Saturday, January 14, 2006

Wilson reads Wright

Over at Blog and Mablog (surely still the best titled blog?), Doug Wilson has posted a review of Tom Wright's recent book on Scripture, The Last Word.

I think it's a great review and, as ever, it's writing as writing should be written.

Earlier this month Doug Wilson also gave his thoughts on a 2004 Wright talk on women in ministry.

And while I'm at it, let me also recommend Wilson's extended and detailed (chapter by chapter) review of Brian McClaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy - see Wilson's Archives from about November 2005 onwards. I think these posts form an excellent review.


Dave K said...

Doug Wilson's review is very good. The only point I really disagree is where he pulls up Wright for labeling fundementalism as Modernist. I think fundementalism was very so far as it reacted against liberalism it accepted the catagories/dichotomies that liberalism advocated.

Just a note for English readers though, in the UK the book has the title:
Scripture and the Authority of God.

I heard on the grapevine that Wright was unhappy with the US title. The UK title does encapsulate much more of it's message, so escaping Wilson's critism on that point.

Call Me Ishmael said...

Great blog, and thanks for the link1

David said...

Thanks Dave. I think your point about fundamentalism = modernism could be right and it could be wrong, depending on what you actually mean?

What do you mean, exactly, by fundamentalism? In what ways, exactly, was fundamentalism's reaction to modernity shaped by the categories of modernity?

Wilson's point is that all these kind of charges are too simplistic, surely.

Is a commitment to objective truth modernist? Because that is the issue Wilson is trying to address and he's trying to challenge the extremely common view that religious orthodoxy's confidence in truth equals a commitment to modernity. This is also the repeated charge of McClaren and it just doesn't up on a theological account of truth.

Dave K said...

Ouch! I wouldn't dare think I could give an adequate definition of fundamentalism. I am no expert historian of fundamentalism, and I have limited personal experience of it, so even my tentative thoughts below should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

However, it is my opinion, from what I know, that there was more to modernism than their commitment to objective truth. So I think you can criticise the movement for accepting other categories of modernism, which are not Christian. So I do not think Wright's problem with the modernist aspects of fundamentalism is it's "commitment to objective truth". I may be wrong (my copy of the book is on loan, and my memory is poor), but I think it is more to do with how they handled the bible, as something with which to exploit as a resource in order to do ethics/theology, rather than as God’s word to them as it was (and is).

Personally, I find fundamentalism to be modernist in a number of different areas. I can only think of two broad areas of the top of my head.

1. It accepted the individualism that was an intrinsic part of modernity. It was accepted the enlightenment’s view that the only person you can trust in your pursuit of truth is yourself, and the only things you can be sure of are the things you have yourself discovered. It had little respect for authority, specifically the teachers of the church. It is impossible to imagine congregationalism without modernism, or the advent of episcopalism (or even Presbyterianism) without this modernist emphasis on the individual. All that is not to say that there is not a role for challenge of authorities within the church as the Reformers themselves did (but they would not have accepted the marketplace approach to church that has resulted from modernity and which almost the whole church, including fundamentalists swallowed). More importantly the bible has a strong view of the authority of church leaders, which I think fundamentalism only paid lip-service to. This individualism of modernity fed into the privatisation of religious faith, which I think fundamentalism also accepted. This led to a disconnection from social action, or political involvement (cf. Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism), which I think was just what suited secular modernism. The church and the bible were seen as mines from which to extract what was useful for the individual’s privatised piety, with the individual human (there was modernist lack of emphasise on our createdness too) often free from respect for tradition, or the church (ala Modernism), to interpret the bible however it wanted. No doubt this lead to the flourishing of the some of the ‘cults’ we know today which also call the bible infallible but do not listen to it).

2. The other thought off the top of my head was that it separated God from the world, following the modernist impulse. They may not have doubted the existence of God, but a thoroughgoing understanding of God at work in his creation was lost. I think that meant that made the bible into a religious book like the Koran, rather than recognise how God worked through human authors and editors to produce books that were thoroughly part of the culture they were formed in, and yet also of God. Peter Enns in his recent book has put it much more eloquently than me, although I am not sure about all his conclusions

I ramble but returning to Wright, when I read the book, I posted a short summary based on the chapter titles of much of the book. I think that the following chapters (with my notes in square brackets) are fair criticisms of the modernist aspects of the fundamentalist view of the bible.

·Scripture thus Transcends (Though it Includes) 'Revelation' [because does not just contain information, but is a tool of God's which achieves something]
·[having said that] Nor is Scripture Simply a Devotional Manual [because that downplays Scripture's wider role in the church and the world]

David said...


Sorry if you thought my blog was sharp - it wasn't meant to be at all! Just looking for the kind of argument you gave in your second one and I think what you say are good e.g.'s of connections between modernism and fundamentalism. As I said, you could be right depending on what you meant!

I suppose the issue here comes down to whether Wilson has read Wright wrongly on what Wright's actual beef with fundamentalism is.

Wilson seems to suggest it's to do with objectivity; you're suggesting it's not.


Dave K said...

It is ok David, I didn't find your comment 'sharp' just challenging, and hard to answer.

I'm still not sure, whether Wilson misread Wright. I looked up the page numbers in a bookshop during my lunch-hour today but I think the UK edition is differently formatted so I couldn't find out that way with little time.

Wright's no Don Carson, but neither is he a postmodernist (I think he calls advocates critical-realism). I am only going on my poor memory and my rough grasp of what Wright is about. These make me doubt Wright was criticising fundamentalism on the grounds Wilson found. However Wilson is a largely fair reader of Wright, and has certainly read more of him than me so perhaps I should bow to authority! I just wanted to flag it up as a reading worth questioning, especially in these times when Wright causes so much division.

Anyway, should have mentioned, it's good to have you back blogging.