Learning the language of the Kingdom anticipates God’s future reign, says Wright
Over 900 Fuller students and members of the wider Pasadena community gathered Thursday evening, February 26, to hear N. T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, speak at Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Church. His lecture, entitled “Learning the Language of Life, New Creation, and Christian Virtue,” focused on the role of virtue in challenging romanticism and existentialism, living in a manner befitting the eschatological vision of the New Testament, and sustaining the mission of the Church.
Wright, quoting St. Paul’s exhortation to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds,” emphasized that the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives doesn’t preclude the need to be thoughtful and disciplined when it comes to living out our identities as new creations in Christ. “Our culture prefers effortless spontaneity with occasional divine intervention in emergencies,” Wright stated, “but virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become second-nature,” a process requiring time and intentionality. He likened the practice of virtue to the challenge of learning a second language. “We will often get it wrong,” he said, “but it’s worth persisting for the goal of what lies ahead.”
And that which lies ahead, according to Wright, is the full realization of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus inaugurated while on earth. The Western Church has gotten it wrong in recent times, he claimed, with its notion of a disembodied future existence in heaven. In his view, the real picture painted by Scripture is that of a “new heaven and new earth”—Christ rescuing the present creation from corruption and decay, destroying death itself, and reconciling all things to himself. Our efforts don’t usher in God’s reign—as Wright noted, “God’s new age remains God’s gift”—but we can anticipate this future reality by beginning to learn the language of God’s Kingdom that we will one day speak for eternity.
Wright believes that viewing virtue and the mission of the church through this eschatological lens makes virtue more than simple morality. “Virtue is about health and strength and human flourishing,” he said. “Virtue is about learning the language of life, the language of love.” Adopting this new language doesn’t always come easily, but with practice we can better live in keeping with our true human vocation to rule over God’s creation as his image-bearers, joining God to infuse a broken world with his healing, justice, wisdom, and beauty.
Wright’s talk concluded with a time for questions from the audience.
N. T. Wright is an acclaimed New Testament scholar who has written lengthy volumes on the historical Jesus and the resurrection in his academic Christian Origins and the Question of God series, as well as recent popular titles such as Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope. In addition to his Thursday evening lecture, Wright just completed teaching a week-long Doctor of Ministry course at Fuller on "A Church Shaped by Mission."