Monday 29 August 2005

N. T. Wright and John P. Meier: Christopher McMahon responds

A few days ago I posted a brief critique of Christopher McMahon’s new article on N. T. Wright and John P. Meier. I invited Chris to say a few words in reply—here’s his response:

I would like to begin by affirming Ben Myers’ critique of my recent essay in New Blackfriars. Generally, he is correct to say that the methodological issues involved in the comparison of Wright and Meier are not fully addressed in the essay—more work needs to be done, and I cannot fault his recognition that my essay does not necessarily resolve the matter (especially for those who admire Wright).

But I do contend in my essay that Meier’s performance of historical Jesus research is, in some ways, far more critically realist than Wright’s. I make this judgment with an appeal to the work of Bernard Lonergan. Wright’s critical realist epistemology correctly accounts for the role of the human subject in the act of knowing, but his account of the role of hypothesis and verification is problematic. In a manner not altogether dissimilar to RO’s reading of modern philosophy, Wright narrates the history of NT scholarship so that he might dismiss its account of the formation of the NT.

I will grant that the philosophical commitments of the form critics often left a mark on their account of the NT; it does not mean, however, that one can simply abandon their insights. Wright’s decision to argue for Bailey’s reading of NT formation and his search for larger metanarratives to reconstruct the story-shaped world of the NT are not entirely without merit, but I find Wright’s arguments for the historicity of particular biblical passages largely unconvincing (e.g., Mk 13).

While Meier’s account of historical reconstruction is highly problematic (I think Tony Kelly and the late Ben F. Meyer have offered the best critiques of Meier in this regard), his performance of historical Jesus research lends itself to a critical realist reading (a Lonerganian critical realism). I think those who wish to further Wright’s project would do well to pay attention to Meier’s performance (admittedly with a grain of salt).

All the best,

Christopher McMahon, Ph.D.
Division of Philosophy and Theology
University of Mary
7500 University Drive
Bismarck, ND 58504

1 Comment:

Chris Tilling said...

Ah. That would be 'no' then.

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