An Appreciation of N.T. Wright

I’m a great admirer of N.T. Wright.  For those who have only read his popular works, I’d cautiously recommend his scholarly stuff—particularly Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God. Cautiously, because this is real scholarship, 800 pages with all the requisite footnotes and the detailed arguments that can make you cry, Uncle! It’s worth it, at least to me. These books have changed the way I read the Bible.

He is a brilliant mind, and (what is almost but not quite the same thing) an original mind. I was thinking of that when I saw the ads for his recent book Justification. For some time a small group of conservative Reformed pastors have had it in for Wright because he doesn’t follow classic reformed doctrine of the atonement. They’re very vocal and quite articulate, and of course they’re concerned about a very important theological matter.  I confess that I haven’t kept up on this debate, so I can’t pronounce on a winner. (I’m sure you’re disappointed.) What I like, though, is seeing such excitement over what seemed, until recently, a very sleepy subject. Suddenly there is fire on the blogs.

Best of all, the argument is fiercely scriptural.  Scott McKnight is quoted this way in the ads for Justification: “Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots—the neo-Reformed—by taking them back to Scripture and its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this… study.”

McKnight put it in a rather incendiary way, but he’s on to something. The neo-Reformed are committed to a tradition of scriptural interpretation. They’re sure it’s right and they read the Bible by looking through those lenses. And what drives them nuts is that Wright is as fiercely scriptural as they are. He doesn’t quote scholars, he quotes the Bible. He has a new way of reading Paul, and he defends it not on the basis of its usefulness or its responsiveness to modern needs, but on the basis of the Bible itself. He may be right or he may be wrong, but to argue with him you have to read those texts and think them through again.

That’s exactly what I have appreciated about his scholarly works. He has a way of looking at biblical texts with fresh eyes, of exposing the unexamined assumptions you bring to the them, and shining light on words that you have glossed over. At the very least, he’s a great stimulus to renewed Bible study.

By the way, there’s a good N.T. Wright website (http://www.ntwrightpage.com/#) that collects articles and interviews and media presentations. You could get lost in this stuff. Wright is amazingly prolific.

Which brings me to my favorite N.T. Wright story. I was interviewing him a few years back about his book Simply Christian. I asked him how he came to write it. He told me that several publishers had been urging him to write an updated version of Mere Christianity, more or less. He never could get to it. “And then Maggie [his wife] said, ‘Tom, I’ve booked the cottage for the week, and we’re just going to go up there and get it done.”

After a short pause I said, “Tom, you don’t mean to say you wrote Simply Christian in a week.”

He said, “All but the last two chapters.”

And I’m quite sure he thought that was the most ordinary thing in the world. I guess so, for him.

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6 Responses to “An Appreciation of N.T. Wright”

  1. Andy Rowell Says:

    Good post. You know he is going to subject of Wheaton Theology Conference next spring, right?

    http://www.wheaton.edu/Theology/theo_conf/

    Great to point out he loves Scripture and his amazing productivity and to dodge the question of who is right on justification.

    Andy

  2. Fred Harrell Says:

    Tim,
    We had him here at City Church a year or so ago, and he told me the same story… amazing isn’t it? He’s as humble as he is brilliant. We are lucky to have him…

    Fred

  3. Rebecca Says:

    Thanks for the great post. It’s nice to hear someone recognizing the fact that both sides of this debate care greatly about Scripture.

    -Rebecca

  4. The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Tim Stafford Says:

    […] An Appreciation of N.T. Wright here. […]

  5. Byron Says:

    Thanks for the great post. Just want to mention that I’ve got the book “The future of Justification” by John Piper and I’ve listen to many of the comments from the scholars who don’t agree with NT Wright….and I must say that until I got it straight from the horses mouth, I was believing all that Piper and the others where saying about NT Wright. That of course until I bought Wrights book, “Justification”. Wright just brings a real refreshing approach to reading the bible with its historical context and meaning. I just dont understand why all the negative comments about NT Wright? Tey guy has done nothing but teach the truth and back it up with scripture. One of my closes friends will not even touch a NT Wright book because of what Piper, Michael Horton and RC Sproul have said about NT Wright. But for those who want to get i from Wright himself, do your self a favor and get his book “Justification” and you will see that reading Piper and others are wrong for what they say about NT. Now I have to go back and get some of His earlier books just to catch up.

  6. Byron Says:

    Thanks for the great post. Just want to mention that I’ve got the book “The future of Justification” by John Piper and I’ve listen to many of the comments from the scholars who don’t agree with NT Wright….and I must say that until I got it straight from the horses mouth, I was believing all that Piper and the others where saying about NT Wright. That of course until I bought Wrights book, “Justification”. Wright just brings a real refreshing approach to reading the bible with its historical context and meaning. I just dont understand why all the negative comments about NT Wright? The guy has done nothing but teach the truth and back it up with scripture. One of my closes friends will not even touch a NT Wright book because of what Piper, Michael Horton and RC Sproul have said about NT Wright. But for those who want to get it from Wright himself, do yourself a favor and get his book “Justification” and you will see that reading Piper and others are wrong for what they say about NT. Now I have to go back and get some of His earlier books just to catch up.

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