Sunday, January 17, 2010

N.T. Wright: Meaning and Myth

Interesting video of N.T. Wright over at the Biologos blog on Meaning and Myth, referring to the interpretation of Genesis 1-3. He talks about the way, in the States at least, these questions are caught up in the cultural and political wars in a way that's not the case elsewhere. He goes on to explain that 'myth' is not necessarily over against 'historicity'. He does think it's still appropriate to think about a 'primal pair getting it wrong', but says he roughly goes along with John Walton's 'cosmic temple' interpretation. He critiques the way literal 6-day creationists are often also dualists who believe that God is going to 'throw the present space-time universe in a trash-can and leave us all sitting on a cloud playing a harp.'

Peter Enns pops up with some thoughts in the comments section. He suggests, and I think he's right, that the big question for evangelicals working through the issues of theology and evolution is not so much Genesis and Darwin, but Paul and Darwin. I think this is clearly going to be one of the key questions for evangelical theology for the foreseeable future.


Sabio Lantz said...

I watched the Wright video. I agree that myth can be used to inform how to view ourselves without being literal and stuck on details. I get how one can look at the "thrust" of the Myth -- as Wright says. In fact, I just posted about a Hindu myth in the Mahabharata.

But Wright seems to want it both ways. He wants us not to judge his myth so that he can have it claiming "truths" that he wants it to say. He wants it "true" in many ways. So, he is willing to let the details go, just as long as he gets to decide what the "thrust" of the myth is.

He tells us that he believes that Genesis tells us the truth when it says that something like "a primal pair getting it wrong did happen." And that Genesis makes a true claim when it says this world was made to be God's dwelling and he shared it with humans. [whatever that means?]

Point is, Wright seems to me to want his Bible myths to be true in very strong ways. He wants to say, "Well, not literally true" which I get, but he does want to decide exactly what part we should hang on to as true.

So if we get a list of true claims that Wright wants the Bible to say, then we can discuss it. I get how it is important to look for the "thrust" or themes of a text, but that doesn't mean we can't completely disagree with those meanings too. But unless one writes down the claims you think are made by the myths, conversations will slide all over the place as people keep moving the meaning to avoid detection. Instead they want to use it as a sacred tribal flag.

Jon said...

Hi Sabio, thanks for your comment.
It would be strange if an Anglican bishop, and Christian biblical scholar did not want to see 'truths' within the myth of Genesis 1-3 would it not? What would be the alternative? To say that the myth has no meaning? To say that it is radically indeterminate?
It would be most unWrightian to give list of true claims or propositions, he is much more into narrative theology. He hasn't written too much on Genesis as he is a New Testament scholar.
I'm not sure how familiar you are with his written work, but he sets out his methodology in 'The New Testament and the People of God'.
Here's a snippet:
'First, Christian theology tells a story, and seeks to tell it coherently...The story is about a creator and his creation, about humans made in this creator's image and given tasks to perform, about the rebellion of humans and the dissonance of creation at every level, and particularly about the creator's acting, through Israel and climactically through Jesus, to rescue his creation from its ensuing plight. The story continues with the creator acting by his own spirit within the world to bring it towards the restoration which is his intended goal for it. A good deal of Christian theology consists of the attempt to tell this story as clearly as possible, and to allow it to subvert other ways of telling the story of the world, including those which offer themselves as would-be Christian tellings but which, upon close examination, fall short in some way or other.' NTPG, p132

Sabio Lantz said...

Jesse Galef just wrote a superb short article on "Metaphorical Truth" which states my objection very nicely, if you are interested.