We have two articles on Bishop N. T. Wright in our June issue of Washington Window, which will be online and in mailboxes soon. Below is a piece on his new book Simply Christian. At the end of that piece, you can click on the “keep reading” link to see a much shorter piece containing his comments about the Episcopal Church and its impending response to the Windsor Report.
The first article starts here:
Bishop N.T. Wright spends a good deal of time explaining to admirers that they misunderstand him.
To those impressed by his rigorous, evangelically-inclined biblical scholarship, he must explain that “conservative” convictions regarding the interpretation of Scripture do not, in his case, translate into support for the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.
“I often meet people in this country who tell me, ‘I love your books on Jesus. I really enjoy your work on Paul. But how can you criticize our president because God has raised him up to bring justice to the world?’ ” says Wright, the prolific author who is also the Bishop of Durham.
To liberals Christians who cheer his opposition to the war in Iraq and his advocacy of greenhouse gas restrictions, he must break the news that he parts company with them on issues such as gay marriage, and wonders whether their politics shapes their faith, rather than their faith shaping their politics.
“I think, for example, that some people oppose the idea of a bodily resurrection because it is part of a ‘center-right’ package in this country,” Wright said. “And if you believe in a bodily resurrection you are in with people who believe other things that you don’t believe. Part of my job is to constantly uncouple these assumptions. I think we just have to start with first principles on each issue.”
In his most recent book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, Wright is dealing with Christianity at its most elemental.
“My publishers (Harper San Francisco in the United States and the Society for the Propogation of Christian Knowledge in the U. K.) perceived the need to do something for the 21st century like C. S. Lewis did with Mere Christianity,” Wright said before a recent lecture at Washington National Cathedral. “This book puts rather simply things that in other books, including some of my own, are put rather more complicatedly.”
In Simply Christian, Wright identifies four essential human longings: for justice, relationships, spiritual sustenance and beauty.
“I didn’t set out to create a definitive set of categories,” he says. “I knew I wanted to start where Lewis started, with justice, fairness, and that I wanted to end with beauty. But when I looked at the four of them, I though, ‘Yeah, that covers the bases.’”
The problem of evil is addressed “across the categories” Wright says, and humanity’s yearning for truth is addressed in the book’s final chapter.
Throughout the book, Wright refers to the Incarnation as a divine “rescue mission.”
“Salvation has become, ironically, a dead metaphor for most people,” Wright said. “I wanted to give it a more dynamic edge.”
In addition, he wanted to correct what he feels is a self-centered view of salvation that permeates modern Christianity. “The New Testament is not particularly interested in one’s immediate post-mortem location,” he says. “Salvation is not about going to heaven. It is about the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. We are beneficiaries, but we are also agents of this new creation.”
The book has received copious praise, and, as is often the case with Wright’s work, some of it comes from unexpected quarters. Anne Rice, the queen of vampire fiction, who shared the stage with Wright during his appearance at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, says Simply Christian is an improvement on Lewis’ classic. Wright demurs. He says his primer on Christianity resembles Lewis’ in the way that his golf game resembles Tiger Woods’.
During his book tour, Wright has been exposed again to what he considers a peculiarly American intellectual dynamic. “The left/right split in American does not correspond to the rest of the world,” he says.
“There is this assumption, among liberals, that if you believe that the Bible contains historical truths you are a crypto-creationist,” he said. But he was told after a recent speech at a conservative think tank that he “lost half the audience” when he mentioned Charles Darwin.
Wright says his book contains challenges for liberals and conservatives alike.
“Some people want to lurch back to a social gospel: that we’ve got to build the kingdom ourselves,” Wright says. “A lot of people did a lot of good work doing that,” he adds, but the 20th century is the story of how various utopian schemes not only failed, but inspired violence and repressions.
“We can’t build the Kingdom ourselves,” he says. “When it comes, it will be a gift of grace.”
But neither should Christians “remove themselves” from society until “God acts and all things are put right.”
The proper attitude is that of a stone mason working on a grand cathedral, he says.
“He may not know how what he is carving will be used, but he trusts the architect.”
The second article starts here:
In addition to being a prolific scholar, and popular speaker, Bishop N. T. Wright was also a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion which wrote the Windsor Report.
He has advocated withholding invitations to the Lambeth Conference in 2008 to bishops of the Episcopal Church, if the church fails to make a satisfactory response to the Windsor Report.
In his recent travels, Wright said, he senses, “a ground swell of desire for staying together somehow.”
“What a great many people are looking for is a signal from the Episcopal Church that Windsor has been heard and not just rejected huffily. If we get a signal that the American Church has taken this seriously…a lot of people will say ‘Whew!’ because we really do like you guys.”
If there is not such signal, Wright predicted, “there will be a lot of cynicism and sorrow.” An unsatisfactory response to the Windsor Report might also precipitate additional border crossings by foreign primates who claim disaffected Episcopal parishes as their own, a practice Wright characterized as “the ecclesiastical equivalent of road rage.”
Wright hasn’t read the 11 resolutions drafted by the Episcopal Church’s Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in response to the Windsor Report, and doesn’t know if they constitute a sufficient response to the report. However, he added: “It will certainly play a lot better than if they don’t pass.”