Journeys have provided rich material for writers over the centuries; from Homer’s Odyssey, to Tolkein’s The Hobbit (or, There and Back Again), to de Botton’s The Art of Travel. Journeys are both the reality and the metaphor for the human life. It is no surprise then that Tom Wright begins his book (which is really a series of lectures) by describing two types of journeys. He is, in fact, quoting someone else (Dr Jonathon Sacks) when he does this, identifying the GPS type of journey, where we are given directions to where we are going; or the ant journey, where we follow each other aimlessly, ending in catastrophe.
Wright’s question at the beginning of the book is, “Will the church, and the world, do the satellite-navigation thing or the ant thing?” (2) He examines this question in terms of three challenges: Gnosticism, imperialism and postmodernism. These challenges, while considered from a contemporary viewpoint, are shown by Wright to, in fact, have been challenges that the world and the Church have faced since the Gospel was first proclaimed.
Wright states from the beginning that he is using a Trinitarian framework to consider the three challenges which he has outlined. In short a Trinitarian framework seeks to examine an issue through the relationship of the Godhead (such as we saw in the Balswick’s The Family), with particular focus on how Christ reveals the Father and the Holy Spirit. Wright is clear to point out that the Trinitarian framework was not imposed, but came about through biblical exegesis (4). This is certainly the preferred method of scholarship, as described by Gerald Bray in his essay ‘The Trinity: Where do we go from here?’ in Always Reforming (ed. ATB McGowan).
This book is quite short, and, as a result, raises more questions than Wright has room to answer, and there are certainly some difficulties with engaging deeply when much is assumed. However, in this it is important to remember two things. Firstly, that the book is based upon three lectures given at Harvard University in 2006. Thus being tied to a particular audience and context, and as the Noble lectures were founded “to arouse in young people, and primarily in the students of that great university, the joy of service for Christ and humanity, especially in the ministry of the Christian Church” (as quoted by Wright in the Preface, xii), they have specific purpose. And secondly, that given the book’s brevity we need to be generous to Wright in our judgements. I must admit that there were times in my reading that I wondered if he had wandered into having an over-realised eschatology, but this was more to do with my haphazard reading over a period of time; it is much clearer when read in one sitting.
I hope, as we look through each of the challenges which Wright outlines over the coming weeks, that we would be able to see how the Gospel of Christ is our story, our journey. And that, as we walk the life of faith in Him, we would be challenged to confront our own views on creation and new creation, power and authority, truth and justice.