2,245 footnotes later…

rsgJust finished NT Wright‘s Resurrection of the Son of God, his massive argument for the historicity of the resurrection. One of the most interesting things about it is how Wright’s approach to the question of the resurrection is fitted to the theological content of the same.

In his first first chapter he outlines objections to a project of interrogating the question of the resurrection via historical study. One set is historical in nature and deals with whether it can be done — whether history has the tools or data to approach it. The second set is theological and questions whether it should be done — whether the ground of the Christian faith should ultimately be approached using anything but profession of faith.

Wright argues that history can approach the resurrection. He does so by, well, doing it… and doing it carefully, extensively (seriously, I counted up the footnotes) and strongly. And, in the course, a beautiful parallel between his method and the theological content of the resurrection emerges that answers the question of whether it should be approached using history. He is very concerned to argue that resurrection is not solely a cipher for a purely spiritual reality, having no place in the  physical or historical world. To grant that only faith and not history may access it is contrary to this. Further, approaching the resurrection historically, as Wright notes at the end of his book, is fitting in light of creation: “History matters because human beings matter; human beings matter because creation matters; creation matters because the creator matters”. It is also fitting in light of incarnation. Finally the resurrection’s ushering in of new creation parallels Wright’s suggestions towards renewed epistemology. The historical study of the resurrection inevitably brings one to worldview considerations, but out the other side of these, there is a new world accessible to renewed study.

All in all, an excellent book. Two questions about it:

  • Wright bases his argument in the belief of the early church. He notes that questions of authority and continuity still have to be addressed to draw conclusions for the modern church. How is this to be done, and will an approach with a foothold in history be able to do this, or does it require something else?
  • He approaches the Easter story via Paul first, then the gospels, which seems somewhat backwards, but is important in that his approach is via historical development, and Paul comes first. Where does this place him in relation to other theological approaches to the resurrection?

2 Responses to “2,245 footnotes later…”

  1. 1 Phil January 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Dave– a great review… always interesting to hear a new take on Wright’s magnum opus. I like the way you highlight the historicity issue in his argument.

    To answer your last question… the reason why Paul first, and the gospels second, may simply be due to the fact that the gospels generally were written later, after most if not all of Paul’s letters.

    The unfortunate thing is that too many take that as license to read Jesus or, perhaps I should say, the gospels through a particular sort of Pauline lense. This is especially a problem for those who cling to a sharp law-gospel dialectic.

    Thanks again for a helpful take… Wright-on!

  2. 2 withastone January 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Phil- glad you found your way to my blog!

    I agree that he does Paul first for historical reasons — because he works by thinking historically about the early church’s resurrection belief and wants to show no other circumstance but and empty tomb and appearances could produce it. I’m sure Wright doesn’t want to force everything to be read through Pauline lenses; I’m just guessing it might make for interesting comparison to read his argument next to a theological approach that is John-heavy, for example. Would different things come to the fore, would they be complimentary or in tension at various points? This comparison would be more about theology than historicity.

    If I remember correctly, my copy of RSG was a gift from you and Carol at some point… so thanks!

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