Heavy Theological Dude Mistakenly Talks to Us

12/17/2007


The Wittenburg Door Interview: N.T. “Tom” Wright

By Becky Garrison

N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham, England—the home of one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.

He’s also the rare sort of theologian who attracts respect from both conservatives and liberals. Among his forty plus books include such provocative titles as Simply Christian, Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, The Last Word, Paul, and Evil and the Justice of God. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities.

Wright became Bishop of Durham in 2003, and served on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Commission on Communion. (For our non-Anglican readers, this group crafted the Windsor Report, which is a document designed to help the Anglican Communion resolve its conflicts about homosexuality, ordination and pastoral blessings for gay couples.)

NT Wright books

In short, Tom Wright is a big hitter in a big league. We grabbed him at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) in Washington, D.C., where we were selling souvenir palm-buzzers in the lobby.

WITTENBURG DOOR: What does it mean for us to be living in the fifth act: the time of the church?

N.T. WRIGHT: In The Last Word, I explain that we can understand the Bible best if we read it as a five-act play, the five acts being Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus and Church. We are not living in an unfallen creation; or in a fallen world without promise; or in the time of Israel BC; or, indeed, in the time of Jesus himself. We are living in the fifth act, and have to improvise, under the guidance of the Spirit, in such a way as to bring this narrative—not some other one!—to its appointed and proper conclusion. In other words, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thus to anticipate the promise of new heavens and new earth.

DOOR: Why do we need the Bible?

WRIGHT: The Bible is here to equip God’s people to carry forward His purposes of new covenant and new creation. It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have something of the beauty of God himself. The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made. It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going. And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.

DOOR: So, how do we balance the experience of the church with the authority of scripture?

WRIGHT: Um, this is starting to sound like an oral exam.

DOOR: Sorry, but you did write a lot of books. There’s a lot of theological turf to cover here.

WRIGHT: As we read scripture, we struggle to understand what God is doing through the world and through us. The phrase “authority of scripture” can make Christian sense only if it is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.” When we examine what the authority of scripture means we’re talking about God’s authority which is invested in Jesus himself, who says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, NRSV)

DOOR: Of course, this “authority” phrase is one of the many scripture quotes that have been misused throughout history by those religious leaders who want to justify their stance on a given socio-political position.

WRIGHT: In Christian theology, such phrases regularly act as “portable stories”—that is, ways of packing up longer narratives about God, Jesus, the Church and the world, folding them away into convenient suitcases, and then carrying them about with us. Shorthands enable us to pick up lots of complicated things and carry them around all together. But we should never forget that the point in doing so, like the point of carrying belongings in a suitcase, is that what has been packed away can then be unpacked and put to use in the new location. Too much debate about scriptural authority has had the form of people hitting one another with locked suitcases. It is time to unpack our shorthand doctrines, to lay them out and inspect them. Long years in a suitcase may have made some of the contents go moldy. They will benefit from fresh air, and perhaps a hot iron.

DOOR: How do you respond to those who interpret scripture using the lens of personal experience?

WRIGHT: Experience is a slippery slope philosophically and spiritually. It’s a fog in which all sorts of worlds can bump together. Now, no one wants to go to extremes. Some lines are drawn in the sand. For example, no one in their right mind would endorse mass murder. But we need to follow a path of wisdom and have standards.
     When you come into the life of the Church, there is a way of life followed there. There are codes of conduct. It’s like when you come into someone’s home. You take off your muddy boots when you enter the house. N.T. Wright
You don’t take tea and pour it down someone’s back. There are standards in how we live together. Experience needs to be affirmed, redirected, and rebuked by God’s authority. Because of our propensity to self-deception, we constantly need to check against scripture, whether we are allowing the word of God’s grace in the gospel, and God’s reaffirmation of us as made in his image, to validate what is in fact an idolatrous and distorted form of humanness. When, through letting scripture be the vehicle of God’s judging and healing authority in our communities and individual lives, we really do “experience” God’s affirmation, then we shall know as we are known.

DOOR: That means that there are the inherent dangers in viewing, say, the Letters of Paul through the lens of contemporary culture.

WRIGHT: There are massive anachronisms when one makes assumptions about the things going on in this world that weren’t in his world. This requires that we read Paul faithfully and go between these two worlds. As I hinted earlier, the fifth act, in which the Church is called to live and work, is characterized by two things. First, it has firm and fixed foundations, including a definite closing scene which is already sketched in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1 and Revelation 21 and 22.
     Second, it has the command, under the spirit, to improvise through the unscripted period between the opening scenes and the closing one. No musician would ever suppose that improvising means playing out of tune or time. On the contrary, it means knowing extremely well whether one is in the implicit structure, and listening intently to the other players so that what we all do together, however, spontaneously, makes sense as a whole. That is the kind of hermeneutic I envisage as I read, and preach from, Paul’s letters today.

DOOR: Is that why you once described relationship between Jesus and Paul as that of composer and conductor, medical researcher and doctor, and architect and builder?

WRIGHT: The composer writers the music. If the conductor decides to write some on his own account, that would be a way of saying he didn’t want to play that composer’s music, but some of his own instead. His job is to play the music the original composer has written. The doctor takes the results of the research and applies them to the patient. Her job is not to do more research on the topic, or, if she thinks it is, it isn’t because she’s is being loyal to the original researcher but because she is being disloyal. The builder takes the plans drawn up by the architect and builds to that design. It isn’t his task to draw a new building; or, if he does, it’s not because he is filled with the admiration for the original design but because he isn’t.

DOOR: Got it. On the other extreme, how can stuff like The Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code inform the Christian faith?

WRIGHT: What we can see in this current passion for Gnosticism is a hunger for spirituality and purpose. We have to ask why our culture is so hungry for different kinds of spirituality.
     Also, the appeal of second century Gnosticism is that people in our culture are eager to find anything to rebuke or replace traditional Christianity. This myth—what I call “the new myth of Christian origins,” according to which Jesus was just an ordinary person who taught a new type of spirituality, that He didn’t die for our sins or rise again—is what’s lurking behind the Jesus Seminar. Many people in our culture don’t like traditional Christianity and are eager to find anything else at all to go with instead.

DOOR: You call the Jesus Seminar a “fantasyland.”

WRIGHT: They want to liberate the Bible from poor, oppressed fundamentalists. The Seminar has had to reinvent itself after the death of Robert Funk. Its new project is to tackle the origins of Christianity. But most scholars who have written about Jesus—whether they are Jewish, Christian, agnostic or whatever—never signed on to the Jesus Seminar in the first place. Most have held aloof, rightly seeing it as a wacky distraction from serious scholarship. Only a few great minds, like Dom Crossan, Marcus Borg and Walter Wink have stuck with it in the hopes of making something good out of it.

DOOR: Bless their little hearts. Moving on to your book Evil and the Justice of God, why do you say we’re facing a “new problem of evil?”

WRIGHT: We ignore evil when it doesn’t hit us in the face. Second, we are surprised by evil when it does, so, we then react in immature and dangerous ways as a result. For example, Western politicians knew perfectly well that Al-Qaeda was a force to be reckoned with; but nobody really wanted to take it too seriously until it was too late. But then the astonishing naiveté which decreed that the United States as a whole was a pure, innocent victim, so that the world could be neatly divided into evil people (particularly Arabs) and good people (particularly Americans and Israelis), and that the latter had a responsibility now to punish the former, is a large-scale example of what I’m talking about—just as it is immature and naïve to suggest the mirror image of this view, namely that the Western world is guilty on all respects, and that that protesters and terrorist are therefore completely justified in what they do.

DOOR: How do you balance these two extremes?

WRIGHT: We need to acknowledge that there are evil people out there who kill. People sometimes try to engage in “dialogue” as though nothing bad has really happened. But justice without forgiveness is revenge. And forgiveness without justice is appeasement.

DOOR: Please elaborate on the statement you made in this book that “the Gospels tell the story of how evil in the world reached its height and how God’s long term plan for Israel finally came to its glory?”

WRIGHT: The Gospels tell the story of the political powers of the world reaching their full, arrogant height. All early readers of the Gospels knew perfectly well that the word “gospel” itself—never mind any teaching about “God’s kingdom”—was a direct confrontation with the regime of Caesar, the news of whose rule was referred to in his empire as “good news.” Also, the Gospels tell the story of corruption within Israel itself, as the people who bear the solution have themselves become a central part of the problem. The Gospels then tell the story of the deeper, darker forces which operate at a suprapersonal level, forces for which the language of the demonic, despite all its problems, is still at the least inadequate. And the story the Gospels tell is a story about the downward spiral of evil.
     These five points lead us to say that the story the Gospels are trying to tell us is the story of how the death of Jesus is the point at which evil in all its forms has come rushing together. Here I refer to the Christus Victor theory of the atonement, the belief that on the cross Jesus has won the victory over the powers of evil.

DOOR: Is that why you write that “the call of the Gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love?”

WRIGHT: The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice. But it is an example nonetheless, because it is the exemplar—the template, the model for what God now wants to do by his Spirit in the world, through his people. It is the start of the process of redemption, in which suffering and martyrdom are the paradoxical means by which victory is won.

DOOR: So where does forgiveness fit in?

WRIGHT: Some people believe that when it comes to forgiveness, you just draw a line and forget it even though it’s tough and messy. But this is too simple. In Miroslav Volf’s excellent book Exclusion and Embrace, his basic argument is this: Whether we are dealing with international relations or one-on-one personal relations, evil must be named and confronted. There must be no sliding around it, no attempt—whether for the sake of an easy life or in search of a quick fix—to present it as if it wasn’t so bad after all. Only when that has been done, when both the evil and the evil doer have been identified as what and who they are—this is what Volf means by “exclusion”—can there be the second move towards the “embrace” of the one who has deeply hurt and wounded us or me.
     If I have named the evil, and done my best to offer genuine forgiveness and reconciliation, then I am free to love the person even if they don’t want to respond.

DOOR: Any examples of putting this into action?

WRIGHT: Two examples here. The first is Desmond Tutu and his work on the Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. I have no hesitation in saying that the fact of such a body even existing, let alone doing the work it has done, is the most extraordinary sign of the power of the Christian gospel in the world in my lifetime. We only have to think for a moment of how unthinkable such a thing would have been 25 years ago, or indeed how unthinkable such a thing would still be in Beirut, Belfast or—God help us—Jerusalem to see that something truly remarkable has taken place for which we should thank God in fear and trembling.
     The second example is the killing of the Amish school children. The families of the girls who were killed extended forgiveness to the man and comforted the family. Also, these families insisted that some of the money raised by the Mennonites to support them be given to support the family of the shooter, who killed himself. These countercultural examples show how the Christian community can react.

DOOR: Finally, how do we reach people for whom church is not part of their vocabulary?

WRIGHT: All human beings are made in God’s image, and it is this image which is the bridgehead to God. People know this in their bones even if they don’t consider themselves to be religious. And let’s not forget that church wasn’t in people’s vocabulary when Christianity first started.

DOOR: Hmm. This doesn’t really fit with the majority of evangelicals who say that once you become a Christian, “the big issue” has been taken care of. Meaning, of course, that you’re assured a spot up in heaven and nothing else really matters.

WRIGHT: This is unfaithful to the Lord’s Prayer which states, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The point of following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is enormously important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life. We’re called, here and now, to be instruments of God’s new creation, the world-put-to-rights, which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus’ followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents.


Comments(76)

Bill Scudder | 08:44 am on 12/19/2007

You said:
DOOR: Hmm. This doesn’t really fit with the majority of evangelicals who say that once you become a Christian, “the big issue” has been taken care of. Meaning, of course, that you’re assured a spot up in heaven and nothing else really matters.>>>

I don't believe you are accurate in this statement. There are a lot of other things that matter and the evidence is all around you as evangelicals get involved in all kinds of social works,

Mark Schnitzer | 10:06 am on 12/19/2007

Sorry Bill,

I would have to agree with Becky that the "majority of Evangelicals" still see getting saved as the beginning and the end of ones' Christian experience, then its required to run from conference to conference getting "filled with the Holy Ghost" and experiencing all sorts of personal blessings. Or it's entering the enclave of the church and protecting yourself and "the children" from the evil that exists outside the church door, on the television, on the internet, at the cinema (ie The Golden Compass) or in literature (ie Harry Potter). Most Christians do not see that part of the mandate of being a Christisn is to bring the love of God to every arena in society and culture and redeem it. The mandate also includes ministering to the sick, helping the poor and reaching out to the disinfrancised.

Yes there are a few organizations and people out there that are taking this mandate seriuosly, but again the "majority" do not.

Peace and Grace,
Mark

Matybigfro | 04:02 pm on 1/03/2008

i would say there are more than a few
and many more than the slim minority that get reported about trying in small and not so small ways to live out the mandate of the Gospel

but often those sort of things aren't intellectual/sexy/exciting/controversial/big enought to get attention

Anonymous | 09:10 am on 1/07/2008

I have to agree with Bill above. No evangelical church that I've ever been part of has taught that you get saved from hell and that's all that really matters. Discipleship has always been emphasized. Social justice has been practiced, though not in those terms. My denomination today (Christian & Missionary Alliance) has a strong development arm--African hospitals, third-world wells, education for women in Arab lands, etc... --all couples with an emphasis on missions and evangelism. It's healthy, I think. The charge that evangelicals only care about getting to heaven is artificial and false. It doesn't fit the facts, and our emerging generation friends ought to quit propogating it.

Bill 2

Anonymous | 01:07 pm on 1/07/2008

I think that Alfred North Whithead's words are helpful here (paraphrase): the most deeply held beliefs are usually the ones left unsaid. I agree that virtually no church teaches the crass version of 'my ticket to heaven - beam me up, Jesus'. However, if the explicit call to bring God's justice to the poor, widow, orphan, prisoner, etc as the corollary of the notion that God is about saving a people (and not just individuals) is not preached and taught, then the implicit message will be this default setting of the evangelical middle class western world. In my limited experience the evidence that the latter message is being preached effectively is that sparks fly and people leave churches. This seems to me much more like the response Jesus provoked even among his own disciples.

Peace.

Marshall | 05:22 pm on 1/07/2008

American evangelicals have suffered a manner of divorce imposed upon their "being saved". Any serious motion connecting good works with the "big issue" of a "personal" salvation dare not fly by religious edifice, at risk to being shot down in theological suspicion of "salvation by works". In lieu, programs or passions proceed like hobbies... i.e., some focused effort to social justice the way a “quilting club” gets things done. The pragmatic face of fine-point theology groomed to hold the world this-side-up?
[Acts 17:6-7]

Anonymous | 03:24 pm on 1/11/2008

I believe the truth about Evangelicalism is in the middle between the two sides here. Yes as the Missionary Alliance fellow said many denominations and parachurch orgainizations are involved in feeding the poor and social justice issues. However if you were to take the average evangelical in the pew things are more dismal. They may give to a denominational fund or parachurch ministry, but personal involvement on a local level would be the exception rather than the rule. We need more hands on lay involvment in both local, national and international levels within the evangelical movement. We are still more know to outsiders by what we are against than by our love or what we are for. The emergent church has some valid critiques although some go to far and are out of balance, having never been exposed to all corners of the broad based movement.

Anonymous | 01:44 am on 3/06/2008

I'd like to know if those of you citing how "average evangelicals" are dismal when it comes to social involvement can back up your claims with empirical data? Or are you just speaking from your own perceptions?

The only research that I know of on this topic indicates quite conclusively that Religious Conservatives give more to charity (religious and non-religious), volunteer more time, and donate more blood than any other group affiliation.

But don't take my word for it:
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JohnStossel/2006/12/06/who_gives_to_c...

Anonymous | 11:26 am on 6/19/2008

I've read contradictory studies on this question. But the facts may be worth setting aside for a moment. I think it really does matter what people observe and conclude about Christians, whether its statistically correct or not. If people are often hostile to the message of the gospel because most witnessing is idea-focused (ex. witness through speaking the gospel message or campaigns for culture censorship, not witness through service, forgiveness), then this impression is best handled, not with statistics, but with actions.

In my experience, for people outside of the church, it appears that evangelical Christians emphasize the importance of being saved over the importance of serving others, which understandably makes Christianity less attractive to decent, honest people who evaluate a religion based on whether it would help them serve others. If a socially conscious person is not particularly keen on believing the supernatural, like most people I happen to know, then the question of personal salvation--effecting one's own fate after death, not the fate of anyone else--is a rather low-priority issue compared to issues like prison, illness, poverty, or food availability, which effect millions of people. And, in fact, the gospel probably doesn't even sound like good news since it would mean accepting that most people they know might go to hell. Such a focus seems calculated to distance precisely those people least concerned for their own welfare and most concerned for others.

In conclusion, I think the segment of the population that I'm regularly exposed to would be better reached by Christians living the life of Christ than by any verbal message, which they've heard anyway. And regardless of the church's true service stats, we need to do much better if we want to start a more attractive image of what Christianity is all about.

One last clarification: I'm not saying that everyone would be drawn to Christ by this same approach. Simply, there are people who are pushed away by the standard 5 minute explanation of salvation, who would be drawn to the church based on directly observing Christian service.

Laura "LeeLee" | 02:07 pm on 5/03/2008

OK, I admit it. I've only read interviews of NT Wright and synopsis reviews of his book. Hook, line, sinker... I'm going for the bait. I'll be going out today and buying at least 3 of his books.

Great article. And he's very well-respected by those I respect.

Thanks for the motivation to read more than just an NT interview... based on your interview.

caroline | 04:18 am on 3/02/2011

Yeah this was talked about on another site and I came to a similar conclusion.

Melodee | 11:35 am on 12/19/2007

I grew up in a middle-of-the-road evangelical denomination in Canada. There was certainly no emphasis on social justice in those days but I am relieved to note that this is changing. The general consensus then was to find liberal denominations guilty of believing in works-based salvation.

Now I minister in mainline church and I see a different extreme. Here they want to feed the hungry but often don't have a clue what to say or do when someone, having had their physical needs fulfilled, starts asking questions about the spiritual void they feel. They're afraid of "imposing" Christ on others -- as if they could!

Darrin Rittenhouse | 12:05 pm on 12/19/2007

I am troubled by the idea of Christians striving for justice. Whose justice? Who are the victims; who are guilty? Who are we to sit in judgment? Won't we quite possiblily create more injustice with our attempts to create justice. I think we are to be just ourselves, doing that which is right, but trying to make the unjust live justly is not what Christians are called to. We are called to make disciples who will then live justly. And only with more and more people living justly will the world become more just.

Aaron | 01:25 pm on 12/19/2007

I like what you're saying Darrin. When atheist and agnostic critics offer examples of horrible things done in the name of religion, Christianity, God or Jesus, they are often citing examples of people who were convinced they knew how to administer justice.

Justin Bertram | 03:59 pm on 12/19/2007

Darrin,

I think Wright would be very quick to answer, "Whose justice?" with, "God's justice." To nuance this, I believe Wright would add, "God's restorative justice." In other words, "Setting the world to rights," as he is fond of saying. This of course correlates directly with our missionary task to "make disciples." As you point out, only disciples can live justly, that is rightly within the covenant. This of course is a wholeheartedly humble task only undertaken through the power of the Spirit.

I think one of Wright's main points in talking about justice is that it goes together with "making disciples." They are not two different things as is often imagined.

Anonymous | 09:56 am on 4/09/2011

I believe Wright would add, "God's restorative justice." In other words, "Setting the world to rights," as he is fond of saying. This of course correlates directly with our missionary task to "make disciples." As you point out, only disciples can live justly, that is rightly within the covenant. This of course is a wholeheartedly humble task only undertaken through the power of the Spirit.
happy birthday wishes

Angela Boone | 02:25 am on 12/24/2007

Well said.

Anonymous | 01:19 pm on 12/19/2007

N.T. Wright seems to work really, really hard to try to resolve common Christian teachings intellectually rather than simply leave some of them behind. I wonder if he knows it would be okay to do this. I wonder if one of his challenges is that he seems to still have an image of God that is rather person-like. I guess I'm saying he's very literal and concrete in thinking for such an intelligent person.

mike butler | 10:48 pm on 12/26/2007

I am not positive which teachings you might include in those that could be left behind, but I must say that of all the scholars available to us today, NT Wright is one who would have a handle on the essential beliefs we have as followers of the way. It might be an easier task to simply leave some teachings behind rather than to unpack them from the suitcase, but that would be immature and an unwitting participant in the continued numbing of the intellectual understanding of King Jesus' teachings. In addition to the quagmire that you see to be implying, I am not sure that I understand the "literal and concrete in thinking for such an intelligent person". That seems to suggest that intelligent people have very little use for literal and concrete thinking. And that seems quite absurb.

AndyHB | 02:48 pm on 2/21/2008

Anonymous wrote:

"I wonder if one of his challenges is that he seems to still have an image of God that is rather person-like. I guess I'm saying he's very literal and concrete in thinking for such an intelligent person."

I wonder whether it is Tom's very intelligence that leads him to regard God as being 'rather person-like'? After all, as I understand and have experienced it, it would be hard to have the kind of relationship with God as described in the Bible without his being more than 'rather person-like'.

Ryan Peter | 05:28 pm on 5/01/2008

I'm quite confused about this comment of God being 'rather person-like' and that somehow being a bad thing? Last time I checked, I can read - and in the Scriptures it appears that Jesus was a person and still is a person, and the Triune God is three persons. The entire Gospel is all about a PERSON, and all of truth and time is a PERSON (God is the beginning and the end.) It all hangs on a person, which is why Jesus said that the Pharisees search the scriptures for eternal life but don't realise eternal life is Jesus.

In fact, I am enthralled at Wright's emphasis on person because if he was focused on concept or philosophy or theology alone, he would be quite off the mark. The real mark is Jesus, the person - not the concept, idea, philosophy or theology. It's all person, and that - actually - is still quite revolutionary in intellectual circles.

Anonymous | 12:28 pm on 8/09/2009

Does intelligence only go in a specific direction? If that were true we could just jump ahead of it and get there first. The whole point about being really intelligent is that stuff like "concrete" and literal" and even this very analysis I'm doing now are subject to reappraisal and criticism, which sometimes fails to produce change, but rather reinforces the original.

So are you saying he should not be concrete? That intelligence should be devoted to not giving answers? A mind that doesn't interact directly with the material world is a mind asleep, where anything could happen, and any plan made, because nothing will ever actually be done if they stay asleep.

Jesus is the light that wakes us up, gives us an answer, challenges us and renews our thinking. The analogy given is the same as our resurrection from the dead, from an inactive spirit to a eating drinking living moving person. He re-engages us with the world and with each other as we embrace his spirit, and the good things he had planned for us to do. This practical experience colours and reinforces our thinking, as well as applying the justice of teaching to our mistakes.

But perhaps literal could be an insult if it means he is lacking in poetic and symbolic structure and interpretive depth. Was he? Not really! The examples of improvisation within a tune, the five act history, these are all personal narrative approaches to the meaning of the gospel that I recognise but find as new spins on what I love:

When he talks about the five acts, I see a set of swaps rebuilding the relationship between man and God so that "holyness" becomes more and more beneficial to us, and a closer identification between God and his world, as his will is done here and his own personal awesomeness is shared more fundamentally. When he talks about improvisation towards a new creation, I see the multifaceted wisdom and goodness of God growing acting on the people of this world to grow a channel capable of transmitting his goodness.

Those are mine and his personal takes, artistic elaborations on the core truth of the gospel, as God shows his plans to us in personal ways that he links together into one big Jesus expression.

It's awesome! And even more awesome is that I never heard of Tom Wright till today! God is integrating his people, not by ecumenicalism, however honest this guys efforts, but by the spirit of Jesus.

It might be ok-ish for a bit to ignore the full truth of God, but his plan is in total contradiction of that; filling the world with the knowledge of him. Exclusion of parts of his teaching by choice not lack of understanding is a rejection of part of his core goal.

Jim | 12:00 am on 12/22/2007

I think N T Wright does not "start with the common Christian teachings," and resolve them. N T Wright starts with the Bible and works very, very hard to grasp what it says about God, Jesus and The Spirit, human beings, God's Creation, God's project, God's goal for God's world. Yes N T Wright is very intelligent, but much, much more than that he is guided by God's Spirit in ways very few human beings have ever been. Obviously a student of his literature is going to be drawn closer to God and the Bible than one ever dreamed possible. This is where N T Wright stands out, one doesn't, usually, say what a great man N T Wright is after reading his books, but rather, "yes, that's what the Bible is saying." It's just that God is using N T Wright to help us see it there (in the Bible).

Andrew | 06:15 am on 12/22/2007

I don't think that a 'person-like' God is more or less primitive than any other kind. All kinds of God ideas have been around for thousands of years. The question is which resolves and explains our world the best. Tom Wright is addressing that issue, not getting hung up about which concept of God is the latest, coolest thing.

Mike | 06:22 pm on 12/26/2007

Can I just comment that I live in Durham, UK, and that I count myself fortunate that Bishop Tom is our Bishop and that Durham Cathedral is our local cathedral. Bishop Tom tackles real, relevant issues and provides inspiring leadership.

pk | 08:15 pm on 1/14/2008

Lucky.

AndyHB | 02:52 pm on 2/21/2008

Mike, you are certainly very fortunate. N.T. and his family lived in the flat in our house when he was studying at Wycliffe, and I remember having some very interesting 3-way discussions with him and my father when I was at home and not away at Uni.

John Palmer | 03:42 pm on 12/27/2007

As Bishop Tom has stated more than once (quoting a fellow Anglican bishop), theologians are often accused of not believing something just because they have not recently mentioned it. He has been accused of not focusing on the death of Christ as dealing with sin.
For those of us who view him from outside Anglicanism, it is important to remember that, within that body's liturgy, there is a very healthy balance of praise and prayer - the latter including the regular and very thorough, personal/corporate vocal confession of sin (Google "general confession" or 1662 Book of Common Prayer). A scholar who is also a worshiping pastor and fellow penitent is hard to find - and more than likely to be a good voice to listen to!

I have been impressed for the last 30+ years at Tom's gracious manner in staying engaged with those with whom he differs, without compromising his Christian othodoxy. In a day of the objecitification of opponents, it is refreshing to find a church leader whose personal openness is carried along with "contending for the faith".
As you read this, pray for him!

David Halseth | 05:42 pm on 12/29/2007

John, Quite well said and from a position of obvious maturity and the understanding of humility, grace and mercy. I also, from the outside, looking in at Tom for many years, am impressed with the intellect and spirituality combined to offer those of us seeking a greater intimacy with God a renewed desire to look deeper into the history of the early church, who was listening and what they were hearing in light of culture and the power around them, very much unlike the modern church today.

My 25 year walk with Jesus is daily taking on a new daily adventure of reality in brining the Kingdom to bear on those around me in ways that I would never have thought about in my beginning years. I certainly know less today than I thought I did my first year as a follower of Jesus Christ. So close and yet so far.

May Tom continue to spark all of our hearts toward bringing glory to our risen Lord and that work that will bring eternal rewards.

Joe M. | 01:20 pm on 12/31/2007

I am indebted to Bishop Tom because he has helped me explore scripture with new eyes. I don't blindly follow him as the fount of all truth but I do appreciate his insight & his challenging me and my "beliefs." I never believed Jesus to be a "fire insurance salesman" but Bishop Tom has helped me explore more fully my life as a disciple & my calling within the Body (non-clergy).

Pushpa Divecha | 07:55 am on 1/01/2008

WRIGHT: "We need to acknowledge that there are evil people out there who kill...".

My referring to the above quote may be seen as being out of context, because the good Bishop equivocates, immediately thereafter! While he rejects being judgemental on who is evil, he nevertheless, endorses its existence! This is just a small step away from the concept of the Devil/Hell, which has spiritually dis empowered the meek and humble, and kept the priestly classes of all religions thriving!

For sanity sake, my submission is that there are no evil people. There are only angry and/or mad ones. Sadly, the playing field in life is not level, hence the caste/class system is evident throughout history. It would require a utopian experiment in eugenics to make us equal even in each others eyes, or an act of God. The fear of deprivation of privilege (whether earned or inherited) makes the powerful paranoid, just as dis empowerment of the less privileged, incites envy and anger. The supposed move from the old covenant to the new, should have been quantum for Christians, just as the dialectics of Marxism should be for sociologists. In the great war of ideas, they both appeal to the fair-minded, with perhaps different means of achieving the same end. Both have seemingly failed, because powerful Christians employ the self righteous Mosaic covenant to impose their will, and communism has lost its moorings.

Forgiveness cannot precede a resolution to the causes of anger that result in violence.

A cliché would be appropriate, "Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first makes angry"

Doug | 02:50 pm on 1/03/2008

We're ALL evil. One of the basic tenets of any orthodox Christian teaching is "original sin" or "total depravity." No one has to "teach" a two-year-old to be hurtful to his playmate, even if he's not "mad and/or angry." If you've ever spent any amount of time around your own or others' children, you know I'm right. The objection you are having appears to based on your perception that Wright is name-calling, blame-assigning, or some other hyphenated offense.

The real point is that, sans the redeeming power of the Spirit, effectual because of the atonement and reconciliation offered by Jesus, we're all capable of horrendous evil. I think you'd agree with at least the last part of that statement.

Pushpa Divecha | 11:31 am on 1/04/2008

" No one has to "teach" a two-year-old to be hurtful to his playmate, even if he's not "mad and/or angry."
Well Dough, by your yardstick, neither do we have to teach him to be loving!

The demonstration of cruelty or altruism in children (that alternately shocks and delights us), is a growing up process from innocence to maturity, and the devil has nothing to do with this!

The Dogma of 'Original Sin' does not persecute the innocent. All little pups are the same - human or animal.

(Matthew 18: 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.)

Dough, perhaps I'm commenting in the wrong Forum, where for some, the redeeming power of the spirit has been narrowed. There are millions of 'unorthodox' good people, who Bishop Wright himself extols, nurtured in the true spirit of 'The kingdom of God being within us'. This is the Essence of humanity, God given, and free! As a Christian in spirit, I find rational solace in taking literally, Matthew 12:31-32 (The Ultimate Blasphemy)

Since the New Covenant of Jesus has been encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount, then we Christians need to be less hypocritical, more generous, and practice His Teachings, both in Word and in Spirit.

love
Pushpa

Doug | 03:55 pm on 1/08/2008

Um, my name is Doug, Pushpin.

Second, I kind of (okay, not kind of, totally) lost you at "the dogma of original sin does not persecute the innocent-all little pups are the same-human or animal." Really can't get on board for that.

Third, if you want to take a passage literally, consider Genesis 6:5 where God said regarding mankind that " every intent of the thought of his heart was only evil continually." Kinda sounds like he doesn't regard our fallen state as good, no?

Pushpa Divecha | 10:38 am on 1/09/2008

Thanks for your reply Doug.
Sorry for misspelling your name!
Since it appears your mind is made up, lets close this topic between ourselves.
love
Pushpa, Pushpin - (whatever)
ps. I would however invite others to consider the essential message of the New Covenant vis a vis the judgemental Dogma's that literally bedevil us.

Doug | 09:15 am on 1/17/2008

Wow! That's the nicest blow-off I've had since, well, ever!

Thanks, Pushpa!

Hugs and Kisses,

Dougiepoo

MerryKate | 05:43 pm on 1/14/2008

"The demonstration of cruelty or altruism in children (that alternately shocks and delights us), is a growing up process from innocence to maturity, and the devil has nothing to do with this!"

You're right, he hasn't. This is a good example of a common problem in modern theology: the attribution of evil to Satan. He did bring evil into the world by tempting Adam and Eve to sin, but they made the choice to embrace it. Humans don't need a Tempter to choose to sin.

Children are born selfish, and that selfishness is at the root of evil in the human heart. Children who aren't taught to deny their selfish desires grow up to be selfish adults, who go on to commit every sin in the book out of a desire to make themselves happy. All the evils you can point to, including the mass millions killed through wars and communist oppression, came about because someone made a selfish choice.

It's a big leap to say that Matthew 12:31-32 indicates that everyone will be forgiven. Jesus was talking about the sin that the pharisees were committing in that conversation. He was not saying that was the only sin that counts. He further stated that many will choose the wide, easy path to destruction. He made more references to hell and eternal punishment than to heaven, because without Him, hell is our reality - lonely isolation with nothing to think about but ourselves; no God, no others, and no hope.

Jesus sacrificed Himself out of love to give us a future with Him. Why? Because no human can be good enough to please God. Without His grace, we would be lost in our selfish depravity. If there were no need for such a sacrifice, do you think He would have humbled Himself to death?

Preaching the gospel is not narrowing the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit, but rather showing proper gratitude to Jesus for taking on such a terrible sacrifice. Because He committed the ultimate unselfish act, we now have hope. Following in Christ's example, we should be turning our backs on selfish gain and sharing that hope with others, no matter what the costs may be in this life.

Tiggy | 09:36 pm on 6/15/2009

Wow, what a statement!

No one has to "teach" a two-year-old to be hurtful to his playmate, even if he's not "mad and/or angry.

I have spent a great deal of time with children, both my four nephews and lots of other people's kids whom I've been a nanny to and babysitter. None of them have been deliberately hurtful to their siblings or playmates. In fact adults would have a lot to learn from them about caring for each other. My nephew gets really upset if another child gets hurt either physically or emotionally and he's only 7. Litle children are far more concerned than most adults over moral issues too.

You must have been hanging out with kids who have very bad role models or are disturbed in some way.

Anonymous | 01:13 pm on 8/09/2009

Your opinion may change when you have kids of your own. Bad role models are almost as much about negligence as showing people bad stuff.

Anonymous | 06:52 pm on 1/03/2008

hmmm - not entirely convinced...in fact, not at all convinced, that 'total depravity' is 'one of the basic tenants of any orthodox christian teaching'. It's augustinian/calvinist rather than apostolic, which is a concern...as it's not particularly biblical either, especially as it denies true individual moral culpability and denies that God could call you, whom he has made, 'good'. In addition, it's usually based on very few bible passages whose translations are shaky at best. It also doesn't do much good for talking about God's 'justice'.
Not, however, that this changes the main point that yes of course there are people who do evil - Jesus is very clear on that one...
so in a way I'm just being pedantic - but I'm afraid I find 'total depravity' a worrying teaching.
Nothing personal either - it's hard to write gently!!

Doug | 04:05 pm on 1/08/2008

Being raised an Arminian, I've had this debate more than once. It seems that despite the copious evidence from the bible to defend my position, most objections ultimately get down to God not being "fair." Leaving aside the issue of why we should be glad he isn't "fair" to us, the debate generally goes something like, "why would God create a person deliberately sending him/her to hell?"

Sounds on the surface like you have a good argument, until you consider that if God created me with the choice, knowing that I may NOT choose to follow him, then either he chose not to foresee or cannot foresee my future decision. In the former case, God is a craps-shooter on the Vegas strip; in the latter, he's not a transcendent God. Either way, he's not off the hook regarding the argument most have with Calvin. If I've choosing which side to come down on, Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, et. al. versus James Arminius (who by the way was renounced as a heretic), I'll choose the former.

Regardless, this is an intramural debate.

Tiggy | 09:45 pm on 6/15/2009

Wow, you are so fucking legalistic! Your thinking is, no doubt, logical to you on the surface, but you have a lack of imagination and can only see God in the way you would see a man - and yes I mean a man and a particular type of man. Some stern judge who cannot relate to the suffering of the person he is sentencing and doens't care.

Jesus came to save the world - that means everyone. St. Paul said that we all are saved by him and that EVERY knee will bow down. Even if one sheep is lost, he'll go looking for him to bring him back to safety. I don't think you believe in the same God that Jesus talked about.

It's pathetic the way you try to fit God into your tight little categories as if you know all possibilities. God is outside of time and he holds us in the palm of His hand.

Bulgarian | 06:00 am on 1/04/2008

Oh, yes, We are so GOOD as people that only through the twentieth century there were TWO WORLD WARS in which millions of people have been killed!!! That is our goodness! Do you know how many people have been killed during communism for their non-communist thinking and ideas? The answer is millions of people. Communism believed that we are GOOD as humans but if that is humanity than I don't want to be human at all! Even apart from christian theology it is very very hard to see all people as GOOD unless you label war, poverty, arrogance and etc. with the label GOOD. That I think is absurd thinking. The claim that all people are GOOD is just a simple kind of human arrogance and pride in the face of all facts from history that WE ARE NOT GOOD.

When the Bible says that we are all sinners it is exactly what it means. Yes, there are different theories about how original sin affected mankind but one should be totally blind not to see its consequences. In this context "putting the world to rights" as Tom Wright says it is to be an active christian according to one's position in this world doing right so much as you simply can and naming evil with its true name living according to God's standard.

Bulgarian | 06:16 am on 1/04/2008

Also, concerning the evangelical view of society.

In my own country the tendency of the evangelical church is to simply feel very comfortable at simply believing in Christ as Saviour and Redeemer between its closed doors of church buildings.

The social envolvement of the church is very limited by the state. The number of evangelical christians is less then one percent. So it is hard for us realy to make a big difference but nevertheless I really think that the church must and can do a lot more about the society it is living in than it actually does. And Tom Wright is waking us up about that aspect of our faith so that we can begin to see our faith not simply as a saving from hell business but as something more universal having to do with the world around us also. That is what I really like about Wrights sermons which I hear. The wolrd around us needs christians who are saved, born-again, justified by faith that are doing the works of God and not simply sitting in church and worshiping. I think that one of the weakest things in evangelical circles is putting christian theology in action rather only in our heads and I as an evagelical hope and believe is going to be changed.

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Anonymous | 03:26 pm on 1/05/2008

Yes - I thoroughly thoroughly agree about active evangelicalism - i thoroughly agree with expanding our view past individualistic-salvation-only, I agree that Wright has a tremendous ministry in encouraging us to be REAL salt and light...i thoroughly agree that humanity is capable of and commits horrendous sin (and less horrendous sin for that matter!)...

My point was merely I just don't believe 'original' sin is biblical or reasonable or stands up to serious theological questioning, e.g. questions about God's justice, our moral culpability, Christian anthropology (e.g. 'image of God'), etc. It's a minor point in some senses, but important in others.
But yes, I agree with all else - thanks - and GO FOR IT in Bulgaria!

Richard Harty | 03:17 am on 1/21/2008

I don't buy the idea that experience is always some foggy murky source of information. We have very complex sensory mechanisms that when given attention can give us large amounts of information in a very short period of time. Pain, both physical and emotional, is a fairly accurate indicator of harm.

I don't find that the Bible is all that clear on what to do to relieve suffering. The evidence against this idea is that there are so many people who say they understand what this collection of writings is saying and so few of them agree. And, historically, Christians have created far more pain than they have relieved. So, I see little evidence that a belief in the Bible provides the most reliable sense of what is ethical or not.

I would say that even Jesus uses self reference to determine what is ethical in his statement to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To me, that is a clear reference to one's own experience.

Gage Browning | 07:04 pm on 1/28/2008

You know the good Bishop doesn't think that the issue of eternal life is the main issue. Instead he seems to echo the importance of the "social gospel", or "putting things to right" I think is how he put it.

I wonder what he would think of 1 John 5:8- "These things are written...so that you may know that you have eternal life." Sounds like the author of 1 John thought the issue of eternal life was extremely important, as did the gospel writer John who even claimed the purpose of his book was so that men and women could know that they have eternal life. John 20:31 -"but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

Gage Browning
Post Tenebras Lux

Joey Aszterbaum | 01:56 am on 5/14/2008

Gage, I highly recommend that you read Tom's books to find satisfactory answers. Let me begin with this: When John says 'eternal life', the emphasis is not on quantity (as in the length, duration or afterlife), but on the quality or source (as in from God, overflowing, life to the fullest, from heaven).

Wright is an extreme advocate of our future hope (see his "Surprised by Hope"), but he gives a strong indication that the hope we have was taught by Jesus and by Paul to have serious ramifications for what we do in this world now, not just about some disembodied afterlife. "The kingdom come ON EARTH..." and all that.

Read Paul...his argument for how to live now and what to do now are inextricably linked to our future resurrection. It's not a "You'll go to heaven, so don't worry about this world." It's more "Honor God with your bodies (better translation: whole self) because God will bring you back to life, and everything that you have done for him."

John | 09:06 am on 2/02/2008

Yow Gage, it is incredible to me that we would even have this discussion. For so long John 3:16 has been the shorthand of Christian evangelism. Yet, all of a sudden, eternal life is not the prize? In no way do I dismiss Christian service to a lost and dying world (and it is lost and dying) but Christian service is to show the love of God through Christ to this world that the people of this world might know that God loves them as He loved Jesus. John 17:23. As I understand the New Testament, the hopeful consequence of Christian's showing others the love of God is that they might have everlasting life. Again, John 3:16... I'm with Gage, it seems to me the Writer of much of Scripture in the New Testament had eternal life in mind as a critical main theme. IMHO

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