"Discerning the Dawn: History: History, Eschatology and New Creation" by N.T. Wright

I believe this quote from Longman’s commentary on Genesis summarizes it well

… there were editorial additions. These additions may only be the most obvious examples of textual material added after the time of Moses and we cannot determine precisely what was authored by Moses or added by later inspired editors. In the final analysis, it is not necessary to do so because what is canonical is not restricted to what Moses wrote, but to the final composition of the Pentateuch, which may not have reached final form until the postexilic period.

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I’m not sure how Wright (well, or you, either) sees the period between human death and resurrection. But I think in many ways you and Wright are on the same page.
He is not the first theologian I’ve heard to emphasize the goodness of physicality; it seems to be a point of emphasis in confessional reformed churches, but never was in the Baptist churches I had been in my whole life.
I think this emphasis on physicality makes more sense and gives a much greater possibility for meaning to any concept we might have of an afterlife.

I reviewed the last third of the lecture a bit more today. I am still banging my head against Wright’s fuller description of his Epistemology of Love. I love this section and idea but I also doubt it. At 40:00 he says:

When heaven and earth really do overlap when the age to come really does break into the present age ahead of time a new image bearing possibility is awakened a kind of whole person knowledge we didn’t know was possible and knowledge shaped by and responding to the object of knowledge namely the creator’s love rather than using its own private method as a procrustean bed the point of the heaven earth overlap is that things happen on earth which are true signs of the presence of heaven and which can therefore be discussed historically not just in a private sphere called faith.

Is it possible to discuss the resurrection and the meaning of it, the theological history Wright uses to make sense of the resurrection, in any meaningful way without faith? Is it possible for true signs of the presence of heaven to make sense to someone without faith? Or does he mean something different by “private sphere of faith”?

All of the points he makes about the epistemology of love delight me, but I don’t understand how they can work outside of the presence of faith:

  • Knowing involves all aspects of being human.
  • All knowing is communal knowing.
  • Knowing is engaged and relational, not detached.
  • Knowing involves seeing space, time, matter and other image bearers as gifts of the creator
  • Knowing needs to be redeemed by love

Later it does seem like Wright is assuming faith as part of this kind of knowing, for example (49:20) “Love remains at the heart of a Christian knowing, not only of the new but also of the old.” But Wright clearly fights against the idea of faith as “mere subjectivism” at 51:10 – “The argument from Jesus’ resurrection to a refreshed form of natural theology cannot collapse into a mere subjectivism.”
Earlier (sorry I don’t remember where) Wright has mentioned that he is dealing with both objective and subjective knowledge, perhaps joining them. So, this point is important for him to make – I want him to succeed!

The last section (of this “stuffy” academic lecture) is just gorgeous:
Love in the form of faith
Love as historical epistemology
Love as theological epistemology
Love as vocational epistemology
The Commission of love
Whew! It’s almost shocking to hear an academic speak this way. (None of the academics I am used to hearing speak have been Christians or have been speaking on Christian topics.) I could get used to it.

One of the things I found interesting here and in James K.A. Smith’s book, is this emphasis on communal knowing. This idea as stated is fairly new to me. I hope we can talk about this idea communally.

I look forward to more discussion with this little commune.


Yes, I find that Wright uses big words for big concepts and these are sometimes hard to unpack!

My own take was that Wright here wants to assert that God intervened directly (materially/physically) into history, and that the physical (e.g. written and archeological) evidence left by that event is something that can be discussed and evaluated by atheists in the public sphere, without faith. He wants to contrast a concrete resurrection with the Gnostic/epicurean/atheist/enlightenment view that the resurrection was never really physical, but only a spiritual concept that might be held by some religious people in their own private minds–a “private sphere called faith” but not a historical event which could be investigated by anyone.

But I think you are also correct that Wright asserts that one can not grasp the full meaning of resurrection (i.e. as an event in which God physically interacts with us) without “love” or “faith”… So it sort of becomes a chicken-and-egg question in my mind. If an atheist is a priori convinced in his/her mind that a God could never act in history, that person (lacking faith) will never grasp the full meaning of the historical evidence. This links back to what Wright said earlier in the lecture, that his atheist friend could not accept a physical resurrection, not because that friend had different historical facts, but because he had a “different worldview”. Can people change their worldviews, their presuppositions? Sure. But I guess that process is unique to each individual, and there is no recipe.


That’s a great point, though I’ve encountered a lot of people to whim it would be meaningless because they fail – and perhaps are incapable of grasping – to comprehend that there is such a thing as a worldview.

I’ve made that point so many times I wouldn’t even be able to estimate the total.

It should also be noted that gifts given by the Spirit do not become the property of the recipient; the Spirit may bestow a given gift for a moment, an hour, a day, or however long is useful.


That’s in part a result of how the radical side of the Reformation essentially jumped church history straight from the end of Acts to their own founding. It’s a big reason I’ve really appreciated Episcopalian and Lutheran theology because they draw on all the centuries, not just the first one and their own.

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I’m reminded of a story I read long ago that was written in response to a Methodist trend treating physicality as somehow unimportant. It was about a guy standing in line on Judgment Day waiting his turn before the throne, and his response to an angel who came along handing out hot cinnamon rolls to anyone who wanted one. The guy decides that this must be some sort of test so he declines getting one. It was called “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”.
I forget the rest of the story but by the time the angel is coming back along the line the guy had figured out that it was just a cinnamon roll God was providing to make the long wait less burdensome.

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Back to the communal aspect of knowing with the who person (or maybe rather persons) …

At about 47:35 Wright mentions that “love insists on making its presense felt within knowing as a whole person activity, a communal activity…”
He mentions the communal aspect of knowing with the whole person in other places as well. I’m assuming he means the Church, that is, the invisible Church. All of it, over time, over place.

At this point in history, I find it hard to imagine this going well, at least in the U.S. where there is so much wrong in the church. But that might be Wright’s point. That no single group in a single place and time can do this right. We must take correction, wisdom, insight and encouragment from all over. A kind of healthy, appropriate ecuminism?



Maybe, just as in the past where a majority of Israelites was prophetically recognized as no longer acting as the people of God - and yet a remnant is there, even if not visible in any big sense; maybe today too we shouldn’t think of the outward institution(s) as being “the church”, but rather a more subterrainian cross-section of people from all over society (maybe many from outside of any recognized ‘churches’, but hopefully some from within all those entities too) that are being Christ’s body today.


We recently had an opportunity to meet a cross section of folks through Christianity Today from varied denominational backgrounds and it was refreshing to see how they actively followed Christ through their life journey. So yes, I think there are still those for whom ‘…love insists on making its presense felt within knowing as a whole person activity, a communal activity.”

Perhaps just as the US was the origin of many mission groups in the past, others may come to find the US to be a fertile mission field.


I once met a Korean pastor who had been sent to the U.S. as a missionary. It was a somewhat shocking idea to me at the time!

Kendel asked that this be put up either tonight or tomorrow. Here it is already - since tomorrow’s the 29th! So if you haven’t already been refreshing your memory, you might want to be revisiting lecture 7.

for this thread:
“Discerning the Dawn: History: History, Eschatology and New Creation” by N.T. Wright
Below are the links to sections of this discussion. Please see the OP for more information.

Opening Post (OP)
Jan 5, 2024: Lecture 1 - The Fallen Shrine: Lisbon 1755 and the Triumph of Epicureanism
Jan 19, 2024: Lecture 2 - The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels
Feb 2, 2024: Lecture 3 - The Shifting Sand: The Meanings of ‘History’
Feb 16, 2024: Lecture 4 - The End of the World? Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historical Perspective
Mar 1, 2024: Lecture 5 - The Stone the Builders Rejected: Jesus, the Temple and the Kingdom
Mar 15, 2024: Lecture 6 - A New Creation: Resurrection and Epistemology
YOU ARE HERE: March 29, 2024: Lecture - 7 Broken Signposts? New Answers for the Right Questions
April 12, 2024: Lecture 8 - The Waiting Chalice: Natural Theology and the Missio Dei


reposting my responses to lecture 6.

Wright talks about the epistemology of love… and to even understand what he is saying I need to compare this with my own epistemological framework.

He gives a list of claims as a part of this epistemology of love:

  1. knowing involves all aspects of being human
  2. knowing takes place in community
  3. knowing is engaged and situated not detached.
  4. knowing takes place in a field of claims to power.
  5. knowing needs to be redeemed by love.

Compare these with these things I say which connect somewhat…

  1. Knowledge is the portion of our spectrum of belief which governs the way we live (this rejects the standard idea of knowledge as justified true belief as hot air empty of meaning since nobody believes things they think are untrue or unjustified). Something is knowledge because we live by it. For example, in science, scientific knowledge consists of the things science uses as part of its toolbox to investigate phenomenon. Theory becomes knowledge when it becomes part of how science does its work.
  2. Language is the substance of the human mind and there is no language without community – indeed language only works when the meaning of words are by consensus. And connecting this to number 1: how we live… is in community. The human community has become the environment which we now adapt to.
  3. Here I would distinguish between objective and subjective knowledge. In the former (in science) we exclude ourselves from what we study in order to observe, and with a procedure which gives the same result no matter who performs it we obtain some reliable objectivity. But life requires subjective participation where it is the very nature of living things to impose an order on the world, Therefore a pretense to restricting ourselves to objective observation alone is delusional. Detached knowledge therefore is inadequate for living our life.
  4. Knowledge in science provides a means to power. Making the scientific means to knowing the measure of all knowledge thus makes everything a search for power. And thus it is no surprise that religion fails such a measure, for that is something good religion should fail at.
  5. When religion becomes a means to power it has left God and become blasphemy. Science has built in limitations where religion has no inherent limitations and this is what makes religion dangerous. Thus it behooves us to impose limitations on religion and this indeed has become one of the most important tasks of established religion. We need to insure that God and love and only God and love reign in the works of religion.

The point of this comparison is to invite the criticism… “no that is not what Wright is talking about” so you can explain to me what he is talking about instead and thus help me to understand what he is saying.

Whereas I see this as a terrible thing which I must strongly oppose. The point of this distinction is objective knowledge is the domain of science and there is no room for subjective knowledge in the work of science. The last thing we need is any dissolution of this distinction and the admission of religious knowledge into the work of science!

BUT at the same time, it is to oppose the presumption of the naturalists who try to equate all knowledge with objective knowledge… and thus Sagan’s denouncement of claims which cannot be tested (like the existence of God) as “veridically worthless.” This is nonsense because the very nature of living organisms and life is it requires subjective participation. For the living of our lives it is objective knowledge which is more veridically worthless.

So the middle ground here is to maintain this distinction and to see value in both of them.

Those who emphasize the communal nature of knowing the most are the naturalists. It is the essence of objective knowledge – that which is true for everyone the same. But this is the opposite of life, which is characterized by diversity and not being the same for everyone.

So while I acknowledge the fundamentally communal nature of knowledge, limiting knowledge in way is in this sense a removal of life from it – dead knowledge. And… the simple fact is that one individual can know things which nobody else knows. And nobody should know this better than a Christian. So no… all knowledge is not communal.

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As I start lecture 7, I find Wright turning to the question of natural theology and what is it? So we do not have to wait to the end of lecture 8.

Traditionally, it seems natural theology has referred to arguments from nature for the existence of God. I think I have made it clear that I do not support these, I don’t think the arguments are sound or convincing. Not only that but I think they distort our understanding of God and mislead us to replace a faith in God with a faith in the premise of these arguments. I think the belief in God must be a choice and a matter of faith – all about what kind person we want to be and what kind of existence we want to be a part of.

So, basically I would give a different role to natural theology. To leave the question of God’s existence to faith and instead natural theology would inform us about what kind of God (and theology) would be consistent with what we see in nature. Wright’s approach focusing on history is interesting but I lack his confidence in historical science. On the other hand, I see little reason not to take the accounts in the Bible seriously whether they meet the standards of modern historical science or not.

I make no pretense to objectivity in religion. I frankly think that is inconsistent with the purpose of religion. Wright seems to be looking for an objective basis for Christianity in history, and that is hard for me to get excited about. I would limit apologetics to a defense of the logical coherence of Christianity and not look for an objective basis for believing in it.


C S Lewis wrote somewhere that it is not possible to argue convincingly that Christianity must be believed, that our task is then to show that it is reasonable to do so – or at least not unreasonable.

@mitchellmckain thank you for reposting and extending your thoughts on Lecture 6. I’ve read them a few times and still need to spend some more time with them. But I think I can start to address a few things so far. In what may seem random order.

You mentioned the traditional understanding of natural theology and your reservations, maybe rejection of them. Actually, I think Wright is concerned with much of what you said and spends a great deal of time in the first two lectures arguing against the idea that “assured results” are possible or even desirable in the investigation of “the historic Jesus”. He also spends a good deal of energy discussing the problems created by an expectation of “assured results” (believed by British and American theologians and lay people to have been the the promise of 19th and early 20th century German theologians) particularly, when they can’t be delivered. The result, he argues, is a rational/ized rejection of the Incarnation, Jesus as the Incarnate one, and of the Resurrection – and therefore anything that is theologically associated with those things.

Although he was invited to deliver a Giffords series on natural theology, Wright is quite clear that he does not believe that the traditional understanding of natural theology “works” either. So he redefines it. Entirely. Using the incarnate Jesus as the connection to the natural world. And as I mentioned above, he does this to connect this person occurring in nature to the history which he inhabited.

Wright uses all of this to demonstrate, as he believes, that the resurrection of Jesus is the best or most reasonable explanation for the resulting early church, its behavior and spread.

I hope I got it all in there. Or at least the main points.

Wright’s only claim comparing the work of a historian (after he goes to great lengths to demonstrate what he does and does not mean by “history”) to that of a scientist are the process of developing and testing of hypotheses, AND the public nature of the work of a historian, which exposes the work to critical analysis by others. Thus, he believes, the work of the historian progresses in slow dialogic fashion.

And the work of the historian, because it deals with real people doing real things in the world, including the natural world, should be the basis for a better concept of natural theology.


I think the subtle difference in the word you used, “knowledge” and that Wright used, “knowing” is important. You refer to a variety of types of knowledge in your posts, but I think Wright’s term is more “elastic”, and that “elasticity” makes a big difference. Not everything we say we know (verb) fits into the category of “knowledge” (noun). You mentioned, for example language and its relation to culture. Yes, we “know” words and grammar, but there are also entirely subjective aspects to both language and culture that can’t so easily be called “knowledge.” Gut feel, emotional response, “nose” (There’s a Wittgenstein reference for Jay313.), what one likes, and the like are not so much “knowledge” but they have to do with knowing. And then we can add in “knowing people” or a place. German and Spanish (probably other languages, too) have different words for this kind of “knowing.”

I’m sure I didn’t say anything you don’t already know. I hope you don’t feel lectured; that’s not my intent. I bring all this up to go back to Wright’s descriptors of “knowing” that you listed and particularly the “communal knowing.” Knowing that takes place within a community, in this case, I think he means within the community of all believers over all time and place. I think he and Smith (and Myron Penner) are in agreement on this, in spite of Wright’s stated concerns about Postmodernism, and Smith’s productive application of some of its features to Christianity. The kind of knowing they are both talking about and requires the same kind of slow dialogue across time and place between Christians who have different understandings, experiences, “wisdom” (rather than “knowledge”) that they can contribute to the ongoing understanding of the Gospel, life in Christ, the purpose and role of the Church, etc, etc, etc.

I think your reservations about communal knowledge are important and worth discussing more. I think, however, Wright means something else and better.

Thanks again, for reposting. I’ll try to respond to other points you made soon.


That’s interesting about Lewis and relieving. But also hard within the current U.S. (and I think other places) Christian Zeitgeist that demands “assured results” in order to defend faith. “We have to win against the athiests!” as if this is a team sport with logos and helmets. “Lewis to the rescue!” He is treated as delivering “assured results” by those who are convinced they need to be able to have them. I’m more and more convinced that this isn’t possible. However, I would like to have reason to believe that my belief isn’t entirely fabricated out of human imagination. “Whatever gets me through the day” really isn’t a reason for belief in anything, except the plecebo effect. Lewis – and Wright – may be able to do that.

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…And in any case, any such “assurance” will have a vast range of difference for what qualifies. One person may already express assured confidence on the slightest of subjective experiences or testimonies while another feels no such assurance even when presented what others feel is a substantial collection of evidences. So I’m pretty sure you’re absolutely correct when you say that there will be no universally accepted assurances - even were natural theology, complete with modern Intelligent Design coup d’état success (which as yet does not seem forthcoming) - even with all that, there will still be substantial populace that does not recogize any of that as sufficient assurance.

So it really is hard to know what those who prize this are really after. Is it all under the banner of “yes - but there are some who are moved, and we ‘save’ a few more souls?” I suppose that may be it, though you can tell that I myself don’t think that’s a compelling rationale any more either.


Here is an excerpt from the lecture (#7) transcript where I like how Wright explains what he thinks were the priorities of the Psalmists - in contrast to what we often think of as natural theology today.

The homology between creation and temple, which we looked at a week ago, was not designed to enable the Israelites to look at creation and infer the existence of a temple was the other way around. The homology between Sabbath and the age to come was not designed so that the Israelites could look at the age to come and figure out that they ought to be keeping the Sabbath. It was the other way around. One might even suppose that Psalm 19, which moves from the all penetrating heat of the Sun to the all penetrating wisdom of Torah, was itself written from the standpoint of one who already knew the latter, and was using the former to illustrate it. In other words, I don’t think the Psalmist had been contemplating the Sun and deducing Torah. It, too, was the other way around. This would then correspond, not to a supposedly apologetic task of natural theology, trying to convince the skeptic without appealing to inspiration, but to the supposedly explanatory task drawing out ways to hold together the truth of God and the truth of the world.

I’ll post another excerpt later on where Wright insists that our modern flipping around of the Psalmist’s starting points has serious implications, then, for our soteriology and eschatology about Christ. …Or - ok, I’ll just post that here and now:

Now, as with my overall critique of the Kantian tradition, he says grandly. I haven’t actually offered you such a thing but it’s been implicit in what I’ve been doing. I believe that the moral argument has got out of focus. I’ve argued elsewhere in my book The Day The Revolution Began, that the Platonic eschatology of Western Christianity, “souls going to heaven”, has generated a moralistic anthropology–(my problem is simply “sin”)—which has then produced a paganized soteriology: “God so hated the world that he killed Jesus”, so that in order to retrieve the biblical theology of the cross we need to unpick and rework each stage; not merely the final one: the anthropology and also the eschatology.

Now - I do find Wright’s material here (and what preceded it - not included above) to be a bit dense, and I would need help unpacking it all. It does seem from the last sentence above though, that Wright is envisioning no modest little project here.

But I like the bit about the Psalmist which nicely illustrates that one doesn’t start from nature and from that get to revelation. One already has priors with Revelation, and then uses the more accessible natural world to help explain it. Jesus’ parables are the continued and exemplary practice of this I should think.


Gifforders, please, feel free to add/correct here. I know I’ve missed things. Mitchellmkain, that includes you.

In regard to scientific enquiry, I agree.*

Outside of science, though, there is much to know objectively as well. In the case of Wright’s thesis, we may not be able to prove the resurrection, but we have good evidence that a lot of 1st generation Christians believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. We may not have objective proof of events and places in the Old Testament, but we know that those books comprised the sacred text for Jews up through Jesus’s time and into the present, that they helped form the expectations of early Christians – both Jewish and Gentile – and provided much of the guidance they used for how to live like followers of Christ. I think this is why Wright has focused so much on temple theology and its meaning for early Christians. He is trying to show a connection between the New Testament fulfillment of expectations that were expressed in the Old Testament. But he says that the New Testament meaning can only be applied by taking the fulfillment of the expectations (for example the coming of the Kingdom of God) and looking back to the OT.
I think Wright’s concept here is similar to what the writer of Hebrews did with many OT passages referred to to demonstrate that Jesus was the fulfillment of expectations and longings expressed in the OT. (Hope I have gone beyond the pale with that one.)

I’m not defending or refuting Wright at this point. I am still not sure that he succeeds in his attempts. But I am thinking this all through, using Mitchellmckain’s thoughts as a springboard.

Yes. I think Wright, though, is not only looking for middle ground, but seeking a framework in which both are necessary. As in my paragraphs just above. Wright’s project includes both objective facts, as well as interpretation, and “abduction” which can’t be called “proven results” but is an attempt to develop the best possible explanation for all the known facts.

I think that the concept of abduction leaves room for a great deal of bias. I have heard at least one entirely naturalistic explanation for NT and early church events that could work as well or better than Wright’s.

Your first statement is interesting to me, and particularly at a time when it feels more and more like Christians around me are demanding that we MUST have objective proof of our faith, so much so that we must invent it. Honestly, it’s a relief to hear a Christian say, they don’t even consider objectivity, but who also rejects what Wright describes as “romantic” (“The heart knows things the mind cannot” or something like that.)

Actually, I think Wright has argued pretty hard that objective proof is not available, which is why I have had such a hard time thinking through this “epistemology of love” he is working out. This “whole person” knowing is not entirely objective, nor subjective, nor is it individualistic. (If you have time/interest, he specifically describes it starting here in lecture 6.)

@mitchellmckain, thinking back over the lectures so far, do you think that Wright is attempting to show logical coherence of Christianity? If so, do you think he is making any headway?

My take on what you said is that you oppose standardized, one-size-fits-all, top-down dogma that ignores input from others in the community and is prescribed as what a particular community knows. Members of the community are expected to conform their thoughts and beliefs to the prescribed doctrine. (Maybe much like Kierkegaard described “the universal” in Fear and Trembling.)

I think you mean something different from Wright, although I still have some questions for him. He talks briefly about it at 44:58 in lecture 6:

All knowing is communal knowing. Pretend otherwise and you land up in solipsism, the phenomenalist’s trap, in which all you know is your own sense data. We all rely on a wider community of some sort to help us with the project of knowing. Abduction itself is regularly a communal activity. That’s why the Enlightenment’s new epistemologies produced different kinds of revolution, different communities of knowing came into direct conflicts having as in other areas left love out of the equation.

I think Wright is actually saying something like you did:

and that that knowing should be incorporated into the community’s knowing, rather than rejected as nonconformist.

Which brings me to power and some of your earlier points like this:

Wright seems to see this, too, which is why I think the communal knowing he talks about is so important. It’s a kind of disarmament movement within the community. If the entire community is responsible for and involved contributing to knowing, and that in love, then power cannot be part of the equation.

*I think. “Do no harm” comes to mind, which might require dealing with subjective aspects of including living things and beings in scientific study. Ethics in science are related to the subjective. But this is a different topic.

Ok. I’ve taken up a lot of space here in the last few days. I, too, invite discussion, but must also move on to lecture 7, if there is none.


Though one can start with nature and end up looking for revelation, as happened in that informal intelligent design club I’ve talked about before.

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