Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 14 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “N. T. Wright: British Theolgian and Clergyman.”
Just as a reminder if you didn’t catch my announcement last month, in the broadcast schedule for the GoodlifeNews! Podcast and Blog, I’ve designated the first episode of each month to feature a favorite author and/or book that I have found uplifting, entertaining, and inspiring.
Reading has always been a huge part of my life since before I started formal schooling as a child. I have literally read hundreds—if not thousands—of books over my lifetime. Not a few have had a profound influence in how I think, broadening my horizons, giving me new perspectives, and teaching powerful principles for living.
I’m anxious to share some of those books, as well as favorite authors, with our GoodlifeNews! Podcast Villagers! So, as we move along, each month I’ll choose another author or book to highlight and share with you.
I hope you will be inspired to pick up a book and read it for yourself. It doesn’t have to be one I talk about, but reading itself is so important I want to do whatever I can to encourage everyone to make a regular habit of reading great books.
N. T. Wright
British Theologian and Clergyman
N. T. Wright is the former Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and author of more than seventy books, including Surprised by Hope, The Last Word, and The Meaning of Jesus, with Marcus Borg. He taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities. (Adapted from the back flyleaf of Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.)
I became an instant fan of Dr. Wright’s books when I first listened to an audio version of Paul: A Biography that I discovered on audible.com. Listening to that volume inspired me to order a print copy to have in my library. I also enthusiastically shared it with my wife, who also found it profoundly moving.
I’ve been a serious Bible student ever since my high-school days when, at age 16 I gave my heart to Jesus, and invited Him into my heart to be my personal Savior and Lord. Through the years, God has led me on a journey of ever-deepening, ever-widening understanding of scripture. I have experienced many “watershed” moments on this spiritual journey.
Listening, and then reading Dr. Wright’s material in the last few months has provided yet another of those moments.
Here are three of Dr. Wright’s books which I have read recently:
(Click on the picture for more information)
- Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He was, What He Did, and Why He Matters.
- Paul: A Biography provides a wonderful portrait of the apostle’s life. It’s a large book of 432 pages, plus copious footnotes, a detailed scripture index, and an exhaustive subject index.
- Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense.
I will share some thoughts about each of those three books in a few moments, but first, I want to give you some added details about Dr. Wright himself.
Nicholas Thomas Wright was born December 1, 1948 in Morpeth, Northumberland, United Kingdom. Northumberland is England’s northeastern-most county, bordering Scotland on the north, and the North Sea to the east. It is England’s least densely populated county, currently having only 62 people per square kilometer. The countryside is dotted with small towns and the ruins of ancient castles from the days of old. Today, tourism provides a major source of income for the locals.
From all indications “Tom” (as he was called) was a spiritual child from a very young age. In an interview in 2003, Dr. Wright recalled a time when—at around 4 or 5 years of age—he was “sitting by myself at Morpeth and being completely overcome, coming to tears, by the fact that God loved me so much he died for me. Everything that has happened to me since has produced wave upon wave of the same.”
In the course of time, “Tom” became “Dr. N. T. Wright FRSE.” When I first read those initials after his name I had no idea what “FRSE” meant. A short search on the Internet, however, revealed that these letters stand for “Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,” Scotland’s national academy of science and letters. Individuals granted a “fellowship” in this society have been judged to be “eminently distinguished in their subject.” In other words, this is a pretty nerdy, geeky club for intellectuals and super-achievers.
Regardless, the few books by Dr. Wright that I have read—while addressing some very deep theological concepts—never come across as stuffy intellectualism or snobbish superiority. On the contrary, even though Dr. Wright’s scholarship is impeccable, his writings reveal that same deep spiritual experience he sensed as a child, still moved by God’s love and sacrifice for him—a sinner the same as anyone else.
So, let’s take a look at those three books I mentioned a bit ago. First up is Simply Jesus.
I chose Simply Jesus first, not because it was Dr. Wright’s first published book, nor because it was the first one I read. It is neither. Instead, as one reviewer stated, “No one living today is writing more thoughtfully and compellingly about Christian theology than N. T. Wright. With Simply Jesus, he takes readers on an illuminating expedition to recover the Christian Messiah. If you have not read Wright, start now, and start with this book.”
Another reviewer said, “Somewhat to my surprise, I felt that, in reading Simply Jesus, I was really coming to know Jesus better; reading Simply Jesus, I actually felt Him near.”
I totally agree with these reviewers! The word pictures inspire vivid visual images in the mind’s eye as Dr. Wright deftly addresses who Jesus was, what he did, and why it matters.
“Jesus—the Jesus we might discover if we really looked, is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we had ever imagined . . . . We [the churches] have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety; the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience; Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness are important, but not nearly as important as Jesus himself.”N. T. Wright, quoted from the flyleaf
The most striking word picture I carried away from this book is the impending “perfect storm” clash between Imperial Rome and the fiercely determined, politically driven Jews. Judea, of course, was to the Romans a small, backwater corner of their great empire. On the other hand, to the Jews the Romans were an occupying army, reminiscent of Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon. Especially Babylon. And even further back, Assyria and Egypt. The Jewish mindset was that the appearance of the “Conquering King” Messiah of Old Testament prophecies would signal the fall of Rome, and bring about a restored Jewish empire even greater than the glory days of Kings David and Solomon.
But Jesus was not the Messiah they expected. He came as a “Suffering Servant” instead of a “Conquering King.” Rather than marching with swords against the Romans, Jesus came with an entirely different kind of kingdom—a kingdom of love, peace, humility, caring, kindness, and self-sacrifice. The Son of God—in the weakness of human flesh—walked into the no-man’s-land between the powerful Roman armies and the Jewish zealots, carrying a message of victory through grace and agápe love. Neither the Romans nor the Jews knew what to do with that kind of warfare, and they ended up conspiring together to kill this unorthodox Messiah-King.
The way of the cross brought their ultimate demise, but gained the greatest victory in the history of the world.
Paul: A Biography
As I briefly mentioned above, Paul: A Biography provides a wonderful portrait of the apostle’s life. It’s a large book of 432 pages, plus copious footnotes, a detailed scripture index, and an exhaustive subject index. The audio version takes over 15 hours listening at normal speed!
In this presentation of the apostle’s life, Dr. Wright offers a new way of understanding the man Paul and his extraordinary life. Rather than a simple recitation of time-line events, Dr. Wright weaves together contemporary cultural, political, and religious forces present in the context of Paul’s lifetime. He explains the zealotry that fired the young Pharisee Saul’s severe persecution of the growing body of Christ’s followers.
Then came the Damascus Road experience when everything changed. Saul, the persecuting Pharisee, became Paul, the great advocate of the gospel of grace and the true Messiah-ship of Jesus of Nazareth.
Dr. Wright writes in-depth accounts of the Apostle’s life events, including broad pictures of social conditions everywhere. He shows the powerful effects of Paul’s testimonies wherever he traveled. He explains the background issues causing disruptions in the churches, and Paul’s letters addressing those needs. Reading (actually, listening to) this book significantly broadened my understanding of the times and places of the New Testament story. My awareness of behind-the-scenes conditions of life for Paul and his contemporaries was expanded many times over.
One major result for me that grew out of reading Paul is that I was inspired to do a “deeper dive” into the Book of Romans, which Dr. Wright explains contains the best and most complete expressions of Paul’s theology. To do this I went to a Christian bookstore and purchased a new Life Application Study Bible of the New Living Translation. I do not have the words to express the power and depth of spiritual growth this has brought me. At this time of my life, it almost feels like I am just beginning to discover the truths God has been waiting all this time to share with me.
For real. I stand in awe at what God is doing.
Paul: A Biography has been a powerful catalyst opening a new chapter in my walk with God.
The last book of N. T. Wright’s that I want to share with you in this episode is Simply Christian.
This is the most recent book I’ve read of Dr. Wright’s. It was actually written previous to Simply Jesus or Paul: A Biography.
Since I had read the other two books previously, I chose this one in which he lays out some of the basic concepts he develops more in depth in later writings. Reading Simply Christian after reading the others is somewhat like checking the recipe after enjoying a delicious dinner dish. For me, it doesn’t detract from the joy, but actually enlarges it as I discover the earlier seeds of understanding.
In Simply Christian, Dr. Wright meets head-on with questions Christianity has struggled with for centuries. Questions such as, “Why do we expect justice?” “Why do we crave spirituality?” and “Why are relationships often so painful?”
In addressing these perennial questions, Dr. Wright “makes the case for the Christian faith from the ground up, assuming that the reader has no knowledge of (and perhaps even some aversion to) religion in general and Christianity in particular” (quoting from the front flyleaf).
Quite frankly, while I did find the book very worthwhile, extremely well-written, and full of compelling reasoned arguments, the author does take some theological positions I find difficult to accept. But, seriously, that’s what he would expect. He makes a strong case that everyone reads the Scriptures through the lenses of their own experience, training, and faith traditions. Dr. Wright would have no problem with me reading the Bible for myself to discover the truths waiting there for incorporation into my life.
Simply Christian has been compared favorably with C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. It is written in the same vein—addressed especially to young Christians and inquiring non-believers. Christianity Today commented, “It will confirm, challenge, and deepen your grasp of Christian faith and practice.”
Do yourself a favor. Find a copy of one of Dr. Wright’s books and start reading this week! I don’t think you will be disappointed. And, as I mentioned above, his book Simply Jesus is a great place to begin.
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about the choices and decisions we make and how we make them. What are the underlying motives influencing our thinking which result in the ultimate outworking of deeds in our lives?
And, just a quick peek farther ahead, coming up on September 6, our featured author will be Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, and other popular Christian books.
Be sure to tune in, and if you enjoy these Podcasts and Blogposts, please share with your friends, family, or whomever! My many thanks—in advance!