History and Eschatology
Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology
365 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- ISBN: 9781481309622
- Published: November 2019
How can we know about God? That question increasingly bothered scientists and philosophers in the modern period as they chipped away at previously imagined "certainties." They refused to take on trust the "special revelation" of the Christian Bible, trying instead to argue up to God from the "natural" world. That is the theme of the Gifford Lectures, inaugurated over 130 years ago.
This natural theology has usually bracketed out the Bible and Jesus—and with them, usually, the scholars who study them.
History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology represents the first Gifford delivered by a New Testament scholar since Rudolf Bultmann in 1955. Against Bultmann’s dehistoricized approach, N. T. Wright argues that, since the philosophical and cultural movements that generated the natural theology debates also treated Jesus as a genuine human being—part of the "natural world"—there is no reason the historical Jesus should be off-limits. What would happen if we brought him back into the discussion? What, in particular, might "history" and "eschatology" really mean? And what might that say about "knowledge" itself?
This lively and wide-ranging discussion invites us to see Jesus himself in a different light by better acquainting ourselves with the first-century Jewish world. Genuine historical study challenges not only what we thought we knew but how we know it. The crucifixion of the subsequently resurrected Jesus, as solid an event as any in the "natural" world, turns out to meet, in unexpected and suggestive ways, the puzzles of the ultimate questions asked by every culture. At the same time, these events open up vistas of the eschatological promise held out to the entire natural order. The result is a larger vision, both of "natural theology" and of Jesus himself, than either the academy or the church has normally expected.
Part One: Natural Theology in Its Historical Context
1. The Fallen Shrine: Lisbon 1755 and the Triumph of Epicureanism
2. The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels
Part Two: History, Eschatology and Apocalyptic
3. The Shifting Sand: The Meanings of ‘History’
4. The End of the World?: Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historical Perspective
Part Three: Jesus and Easter in the Jewish World
5. The Stone the Builders Rejected: Jesus, the Temple and the Kingdom
6. The New Creation: Resurrection and Epistemology
Part Four: The Peril and Promise of Natural Theology
7. Broken Signposts?: New Answers to the Right Questions
8. The Waiting Chalice: Natural Theology and the Missio Dei
In this published version of his Aberdeen Gifford Lectures, Tom Wright develops an integrated theology of history and nature, thus overcoming modern strategies that have resulted in their disjunction. This is an impressive and timely publication from a leading New Testament scholar willing to engage with the big questions in his field. Bold, lively, and accessible, it will generate widespread discussion.~David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
A fascinating and richly erudite intertwining of theology, history of ideas, scriptural scholarship and philosophical reflection, this powerfully argued book deserves to rank as Tom Wright’s crowning achievement.~John Cottingham, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Reading, Professor of Philosophy of Religion, University of Roehampton, and Honorary Fellow, St John’s College, Oxford University
N. T. Wright’s extensive scholarly work on the New Testament is near legendary. Readers have long wanted to hear him explain the critical foundations for this work, and he now finally provides them, with the same pungency, panache, and provocation for which he is famous. Laying out what he calls an 'epistemology of love' that is made possible in the resurrection of Jesus, Wright refashions the debate over natural theology in a way that is able to include, not only the bare phenomena of creation, but the full range of human activity—from politics to art—in the Cross-shaped form of divine history. This is a sweeping, passionate and hopeful plea for seeing, and living in, a world that is God’s in origin, suffering form, and final end.~Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
Accessibly written without any loss of academic rigour, Wright’s book opens up new and productive conversations between biblical interpretation and philosophical theology. By eschewing unhelpful either/or oppositions Wright shows the vitality of both biblical and natural theologies—and how they might not be quite so far apart after all. Lord Adam Gifford would be proud.~Russell Re Manning, Reader in Religions, Philosophies, and Ethics, Bath Spa University
This is Tom Wright at his best—an exegete, theologian, churchman, and public intellectual rolled into one. A creative and arresting contribution to ‘natural theology,’ this book argues for the plausibility of the Christian vision of the relation between God and the world by taking seriously the history of Jesus Christ, especially the promise contained in his resurrection of the new creation: the creation become God’s and humans’ home.~Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology and Founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, Yale University
This book offers a wonderful interplay of the history of modernity, natural theology, philosophy, biblical studies, and theology. Written by the most influential biblical scholar of his generation, its constructive conclusions and the promise make this book a necessary read for anyone interested in the light that Jesus can shed on natural theology.~Tom Greggs, FRSE, Marischal Chair of Divinity and Founding Co-Director of the Aberdeen Centre for Protestant Theology, University of Aberdeen
A tour de force, placing history—and Jesus himself!—back at the heart of ‘natural theology,’ where the broken signposts of this world lead to the broken God on the cross and creation renewed.~John Behr, Director of the Master of Theology Program and Father Georges Florovsky Distinguished Professor of Patristics, St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary
With a stunning breadth of research Wright takes his Gifford lectures as an occasion to deepen the paradigmatic shift in biblical studies that he has shaped over the last thirty years. Wright offers a model of historical exegesis that just might release us from our Platonic bondage. This book combines breathtakingly creative brilliance with a lovely eloquence. Since an ‘epistemology of love’ is at the heart of Wright’s natural theology, we wouldn’t have expected anything less. Read this book, then read it again. It takes its place in the esteemed tradition of Gifford lectures becoming classics.~Brian J. Walsh, co-author of Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice
Building on his field-changing New Testament work, N.T. Wright outlines a new theology of history. Against Bultmann's monumental critique of Scriptural narrative, he sets a historical drama that unfolds from within the Biblical texts themselves. The cosmos as Wright re-imagines it is charged with promise, significance, and bracing responsibility.~Judith Wolfe, Professor of Philosophical Theology and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, University of St Andrews
In this extraordinary reappraisal of the traditions of 'Natural Theology,' Tom Wright deploys his intellectual energy with surprising punch to address from an unexpected angle the fundamental problems posed for theology by modernity. Critics may be provoked, but fans will be delighted.~Frances Young, OBE, FBA, Emeritus Professor of Theology, University of Birmingham
Bible scholars, whether those that specialize in the Old or New Testament, theologians, church historians, pastors, knowingly or not, trade in the relationship of God to history. The Christian claim is that God has acted in creation in real events and persons both to reveal who God is and to redeem humans. Scholarship, especially since the Enlightenment, has distorted that relationship of God to history by reductionism, historicism and a series of blinkering false dichotomies. In History and Eschatology N. T. Wright turns to the great theme of the Gifford Lectures to respond to the game of history by proposing nothing less than an epistemology of love.~Scot McKnight, Julius R. Mantey Chair of New Testament, Northern Seminary