A Year in Essays: Wisdom, Semester 2

Semester 2 was a different beast to the first one. Two new modules, a new direction in the core and beginning to think about the dissertation (more of which later!)

The core Wisdom module moved from the Old Testament to the New, then on to look at how Christian Wisdom is found in later years, taking in philosophy, art, music and science. While it’s hard to pinpoint how the module could best be improved, given that the first essay had to be ‘biblical’ and the second had to connect wisdom with a more contemporary discipline, I feel that the balance of sessions was not quite right – and I know it has been altered. I had not opportunity to write about the connection between the New Testament writings and Wisdom because the fascinating NT sessions (on Jesus and the Beatitudes and on how Paul’s writings draw on the Wisdom books of the Old Testament and Apocrypha) came after the Semester break. I think there’s a lot there that I would have found fascinating to write about, but my eventual choice of essay title came closer to my more usual interest in the postmodern:

In your opinion does biblical wisdom resonate best with a premodern, modern or postmodern worldview? What implications arise for a transformative use of the Bible in the current postmodern worldview?

With just 3000 words to play with again, I think I took the ‘route A’ approach of looking at premodernity, modernity and postmodernity, giving a very broad characterisation of how each connects with wisdom. However, with the last third of the essay I went off in a more unusual direction: drama. It was a thought sparked by reading Grenz and Vanhoozer among others

“In a sense, the theater is perhaps the most appropriate artistic venue for the expression of the postmodern rejection of modernism … Postmoderns view life, like the story being told on the stage, as an assemblage of intersecting narratives.” (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, p26)

This multiplicity of narratives acts as a check or even a deconstruction of the metanarative(s) derived from scripture, as an acknowledgement of the nuanced approach to life that is needed – it is wisdom.

But I went further than drama, suggesting that there is an inherent danger of just re-running the struggles of those who have played their part in the ‘theodrama’. Improvisation, whether musical or theatrical provides and extended metaphor for how we live the Christian life with wisdom in a postmodern era of ‘suspicion of metanarratives’, where each ‘church’ or community of improvisers works out their response and continuation of the drama of God.

On reflection, this reminds me of the ‘five act play’ metaphor that N.T.Wright often uses (for example, see halfway through this essay on the authority of scripture)

Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost.  The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged.  Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own.  Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.

I can’t believe, thinking about it now, that I (a) forgot about N.T.Wright having said it all before and (b) got away with not including it – how did the markers not call me out on that one! Still, it’s this discussion of drama and improvisation that is the most valuable part of the essay and has shaped my thought a lot on how to live the Christian life, especially how we relate to the Bible. My characterisations of premodernity, modernity and postmodernity are undeniably flat and one-dimensional, partly because of the constraints of words and what I wanted to say about each in the essay.

Wisdom Essay 2 – 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.