Begbie: N.T. Wright and Emergent Ecclesiologies

As I was walking through the high desert mountains of North Africa this morning with a German army shovel in my hand, looking for a suitable place to dig a toilet, I was listening to Dr Jeremy Begbie on my ipod. He was talking at Wheaton about the "eschatology" of N.T. Wright, which he pronounces in his delightful English accent, "eSCHATology", rather than the American "eschaTOLogy".

To be honest, I wasn't paying much attention, I was simply looking for a proper grounding for my scatology, or at least a practical outworking of it. But as I returned from my adventure, feeling lighter in both mind and body, i was able to give more attention to his lecture on Tom Wright's theology and emergent ecclesiologies.

As for the lecture, it was damn funny and a bloody good show from Dr Jeremy Begbie who attempts to explain the "odd" connection between N.T. Wright and the interest in him from emerging churches. A good oversight of the lecture is given by given by JR [Rozko, not Woodward] but I highly recommend downloading and listening to the whole thing. Thanks JR!! Could someone shoot JR a thank you tweet and then let me know . . . who shot JR? he he he.

Begbie mentions a meeting between Tom Wright and emerging church leaders in the UK, one that discussed a "reverse ecclesiology" in which the future of God's people should be a starting point for the church. That meeting was in 2004. I was there. Some of us wrote reports on that meeting, including Richard Sudworth, Jason Clark, Gareth Powell and Jonny Baker. I blogged it also but what I didn't say back then is that Tom and I had a private chat about the idea of the superimposition of the Kingdom of God over our present existence, something that I have noticed in the fantasies of George MacDonald. And sure enough, Tom Wright had also read MacDonald and agreed with me.

I am sure it totally transformed his life! Yeah right.

All 5 points of Begbie's lecture ring true but especially the first – the intrinsic nature of Tom's theology which is attractive, especially for those brought up on a more disconnected systematic theology, in which all areas of knowledge seem to hang by themselves on branches of a tree, self-existant and lonely for connection.

Begbie also suggests 3 features of Wrights theology that emerging churches would do well to pay attention to. This summary from Jim Vining

3 Elements of N.T. Wright’s Work that Emerging Churches often Neglect

1. Ascension of Jesus: Jesus, the risen Messiah, is standing over the Church. The Church is not filling the void of Jesus. Remembering this reality prevents both triumphalism and disillusionment. The Holy Spirit is the key link between the Church and the risen Messiah.
2. Israel: The Church must understand the story of Israel to ground us in the appropriate context.
3. Catholicity of the Church [Qualitative] – The Church transcends all social, cultural, and natural divisions. Jesus gives a new way of relating to each other. Unlike consumerism which segments people, the Church includes all kinds of people are included. The victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness is shown in an inclusive Church.[Extension] – The Church is comprised of all believers in all places in all time. The united Church must have some physical presence beyond clusters of homogeneous units. There must be some kind of institution. Many in the emerging church view institutionalism as the enemy, but avoidance of institutions is often an attempt to avoid the pain of Church unity.

Good critique. [UPDATE: I give more thought to them on a new post here] On my part, my teaching on ecclesiology has taken on a more OT basis over the past few years. If you heard me teach at the EC roundtable event last summer in Poland, most of it was spent cruising through OT passages (Abraham's promise, Daniels vision of a mountain, Ezekiel, Isaiah), all part of a vital background to this new holy mountain that we have come to and become a part of. I also find myself using the letter to the Hebrews a lot more in explaining ecclesiology in addition to the book of Acts and the Pauline letters. See my thoughts on keeping the virtual church real.
How much of this has been influenced by Tom Wright? I dont know but it is probably a lot. I know that when I read the books of N.T. Wright, I find a resonance in the questions he asks of the texts, as well as the answers he arrives at. Theology must be more integrated, more "instrinsic" [thanks Jeremy], more interweaved with the whole story of God.

We need harmony as well as melody. That's why we like Uncle Tom.
And I realise I havent owned up to any of these 3 criticisms but before I do, any one else want to respond? Do we view institutionalism as the enemy?

NewbiginsMissionalShampoo-tm_1.jpgAlso: On the subject of Lessie Newbigin, which Jeremy Begbie feels we have neglected, or at least have pushed his emphasis on the cross to the back, he should know that many of us have immersed ourselves in Newbigin's writings over the years. I still remember Mark Driscoll in the early years yapping on and on over meals about Lesslie Newbigin (which he pronounced with an American "N" like in "New York"). Dang. I have 7 Newbigin books on my shelf and love what than man wrote, ESPECIALLY his focus on the cross. In fact, if I remember my readings correctly, his address at the Willingen missions conference in 1952, where the idea of 'missio dei' was taking shape, was exclusively about the cross – See Missions Under The Cross, Goodall, 1953.

BTW -I was thoroughly disappointed when a book criticing the emerging church, Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church– probably the most thoughtful critique I had read – only vaguely referred to the influence of Lesslie Newbigin, and then provided nothing to chew on. Unfortunately, even though he was quoted, like, three times in the book, it didnt appear than any of the writers had actually read the books by Lesslie Newbigin. One of the writers, D.A. Carson, thought the word "missional" originated with Newbigin. It didn't, as we all know. But much of the wind behind our missional sails was provided by Newbigin.

Related on TSK: Does the emerging missional church have reformed heritage?
Previously on TSK: Tom Wright on Justification, Tom Wright and the Emerging church, Tom Wright's 'Surprised By Hope' is my Top Book of 2008


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


Leave a Reply