Final Reflection: Are these Theological Worlds the Bible's World?

Let us begin with an extended quote from Geoffrey Wainwright, Lesslie Newbigin: a Theological Life (Oxford, 2000), 342-343. (I will alter the paragraphing to make it easier to read here.)

A key point for Newbigin's thinking in the 1950s and 1960s occurred in 1957 during an all-night flight from India to Europe, when he worked through every mention of "the world" in the New Testament. ... He remained aware of the six "paradoxes" that he had discerned in the New Testament's interpretation of "the world" and "the nations" during his airborne study of the text.

First, "the world belongs to God and yet it is in the power of the devil" (contrast Matthew 2:1-11, in which the wise men from the East acknowledged on the world's behalf the kingship of Christ, with Matthew 4:1-11, in which the devil apparently had it in his power to offer Christ the kingship of the world); "the world was made by Christ but the world knew him not" (John 1:10).

Second, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19), and Christ indeed came "to save the world," yet "his coming is the judgment of this world" (cf. John 3:16-21; 6:66-71).

Third, Christ "came to gather all into one" (cf. John 10:16; 11:52; 12:32), "and yet his coming provokes the hatred of the world which hates him and his disciples" (cf. John 15:18f.; 17:14), and there emerges the figure of the antichrist, the "counterfeit of power and grace and wisdom, gathering multitudes, deceiving even the elect," a false "universal saviour" with whom Christ will come into "increasingly acute conflict" (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

Fourth, "Christ calls people out of the world, but he sends people into the world" (cf. John 17:14-21), as "salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13) and "the bearers of God's promise" (cf. Matthew 28:16-20); and "the end is not a restored church but a new heaven and a new earth, a restored world."

Fifth, the world may bring judgment upon God's people for their apostasy (cf. Matthew 12:41f.); "God uses the obedience of the heathen to provoke his own disobedient people" (cf. Romans 10:18-21).

Sixth, "all men and all nations are ultimately judged by their relationship to Christ. And yet Christ is hidden in the world, hidden so that even his own people do not recognize him. 'When saw we thee hungry...?'" (cf. Matthew 25:31-46); "to meet Christ we have to go into the place where apparently he is not, i.e. the world which 'lies in the hands of the evil one'" (cf. 1 John 6:19).

See, systematic theologians really do pay attention to the Bible. (Some of them, anyway.) Not bad for one plane flight, eh?

Let us accept Newbigin's exegetical skills uncritically. Your assignment is to test whether the systematic theological visions of 'the world' you have encountered in this class bring clarity to the paradoxes Newbigin sees in the biblical texts, or whether they obscure those paradoxes (for instance, by underemphasizing one pole in the dialectic). Toward this end you may choose from two alternatives:

A. Choose one text (or, if you dare, the teaching of your professor). Assess its service and/or disservice to all six paradoxes above.

B. Choose one paradox. Assess all six readings' services and/or disservices to that paradox.

Ideally, we would celebrate a text that improves (not just respects) the perspicuity of these scriptures in its particular setting, and lament a text that distorts, neglects, or obscures them. You will want to pay special attention to the cultural locations of the texts you are analyzing.

Papers are due Thursday, December 12 before the Religion & Philosophy office closes. Please keep your paper 6-7 pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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