Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wright on the Context Group

It's nice when I can agree with Tom Wright about something. Mark Goodacre cites an interview in which the bishop comments on the Context Group:

"I see the work of the 'context group' as basically a sharp-edged form of history. That is, I don't think they are doing anything other than what historians always ought to do: studying the specific and particular context, the social assumptions, the implicit narratives, etc., of the people we're interested in... What they succeed in doing, and what we need to pay close attention to, is joggling us out of our comfortable assumptions that, as I think Neyrey puts it, the ancient Mediterranean world was much like ours except without electronic toys."

Nicely accurate. Wright continues:

"My sense, though, is that sometimes at least members of that group come with an explicit anti-theological agenda, almost a sociological reductionism. That's a big generalization and it wouldn't apply to all of them, or to any of them all the time, I think. But it's something to watch out for."

As I myself cautioned in my recent review of Malina and Pilch's new commentary, it's a mistake to stereotype the Context Group members, who have in fact proven to be a rather diverse bunch. With regards to any supposed "anti-theological agendas" on the part of some, I think that's usually based on a misunderstanding of what they're about. The idea is that theology often derives from sociological realities, and the two can't be easily separated. We saw this recently, for instance, in discussing Jesus' reasons for prohibiting divorce. Jesus and Paul were theological, without a doubt, but whence came their theology?


Blogger James Crossley said...

Couldn't agree more with that last sentence Loren. I'm afraid some act as if theology is the beginning and end of NT/Christian Origins studies. It is as if abstracted from social and ecnomic trends. I mean Wright's books only explain christian origins in theological terms. I find that a very unusual way of explaining social change.

Blogger Paul said...


First off, I'm someone who has enjoyed some of your amazon reviews and just now discovered your blog. Look forward to reading it more.

Second, I wanted to clear up the context (ha!) for what you cited just a smidge. This was not really an interview. There is a nt wright yahoo group co-moderated by Barb Harvey and Kevin Bush (though started by my good friend Mark Horne). Kevin is the keeper of the NT Wright page, so lots of thanks should always belong to him for making such large amounts of stuff easily available to everyone. Plus he's a good guy too.

Anyhow, Kevin got Wright to agree to periodically take questions from members of the list. Unfortunately this has gotten much less frequent since Wright became a bishop. The section you quote is in answer to a question I submitted years back but got overlooked accidentally for quite some time. Kevin was nice enough (to me) to ask me to sharpen it up and finaaly get it to Wright.

I'll agree somewhat with your sentiment that there really is no good way to stereotype the Context guys. I would assume that the "anti-theological" is aimed at Malina (unless you can think of a better target??). While Malina seems to publish the most and has the most to say (and thus is in some ways the most valuable of these scholars) he also seems sometimes to go out of his way to quash traditional interpretations.

I hope to be able to interact with you further on your blog here in the future.

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks Paul. Look forward to hearing more from you.


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