BIBLICAL GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY

Issue No. 30

11 - 17 August 2008

A GOOD BOOK

This week I would like to introduce Evil and the Justice of God, by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham. Over the years that I have been contributing to the ‘Good Book’ column in BTW, this must be at least the third time that I have commended one of Wright’s books. He is in some respects a controversial figure: his views regarding eschatological language in the NT and (most recently) justification by faith have each provoked widespread debate; and it is even possible that in the future some aspects of these debates may surface in the columns of BTW. But in general I find in Wright’s books a combination of creative biblical scholarship, theological insight, informed social analysis and pastoral wisdom that is very rare in most contemporary Christian writing. And that is why I continue to buy, read and recommend his books.

Evil and the Justice of God begins with a penetrating analysis of evil in the modern world: how it is still present with us, and as virulent as ever; and the inadequate contemporary responses to evil. These responses include: acting as though evil was no longer really a problem (a version of the myth of human progress which some people, incredibly after the events of the 20th century, still believe in); and reacting in immature ways when evil manifests itself in forms too obvious to ignore. Postmodernism was right to critique modernity’s claim to have solved the world’s problems, but it has no solution of its own to offer (‘You can’t escape evil, within postmodernity; but you can’t find anybody to take the blame, either’, p. 14). Wright’s survey in this chapter ranges across the contemporary political scene, terrorism, child abuse, psychology and much more. It makes compelling reading.

In the next two chapters Wright sets out the biblical teaching on evil. The Bible does not give a clear answer to the question that most perplexes many people about evil (where does it come from?), but it does have much to say on the topic of what God has been doing, is still doing, and is going to do about evil. Indeed, that is really the main theme of the Bible. 

The Old Testament sets out the problem in Genesis 1–11 (human transgression, loss of blessing, spread of evil), and then from Genesis 12 onwards points us to Abraham and to Israel, the nation descended from Abraham. Abraham’s descendants were to be the solution, the means of bringing blessing to the nations of the world, but as the OT proceeds it becomes increasingly clear that they are part of the problem: themselves subject to sin and not agents of blessing; themselves hard of heart like the pagan nations they were supposed to bring back to God. Against that background the NT presents Jesus as the faithful Israelite: the Servant who brought restoration to Israel and light to the nations of the world (cf. Isa. 42 and 49); the one in whom the promises to Abraham found fulfilment; the descendant of David through whom the kingdom of God was decisively established on earth. 

One of the interesting points Wright makes in his survey is that theologians have tended not link the NT teaching regarding Jesus’ death with the question of evil. The cross has generally been considered under the category of ‘atonement’ (salvation from sin) and evil has been considered separately under the category of ‘philosophical problems with theism’. But while the NT is clear that Jesus’ death was indeed a sacrifice for sins, an equally important part of the NT teaching is that when Jesus died on the cross he was confronting the powers of evil, both human and spiritual, and that his resurrection from the dead marked God’s decisive victory over those powers. The book of Revelation ends with a vision of a renewed heavens and earth from which evil and injustice have been decisively banished, and in which God’s plan of salvation has reached fulfilment, all as result of the redeeming work of the Lamb (Rev. 4–5; 21–22).

If that is how the story ends, what are we supposed to be doing in the meantime? The church’s task, in Wright’s view, can be expressed as ‘implementing the achievement of the cross and anticipating God’s promised future world’ (p. 65). Chapters 4 and 5 explore what this might mean in practice. Chapter 4 is a wide-ranging discussion which takes in prayer, holiness, penal codes, international politics and the role of the arts in stimulating the imagination. Chapter 5 addresses the topic of forgiveness in what I found a particularly thought-provoking and moving way. Forgiveness does not mean simply ignoring or tolerating evil that has been done to us: it means, rather, confronting the evil, making clear to those who have wronged us that what they did was indeed wrong, but then offering reconciliation. And as we offer reconciliation, we are freed from the anger and resentment which we naturally feel at being wronged, and thus freed from the evil itself. This is part of what it means to be delivered from evil.

Wright’s books are a delight to read, but a reviewer’s despair. He writes so elegantly, clearly and suggestively that no summary can do him justice. Into little over 100 pages he packs a survey of the modern world, a biblical theology of evil, and a wide-ranging agenda for the contemporary church and for individual Christians. In conclusion, let me simply say: read this book! You are sure to find something in these pages that will feed your soul and help you as you play your part in the struggle against evil. (PES)

Introducing Our Recent Graduates ...


Ms Tan Siew Goh (Grad Dip CS 2007; MCS 2008)
Siew Goh is a member of Providence Presbyterian Church, where she is involved in the Prayer Meeting Committee, and will be a cell group leader from July 08 onwards. She has worked for HDB for 24 years as a Higher Technical Officer in the Internal Audit Department. She intends to continue with the MDiv programme at BGST.Her life verse is 2 Tim. 2:15: ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.’

Mr Yue Fah Yong (Grad Dip CS 2004; MCS 2008)
Fah Yong spent twenty years in the engineering industry. He has been an Assistant Pastor of Yio Chu Kang Chapel for nine years, and is an Elder of this Church. He has a strong inclination to serve God in a mission field together with his family after his graduation. Currently, he is on sabbatical leave, studying Indonesian language at IMLAC, Bandung, Indonesia. His life verse is 1 John 2:17: ‘The world and its desire pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.’

Weekly Highlights

Chapel speaker for 13 August will be one of our MDiv student Mr Victor Xu, do come and join us.

Course Schedule

The course schedule for Jan - May 2009 is now available on the website at http://bgst.edu.sg/pdf/2008-2009sem2.pdf 

Registration for Bible Lands Study Tour is now open!! 

Tour #5 - Grandeur of Jordan & Israel, 23 Sep to 03 Oct (11 days), S$3,950 (all inclusive on twin-sharing full board basis).

Tour #6 - Quest for Eternity: Grand Tour of Ancient Egypt, 20 to 31 Oct (12 days), from S$3,840 depending on group size. 

Closing date: 22 Aug 2008

Please call Serene Woon at Tel: 62276815 if you are interested to join either of these tours led by Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

BGST Bookshop


Promotion ends 30 Aug 2008. 

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