is only Christians who can have and do those things — God works through them all. What is unclear or confusing about that? You still have not set out what you infer from what Wright actually said.

      2. So now we are down to discussing what you infer/paraphrase – not what Wright actually said. Is this the New Living NT Wright version? But it was you who said that Wright was saying that God works through his people…now you are saying he meant he works through everyone. Which then of course leaves the Atheist to say – fine – belief what you want – you are just taking all human agency and attribute it to God. God basically does what humans do – and that’s it! I set out in my article where I disagreed with what Wright said….the problem you have is that you want him to be saying something else…hence your New Living NT Wright paraphrase – complete with detailed textual analysis and complex exegesis!

  21. So David, since you say that you were arguing against what Wright _actually_ said and I am talking about what I am to infer from what Wright said, could you outline how you think human communication works? What are your arguments against, say, Sperber & Wilson’s _Relevance Theory_? Firstly, are words necessary? Or, if you offer Annabel a cup of coffee (hypothetically — she might of course prefer tea or hot water) and she says ‘Coffee would keep me awake’, how do you understand _from her words_ what she means? Do you get her a cup of coffee or not? How do you deal with both the underdeterminacy in texts (language use) and all the little markers like (English) ‘as’, ‘so’?
    Also, you still haven’t shown _how_ you got from what Wright wrote in his last paragraph to ‘God doesn’t do anything in this crisis except lament – (and perhaps inspire people to do more by the story of Jesus)’?

    1. Beautiful – you are providing a master class in obscurantism! First deny what the text says. Second appeal to your own paraphrase. And now try to appear academic. It’s not really that difficult. Wright wrote mocking Christians who think that God may be speaking to us through this. He wrote saying that God laments. He said nothing else that God does re Covid 19. His view of God was pathetic and weak – a million miles from the God of the Bible. YOu like Wright – so you want to defend him – hence your obscurantism…

  22. Oh David. I’m not trying to appear academic. But you keep avoiding discussing how humans seem to communicate. Yet you claim to be fully aware how communication works. You should really try a course in communication — like any provided throughout the world as part of the training for people helping with Bible translation.
    Let me spell it out again — you said: ‘He wrote saying that God laments.’ No, he didn’t write that and liking someone has nothing to do with being concerned when they are misquoted. He wrote: ‘God _also_ laments’ and he says this is ‘the _mystery_ of the biblical story’. And through this misquote of _some_ words in the article you are are coming to a conclusion about Wright’s thoughts which you are not willing to check with him. Talk about ‘death of the author’!

    1. I’m so thankful that Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, McCheyne, Lloyd Jones , John Stott, Sinclair Ferguson and my parents did not need to take a course in communication before they could communicate. How did we cope before such courses existed?! Maybe we took people at their words and didn’t play games? Someone who thinks it is significant when discussing what God does say that ‘God laments’ is wrong ‘God also laments’. I checked with Wright y reading his article – he mocked those who said that God could speak in judgement through Covid 19 and then went on to cite God ‘lamenting’ that he had made human beings in the time of Noah – conveniently forgetting to say that God also acted and destroyed the whole world in a flood!

      1. David, I also, as well, certainly … am very thankful that the people you mentioned “did not need to take a course in communication before they could communicate”. In fact I thank God each day that he has given the vast, vast majority of us human beings that gift. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone has _thought_ about how that communication seems to actually _work_ . But some people have. And out of that, I have been asking you how you have got from what Wright actually wrote (and not _necessarily_ what he _didn’t_ write) to your conclusions about what his thoughts and attitudes were.

        “Someone who thinks it is significant when discussing what God does say that ‘God laments’ is wrong ‘God also laments’.” David, I’m struggling to infer what you are thinking here from what you wrote. Can you help me please?

        “I checked with Wright y reading his article”. David, I’m not mocking you here in reading ‘by’, I am doing what any human being does in hearing/reading what the speaker/writer produced — _guessing_ their intention. It seems to me that your current view of how human communication works doesn’t allow for this.

      2. I give up! It’s clear what NT Wright wrote. Anyone can read it. We don’t need textual criticism or a degree in communication theory. You will continue to believe what you want to believe…and I will continue to challenge waffle…

  23. Yes David I will continue to believe that God is with us in all situations, he is Emmanuel, he became ‘one of us’ in the incarnation and he said he is ‘with [us] always, to the end of the age.’ I do not believe that God being-with-us always gives us answers to the situations we face. When I read Wright’s article, these beliefs when thinking about the COVID-19 situation were affirmed. Some Christians believe that God controls every molecule in the universe. So there HAS TO BE be a reason for a disaster such as COVID-19. I don’t believe that. I think that this idea is not a biblical one. This also was affirmed in what Wright wrote.
    Then I read your article and I found that you appeared to be misunderstanding Wright. I have pointed out where you misquote him and I asked, and have continued to ask, how you reached your understanding based on what Wright wrote. You have simply avoided these questions.
    You say you ‘will continue to challenge waffle’. For me, I will continue to challenge people who are unwilling to think about what God has given us in language, especially when they say they are in the job of communicating a message.

    1. Thats the disingenuity of what you write – you say that you will continue to believe that God is with in all situations as though I was arguing the opposite. You however state that you believe that God is not in ‘control of every molecule’ (again another sleight of hand – implying that those who believe in God’s sovereignty see him as some kind of divine computer game player). You say the idea of God being in control is ‘not biblical’…conveniently forgetting such teachings as ‘in him we live, and move and have our being”. In Christ all things hold together.

      You haven’t pointed out where I misquoted Wright. And I have explained how I reached the understanding that Wright mocks those who think that its a sign or a judgement and that God only laments and does nothing. Not only will I challenge waffle – but I will do so especially when it is both dishonest and leads to falsehood about God.

      1. David, this response is loaded with inferences about my thoughts that are not supported by the language I used. How can you infer from ‘Some Christians believe that God controls every molecule in the universe. So there HAS TO BE be a reason for a disaster such as COVID-19.'[my comment] that ‘[you imply that] those who believe in God’s sovereignty see him as some kind of divine computer game player’ [your comment]? You seem to have forgotten that all Christians believe that God is sovereign — Christians believe Jesus is Lord. Now, yes, some Christians take this further even to the point of meaning that God micro-manages everything. It is THAT idea that I do not believe is biblical. The context-less ‘verses’ that you quoted do not affect this judgment.

        David, my claim is that you misquoted Wright — I said above:
        ‘Let me [Bruce] spell it out again — you [David] said: ‘He [NTW] wrote saying that God laments.’ No, he didn’t write that …. He wrote: ‘God _also_ laments’ and he says this is ‘the _mystery_ of the biblical story’. And through this misquote of _some_ words in the article you are are coming to a conclusion about Wright’s thoughts.’
        In Wright’s discourse there is a difference between ‘God laments’ and ‘God also laments’. It is that difference that you are ignoring and so I believe you have misunderstood Wright’s intention.

        Thank you Sjon for your comment below. I actually don’t know how to understand David’s response to you.

      2. Yes – Bruce – it appears you have enormous difficulty understanding points of view that differ from yours.

        And you seem to live in a different world to me – you think that all Christians believe in God’s sovereignty – they don’t. I know many who deny it. It is of course easy to argue against anything if you misrepresent the arguments of those you argue against. Arguing for God’s sovereignity and ultimately working all things for his glory is not arguing for micro- managing.

        Wrights article – as has been pointed out to you many times – says that God laments (the also adds or takes away nothing …Wright does not say that God also laments as well as judging, sending signs etc – if he did you would have a point. But as he doesn’t – you don’t!).

    2. Bruce,

      Thank you for all of your comments. Wright’s article was excellent, Biblically lucid, very encouraging and easily understood.

      David either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand what Wright was actually saying. David just wants to piggyback on Wright’s article to say what he (David) wants to say. That is why he continues to talk past Wright’s article, misrepresenting it rather than honestly engaging with what it actually says. At the same time he takes the opportunity to put Wright down, despite Wright’s clear intellectual superiority and despite the fact that Wright is a brother in Christ. The fact that David also attacks you and misrepresents your motives shows that he knows he is on shaky ground. In my experience David rarely engages honestly or graciously with those who disagree with him.

      1. Thanks Sjon – It’s sad but inevitable that when ‘liberals’ who profess ‘love’ write about those they disagree with – they tend to abuse and attack. If you read over your comments you should realise that there isn’t a single fact there – or a single engagement with anything I said. All you have done is emote your own prejudice, abuse and attack. I have engaged honestly with Bruce and written about what I read. I did not lie. If you think your comment is an example of how to ‘engage graciously’ then I will admit to not doing that! I assume the fact that you disagree with me in such disparaging and bitter terms means that you do not regard me as a ‘brother in Christ’. Or that you think my comments on what Wright wrote (nothing personal) are ungracious – but your bitter personal attack on me is somehow a gracious loving response to a Christian brother! I am very glad that I don’t share your theology, or live in your twisted and bitter universe!

  24. David, don’t all Christians believe in ‘one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen … in one Lord, Jesus Christ … seated at the right hand of the Father … in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life …’? Further are you saying that NO Christians ‘believe’ that God micro-manages everything?

    David you say (yet again) ‘the also adds or takes away nothing’. Why then did Wright add it? What place does it have in his overall argument? As has been pointed out to you many times, communication works through the clues that a speaker/writer provides to what they are thinking. You seem to have difficulty with these clues — even to the point of possibly misconstruing what is happening in Luke 13 which you ‘quoted’ — the question was from Jesus, not addressed to him. Why? What did he mean by ‘repent’ in that story? And why ‘likewise’?

    1. But not all Christians believe that God is sovereign…and you second question is meaningless…until you define what you mean by micro- managing.

      The also refers to the fact that God also laments – like we do. It does not refer to the things that Wright says God has done – and then also laments. How do we know that? Because he had not said anything that God had done. Instead of trying to parse text to suit your interpretation – why not just read what he said, take it in context and try to leave your own prejudgements out of it?

      I don’t think Wright writes in ‘clues’ or that you need a degree in communication to understand him…

  25. “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

    ― R.C. Sproul, Chosen By God: Know God’s Perfect Plan for His Glory and His Children

    David, what you need to ‘define’ is ‘sovereignty’, not ‘micro-manage’.

    And yet again you are ignoring the things that the Psalmists say God habitually does (quoted by Wright) and in particular what God did in the incarnation.

    ‘Instead of trying to parse text to suit your interpretation – why not just read what he said, take it in context and try to leave your own prejudgements out of it? ‘

    Tu quoque.

    1. The same old post-modern game – use words and give them a different meaning. Sproul is not teaching ‘micro management’ – as though God were some kind of divine chess player. If you believe that anything is outwith the sovereignty of God, then you do not believe in the sovereignty of God. Either he is Lord of all, or he is not Lord at all.

      I already answered your other point. Wright is talking about what God does or is doing with Covid 19 – his only answer is that he laments….

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