I’m currently reading some NT Wright as part of revising a block on the “Third Quest for the historical Jesus” for Modern Christology. One particular essay has an anecdote that I particularly like, so I’ll paraphrase it here:
When he was chaplain at Worcester College, Oxford, Wright would welcome all 1st year undergraduates and speak to them, albeit briefly, personally. He would often get an embarrassed comment that he wouldn’t be seeing much of the person as they didn’t believe in God. To their consternation and surprise, he would ask them, “Which god don’t you believe in?” Thereupon a confused jumble of definitions would be trotted out: the being who lived in the sky; sometimes did miracles; sent bad people to hell; let good people come to heaven. His reply (predictably enough) was, “I don’t believe in that god either.” Following it up with, “I believe in the god I see revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”
I suspect that it’s actually a common enough conversation, or at least potentially so, for most Christians. It raises loads of questions, I think, not least of which might be:
- How often do we assume we’re speaking about the same God?
- How mixed up is our Christian witness with cultural ‘myth’?
- Is our Christian witness centred on Jesus, or some comfy interpretation of Him?
There’s loads more, but it’s interesting how such an innocuous, and amusing little anecdote can raise such big issues.