N.T Wright on Wisdom in a Troubled Time

Here is a quote from a recent sermon by N.T. Wright. The thing I like about it is that it cuts through the crud of the evolution debate to get to the brass tacks issue of how we should think about who we are in this story. The Genesis 1-3 story is not a story of science but one that points out the human need for Christ. Everything in it is true, I believe, but it does not address the subject of how, scientifically, God created his creation and man. That is a mystery hidden to the ages but that the creation itself points to in many ways. The universe and the earth appear to be very old, and relative to that, human civilization appears to be very young – measurable in thousands of years rather than millions.

I believe a lot of time may have passed between Genesis 1:1 “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and Gen 1:2 “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep”.

Perhaps there was a great civilization of angels with earth as its capital. Perhaps there was war in heaven.

Isaiah 45:18 (NLT) says:

For the Lord is God,
      and he created the heavens and earth
      and put everything in place.
   He made the world to be lived in,
      not to be a place of empty chaos.
   “I am the Lord,” he says,
      “and there is no other.

I just don’t believe that God would have created a place where he would hover over an empty and formless earth. Something happened to make it empty and formless.

In terms of biology, I don’t dispute that Darwin put his finger on a massive truth. In terms of social policy and awareness, he was part of a quite different movement which has been part of our problem, part of the unwisdom which has brought us to our present plight. This is the debate we ought to be having. Get the biology right; fine. But don’t assume that you can read off social ethics and imperatives from that biology. The two need to be separated out, so that we can have the real debate, which is about whether we are creatures of blind chance, programmed to be selfish, or whether we live in God’s world, called to wise and humble service. It is time to think again.

And when I say ‘think again’, I mean just that. This is my second urgent point. We need, once again, to relearn, and to teach the young, how to think. I often say in my diocese that I am passionate about the authority of scripture but equally passionate about the vital and necessary place of reason. We live in a world of unreason, where right and wrong have been reduced to personal preferences and ‘attitudes’, which can then be manipulated by smooth talk – like the verbal shift which says ‘credit’ when it means ‘debt’, and the equivalents of that in every sphere – and where people don’t need to think because they can drift along with the current mood. And you and I know that the next generation will need – boy, will they need! – to be able to think: to think hard, to think through where the world is going and what they need to do in it, to think not about how they can feather their own nests but how they can wisely serve their fellow human beings in God’s world.


from a sermon for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference

at their Annual Service in Westminster Abbey


September 30 2008, 3 pm


by the Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright



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