Yeeeesss! The long, long awaited other new book by N.T. Wright arrived today, a couple of weeks early. Yabadabadooooo. Well, I most certainly know that such a dignified gent, such as prestigious cleric and such a brillant scholar deserves something a tad more auspicious. But it is late and I just have to tell ya: I am so excited about the new The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (Harper SanFransico; $19.95.)
(Please, by the way, do not confuse this with the third in the New Kind of Christian triology of novels by Brian McLaren, entitled, The Last Word and the Word After That where his fictional characters study, debate and struggle with the Biblical notion of hell, judgement and the wideness of God’s grace. Wright’s book has no connection despite the similiar sounding titles.)
Like I suggested in a previous post, N.T. (Tom) gets criticized from both sides of the theological spectrum. And some of the evangelicals who appreciate his learned and erudite defensive of the reliable historicity of the gospels and the physicalityof the resurrection, may not approve of his trajectory towards peacemaking and social justice. And some of the lefty types that would generally like his support of, say, cancelling the third world debt, or doing art shows with prisoners, or raising up a Christian critique of militaristic overtones of Empire, will, still, call him–as Marcus Borg ludicriously did once at a talk in Harrisburg–a “fundamentalist.” Ahh, the complexities of contemporary theology.
Still, this might help us through the impasse. As Derek M said in a comment posted at Hearts & Minds BookNotes last night, many who critique Wright haven’t read him much. And those that do often grow to appreciate his work. We will see if this effort helps or hurts his standing.
Blurbs in on the back of The Last Word are well known to evangelicals—Puritan scholar and all around decent chap, the pope of reformed evangelicals, J. I. Packer himself, gives a warm and hearty endorsement, and the ever-blurbing, widely-read Brian McLaren does as well. (For those who may not know, these are two very, very different sorts of Christians.) Add an endorsement from the recently very hot Ben Witherington and Christianity Today’s senior editor (Timothy George from Beeson at Samford)—and you will understand that this is a book to be taken seriously.
If you read Derek’s blog that I linked to yesterday, you will see that McLaren speaks for many (even Hearts & Minds customers) when he says “Wright’s Biblical scholarship has had a profound formative influence on many of us. He has helped us to see the Bible in a new way–a narrative way–amd the results have been exhilarating.”
Wright is not a postmodernist. But the emerging church folk, many who are up to their tattoed necks in pomo culture and semiotics and narrative this and that, study Wright. This is very interesting to me. And so–for a quick segue– for anyone interested in the dean of postmodern deconstruction, analyzed appreciatively and fairly, the brand new Jacques Derrida: Live Theory (continuum; $19.95) by edgy young Calvin College philosophy prof, Dr. James Smith, just came in to the shop, too. Jamie has been working on this for a while and we are very, very excited to see it. (It is, not surprisingly, dedicated to James Olthius and John Caputo, postmodern Calvinist and Catholic, respectively, who have mentored him from ICS in Toronto and Villanova in Philly.)
In the intro, Jamie talks about giving a fairly harsh critique of Dr. Derrida [or at least of his notion of hope] at a scholarly event where professor Derrida–nearly a rock star by then– was in the audience. Good Christian man that he is, Jamie attempted to meet with him, offer a personal gesture of kindness, lessen the awkwardness of the blistering critique. As he tells it, Derrida was gracious and warm, leaving him humbled. Smith hoped that this manuscript could be sent to the Frenchman, as a bit of a tribute to his influence, but–even as it had been wrapped and sent with a card, Derrida suddenly passed away. It isn’t every day that a dense philosophy text opens with such a tender and poignant story, a story told with greater care and weight in the real book than my summary, here.
Anyway, it is no accident that in a postmodern world, there is much, much to debate about truth, authority, truth claims and perspectives. And there is a need for humility and conversation. The role and authority of the Bible is contested–endlessly, as Walt Brueggemann would say–and, yet, it is an urgent task for the church of today to reach some new insight about the role and function of the Grand Story and the Book–a Living Word!– which tells it. Jamie’s insight into Derrida is important for some of us, to be sure, and we were eager to announce it. Tom Wright’s overview of the debates about the Bible and his provocative new challange to reappropriate the Word anew is, I would suggest, urgent for us all.
The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars To A New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture N.T. Wright (Harper SanFransico) $ 19.95
Jacques Derrida: Live Theory James K.A. Smith (continuum) $19.95