Quotes from Wright in 1978

N.T. Wright, c.1978
The following quotes are taken from one of Wright’s earliest books, Small Faith—Great God, published in 1978, and out of print for quite while now. I thought that some of the readers of this blog might find them of interest.

We sometimes think, though, that seeing God ought to becomfortable. We talk happily about people having a sort of ‘God-shaped blank’ in their lives, as though all you had to do was to slot God into the blank and everything would be all right. Not a bit of it. Remember Isaiah 40? Israel’s trouble was exactly this: that they started with a God-shaped blank, and ended up with a blank-shaped God. And what use is that? The God of the Bible is not a blank: he has very definite characteristics (notice how much easier it is to fit a vague God into a blank) and when he comes into what we call our God-shaped blank he has to stretch it and pull it and work at it all our lives to turn it into his shape. [32]

The gospel (as everyone knows who believes it and then tries to explain it to a sceptic) is not a straightforward thing. If we bring our human categories of understanding to it and try to fit it into them, it proceeds to shatter them one after the other until there is only one vessel left that can contain it. That vessel is the life of the people of God, and within that people the life and heart of the person who is indwelt by the Spirit of God. [54]

The gospel is not, then, the sort of thing that automatically appeals to human beings as they are in themselves. We speak, says Paul in the same passage, the wisdom of God in a mystery. God reveals it to man by his Spirit. When a doctor does a test for colour-blindness, he has a card on which the colour-blind person sees one pattern while the person with normal sight sees another. The gospel of God is like that. We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world for our glory. No credit to us: left to ourselves we would have seen quite a different pattern in the events of Good Friday. God needs to perform a miracle in our understanding, opening our eyes to see properly for the first time, to realize that the young Jew on the cross is God’s salvation for the world. [55]

Two men went up to the temple to pray. The first was a Pharisee, and the second a publican. And the publican stood up and prayed like this: O God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are: two-faced, holier-than-thou, proud, arrogant, self-righteous, or even as this Pharisee. And the Pharisee would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat upon his breast and said: Lord, have mercy on me, a hypocrite. [65]

You see [walking by sight] in many people’s attitude to the church. I don’t find in the New Testament any suggestion that the visible church ought to be composed of guaranteed one-hundred-per-cent soundly converted keen Christians. If it had been, half of the epistles would not have been necessary. Yet people are always hankering after a false security, such as you would get from belonging to a church that could be seen to be all right, seen to be ‘sound’…seen? We walk by faith, not by sight. Any attempt to get a purer church, or Christian life, than we have been promised this side of heaven, runs the risk of attempting to base security, assurance of salvation, on something other than the free grace and love of God. [104]

Imagine a boy born blind. From his earliest years he has heard his parents’ voices, and he has felt the touch of their hands. He knows them, but has never had any of the hundreds of joys of seeing them. He has never seen the look in his father’s eye or the smile on his mother’s face. Imagine this boy then having an operation, so that for the first time he can see them. Imagine the bandages being taken off, and his meeting those of his parents for the first time. That, I suggest, is something of what heaven will be like. Here we know in part, we walk by faith and not by sight. We live our lives in obedient, trusting faith, hearing the Father’s voice and knowing something of his love. One day the bandages will be off: and then we shall realize that this faith, focused in God’s chosen signs and particularly in the Lord’s Table, has been all along a real foretaste of heaven. [125]

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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One Response to Quotes from Wright in 1978

  1. Pingback: Barefoot in the wilderness

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