March 5 2020
How can we know about God? That question increasingly bothered scientists and philosophers in the modern period as they chipped away at previously imagined "certainties." They refused to take on trust the "special revelation" of the Christian Bible, trying instead to argue up to God from the "natural" world. That is the theme of the Gifford Lectures, inaugurated over 130 years ago. This natural theology has usually bracketed out the Bible and Jesus—and with them, usually, the scholars who study them. History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology represents the first Gifford delivered by a New Testament scholar since Rudolf Bultmann in 1955. Against Bultmann’s dehistoricized approach, N. T. Wright argues that, since the philosophical and cultural movements that generated the natural theology debates also treated Jesus as a genuine human being—part of the "natural world"—there is no reason the historical Jesus should be off-limits. What would happen if we brought him back into the discussion? What, in particular, might "history" and "eschatology" really mean? And what might that say about "knowledge" itself? This lively and wide-ranging discussion invites us to see Jesus himself in a different light by better acquainting ourselves with the first-century Jewish world. Genuine historical study challenges not only what we thought we knew but how we know it. The crucifixion of the subsequently resurrected Jesus, as solid an event as any in the "natural" world, turns out to meet, in unexpected and suggestive ways, the puzzles of the ultimate questions asked by every culture. At the same time, these events open up vistas of the eschatological promise held out to the entire natural order. The result is a larger vision, both of "natural theology" and of Jesus himself, than either the academy or the church has normally expected.
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