A Brief Mention of N.T. Wright

December 7, 2008

wright

I think I should take a pause and mention a bit more detail about another theologian I’ve been reading: N.T. Wright. If you click the “religion” tab at the bottom of my site and read back this entire recent thread of articles I’ve posted in regards to the subject you’ll notice my constant reference to searching, questioning and the doubt. Religion has always been an interest of mine, but as I’ve said philosophy overtook theology for me throughout my college years. My recent spate of theological reading could stem from a number of factors, I suppose, but for whatever reason I’ve returned to it in a semi-vigor. Wright is perhaps a thinker I might have avoided in past years out of fear that he would be too “conservative” for my tastes. Oddly, many people I know who lean towards the more conservative side tend to avoid Wright in fear that he’s too “liberal,” a view they take primarily for Wright’s newer work in the so-called “new perspectives on Paul” field.

I think both camps are missing out, my former self included. Now, I’m still not at a place in which I fully accept and take all of Wright’s viewpoints as my own. They are traditional viewpoints, very close to the heart of the type of religion I grew up familiar with. What’s different with Wright’s approach is that it feels much more inclusive and academic. This isn’t “The Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it” philosophy. No, Wright returns to the scripture, the creeds and the Bible from a modern and inclusive stance. He uses academia and logic to kick open the door into classic and traditional viewpoints and explains how such views are still relevant, inclusive and revolutionary. In “The Meaning of Jesus” Wright recounts how as a college chaplain at Oxford he would often hear from incoming freshmen, “You won’t be seeing much of me; you see, I don’t believe in God,” to which Wright said he began to respond to with, “Oh, that’s interesting. Which god is it you don’t believe in?” The students then typically describe God as “a being in the sky, looking down disapprovingly at the world, occasionally intervening to do miracles, sending bad people to hell while allowing good people to share his heaven.” Wright says his response to such a description then is “Well, I’m not surprised you don’t believe in that god. I don’t believe in that god either.”
This anecdote captures best what I like of Wright’s theology, at least what I’ve read of it so far. He’s humorous, intelligent and approachable. Every time I almost give up on a type of traditional interpretation I find myself re-evaluating it yet again once I read Wright’s take on it.

One of my earliest religiously themed articles on this site mentioned that I got back into theology by reading works by Spong and the like. After digging deeper into works by Spong I became disenchanted with what he had to say as well, and then I discovered the work of Marcus Borg. His work hit home for me, it’s like Spong without pretension and “pop,” more spiritually sound (for me at least) and with more depth and academia. Well, every time I feel like nodding in agreement with Borg I read something by Wright that makes me step back and think of it in the opposite way. What’s really important here, for me, is that stripped of the details and debate what both men are essentially saying is the same. The central message and promise is independent of historical and philosophical debate, at least most of the time. Really though, I find it comforting that people with views that many churches would find irreconcilable manage to work together and be friends in the way that Wright and Borg are. Both writers have helped to open my eyes and send me to revisit concepts and scripture that I sometimes thought I never would. And of course there are religious, political and social issues I don’t or wouldn’t see eye to eye on with either writer. Both of them are merely human and neither have all the answers. They’re merely better educated , more intelligent and more devout searchers than I am. I’ve still got a long way to go before I can reconcile the disparate thoughts, feelings and questions that are entrenched in my personality, but I’m beginning to think it’s possible to do so and I’m seeing that there’s room under the umbrella of “Christianity” for a lot of different thoughts, ideas and perceptions–the central theme, purpose and message remains unchanged even though many of us (even in large groups) distort and misplace it quite often.

I urge anyone who has written off Wright in fear of his “liberal” or “revisionist” stance on Paul to re-read him. I haven’t read deeply on the new perspectives on Paul other than basic over-views. It seems that many have a problem with Wright asserting that works play a role in a person’s salvation. I feel right on board with a theme Wright pressed on, one on which I heard a sermon recently, that even Christians would face judgment. In Wright’s mind Christians will face up to not the bad they have done in this world but for the opportunities they missed to do good. You may disagree, I suppose, but is that a dangerous assertion? I myself have a problem picturing any type of hell other than a “second death end and annihilation” sort and even that only for a very few unrepentant, unbelieving and unaccepting group (I certainly may be wrong in my assertion however), but as for even the best of us facing judgment for missing out on the chance to do good? Seems highly plausible. Jesus spoke in constant urge to help those in need and very rarely commented on “moral” issues. Anyway, in regards to my plea, look at Wright’s work again. I think even the most conservative Christian will find a wealth of inspirational knowledge they will agree with. I equally urge more liberal Christians to look at Wright’s work, for it re-examines much of what you might have written off in a way that you might take something highly positive away from it.

Okay, folks. For anyone tiring of the religious thread on my blog, I do have a lot of other things slated for the rest of the month. A lot of music, book, comic and movie articles as well as possibly one last 2008 baseball article, so check back with me. As always, thanks for reading.

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2 Responses to “A Brief Mention of N.T. Wright”

  1. Fr. Pat said

    Hi Dustin: There are people who think that NT Wright is too liberal? Many of my peers think he is too conservative, which means he is probably right on target. On my first Sunday at Oxford this summer,NT Wright was the preacher at St. Mary’s the Virgin. I sat on the edge of my pew and hung on every word he had to say. His preaching is even better than his writing. Faithfully, Fr. Pat

  2. dwhamby1 said

    I love N.T. Wright. I believe he is the 21st century C.S. Lewis. He can speak to the academy and to the lay person. His writings show that you don’t have to check your brain at the door to be a Christ follower. I believe the faith delivered to the saints is still the faith today. Yet we have to be open to listen to various voices and be willing to discuss tough issues and be smart enough to admit we don’t have all the answers. Blessings and keep reading Wright. I also recommend Luke Timothy Johnson to you!

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