Thursday, December 11, 2003
Richard Hays in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel:—
Wright's emphasis on the integral relation between worldviews, story and praxis is of great significance for ethical reflection about the Jesus tradition. Wright helps to move us beyond the study of disconnected, disembodied aphorisms; he helps us see that the significance of Jesus' parables and teachings can be comprehended only in relation to some overarching account of the storied world within which Jesus lived and moved. Without such a narrative context, the teachings become free-floating enigmas that can be interpreted at the whim of the reader to mean almost anything.... By developing a sustained reading of Jesus within a particular first-century Palestinian Jewish setting, Wright provides a controlling framework that helps us locate and understand the individual teachings.Hays goes on to argue that
In short, Wright's account of Jesus demonstrates that we cannot think of ethics apart from discipleship. We cannot ask in a vacuum what is good or right to do, nor can we be sufficiently guided by tables of rules or general ethical principles. Instead, we must ask what it means to become a follower of this particular man Jesus, to take up his agenda, to allow our praxis to be generated by the story that he told and lived.I believe that Hays brings to light some important issues here. Wright has given us a Jesus whose feet actually touch the ground of first-century Palestine. Once we have come into contact with this Jesus, reading the parables as fables applying a timeless ethical system seems strange, to say the least. The ethics of Jesus cannot be divorced from the kingdom-bringing mission of Jesus. One of the key problems in many of the Reformed and evangelical debates on the law and on Christian ethics lies in the fact that ethics is abstracted from the narrative of redemptive history. We talk about 'the law' as some detached system of moral commandments and not of the 'Torah' of the redeemed people of Israel. Once we start to understand the interrelationship between praxis and story we will begin to appreciate the manner in which Paul and Jesus treat the Torah. If Jesus truly came to accomplish what He did accomplish, then the praxis of the people of God must of necessity be radically reshaped. This reshaping does not constitute a denial of the goodness of the law. However, it means that the Torah cannot represent the final order. Any return to the system of Torah is similar to a child giving up on walking and starting to crawl everywhere again. In fact, to return to the system of the Torah following the coming of Christ would undermine the Torah itself. The whole purpose of the Torah was to lead up to Christ. The other thing that Hays, Wright and others have brought to our attention is the corporate shape of kingdom ethics. Most evangelicals think of ethics in an individualistic manner and fail to relate ethics to ecclesiology. This has proved to be a desperate problem. Ethics, by being detached from narrative and the Christian community has become secularized and mundane. Christians often think that the average Christian life is no more 'ethical' than those of many good-living atheists. Ethical living, however, can't merely be a human expression of gratitude for salvation, it must itself be the product, outworking and embodiment of redemption in a new society and the individuals within it. By bringing ethics back into the context of the Church and the redemptive historical narrative, Wright, Hays and those who share their approach have done the Church a great service. I do not believe that it will be coincidental if coming years see an increased interest in Christian ethics paralleling the growth in the influence of such authors as Wright. The realm of ethics is sanctified by the theology of Wright as it can no longer be easily abstracted from redemption. I can only hope that this leads to clearer and far more regular teaching on ethics in Reformed and evangelical churches.