NT Wright Bible scholar interviews and book reviews

Bible scholar and author NT Wright.

Bible scholar and author NT Wright, a popular author photo taken while he was Bishop of Durham.

NT Wright
Resource Page
for Bible Study
and Small Groups

ReadTheSpirit online magazine helps readers along their individual spiritual journeys. Our online magazine and bookstore also are designed to help the more than 1 million small groups that gather in connection with congregations nationwide. This Resource Page gathers, in one place, links to our extensive coverage of best-selling Bible scholar N.T. Wright:

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

NT WRIGHT refers to himself as “Tom” to set people at ease. His full name is Nicholas Thomas Wright. He was born just after World War II (December 1, 1948) in Morpeth, Northumberland—a town in the north of England.

NT WRIGHT and MARCUS BORG: Wright gained his worldwide celebrity as a Bible scholar by arguing from a traditional perspective with scholars who take a more critical view of the scriptures as a historical record. In particular, his good-natured sparring with Bible scholar Marcus Borg sparked headlines across the U.S. for the unexpected size of their crowds. Before they were finished, the pair had talked to thousands of people. Later, Tom and Marcus published a book together about their two perspectives on Jesus: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.

NT WRIGHT: An Evangelical? Because of that splash in American headlines, many Americans regard Wright as a conservative evangelical. However, in the UK, he’s known as a leading light among Open Evangelicals, Christians who celebrate church traditions but also engage in a progressive way with the larger world. This is crucial in understanding how some of Wright’s books wind up raising points similar to those made by American emergent-church writers like Brian McLaren. To understand this important distinction, see our coverage of Wright’s How God Became King, below.

NT WRIGHT’s Background as a Bible Scholar: The phrase “Bible scholar” is attached to Wright’s name so frequently that it begins to sound like a formal title. Most people aren’t aware of how he got that title, though. He first earned a reputation for combining his Christian faith and rigorous scholarship while studying as an undergraduate at Exeter College, Oxford, in the 1970s. His master’s work for the Anglican ministry (ordained 1975) also was at Oxford (Wycliffe Hall). In 1981, he earned a doctorate specializing in New Testament studies from Merton College, Oxford. Later, he taught his specialty at McGill University, Montreal, and the University of Oxford (1986-1993).

NT WRIGHT and Service in the Church:
For two decades, Wright’s career included direct service to the Anglican church in the UK. In 1994, he became Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, where he remained until 1999. In 2000, he was appointed Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey. During this period, he continued writing and attracted an ever-expanding audience. In 2003, he became Bishop of Durham, which gave him an authoritative new title and the bishop’s garb you see in the often-reproduced author photo with this Resource Page. Then, in August 2010, Wright announced that his work for the church was preventing him from completing some major writing projects. So, he retired from the See of Durham and was named Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, St Andrews in Scotland.

NT WRIGHT: ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’
and ‘The Case for the Psalms’

NT Tom Wright covers for Paul and the Faithfulness of God and PsalmsBy 2013, the former bishop was writing like a man on a mission, producing both the 1,700-page Paul and the Faithfulness of God and The Case for Psalms.

In our ReadTheSpirit interview with Wright on these books, he talks pointedly about flaws that concern him in the evangelical community, among them: Proof texting that takes verses from Paul out of context, preaching that seems to damn this world in favor of other-worldly salvation, and disputes that unnecessarily divide the Christian community. Describing his concerns about proof texting, Wright says: “Let’s be sure that, if you’re reading one sentence, that we also see the context of the paragraph, and the context of the entire letter. By relying exclusively on a single verse, we can tend to distort the big picture. And the big picture is that Paul was developing a whole new way of looking at the world, at God and at everything else.”

In this interview, Wright describes his difficult decision to leave Durham to make more time for his upcoming books: “That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make professionally or personally. It was a huge joy to be the Bishop of Durham.

If you’re wanting to learn more about the three big volumes that came before the big book on Paul, Wright uses this 2013 interview to summarize those first three books. It’s a good introduction to this whole 20-year-long series of books.

We cover two books in this interview, so Wright also speaks passionately about the need to return Psalms to the heart of Christian devotional life: “There’s no emotion we can feel that the Psalms don’t already have in spades. This allows us to bring anything we can conceive in our human lives today—whatever challenges we face—and find them voiced in the Psalms long before us. If we forget the Psalms, we are aiming toward shallow, transparent Christianity.

At ReadTheSpirit, we are not alone in praising these books. In that 2013 interview with Wright, we quote retired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ reviews.

We also quote from Wright’s own preface to the book on Psalms: “This book is a personal plea for the Psalms, which make up the great hymnbook at the heart of the Bible, have been the daily lifeblood of Christians, and of course the Jewish people, from the earliest times. Yet in many  Christian circles today, the Psalms are simply not used. And in many places where they are still used, whether said or sung, they are often reduced to a few verses to be recited as ‘filler’ between other parts of the liturgy or worship services. In the later case, people often don’t seem to realize what they’re singing. In the former case, they don’t seem to realize what they’re missing. This book is an attempt to reverse those trends. I see this as an urgent task.”

NT WRIGHT: ‘How God Became King’
(And Why the Left, the Right and even C.S. Lewis Can Be Wrong)

Cover of NT Wright How God Became King

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

One of Tom Wright’s most provocative books is How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels—because he tackles some widespread assumptions in the American evangelical community. In our ReadTheSpirit interview with Wright on How God Became King, he begins by saying: One of the targets of this book is Christians who say: Yes, the Bible is true. It’s inerrant and so on. But, then, they pay no attention to what the Bible actually says. For too many Christians it seems sufficient to say Christ was born of a Virgin, died on a cross and was resurrected—but never did anything else in between. I’m saying: That’s not the way to understand the Gospels. (Read the entire interview, which includes a pointed critique of C.S. Lewis, an author who strongly influenced Wright and yet ultimately in Wright’s view misunderstood some key biblical issues.)

SEE WRIGHT DISCUSS THE BOOK: In a second story, we provide an overview of How God Became King, quote from the book and also provide some short videos Wright provided to describe what he calls the “explosive” nature of this book.

PUTTING WRIGHT INTO PERSPECTIVE WITH OTHER SCHOLARS: Many readers assume that Wright is always on the opposite side of debates with Bible scholars such as Bart Ehrman, who takes a much more limited view of the Bible’s historical accuracy. In fact, in an in-depth interview with Ehrman, we found a convergence of thinking on at least one basic theme in Wright’s How God Became King. Read the entire interview with Ehrman for the full context. At one point, Ehrman agrees with Wright that Jesus’s central message involved the need for his followers to confront the evil powers and principalities in this world: “I agree with Tom that, for my money, this is what really matters in Jesus’s message. Everything in his adult life is oriented toward this message.”

NT WRIGHT 2011: ‘Simply Jesus’
And on ‘Kingdom New Testament’

Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

In 2011, we published an extensive two-part interview with Wright, the first part focusing on his book, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, and the second part focusing on The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation. (Clicking on those links or the Simply Christian cover at right will take you to Amazon.)

WRIGHT on Simply Jesus: Wright tells readers 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 through the confusion and help him find a fresh orientation. In that sense, Simply Jesus might be called N.T. Wright’s Jesus 101. Wright says: “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 which ‘following Jesus’ would make sense.” Read our entire interview with NT Wright on Simply Jesus.

WRIGHT on The Kingdom New Testament: Here is how Wright describes this collection of translations of New Testament books and letters: “This translation took me 10 years. The first bits of it were done in the summer of 2000, when I was doing smaller Bible-study books called Mark for Everyone and Luke for Everyone. I prepared these translations, initially, to go along with the Everyone commentaries that I wrote over the years. In each of the Everyone Bible-study books, I included my own translation. Now, the complete New Testament is finished and we’ve put all of the translated books together in the form of this new book. I should also say that I did prepare this with editors and scholars who assisted.” Read our entire interview with NT Wright on The Kingdom New Testament.

NT WRIGHT 2010: ‘After You Believe’
Why Christian Character Matters

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters was produced while Wright was still serving as a bishop in the UK. It’s one of Wright’s most practical books—focusing on the ideal character, or virtues, that flow from a Christian life. Wright explains: “Learning to navigate this world wisely, and to grow toward complete and mature human life in and through it all, is the challenge we all face. And the point of this book is to suggest that the dynamic of ‘virtue,’ in this sense—practicing the habits of heart and life that point toward the true goal of human existence—lies at the heart of the challenge of Christian behavior. … When we approach things from this angle, we are in for some surprises. A great many Christians, in my experience, never think of things this way, and so get themselves in all kinds of confusion. Virtue, to put it bluntly, is a revolutionary idea in today’s world—and today’s church. But the revolution is one we badly need.”

NT WRIGHT videos from England: Zondervan sent a film crew to the UK to create a series of film clips with Wright. The full set of film clips forms a Zondervan study guide for this Wright book. Read our story about the videos, which includes a couple of video samples.

NT WRIGHT on After You Believe: He says, at one point: “If you want to be a good footballer you have to train in ball control, you have to train your muscles and eye-foot coordination in order that eventually you will attain this goal. The same is true in our faith.” This interview also describes the difference between UK and American editions of this particular book and the origins of the idea—in a series of lectures Wright gave on “Virtues.” He also says: “I’m using the word ‘virtue’ in the technical sense that this is part of building our strength of character. The word virtue comes from Latin and means ‘strength’—in the sense of an acquired strength.” Read our entire interview with Wright about After You Believe.

NT WRIGHT 2008: ‘Surprised by Hope’
(Rethinking Heaven, Resurrection & the Church’s Mission)

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Click the cover to visit Amazon.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church was the first book that we featured in an in-depth NT Wright interview for Read The Spirit magazine. (We were founded in 2007, which is described in our About Us page.)

Quotable NT Wright: If you are trying to bring the full range of NT Wright’s message to your congregation, then you will find that this book lays a foundation for arguments he continues to make through his later works. In this book, he writes, at one point: “As long as we see salvation in terms of going to heaven when we die, the main work of the church is bound to be seen in terms of saving souls for that future. But when we see salvation, as the New Testament sees it, in terms of God’s promised new heavens and new earth and of our promised resurrection to share in that new and gloriously embodied reality … then the main work of the church here and now demands to be rethought in consequence.”

Then, here’s the line that often has been quoted since the release of Surprised by Hope: “We are saved not as souls but as wholes.”

The interview with Tom also includes some very quotable lines. At one point, he says: “Let me put this as simply as I can. Most Western Christians have grown up with the idea that the name of game is simply to go to heaven when you die. What I routinely say to people is that heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Here’s another provocative, quotable line from that 2008 interview: “I’m saying that the Western tradition is on the wrong track if people are spending their time combing the Bible for isolated snippets to defend this dogma or that rule. If they’re lost in the snippets, then they’re missing the great tradition of scripture. They’re missing the great frame of scripture. The great story of scripture is that God sets slaves free. The Exodus narrative is foundational in the Old Testament and Jesus made this a major theme through his own death.”

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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