March 27, 2004

Jesus and the Restoration of Israel

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Yesterday, I finished Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, a collection of essays which interact with and sometimes critique N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God.

As with almost every essay collection, it’s a mixed bag. Craig Blomberg’s essay, for instance, is largely just a summary of Wright’s book. Blomberg’s only significant criticism, it appears, is that Wright isn’t a premillennialist. In fact, much of the criticism Wright receives in this volume relates to his preterist approach to Mark 13, as might have been expected.

Klyne Snodgrass’s charge that Wright overreads the parables may have some validity. Craig Evans offers extensive evidence that many Israelites in Jesus’ day did see themselves as being in exile, though he doesn’t ask whether the Jews were correct in their attitude toward the Romans. Richard Hays offers some helpful comments with regard to Christian ethics in the light of Jesus’ life and death.

Some of the comments in the book, however, were downright strange. Alister McGrath, for instance, says, “If Sanders or Wright is correct, Martin Luther is wrong” (p. 169), an overblown claim which certainly deserves more explanation (and justification) than McGrath gives. Later, McGrath suggests that Wright gives more emphasis to the Last Supper than to the cross., a criticism that baffles Wright.

C. Stephen Evans misunderstands Wright at several points, not least Wright’s statement that “many other people” besides Jesus healed people and performed what we would call “miracles.” That statement disturbs Evans (p. 191) because he sees it as “naturalizing’ Jesus’ mighty works. But all Wright means is that the prophets (e.g., Elijah and Elisha) did things that were similar to the things Jesus did and therefore we shouldn’t conclude that the performance of “miracles” proves that Jesus was God (see Wright’s response on p. 294). Wright also adds this about Evans’ essay:

I am amused, by the way, by Stephen Evans’s speculations about what might be helpful for me to think “as a clergyman.” I wonder how many Episcopal priests he actually knows?” (pp. 316-317n4).

Luke Timothy Johnson completely misses the boat when he criticizes Wright for having a minimalist view of the resurrection, a charge that’s really funny in the light of Wright’s new massive The Resurrection of the Son of God. Here’s Wright’s response:

I intend to address the question head-on in the next volume in the series, which should also put paid to the (frankly very funny) suggestion by Johnson that I hold “minimalist” view of Jesus’ resurrection. Why Johnson thinks I describe the resurrection as a “resuscitation” (p. 219) I don’t know. Why he thinks I restrict its significance to Jesus as an individual I can’t imagine. What he means by the “radical character” of the resurrection is not clear. And why he supposes I “dislike” such a view (p. 221) I have no idea. It is strange that Johnson, who is so skilled as an exegete of first-century texts, has such trouble reading one or two texts by a twentieth-century colleague that he must needs first invent a view for me to hold and then tell me off for holding it. If, of course, he means that when the early Christians said, “Jesus is risen from the dead,” they were referring not to something that had happened to Jesus but to an experience that they had had, then not only is it he who is the minimalist but it is he who is inventing a story that none of the New Testament writers corroborate (p. 268).

It was helpful to have Marcus Borg’s comments toward the end of the volume, largely because it helped to highlight what Borg rightly recognizes as Wright’s fundamental orthodoxy. Wright’s own response to all the essays, though necessarily brief and sometimes too brief, is quite helpful. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the editor, Carey Newman, then tacked on a conclusion in which he critiqued Wright, without allowing Wright a chance to respond to him (and his critique really does seem to be a ball that Wright could easily knock out of the park).

Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, then, is a moderately helpful book. Some of the essays are rather dull. Some aren’t all that helpful. A couple are challenging. And Wright’s response is worthwhile.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:36 pm | Discuss (0)

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