Creation, Power and Truth

The gospel in a world of cultural confusion

Chris Graves | May 2015 - Highfields Book of the Month

By Tom Wright - (2013) SPCK Publishing

Creation, Truth and Power, The gospel in a world of cultural confusionThis book is being reviewed at this time because of its relevance to cultural issues that many Christians are grappling with as we approach a General Election in the UK.  

The culture of the society we live in is changing around us. While Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), the tectonic plates of western culture are sliding this way and that, throwing up moral, social and political earthquakes and tsunamis to right and left.  To help better understand where we are in the confusing and disturbing times we face in our church and the wider world, Tom Wright reflects on three elements of contemporary culture: neo-gnosticism, neo-imperialism and post-modernity, and how they interact with each other.

The essence of gnosticism is that the material world is created imperfect and the soul can escape and transcend material existence by means of "special knowledge" - a "gnosis".

Gnosticism ... results in encouraging "empire" because gnostics ... focus on their escape from this world rather than confronting the follies of "empire".

Wright proposes that gnosticism flourishes in a world of "empire" such as existed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.  "Empire" encourages gnosticism by creating a world where for most people there seems to be no possibility of escape from its all conquering power.  The message to the dis-empowered is "nothing is going to change, so escape to a private spirituality!"  Gnosticism then, results in encouraging "empire" because gnostics see that "empire" confirms their view of the wickedness of the created order and therefore focus on their escape from this world rather than confronting the follies of "empire".  Only in the authentic gospel do we find Jesus declaring that all authority on earth, and not just in heaven, is given to him.  Wright shows that it is the Christian theology of creation which provides good news for those struggling with modern (neo) gnosticism and modern incarnations of imperialism ("empire").

Part of the doctrine of creation is that God intends the world to be ordered and structure, with a harmony of its parts that enables flourishing, fruitfulness and the eventual fulfilment of the creator's intention.

The early Christians ... were much more interested in what people did with power when they had it

God doesn't want chaos between now and then and uses human authorities (even when they don't acknowledge Him) to bring a measure of order in advance of the end.  However, since that puts authorities in the position of awful temptations, God's people have the vital calling to speak truth to them, and to call them to account in anticipation of that final day.  The early Christians (and Jews of the same period) did not worry too much how people came to power.  Rather they were much more interested in what people did with power when they had it - like Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar or Darius.  This has much to say to us today as we approach the 2015 UK General Election.

This is where Christians need to exemplify a different way.

Wright concludes by showing how the enlightenment modernist movement has increasingly given way to post-modernity, which itself belongs closely with gnosticism and "empire".  Post-modernism challenges by pushing the view that all truth and power is suspect and relative. "9-11" was a kind of ultimate post-modern moment with the clash of mutually destructive grand narratives.  Since then we have seen a confused and dangerous aftermath, as people on all sides have scrambled for what's left of the international moral high ground only to discover that they have forgotten how to hold moral conversations in all the morass of gnosticism, imperialism and post-modernity. This is where Christians need to exemplify a different way.  The gospel offers a love which cannot be deconstructed by postmodernism into power, sex or money, but a love which is clearly seeking its neighbours' good rather than its own, a love which goes out in the public square, not to gain power, prestige or money but in order to express that love of God which puts all thing right under the Lordship of Christ.

This is true both at the level of society and of course for the individual where "the son of God loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).  

Tom Wright's prayer is that this book will help readers to engage with God's world and with our confusing culture, to live the gospel as well as to preach it, to make it happen on earth as in heaven.

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