N.T. Wright on ‘Faith’

Jesus, in inviting his hearers to think of their god explicitly in this way, was emphasizing a strand in Jewish tradition which implicitly carried forward his claim: those who possessed this ‘faith’ in YHWH as ‘father’ were defining themselves as the eschatological Israel.”… The call to ‘believe in the gospel,’ or to ‘believe in me,’ does not suggest the Jesus was inviting Galilean villagers to embrace a body of doctrine — not even a basic ‘theory’ about ‘salvation’ and how they might attain it, nor, again, very much of a christology (though presumably it involved recognizing Jesus as a god-sent prophet like John).

I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s, Jesus and the Victory of God. This morning I came across some great comments on “faith” regarding Jesus’ summons to “Repent and believe the good news”:

“[Faith or trust] can, in the biblical languages, be subdivided into ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness.'”

“Faith… is not simply to be understood as a single, miscellaneous religious quality, ‘virtue’, or attribute. It is the distinguishing mark of the true people of YHWH at the time of crisis. It is one of the things, predictably, that will characterize the return from exile.”

Faith is a crucial part of the definition of Israel at her time of great crisis. Jesus’ call for ‘faith’ was not merely the offering of a new religious option or dimension. It was a crucial element in the eschatological reconstitution of Israel around himself.”

“The ‘faith’ which is the concomitant of so many acts of healing is not simply ‘believing that Israel’s god can do this.’ It is believing that Israel’s god is acting climactically in the career of Jesus himself.

“‘Faith’, as Jesus invited people to it, carried two particular overtones, one more obviously ‘religious’ and the other more apparently ‘secular.’ The ‘religious’ meaning, stressed at various points in the gospels, focused on the insistence that Israel’s god was to be seen as the ‘father’ of his people. This, it must be emphasized, was not a new thought; it is found in the Old Testament and in a fair amount of subsequent Jewish writings. Nor is it simply a matter of ‘father’ being one miscellaneous appellation among many for YHWH. Nor, yet, is it to be explained solely in terms of Jesus’ ‘religious experience.’ It is particularly associated with his great acts of deliverance, namely the exodus and the return from exile. To invoke this god as ‘father’ is to stir up associations of the great coming deliverance. Jesus, in inviting his hearers to think of their god explicitly in this way, was emphasizing a strand in Jewish tradition which implicitly carried forward his claim: those who possessed this ‘faith’ in YHWH as ‘father’ were defining themselves as the eschatological Israel.”

“‘Faith can also carry the more ‘secular’ meaning… Josephus asked Jesus the Galilean brigand leader [a different Jesus than in the New Testament] ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus’ instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries. They should give up their way of being the people of god and trust him for his. As with repentance, so with faith: Jesus’ call carried the implication that those who followed him, followed his way of being Israel, were the true Israel whom YHWH was calling into being as the real returned-from-exile ones. The call to ‘believe in the gospel,’ or to ‘believe in me,’ does not suggest the Jesus was inviting Galilean villagers to embrace a body of doctrine — not even a basic ‘theory’ about ‘salvation’ and how they might attain it, nor, again, very much of a christology (though presumably it involved recognizing Jesus as a god-sent prophet like John). Nor does it suggest that Jesus was offering them what we would today call a new ‘religious experience.’ It evokes the historical picture of one who believed that, with his work, Israel’s god was inaugurating his long-awaited kingdom.”

3 thoughts on “N.T. Wright on ‘Faith’

  1. So, faith is faith in the coming kingdom–believing that God’s kingdom is coming and here and now and that I’m part of it?

  2. I think the way I would define ‘faith’ according to N.T. Wright is confident faithfulness or allegiance to Jesus Christ in whom the fulfillment of God’s coming kingdom has climaxed. In this way our allegiance is expressed in very specific action — apprenticeship to the one who has climaxed the very Story of God. This results in the further implementation of Jesus’ unique work in our lives and the world around us. So in the example of healing, we don’t pray for healing with a generalized faith that God can heal. Rather, we pray with the confidence that as we live in Christ and in his life, we are living and working within the context of the inauguration of God’s kingdom in him. It all comes back to Jesus and being “in him.”

  3. Jason,
    Great stuff from N.T. that, as usual, takes a serious read and some time and thought to wrap your head around. The thing I so appreciate about Wright as I have read him in the last couple of years is that he speaks from a different and refreshing paradigm than my standard evangelical background, and it is a paradigm that I am coming to embrace as truth. Great thoughts on your blog and thanks for sharing them. I’ve been reading you fro several months, though this is the first time I’ve commented. Peace to you.

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