Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Israel's worldview?

Chris Wright, in his fascinating book Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (about which I have written a book review), outlines Israel's "worldview" in his opening chapter.

He defines a worldview thus:
A worldview is a comprehensive set of assumptions that a person or culture makes in answer to several fundamental questions that face humans everywhere. (17)
The questions include the following:
  1. Where are we? (What is the nature of the universe and this planet on which we live? How does it come to be here and has it a future?)
  2. Who are we? (What does it mean to be human and how, if at all, are we distinct from the rest of the living creatures we live among?)
  3. What's gone wrong? (What is the cause of the way things are, which we instinctively feel is not the way they should be? Why are we in such a mess?)
  4. What's the solution? (What, if anything, can be done to put things right? Is there a hope for the future, and if so, hope in what or whom and by when?)
Wright goes on to outline the "worldview of Israel in Old Testament times" (a phrase I find problematic):

  1. This world is part of the good creation of one single living God, whom we know as the LORD. It wholly belongs to this God (no part belongs to other gods), and the LORD is sovereign over all that exists "in heaven above, on the earth below and under the earth."

  2. "We" in the wider sense are human beings made in the image of the creator God, made for relationship with God and one another.

  3. What has gone wrong is that we human beings have rebelled against the creator God, in moral and spiritual disobedience, and this has brought evil consequences into every aspect of human life, including the individual personality, our relationships with one another, with our physical environment and with God.

  4. The solution lies with the same creator God who has addressed the problems of the nations of humanity by a historical project of redemption, beginning with the choice of Abraham, the father or our nation Israel. This will eventually extend to include the blessing of all nations and a new creation.
Does that hold water? What do people think?

This may work as a distillate of the canonical scriptures in their final form, but I doubt many historical Israelites would have answered all these questions in the same way. Having said that, I'd like to think that their partial viewpoints at particular times in their history would have adumbrated something like this. This worldview (if that's the right word ...) is the product of the prophetic shaping of Israel's traditions, and as such is primarily a canonical/theological rather than a historical/sociological phenomenon. In this, Christ Wright differs from Tom Wright's use of the term. Hence my problem with the phrase "worldview of Israel in Old Testament times" (though Wright does qualify this in footnote 3).

P.S. This will be the subject of our Bible study this coming Thursday. Ich bin gespannt zu sehen was daraus wird!

P.P.S By some extraordinary coincident, Jon of The Theological Ramblings of an Ordinand has posted on the same issue today, seen from the angle of N.T. Wright (who really is a legend). He also links to an mp3 lecture by Chris Wright.


Anonymous said...

Seems like we have been looking at the same stuff today and have even used the same worldview picture.

Chris Wright/Tom Wright. both gifts to the Church

Phil Sumpter said...

Bizarre! Thanks Jon. Your quotes remind me of the genius of the Bishop. He really is very holistic. I dig that. And I'm always up for audio material too!

Levi said...

i thought i was just losing my mind at first. I knew i had just read this.

i too find that phrase problematic. much like the more commonly held church saying, "in biblical times...".

thanks for the mp3 link.

Phil Sumpter said...

Levi, do you think it's nevertheless a valid framework for interepting the diversity of the Old Testament?