We welcome back best-selling Bible scholar N.T. “Tom” Wright this week to talk about Jesus—the central figure in the lives of 2 billion people around the world who are preparing to celebrate Christmas. Just in time for holiday gift giving, Wright is releasing two books that we recommend for individual reading and group discussion, FIRST: Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters
AND, a contemporary translation of Scriture that Wright has been working on for years: The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation
(Both of these links take you to Amazon.)
Meet N.T. Wright This Week
Tuesday and Wednesday, we will publish our interview with Wright, focusing on each of his new books and—more importantly—on the urgent need to rethink the way many Americans seem to be invoking Jesus’ name these days. If you think of N.T. Wright as a “conservative” Christian, famous for his public debates with Bible scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, then you’ve probably missed Wright’s passion for Christians to roll up their sleeves and meet many of the world’s dire needs today. He argues vigorously that God wants us to care for our natural world and to ensure the rights and protection of the poor and vulnerable in our societies. In fact, it is Wright’s status as an “outsider” on the American scene—he is the former Anglican bishop of Durham, England—that makes him so effective at shaking up our Americanized assumptions about Jesus.
In our interview with Wright, at one point, he complains that too many American religious leaders claim that Jesus expects Christians to march after a particular, politically conservative slate of issues. Pulling no punches, Wright says: “For me as a Brit, it’s ridiculous to hear so many American Christians argue that we have to bundle up all of these political issues that conservative politicians have accumulated, through the decades, along with our Christian faith.”
Wright tells readers of Simply Jesus that he began writing this book as if envisioning a lost motorist pulling off a highway and asking a local resident, “A simple question: How do I get to Glasgow from here?” The driver is overwhelmed with maps and twisting roads and conflicting directions. He wants someone to slice thorugh the confusion and help him find a fresh orientation. In that sense, Simply Jesus might be called N.T. Wright’s Jesus 101. In this book, Wright tells us that he is envisioning the confused person who stops and asks, “Tell me about Jesus?” He wants the answer to be clear and accurate and solid enough to lead him toward Jesus. “I decided to answer the simple question by putting together, layer upon layer, in as simple a fashion as I could, what I thought might help someone who really wanted to find the way to Jesus, to Jesus as he really was, and so to find the way through Jesus to God himself and to a life in wihch ‘following Jesus’ would make sense,” the new book says.
N.T. Wright and a Christmas Story We Shouldn’t Miss
Amid all the Christmas decorations and storybooks and candle-lit services, Wright points out in his new book that Christians surely must know by heart the full version of Mary’s famous Song of Praise in Luke 1:46-55. Millions know the first part of that Song of Praise by heart (about “all generations will call me blessed”)—but they forget the jarring second part (about the world’s lowly being lifted up and the world’s rich and powerful being brought low).
Toward the end of Simply Jesus, Wright writes: “What, then, does it look like when Jesus is enthroned? It looks like new projects that do what Jesus’s mother’s great song announced: put down the mighty from their seat, exalt the humble and meek, fulfill ancient promises, but send the rich away empty.”
Lines like that are guaranteed to startle American political conservatives who think they know what Wright is preaching about a return to orthodox Christianity. In fact, Wright is preaching a Jesus who is as startling and unsettling as He was 2,000 years ago.
Looking beyond these two N.T. Wright books?
OTHER N.T. WRIGHT BOOKS are described in our Wright Small Group Resources page.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.