Saturday, 1 November 2014

N.T. Wright and New Wine

N.T. Wright is not a charismatic theologian. But the similarities between his Kingdom theology and the theology of the charismatic renewal of New Wine are striking. “O yes,” Wright reacted last Thursday at the TU Kampen, “our theologies on the Kingdom are quite similar. New Wine is right to state that the ministry of healing should be part of the mission of the local church.”

Inaugurated eschatology
Wright’s theology can be labelled as “inaugurated eschatology”. It’s key notion is that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the “coming age” has been inaugurated, while the “present age” continues around us. God’s future has not been realized (“realized eschatology”) but neither can it be relegated to the second coming of Christ (“future eschatology”), somehow God’s future is present already in a very real way, but it still awaits its consummation. The Kingdom of God is simultaneously present and future, it is already here and yet to come. Furthermore, God is ushering in his Kingdom through his new people, the church, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Like the Father sent the Son, the Son sends his followers into the world to proclaim the Kingdom in words and deeds (see How God became King. Getting to the Heart of the Gospels, and Surprised by Hope. Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church).
The concept notion of the “already” and “not yet” of the Kingdom of God was proposed by Princeton theologian Gerhardus Vos, early in the twentieth century. It was then more fully developed in the 1950s by both Dutch Reformed New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos (The Coming of the Kingdom, 1950) and George E. Ladd, then New Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary (Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, 1952; updated in The Presence of the Future. The Eschatology of Biblical realism, 1974/1996). Ridderbos and Ladd emphasize both the present and future character of the Kingdom of God: it still awaits its consummation but has been inaugurated in the life and ministry of Jesus, and Christians are to live as Kingdom-people, doing the works of the Kingdom.

New Wine
The charismatic renewal of New Wine is theologically rooted in these New Testament studies of Ladd (see my Research Master thesis on New Wine theology, Life to the Full. From Creation to Re-Creation, VU University, 2014). “Before the eschatological appearing of God’s Kingdom at the end of the age, God’s Kingdom has become dynamically active among men in Jesus’ person and mission”, Ladd argues. This is not only the element which sets Jesus’’ teaching most distinctively apart from Judaism, “it is the heart of his proclamation and the key to his entire mission.” “Before the apocalyptic coming of God’s Kingdom and the final manifestation of his rule to bring in the new age, God has manifested his rule, his Kingdom, to bring to men in advance of the eschatological era the blessings of his redemptive reign”  (The Presence of the Future, 139). Thus the Kingdom of God is “present as a dynamic power” (chapter 6), as “God’s dynamic reign invading the present age without transforming it into the age to come” (149).  The church is “the people of the age to come, but it still lives in this age”. As such, it is to display in this present age the life and fellowship of the age to come, doing the works of the Kingdom (268-9).
Within New Wine, this translates in social engagement (social justice) but also in ministries of healing and deliverance, as Jesus sent out his followers to proclaim the Kingdom, to heal the sick and cast out demons. New Wine envisions “nations changed through Christians experiencing the joy of worshipping God, the freedom of following Jesus, and the power of being filled with the Spirit”, and “churches renewed, strengthened and planted, living out the word of God in every aspect of life, serving God by reaching the lost, broken and poor, and demonstrating the good news of the Kingdom of God to all” (see their Vision Statement, The vision statement speaks of both the “natural & supernatural”, and both the “now & not yet” of the Kingdom. New Wine envisions,
  • “every Christian using all the natural reason, wisdom and skill that they can, while also learning to operate in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit to minister to others in love and power as Jesus did.”
  • “We want to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and to see that confirmed by miraculous signs and wonders, while also ministering grace to all, knowing that suffering will be part of life until Jesus returns and makes all things new.”

Part of the mission of the Church
When Wright was lecturing at the TU Kampen last Thursday, he was asked after such ministries of healing. “God is fulfilling his purpose with creation and he renews his people through the Spirit. Sometimes this renewal takes the form of healing”, he reacted. “In my experience, we sometimes see healing on our prayers, sometimes we don’t. But the ministry of healing is all part of our priesthood and our intercession, and we should not leave it out because we’re afraid to be disappointed. Always expect God to do the unexpected.”
When I talked to Wright afterwards, I asked him after his view on the charismatic renewal of New Wine, and specifically their ministries of healing and deliverance. “Our theologies on the inaugurated Kingdom of God are very similar indeed”, he reacted. “New Wine is right to assert that ministry of healing and deliverance should be part of the mission of the Church. It always has been, throughout the history of the Church, and we still see it in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church and also within the Church of England.”
Wright opposes a “triumphalist” approach, “claiming” healing. “Some charismatics simply say: ‘God doesn’t want you to be sick so we’ll pray and you’ll be healed.’ I oppose that. I have seen remarkable healing on prayer. I remember a woman who was said to have only a few days to live. After being prayed with, she was healed and still lives today. But many times we don’t see healing.”

When bishop of Durham, Wright would pray for healing with the sick and lay on hands. Within the parish, there was also a team that was involved in deliverance ministry. “We didn’t advertise it, but when we came across people who were troubled by demonic manifestations in their lives or in their houses, we would refer them to this team. It’s our modern rationalistic mind-set that opposes it, but it is very Biblical to do, though we should be careful. The demonic is very real.”

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