ME: in Times Lit Supp

Challenging Christianity

Tom Wright's response to my reply to his letter: published 24 December 2021
I agree with F. W. Nunneley (Letters, December 3) that many Christians today want comfort rather than challenge. That is why they opt for the post-Enlightenment idea that Christianity is a “religion” in the modern sense. As to early Christianity being unprecedented: the admittedly modern terms “renewal movement”, “cross-cultural” and “counter-imperial” point to the often-forgotten historical reality that Jesus’s first followers hailed him with regular Caesar-titles like Kyrios (“Lord”) and “son of God”; that they formed quasi-familial groups cutting across regular barriers of ethnicity, gender and class – “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no ‘male and female’” as Paul puts it (Galatians 3:28); and that they believed themselves to be implementing the ancient biblical promises of a coming Messiah who, in offering personal and social “new creation”, would embrace the whole world, not just the Jewish people. We know quite a bit about other first-century philosophies, cults, religions and so on, none of which shares these features. The “challenge” which emerges is not only the intellectual sparring of theologians and philosophers, but the historical question of why such an unprecedented movement began in the first place (they would say, “because Jesus was raised from the dead”), and what it might look like if Jesus’s followers today decided to return to their roots.

Tom Wright