Saturday, October 28, 2017
"Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright" ed. James M. Scott. A Review
Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright
Ed. James M. Scott
A division of InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5183-6; $40.00; July 2017
In some circles he’s ignored, in certain groups he’s mildly tolerated, in a few he’s the target of scorn, and in others he’s loved. Yet he takes it all in normally good humor, never dismissive, and almost always with thoughtful replies that draw the reader to the issue and not to the man. A prime example is the new 336 page hardback “Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright”. Editor James M. Scott, professor of religious studies at Trinity Western University, British Columbia, Canada, masterfully convened numerous scholars to accomplish exactly what the subtitle states, have a conversation with N.T. Wright, specifically on his theme of “exile”. Many of the chapters are papers that were presented at Trinity Western University in November 2010, while a few others have been added “to provide additional coverage of the subject from other perspective” (preface). The volume is a fairly technical discussion, but comprehendible by perceptive readers.
“Exile” launches with a lead article by Wright that carefully reiterates the theme of exile that he has mapped out in numerous works through the decades. Many of the premises will be familiar to long-time readers of Wright. He takes in hand to show how “exile” was a major paradigmatic outlook leading up to the arrival of Jesus, and a backdrop to Paul. He displays once more how from within this framework Jesus redefined “who Israel is, what the land and Torah are, and where the temple really is” (48). Then he turns to Paul, and the way the cross has rewritten the meaning and aim of creation and new creation, Israel, Torah, and humanity. Finally, Wright revisits the intention of God’s salvific work; “In the New Testament the rescue of human beings from sin and death, which remains vital throughout, serves a much larger purpose, namely that of God’s restorative justice for the whole creation” (79).
Eleven scholars then converse with Wright about “exile,” some highly supportive and others fairly critical. The first set of responses cover the Old Testament of both the Hebrew texts and the Greek Septuagint. Walter Brueggemann chimes in immediately taking Wright to task for forcing the notion of continuing exile onto the cognitive environment of the Second Temple period. Robert J.V. Herbert delves deeply into the Septuagint’s interpretation of Hebrew to exhibit by what means the translators’ “perception of themselves as living in a state of continuing exile” (116-7) come forth in their translation. Jörn Kiefer concludes the first section by positing that in the Hebrew Scriptures “exile and diaspora are not necessarily and primarily a story of gloom and doom” (124).
The second part looks into early Judaism. Philip Alexander wonders if modern Zionism hasn’t influenced some Christian scholarship, and then moves on to build the case that Jewish Nationalism was a potent force in the centuries leading up to Jesus, a nationalism that was an “unshakeable belief that the Jewish people had a divine destiny to live in freedom in their own land, worshipping their own God” (154). Next, Robert Krugler examines the community that surrounded the Dead Sea Scrolls and concludes that the Scrolls show “that notions of God predetermining the moment of history’s conclusion and active participation in that can be made to live together, even if the fit might seem a bit uncomfortable to the modern reader” (182). Lastly, Dorothy M. Peters returns to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and claims that the Essenes “had the same hope as did most Second Temple Jews, that exile would end and that they would be restored to a purified land,” and of all the possible means of ending the exile, Jesus’ movement “of loving their enemies, blessing those who cursed them, or a dying, suffering servant Messiah” was not in their game book (197).
The flow of “Exile” continues on to examine the New Testament. To keep Jesus from being reduced to a means of individual redemption, Scott McKnight proposes a new way to hear the biblical story that “tells a christological narrative that generates salvation for those who enter into that christological narrative” (207). Warmly embracing Wright’s model, S.A. Cummins finds that Paul “acknowledges above all the transcendent and unfolding providence of a gracious God, and the complete contingency of creation and humanity” that sees the exile as “fully overcome and restoration finally realized within the eschatological outworking of the economy of God” (236). Timo Eskola criticizes Wright for finding too much continuity between the Hebrew Scriptures and Paul, and that the apostle should be heard as a preacher of discontinuity and covenant language should not be used in interpreting Paul.
Finally, Systematic Theology sits down with Wright, and gives him a two-fold lecture. To begin with, Hans Boersma thinks that Wright has wondered too far from his Western-Platonic roots, and speculates that “Wright is much more susceptible to the charge of deism than is the orthodox Western tradition” (270). The last participant in the conversation, Ephraim Radner, labors hard to set up a figural reading of Scripture’s narrative that becomes a general tale existentially imbedded in an individual’s life-story. Of all the chapters, these last two are the spiciest.
N.T. Wright has the concluding word in “Exile,” answering each of the conversation-partners. To hear Wright interacting with each author adds clarity to the whole project. Wright closes by voicing some disappointment; “Rather to my surprise, I have found myself defending two of the Reformers’ principle watchwords: solus Christus on the one hand, sola Scriptura on the other” (332).
“Exile” is helpful at different levels. Not only is it good to read Wright’s concise reassertion of his thesis; but it is beneficial to listen in as others tangle with the whole program. The book is obviously not a love-in. There are disagreements, challenges, affirmations and deliberations. Sometimes it’s a genuine conversation, at other times writers are telling and tattling. I’m grateful to James M. Scott for orchestrating the material, and gladly recommend it to any and all who desire to better comprehend one aspect of N.T. Wright’s theme.
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
(The book can be purchased at this link: IVP Academic)