Monday, December 1, 2008

Nicholas Thomas Wright, Bishop of Durham (b. December 1, 1948)

Like him or not, he's made us all think deeply and seriously about very important matters. Today, N. T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, is celebrating his 60th birthday.

Born in Morpeth, Northumberland, England, on December 1, 1948, N. T. Wright was reared in Anglicanism. His biographer, John J. Hartmann, records that
Wright came to a personal realization of God's love in Christ by the age of seven and of a calling to Christian service by age ten. This sense of a personal relationship with God would grow in his teen years through prayer, Scripture reading, and involvement in Christian youth fellowships. ("Nicholas Thomas Wright," in Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century, edited by Walter A. Elwell and J. D. Weaver [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999], p. 434)
Wright chronicles his academic journey in an article titled "My Pilgrimage in Theology," originally published in Themelios and now available online at Rather than reproduce the details, I will recommend this as essential reading for those looking for biographical information about Wright. I would especially recommend anyone who has read anything by or about him to read this article. This will take away a lot of guesswork about his theological perspective.

I will offer these few highlights from this article in order to coax the rest of you to go ahead and read the article:

When I began theology, I assumed that all writers not published by the . . . Press, or perhaps the . . . of . . . Trust, were suspect. If I read the right books I would find the ‘answers’. Fortunately, after two years of soaking myself in the Bible itself, I was so gripped with the excitement of exegesis, and the new horizons it opened up that I didn’t worry so much about ‘sound’ answers.

I learned to live with unanswered questions: one of the keys to staying sane and Christian in a lifetime of studying theology is to say ‘I don’t know the answer to this just now, but I’m prepared to wait’.

Alone, I continued to read the NT in Greek and the OT Hebrew day by day, constantly finding a combination of personal address and intellectual stimulation which I have never been able to separate.

By the time I finished [my Colossians commentary] in 1985 I had undergone probably the most significant change of my theological life. Until then I had been basically, a dualist.
He concludes with these words:

Unanswered questions remain. So does the frailty of my human self, as I struggle to be obedient to my multiple callings, both professionally and, more important (though not all Christians see this point), domestically. Who is sufficient for these things? Certainly not this muddled and sinful Christian. The great thing about that is what it does for your theology. The more I appreciate my own laughable inadequacy, the more I celebrate the fact of the Trinity. Without the possibility of invoking the Spirit of Jesus, of the living God, for every single task, what would keep me going? Pride and fear, I guess. I know enough about both to recognize the better way.
As providence has it, today, I am editing a review of N. T. Wright's Judas and the Gospel of Jesus (Baker, 2006). Reading these articles (for the second time around) has been very helpful in evaluating this book. Also, having read a handful of his other articles and books has provided a better foundation for seeing what he is doing here. I would like to share a passage (two Pauline-like sentences) from this book that is simply delightful.

For the earliest Christians, and for the great teachers of the second century like Polycarp, Justin and Irenaeus, the way to the ultimate life, to the resurrection itself, was Jesus himself: not the Jesus of the gnostic imagination or reconstruction, but the Jesus who announced and embodied God's kingdom as it was arriving on earth as in heaven, the Jesus who went to his death not to escape this material world but to rescue it, the Jesus who rose again to launch God's project of new creation and to rule over God's whole creation as its rightful Lord. And, according to the earliest Christians, the way this Jesus rescues people and remakes them in the present time so that they already share in this new world, and look forward to its completion hereafter, is through the word of the gospel, which works in people's hearts and minds by the Spirit; through the faith which believes that word and comes to know the living presence of Jesus and submit to his Lordship; through baptism, which incorporates people into the dying and rising of Jesus and hence into the company of those who belong to him; through holiness of life, which works out the meaning of new creation in hard physical reality; and, if one is so called through martyrdom, which embraces the same end as Jesus had suffered, in order that, like the brigand on the cross, the martyr might be with Jesus in Paradise and eventually share in the resurrection life. (pp. 103-04)
N. T. Wright has published an enormous number of articles and monographs for both academic and non-academic audiences. The first book I read was The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (IVP, 1999). I would recommend this as a simple starting point into his writings. Next I would recommend Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006). Other popular books I've not yet read, but which have made an impact one way or another, are Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne, 2008), Evil And the Justice of God (IVP, 2006), What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Eerdmans, 1997).

His highly academic series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, is an important contributions to NT studies. I've read about a third of The New Testament and the People of God (Augsburg Fortress, 1992) and found it to be challenging and insightful. I hope to finally read through it one day. The other two volumes are Jesus and the Victory of God (Vol. 2. Augsburg Fortress, 1997) and The Resurrection of the Son of God (Vol. 3. Augsburg Fortress, 2003).

I would also recommend that you take advantage of listening to some of his lectures. I have found that listening to him lecture on material I have read has helped tremendously. Since many of his books are the compilation of lecture series, it's almost like listening to an audio book. To hear where he puts the emphasis and inflection make a huge difference, at times. Click here: Audio & Video of N. T. Wright

Here you will find an updated list of all of his publications to date: The Publications of N. T. Wright.

[Update (12/5/08)] Today, I received a tip from the HarperOne publicist regarding the three books they have published. Their website offers a Browse Inside feature, offering a view inside books. They also offer an auxiliary widget. This is similar to what you will find with Amazon's Online Reader and is a great way to check out a book prior to purchasing it. Zondervan also offers a similar function. See the following:

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

You can read an excerpt of Simply Christian: Chapter One - Putting the World to Rights