N.T. Wright on the church

The Newbigin Group meets at South Perth Church of Christ every couple of months to discuss gospel and culture. This year’s meetings are focused on the work of N.T. Wright. Tonight’s meetings will discuss Wright’s view of the church. The readings come from Scripture and the authority of God, What Paul really said and Simply Christian. As a house-churcher, some things he wrote challenged me:

True, buildings can and do carry memories, and when people have been praying and worshipping and mourning and celebrating in a particular building for many years, the building itself may come to speak powerfully of God’s welcoming presence.
“Believing and Belonging” from Simply Christian

He’s actually speaking against the building’s importance for church, but his by the way comment reminded me of the good side of having a church building. The downside is the constraint to imagination; the move of church from everyday life to a set-apart realm; the cost of maintenance and loans and labour.

Wright also seems to believe strongly in ‘accredited leaders’; I want to find out more of his opinions on this. Here’s Doug Fletcher’s summary from Scripture and the authority of God:

A reading of scripture taught by the church’s accredited leaders. Such teaching is the primary responsibility of church leadership. It’s not that management skills are unimportant, but they cannot be allowed to supplant the primary apostolic responsibility of proclaiming the word in the power of the Spirit.

I wonder how close this is to What Wright Really Said? I don’t see the teaching gift as something tied up to ordination. If we had spirit filled house church meetings as our understanding of church, we wouldn’t be tempted to see Accredited Leadership and Teaching belonging together.

The extract from What Saint Paul Really Said is on “Justification Then and Now” and it is a hard word to the Sydney Anglicans amongst the Newbigin Group.

If you take the old route of putting justification, in its traditional meaning at the centre of your theology, then you will always be in danger of sustaining some sort of individualism. This wasn’t so much of a problem in Augustine’s or even in Luther’s day when society was much more bound together than it is now. But… in contemporary post-modernism individualism has been all the rage…

Justification is itself the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupsings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family.

Justification declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their cultural or racial differences.

One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. One is justified by faith by believing in Jesus.

I hope Sydney Anglicanism comes under the influence of N.T. Wright’s brand of evangelical Anglicanism. That would be great! It might combine some of the vitality of the Sydney Anglican group with a more corporate, social gospel; a less flat hermeneutic; and a nuanced Bible.

Here’s the email the group’s convenor, Ian Barns,  sent out:

 The next session on ‘Tom Wright for everyone’ will be on Monday August 6, from 7.30 to 9.30 in Meeting Area 3, South Perth Church of Christ. Our topic for discussion will be ‘What about the church?’.

Like Newbigin and many of the other theologians we have talked about in recent times, for Tom Wright, ‘the church’ plays a crucial role in the outworking of the story of God’s kingdom in the renewal of creation. Tom Wright is an Anglican. Indeed, he is the current Bishop of Durham and his recent writings have reflected his engagement with the considerable pastoral challenges and opportunities he faces as a bishop. He also gets asked to speak to ’emerging church conferences’ (see his talks to the Faithworks/Christian Aid conference accessible on the NT Wright web page)
Yet we wonder if his account of the shape of the church, as it bears witness to the project of the renewal of creation and Christ’s challenge to Caesar is as clearly developed as, say John Howard Yoder. Is he more interested in giving talks and sermons than developing more ‘organic’ Christian communities? What can we learn from Tom Wright about how God wants the church to be in our present times?Our discussion on August 6 will be introduced by Doug Fletcher. Doug teaches statistics at Murdoch University. He is also completing a PhD in theology, examining the ideas of American theologian George Lindbeck.

The Newbigin group homepage is here:

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