A Year in Essays: Wisdom, Semester 1

Christian Wisdom and Transformation is the long title for the core module, which we all called Wisdom. The task over two terms was to explore Christian Wisdom, how it draws on the Old Testament and its potential for transforming Christians today. The first semester started by talking about what we might mean by ‘wisdom’ and where it’s found in the Old Testament, primarily the books that are called ‘wisdom books’: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

My title was:

Is wisdom only contained in restricted sections of the Old Testament or is it possible to argue that there is a sense in which wisdom permeates the whole of it? How does this affect the transformative potential of Old Testament Wisdom?

Phew! Quite a mouthful! In the essay, I sought to show that limiting the influence of Wisdom to those three books alone is not the best way of reading the Old Testament. I looked at various sections of scripture: Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophets and narratives in Genesis and Esther; looking to see if Wisdom was a them or a shaping force in their writing. My conclusion is that Wisdom did indeed shape the Old Testament, perhaps through redaction from a wisdom school, perhaps though those schools as a force in ancient society.

I also had to spend some time looking at how this would influence Christians today. I suggested that finding wisdom throughout the Old Testament was a very powerful way of reading the Bible as many of the values associated with Wisdom resonate so much with postmoderns. I concluded the essay in this way:

In seeking the wisdom of Scripture, we have found practical advice on living, centred around God. It
appears throughout the Old Testament, in all the sections we have examined. It includes the worship of God
and study of Scripture, but recognises the limits in understanding and experience and is comfortable with
the issues of God’s apparent absence and the abundance of suffering. Wisdom seeks answers, but finds
paradoxes. Wisdom has much to speak into the culture of today when we recognise that simple, dismissive
answers characterise the fool, and the honest hard work of seeking through an enigma suits the wise woman
or man.

Wisdom Essay 1 – download a .pdf file of the full essay.

Creative Commons Licence
This essay by Jon Rogers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.jonrogers.co.uk.

  • Thanks for this, Jon. I’ve donwloaded and will read at leisure.
    Simon

  • Alan Cartwright

    Thanks for your effort and generosity in making these essays available Jon. I really enjoyed reading that. I’d be interested to see how the view of wisdom in the Pentateuch and through the OT as a whole would look if one lessened the idea of redaction – I for one regard the JEDP theory as the over-translation of literary boundary markers, and I would not regard the role of ‘final redactors’ with quite so much weight. (I’m still more conservative than scholar!) I imagine if anything it would make your conclusions stronger, with the consistent themes of wisdom showing even more clearly across authors and generations.

    The real highlight to my mind that makes this so much more than just an interesting read was the penultimate paragraph. Have you come across “Who Made God?” by Edgar Andrews? He takes the premise of God as his starting point and evaluates his own world view and that of modern science, philosophy and society by it. I wonder if you could make the ideas in that paragraph more prominent somehow, as they would certainly have encouraged me to read the essay, and I hope it will inspire me to use wisdom far more in general ministry. It lifts the thoughts and themes of the essay far above an academic work to something with vast potential in ministry and evangelism.
    (You’ve at least convinced me to definitely take next years wisdom module at WEST!)

  • Jon Rogers

    Thanks for the encouragement! I found the link between appreciating the God of creation and the wisdom books (and Psalms) very interesting, one that I would have found fascinating to explore – but word counts and titles are out of my control! Ecclesiastes in particular, and parts of Job really do resonate strongly with postmodern ideas about the limits to knowledge and the questioning of purpose and meaning that is endemic in these doubt-filled years of economic uncertainty. I think we forget that for most of the people who lived in ‘biblical times’, life was at least as tough and hard to understand as it is for us at the worst of times, maybe even more difficult. Questioning is, I feel, a vital part of faith, not the opposite to it – not that you’d think it listening to some Christians and Atheists! Appreciating that even the greatest human brain cannot possible take everything in, learning not to fear uncertainty but to worship is at the heart of postmodern faith. You might find some more insights on this in the essay I’m putting up on Monday!

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