Posted by: gcarkner | April 28, 2013

Weighty Scholarship: N.T. Wright

N.T. WrightNicholas Thomas Wright (born 1 December 1948) is an Anglican Bishop and a leading New Testament scholar. He is published as N. T. Wright when writing academic work, or Tom Wright when writing for a more popular readership (although this may also vary dependent upon publisher) Wright was the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England from 2003 until his retirement in 2010. He is currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s CollegeUniversity of St Andrews in Scotland. We have often referred to him in this blog. We find his work quite valuable and relevant to today’s late modern cultural mood and cognizant of its roots. Wright remains one of the leading thinkers of our day, a highly integrated and sophisticated theologian, biblical scholar, while at the same time culturally sharp and good humoured. He is also quite interested in the dialogue between science and the Christian faith as per the video below. He has been involved in the production of some high quality DVDs on Evil and the Resurrection. He is publishing a new book on Paul this fall 2013.

Among modern New Testament scholars, Wright is an important representative of scholarly conservative Christian views compared to more liberal Christians such as his friend Marcus Borg, but he is associated with the Open Evangelical position and the New Perspective on Paul. He has, however, promoted more traditional views about Jesus’ bodily resurrection and second coming.

Wright was born in Morpeth, Northumberland. In a 2003 interview he said that he could never remember a time when he was not aware of the presence and love of God and recalled an occasion when he was four or five when “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.” : After You Believe: why Christian Character Matters

Early Life and Credentials

In addition to his Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University he has also been awarded several honorary doctoral degrees, including from Durham University in July 2007, the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in April 2008,  the University of St Andrews in 2009 and Heythrop CollegeUniversity of London, in 2010.


Educated at Sedbergh School, then in Yorkshire, Wright specialised in classics.

From 1968 to 1971, he studied literae humaniores (or “classics”, i.e. classical literature, philosophy and history) at Exeter College, Oxford, receiving his BA with first class honours in 1971. During that time he was president of the undergraduate Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. In 1973 he received a BA in theology with first class honours from Exeter.

From 1971 to 1975 he studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, receiving his (Oxford) MA at the end of this period.

In 1975 he became a junior research fellow at Merton College, Oxford and later also junior chaplain. From 1978 to 1981 he was a fellow and chaplain at Downing CollegeCambridge. In 1981 he received his DPhil from Merton College, Oxford, his thesis topic being “The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans”.

After this, he served as assistant professor of New Testament studies at McGill UniversityMontreal (1981–86), then as chaplain, fellow and tutor at Worcester College and lecturer in New Testament in the University of Oxford (1986–93).

He moved from Oxford to be Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994–99) and then returned briefly to Oxford as Visiting Fellow of Merton College, before taking up his appointment as Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000.

Between 1995 and 2000, Wright wrote the weekly Sunday’s Readings column for the Church Times. He has said that writing the column gave him the “courage” to embark upon his popular For Everyone (SPCK) series of commentaries on New Testament books.

In 2003, he became the Bishop of Durham.

On 4 August 2006 he was appointed to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved for a period of five years.

On 27 April 2010 it was announced that he would retire from the See of Durham on 31 August 2010 to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, St Andrews in Scotland, which will enable him to concentrate on his academic and broadcasting work.[15][16]

His Viewpoint

A. New Testament Doctrine

Wright’s doctrinal perspectives, with reference to the New Testament, are expressed throughout his writings. In his popular-level book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, he teaches a position referred to as Christian mortalism. He also advocates a reunion of soteriology and ecclesiology, commenting that such a connection is often neglected in Protestantism. In addition, he is critical of various popular theological ideas, such as the dispensationalist doctrine of the rapture.

B. Scholarly Work

Wright’s work has been praised by many scholars of varying views, including James D.G. DunnGordon FeeRichard B. Hays and Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Tim Keller praised Wright’s work on the resurrection.

C. Historical Jesus: a Major Interest

Regarding the historical Jesus, Wright stands broadly in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer (thoroughgoing eschatology), against what he sees as the thoroughgoing skepticism of William Wrede (famous for his thesis on the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark as an apologetic and ahistorical device) and the Jesus Seminar, Wrede’s modern-day counterparts. He tends to agree with and laud such scholars as E.P. Sanders and the lesser-known Ben F. Meyer (whom Wright calls “the unsung hero” of New Testament studies), although he thinks Sanders and others go too far in their use of form criticism. He also thinks it is a mistake to say that Jesus expected the imminence of the end of history, as Schweitzer thought, but rather thinks that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something both present and future. He has also defended a literal belief in the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead as central to Christianity.

Wright has also received criticism in some more liberal theological circles, e.g. by Robert J. Miller. In contrast, the Jesus Seminar‘s Marcus Borg, with whom Wright shares mutual admiration and respect, has co-authored with Wright the book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.  In 2005, at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, Wright also conversed withJesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan as to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Wright and Crossan, who also hold mutual admiration for one another, hold very different opinions on this foundational Christian doctrine. For Crossan, the resurrection of Jesus is a theological interpretation of events by the writers of the New Testament. For Wright, however, the resurrection is a historical event—coherent with the worldview of Second Temple Judaism—fundamental to the New Testament.

Wright’s Selected Works

  • The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, Fortress Press, 1991.
  • Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, Wm B Eerdmans, 1997 [1994] — 1st ed. by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).
  • What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, Wm B Eerdmans, 1997.
  • The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, Downers Grove, IL, 2000.
  • Wright, NT; Crossan, John Dominic (2006) [2005], in Stewart, Robert B, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue (paperback ed.), SPCK — 1st edition by Augsburg Fortress.
  • Paul: Fresh Perspective. Fortress Press, 2005 co-edition SPCK, 2005.
  • The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. Harper SanFrancisco, 2005.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Hardcover ed. SPCK, 2006 co-edition HarperCollins Pub., 2006.
  • Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?. SPCK 2006 / Baker Books, 2006.
  • Evil and the Justice of God. SPCK, 2006 / Intervarsity Press, 2006.
  • “The Reasons for Christ’s Crucifixion,” Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ (ed. by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin), 2007.
  • Borg, Marcus J; Wright, Nicholas Thomas (2007), The Meaning of Jesus: Two visions, New York: HarperCollins.
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. SPCK, HarperOne, 2008.
  • Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. SPCK, 2008 / Westminster John Knox, 2009. (co-authored with Craig A. Evans) Ed. Troy A. Miller.
  • Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. SPCK, 2009.
  • Virtue Reborn. SPCK, 2010. Published as After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters through HarperOne in North America, 2010.
  • Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. Harper One, 2011.
  • How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. HarperOne, 2012.

Christian Origins and the Question of God Series

Three volumes published, three more planned:

  • The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 1, Augsburg Fortress, 1992.
  • Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 2, Augsburg Fortress, 1996.
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 3, Augsburg Fortress, 2003.
  • Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 2013. A full-dress study of Paul, currently in progress.
  • The Gospels and the Story of God. The four gospel writers as theologians in their own right.
  • The Early Christians and the Purpose of God. The practical, hermeneutical and theological implications of all of the above. N. T. Wright on Epicurus, Deism, and Darwin

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