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Amidst an Affirmation of Women’s Ordination, N.T. Wright Explains Why I’m Not a Progressive (Miniblog #154)

by Carson T. Clark on November 28, 2012

The Church of England recently had a controversial vote about whether or not to consecrate female bishops. N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham, was in favor. However, in a recent article he stated this isn’t an issue of progress and was adamant his peers need to stop spouting ignorance by telling their detractors they’re on the wrong side of history. He notes,

We, of all people, ought to know better. “Progress” gave us modern medicine, liberal democracy, the internet. It also gave us the guillotine, the Gulag and the gas chambers. Western intelligentsia assumed in the 1920s that “history” was moving away from the muddle and mess of democracy towards the brave new world of Russian communism. Many in 1930s Germany regarded Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his friends as on the wrong side of history. The strong point of postmodernity is that the big stories have let us down. And the biggest of all was the modernist myth of “progress”. – N.T. Wright

Here the good bishop succinctly captures why I’m not a progressive. He’s not suggesting that we’re not moving forward in some sense–evidenced clearly by his covenantal theology, recognition of the biblical canon, adherence to the ancient creeds, ordination within the Church of England, and so forth. What he’s saying is that the modern myth, or narrative, of progress, which has underscored modern progressivism since the Enlightenment, has been thoroughly debunked by postmodernism. The reason I love this excerpt so much is that it’s first and foremost my knowledge of history that forbids me from being a progressive. In short, a narrative of progress simply doesn’t align with the historical realities as I see them. What I see is a mixed bag. As Wright suggests, seemingly for every triumph there’s a defeat and for every advancement there’s a regression. Candidly, all other historical outlooks I’ve encountered are ignorant, misguided, and/or willfully self-deceptive.

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