Friday, April 16, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - Wright Responds to Hays

Since Hays had to leave early, they gave Wright an opportunity before Hays left to respond to the criticisms that Hays leveled. First, Wright rebutted that he had created a fifth gospel that replaces the canonical four. He then proceeded to give a bit of personal background.

Wright grew up in a time where the gospels were held to be thoroughly unhistorical, especially the gospel of John. His goal was to go into the home court of his critics and beat them at their own game. He knew that if he substantially used John in his work on the historical Jesus, then liberal critics like Crossan would not even bother with his work. So, he omitted John altogether.

Wright's last response was one that raised some eyebrows. He essentially claimed that the early creeds and confessions of the church got it wrong in that they screened out Jesus announcement of the kingdom and the Jewishness of his Messiahship. Thus, he claimed, that he was more canonical than many of the creeds and thus against Hays he didn't see the tradition of the early church as the right starting point for historical Jesus studies.


  1. I read your Hays post before this one and knew Wright's answer to the "John issue." I'm a little surprised Hays raised it as an objection, but oh well.

    Wright's last response raises my eyebrows, too. I'm not surprised Wright the Historian feels that way; I'm a little surprise Wright the Anglican Bishop would say it. Gotta love the man.

  2. Oh, and thanks for letting me live vicariously through you. Keep the updates coming.

  3. Good observation, now you get some bonus content.

    I think Hays objection is valid and invalid at the same time. It's invalid in that Wright is correct in asserting that he couldn't use John to achieve the goals he had in mind. At the same time, Hays makes a great point, we need to include John in the discussion, and here's where Thompson's talk was so good. Without recapping the whole thing, she makes the point that John is much more of a retrospective reflection on Jesus and what he did in light of events current at the time of writing the gospel than the Synoptics are. It captures the significance of Jesus.

    I don't remember if this was in her talk or in the Q&A, but she asked what role the effects of someone should have on our historical understanding of that person. If the resurrection is the epistemological key to everything, then the retrospective view of John becomes all important to any understanding of Jesus. As an aside, Michael Bird seems to take a similar line at the end of his book 'Are You the One Who is to Come?'.

    In the Q&A Wright responded to this by claiming that using John too heavily and working from the resurrection backwards ends up having us run the risk of reliving the 18th century all over again where Christian understandings of Jesus are laughed at by the academy as naive and unhistorical. There's also a risk in not assessing Jesus a human first and losing our sense of Jesus humanity and historical situatedness (I'm working solely off memory here I hope I'm accurately summarizing him).

  4. Hey I'm glad to do this. I wish you could be here attending. It would be fun to engage in person in a fuller discussion of what's being said.

  5. If I remember correctly, one of the last volumes in Wright's series is intended to be on the gospels. I wonder if he'll deal more with John's Gospel then, addressing some of the issues that Hays, Thompson and others bring up now. I remember some being quite critical of Wright after JVG came out because he didn't deal with the resurrection much (Luke Timothy Johnson was especially critical). Then Wright came out with his finest work (in my opinion) in RSG. All that to say, I hope Wright does deal with John at some point more in depth, but I understand his reasoning behind not including it in JVG.

    Andy Rowell has an interesting take on the Hays-Wright dynamic on his blog (he's at the conference as well), arguing that their different audiences has contributed to their different approaches. I think he's on to something.

  6. Rowell nails it. It's very clear that that is the case and he articulated it much better than I did.

    I hope Wright does include John at some point too, but several remarks he's made at the conference has made me think that it's unlikely. He's pushed back on that bit of criticism more than any other.

  7. I should add that there's a bigger gap than just audience however. At a fundamental level Hays/Thompson are much more amenable to tradition than Wright is and I think that that distinction plays a major role here too as Hays and Thompson consider John to be part of the tradition about Jesus (a view from the resurrection backwards or a Christian explanation of the meaning of Jesus), and still consider it to be on equal footing with the Synoptics.

  8. I think my last comment needs clarification. I'm not just restating the disagreement. I think that Wright just doesn't like tradition all that much. In this case I think his debating partners have shaped him. Hays holds it in higher estimation. It's not just about them fighting different errors, their disagreement is more basic.