Sunday, 19 June 2011

An astonishing dialogue with NT Wright about the Boer War, Racism and Evil.

        Following my and professor Wright’s papers at St Andrews on Wednesday, I had the great privilege of spending a few minutes with him in his office at St Mary’s College.

As we started talking, the first thing he did, of course, was to show me his awesome replica of P75 (an early New Testament papyri of Luke 24 I think).
What I will cherish for a long time, however, was the fascinating talk we had about the South African Boer War, including the problem of evil.

Professor Wright told me that his grandfather was a lieutenant in the Boer War and wrote several letters in his time there to his father. What struck him was the English’s deep rooted racism against the Afrikaners at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Significantly, (and to my surprise) he added that the British helped the process of apartheid because of what happened during the Boer War. Thinking back, I remember my own father telling me how, as a child, he would listen to stories of his grandfather who fought in the Boer War too.
All of this lead our discussion to the problem of evil and particularly the trend among some Jesus Seminar scholars, who propose panentheism as a way of speaking about God and the cosmos. (As we know, panentheism sees God in everything and everything in God).
Professor Wright argued that panentheism is actually the wrong way around. What we are promised in 1 Corinthians 15 is that God will be all in all. Panentheism is therefore a dangerous collapse of eschatology. It’s always in danger of an over-realized eschatology, and hence of all the problems, which inevitably lead into various forms of pantheism. Professor Wright acknowledged that some, like Marcus Borg, will say that it is not pantheistic. But actually, (and this was important for him) if we look at how it actually plays out, the main problem is getting a handle on the critique of evil, let alone a solution for it, and solving the problem.

Things like Auschwitz, the Boer War, and the evil in every one of us, I understood Wright to say, cannot be part of God as panentheism would inevitably have it – at least not if we take the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament seriously.

Professor Wright puts it like this in his lovely book Simply Christian:

“The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do. And having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic and intimate relationship with it, without in any way being contained within it or having it contained within him ... this God appears to take very seriously the fact that his beloved creation has become corrupt, has rebelled and is suffering the consequences. This is something the pantheist cannot cope with. Even panentheism has a hard time giving a serious account of the radical nature of evil, let alone of what a good God might do about it” (Simply Christian, 2006, pp 58-59).

Following our discussion, I am more convinced than ever that the Christian God of the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures is in no way responsible for, or in any way part of the evil in the world as we now know it.

Professor Wright gave me a copy of the 2010 edition of his 1978 book: Small Faith Great God, and also the 2011 edition of his 2005 book Scripture and the Authority of God. In turn, out of gratitude, I posted the only copy of Die NG Kerk 350 jaar I have, (which is a history of the Dutch Reformed Church) to him on Friday morning.
Words fail to express my sincere appreciation for the wonderful discussion we had, and the gifts from professor Tom Wright!

Some of the delegates who also delivered papers.


francois mulder said...

Fantastic ... what a priviledge! Would you have thought 10 years ago this would happen? God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Trots op jou, boeta!

David Larsen said...

Great post, Frederik! Thanks for sharing this great experience you had with Professor Wright! He is a gracious and giving man, isn't he? It was great to meet you at the St Andrews conference! Hopefully we meet again soon!

Frederik Mulder said...

Thank you David :-) You did a great job with the conference! Yes, Professor Wright is a great guy - I've interacted with his work significantly in both my masters degrees. See you soon ..

Frederik said...

Frederik (from the north), Frederik from the south here (JFK). Just a small Afrikaner correction to the term "Boer War" you used. Remember the Brits fought hundreds of wars around the world, that's why they termed the one against our own fore-fathers the "Boer war". As Afrikaners, we actually call it the "English war".
Of course there is no evil in God, for God is light and there is no darkness in Him. But I think a big challenge we have today is explaining to people how God's sovereignty in election, and also the reality of hell is in accordance with God's goodness and character.

Lief vir jou.

Frederik Mulder said...

Dank je well JFK :-)
I wresteld with those issues some years ago and found Calvin's Institues very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Hallo Ferdie en Frikkie en al die res. Hoop dit gaan goed met julle ?

Ferdie, sterkte met die studies daar !

Sê my gou, wat dink jy van NT Wright se 'New Perspective on Paul' ?

Dankie, groete

Frederik Mulder said...

Rev Slabbert whom I remember from Tukkies a long time ago :-)
I cannot agree with him on that. Please read THIS blog to see where I stand on the issue please:
I told professor Wright that I disagree with him about justification.

Anonymous said...

Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose" - - The turns your life has taken Ferdie, prove the truth of this verse! Blessings, Henrietta

Anonymous said...

Ferdie, thank you for the link, great interview. Glad to hear the 'Old Perspective on Paul' through the interview with prof. Schnelle.

He spoke like a true Heidelberger on justification and our good works (see HC Sunday 24).

Hoor ! Hoor ! vir die Heidelberger !