N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (4)
Ch 4: The Covenant of Vocation
The Heaven and Hell scheme the reformers brought forward from the late Medieval church congeals into a “gospel” that Wright claims is:
-Platonized: accepts the material (earth) – spiritual (heaven) dualism and favors the latter over the former.
-Moralized: believes the “sin” and its punishment/forgiveness is the basic human problem.
-Paganized: the solution is seen as an angry deity who has to be pacified by human sacrifice.
The biblical gospel, on the contrary, is about heaven and earth reunited in the new creation which will host God and humanity in living fellowship through the ages. The problem is not morality but idolatry. And the solution is a loving God who goes to the uttermost to reclaim and restore his lost creatures and creation.
While some versions of reformed theology teach that God created a “covenant of works” with our first parents in the Garden in which humanity had a set of divine commands to follow upon perfect performance of which they would be accepted and approved by God, this is not the biblical picture. Rather, God established a “covenant of vocation” with humanity – being a genuine human and participating with God is pursuing the Creator’s purpose in the world.
The human problem is idolatry rather than breaking commands, a breaking of relationship with God. “Humans have turned their vocation upside down, giving worship and allegiance to forces and powers within creation itself. The name for this is idolatry. The result is slavery and finally death” (77).
By this idolatry we forfeit our true identity and vocation as God’s royal priests (that’s what being created in God’s “image” means). “We humans are called to stand at the intersection of heaven and earth, holding together in our hearts, our praises, and our urgent intercessions the loving wisdom of the creator God and the terrible torments of his battered globe” (80). But our default of this calling gave license to that which we gave our worship to exercise the rule and power we were supposed to have exercised against the plan and purpose of God. Thus the distortions and destruction of the creation.
That Christ’s work of saving us involved not only reclaiming us from that into which we have fallen but even more importantly restores us to the genuine humanity and vocation for which we were created is the point of three major Pauline texts Wright discusses: 2 Cor.5:18-21; Gal.3:13; and Rom.5:17. We’ll look briefly at the latter text.
Here’s Wright’s translation: “For if, by the trespass of one, death reigned through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace, and of the gift of covenant membership, of “being in the right,” reign in life through the one man, Jesus the Messiah.” Through Jesus Messiah we are restored to “covenant membership” (“justified”) and Paul tells us the effect of that is for us to “reign in life.” Not in the next life, then and there, but now, today, here and now. That, in biblical parlance, can only mean we are restored to the royal priesthood we were created for. And that, in turn, leads us to grasp that the sin Paul talks about in the earlier part of ch.5 must mean our default on the identity and vocation God created us for and exchanging that “glory” with other forces and powers in that idolatrous default. That brings us right back to Rom.1 where Paul rehearses the creation/fall story precisely in terms of this idolatrous exchange and the vulnerability we suffer to allowing “rogue elements” to enter and harm God’s world.
The Greek word for “sin,” hamartia, means “missing the mark.” What’s the “mark”? A command or rule. No. It means missing the mark of our covenantal vocation through idolatry. Sins are symptoms of this idolatry. Wright sums it up like this:
“. . . humans were made for a particular vocation, which they have rejected; that this rejection involves a turning away from the living God to worship idols; that this results in giving to the idols – forces within the creation – a power over humans and the world that was rightfully that of genuine humans; and that this lead to a slavery, which is ultimately the rule of death itself, the corruption and destruction of the good world made by the creator.” (86)