N.T. Wright, Trivialized Discourse, and the Need for a Third Way
I’ve been working my way through N.T. Wright’s brilliant (albeit dense) opus Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I am about a quarter of the way through and while it is far from an easy read, thus far the juice is worth the squeeze. It is amazing how often, amidst detailed discussions of, say, historiographical arguments between scholars of late antiquity I’ve never heard of, he drops a gem that makes me do a double-take. One of my favorites so far was this jewel:
“The shallow social and political alternatives bequeathed to contemporary western society by the Enlightenment and its aftermath, in which every issue stands either to left or to the right on some hypothetical spectrum, and every political question can be answered in terms of ‘for’ or ‘against’ – this trivialized world of thought cannot cope with the complexities of real life either in the first or the twenty-first century.” (PFG, 314.)
This trivialized discourse in which so many elements of the church and the world seem trapped has been highly visible this week, in the UMC world and elsewhere, with news of the Schaefer defrocking and half the world losing its mind over the firing of a reality TV star. Many of us, by all appearances, are just one headline away from retreating into our ideological enclaves and lobbing bombs at the drop of a hat – especially if human sexuality is on the docket. We then pat our fellow left/right-wing cohorts on the back as we throw around platitudes that make a mockery both of substantive Christian discernment and reasonable, civil debate.
What we are doing isn’t working. Bishop Wright is right; the current state of our cultural and ecclesial conversation cannot carry the heavy water of real life, and the way too many of us are acting is not worthy of the Christian community or the Gospel to which we have been called to witness. Continuing in this path is nothing short of mutually assured destruction.
A growing number of us are looking for a different way, a third way, or at the very least something that doesn’t repeat the culture wars ad nauseam. Who’s interested?