Luke Stamps has written a helpful and fair review of Wisdom Christology at Credo Magazine. His concern that I may underplay the legitimate function of Lady Wisdom as a Christological type is a valid concern. I commented on the legitimate use of such an approach in an earlier interview with Andy Naselli at the Gospel Coalation. The relevant part follows here:
The Gospel Coalition has been highlighting resources on preaching Christ in the Old Testament. How does your book help people in this regard?
These confessional texts and New Testament Christology in general have multiple Old Testament roots. So when students of the New Testament locate such a strand (particularly one related to creation, redemption, and revelation) the proper move would be to
run the theme through the OT,
then to the life and ministry of Jesus, and
finally to a confession about Christ in one of these apostolic texts.
Consider “wisdom” in Proverbs 8. Like the function of other Old Testament figures and institutions (e.g., prophets, angels, Torah, temple), Wisdom culminates in Christ. If I were preaching from Proverbs 8, I would look earlier to God’s creation by his word in Genesis 1. Then I would move forward to Christ’s public ministry, with his verbal power over creation exhibited in his nature miracles. I would then land in John’s prologue, which emphasizes the Word and the Son’s creative power. Or one could end in Hebrews 1:1-4, where the Son’s creative power symmetrically aligns with his redemptive power (i.e., the one who “made” all things is the same one who “made” cleansing for sin).
The practical takeaway is that we can be confident that the gospel is the wisdom and power of God (Rom 1:16). God powerfully removes our sins. This helps God’s people see that the Old and New Testaments cohere, that Christology is rich, and that the gospel is climatically important.
1. The past no long exists, only the present.
- There is no way to actually return to the past (no time machine).
- The present is, in part, a large “archive” of the past.
2. Historical study reconstructs the past from fragments found in the extant archive.
- Historical reconstructions are selective.
- Historical studies are necessarily interpretations (human acts and artifacts).
- There is no brutum factum historicum (“pure historical fact”).
- The would-be “facts” of history come to us within inescapable interpretive frameworks.
3. All recorded human histories (selective reconstructions of the past) are fallible, provisional, and in need of continuous revision.
- The historical data is always incomplete.
- Historical interpretations are never final and perfect.
4. Historical reconstructions are always from a particular perspective or orientation.
- Every historical interpretation has its own context and presuppositions, whether explicitly acknowledged or not.
- While historians can be critically self aware, they cannot fully escape their own historical situatedness. (cultural embeddedness in time, place, and language)
5. Historical interpretations can be more or less valid.
- There are criteria for evaluating historical validity.
- Historical work should be evaluated. It is appropriate to ask, “Is this interpretation warranted? And if so, why?”
6. “History” is an exercise in power (over others).
- Historical work has ethical entailments. This includes historical research, the reconstruction/interpretation of the past, and the transmission (dissemination/reception/archiving) of history.
- “History” is an activity with moral implications.
Christology in Culture Perspective: Marking Out the Horizons, section on history, chapter 5) writes, “Even within contemporary theology there are those who are suspicious of the claim that history mirrors reality. Rather, it is claimed that history merely portrays ideological self-interest and the inevitable bias of one cultural aspiration over and against another” (p. 161).
The six principles found on page 164 are helpful: The first three deal with the historian (presuppositions, limitations, prejudices, etc.). It is imperative to ask who the historian is, what is his cultural setting, what is his time in history. The last three deal with how the historical record influences the view of history. This involves the combining of records, interpretation of records, framework of the presentation, and the response of readers.
Many recognize that “wisdom” (the Greek word is sophia) can be a rich resource for contemporary life. Recently, it has become a popular motif for:
- theology in general (e.g., David Ford, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love);
- for feminist studies (e.g., Lilian Barger, Chasing Sophia: Reclaiming the Lost Wisdom of Jesus);
- for global theology (e.g., Grace Ji-Sun Kim’s, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology);
- for mysticism (e.g., the recent biography on the Trappist monk Thomas Merton by Christoher Pramuk entitled Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton.
However, there are hidden dangers, and a tendency to drift away from what the New Testament documents actually teach about wisdom. The movement known as gnosticism showed the greatest interest in “Sophia” or Lady Wisdom in the post-New Testament period. Recently some streams of theology have been enamored with the gnostic “Gospel of Thomas.”
Because it is such a needed virtue, and because a metaphor like “Lady Wisdom” is so powerful, it is critical that biblical wisdom be interpreted faithfully. One of the best selling books on the theme of Jesus and wisdom, reinterprets Jesus as a “wisdom teacher” in a broad and sweeping tradition of ancient wisdom (sophia perrenis). The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message by Cynthia Bourgeault provides a novel focus on Jesus as Wisdom. This book and the ideas behind it have become increasingly popular. This very different approach to Jesus and wisdom highlights the importance of a careful reading of the New Testament, and the relationship between Sophia (wisdom) and the gospel (1 Cor 1:24, 1 Cor 1:30). For those who have read Bourgeault’s book, or who want a New Testament framework for thinking about “Sophia,” see Wisdom Christology, How Jesus Becomes God’s Wisdom for Us (Explorations in Biblical Theology)
Comparing the two books should stimulate an important conversation about the nature of the wisdom Jesus brings to us.
“Wisdom in James denotes not intellectual cleverness but a practical gift from God for everyday life, especially in the face of trials. Parallels exist in Judaism and Stoicism. In the Gospels wisdom often finds expression in short, pithy aphorisms, particularly in ‘Q’ and in pronouncements following parables. Jesus is more, but not less, than a wisdom-teacher. Examples are considered. In Corinth wisdom had become a status-seeking commodity. Hence Paul speaks of the wisdom of God and of the cross. In the Pauline epistles wisdom has Christological significance.”