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 is 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.