Spirit-Led Scholarship

Discussing recent movements in Pauline studies, N.T. Wright (Paul in Fresh Perspective, 17) insists on three points.

First: “there are such things as texts; however much we deconstruct them, they bounce back with renewed challenge.”

Second: “there are such things as fresh and compelling readings of texts; new pairs of eyes, no doubt with new motives but none the worse for that, scan familiar words and hear unfamiliar messages.”

These fresh readings don’t stand on their own, self-authenticating. They need to be tested, “not merely on those who share the reader’s cultural and religious predispositions but on those who do not.” The “public nature of scholarship” is crucial, even if there is a real “danger of mere collusion, of a ghetto masquerading as the world.”

Third, and, dare I say, most importantly: “I do believe in the mysterious, unpredictable and usually hidden work of the Holy Spirit. It would be odd to omit this from a discussion of Paul of all people; rather as though one were to discuss Beethoven’s sonatas while dismissing from one’s mind the possibility that there might actually be such a thing as a piano.”

Trust in the Spirit is no handicap. On the contrary: “Even if one cannot play the piano oneself, one should normally reckon that someone who could do so would have a head start, not a handicap, in discussing the music.”

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