Monday, December 22, 2008

Tom Wright: Christmas sermon extract

The NT Wright page (maintained by a fan, I think) has served up some great background reading for Christmas sermons. In amongst it all, is this searing passage, preached 2 years ago:

Because it really is dark out there, and alas sometimes in here too. The great revolution of thought which happened in Europe over three centuries ago, associated with Descartes in particular, was the attempt to grasp truth as it were from scratch: by doubting everything, we would see what we could be sure of and build out from there.

We would know the facts, and the facts would set us free – free from God, free from any responsibility except to our own self-interest. There’s a straight line from Descartes to Dawkins: we can doubt God, but we can’t doubt the facts, the empirical evidence.

And the results of that arrogant attempt to possess truth are all around us, etched in the horrors of the twentieth century and now already the multiple follies of the twenty-first, as we in the West blunder blindly on, believing firmly that because we know the facts and have the technology we can do what we like with other people’s countries, other people’s stem cells, other people’s crops, other people’s money, other people’s lives.

And meanwhile the worm in the apple has hollowed it out more or less completely: the ‘truth’ which we thought we knew has been eaten away not just in theology and philosophy but in its heartland of physics, by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and in its deeper heartland of the human being, where Descartes began.

We have become a society paranoid about truth: so we make each other fill in more and more forms, and set up more cameras to spy on each other, to check up on one another because we want the truth, we want an audit trail, we want more and more Enquiries and Judicial Reviews and Investigations, but we can’t get at truth because Descartes’ experiment has itself made it impossible, has generated a world of suspicion and smear and spin.

and it's not just society...

But if the world has tried to have truth without grace, the church has often been tempted towards grace without truth – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, ‘cheap grace’.

God has become a benevolent old softie, ready to tolerate everything, to include everyone, to throw away all those unpleasant old moral standards and say it’s all right, do your own thing, if it feels good it must be OK.

And once again the results are all around – both in the anti-moralism of the arch-liberals and the anti-authoritarianism of today’s new conservatives, who don’t realise that they are simply producing an ecclesiological parody of the do-it-yourself morality they so detest.


  1. Thanks, Dave for wonderful link to a great sermon. I'm tempted to say that's Christmas morning sewn up! The thinking it through stage, anyway...

  2. I'll probably post later/tomorrow my sermon from last night, on the 3 kings of the nativity story: Caesar, Herod and Jesus. Global empire, local tyrant, or God with us. Partly inspired by Tom Wright.

  3. Thanks for clarifying that this sermon is two years old. Otherwise I might have misunderstood the last half sentence of this as a sideswipe at GAFCON and friends. But I can't help wondering who he did have in mind. Maybe he already saw the way things were heading.

  4. A prophet as well as a scholar. Some guys have all the charismata.