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Summer 2005 | Volume 28, Number 2 | Features

The C.S. Lewis for Our Time?

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright Explores the Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World

His official title is “The Right Reverend Father in God Nicholas Thomas Wright, by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham.” Only the Archbishop of York, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bishop of London outrank him. He sits in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. He is the one responsible for escorting the sovereign at coronation.

Surrounded by books — 44 of them authored by him — in his Auckland Castle study, N.T. Wright works on yet another writing project. Among the seven Wright books slated to be published in the next two years is The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (HarperSanFrancisco).

But it wasn’t N.T. Wright’s Anglican credentials that prompted Seattle Pacific
University President Philip Eaton to invite him to be the speaker for the President’s Symposium on the Gospel and Cultural Engagement May 18 and 19, 2005 — nor were those credentials the reason for the standing-room-only crowds at all four lectures on campus. Rather, it was Wright’s reputation for the last quarter century as a leading advocate for the relevance of Christianity in a postmodern world. Says Eaton, “I have called him the C.S. Lewis for our time.”

While at Seattle Pacific, Wright noted his affinity with the University’s vision for engaging the culture and changing the world. “This is very close to my heart and indeed is part of the subtext of what I’m doing here,” he explained, “with the aim being that in the energy of the Holy Spirit and in the glory of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ may go on actually to transform the culture and to engage with healing and hope the entire world in which God has placed us.”

Widely acclaimed for his cogent, thought-provoking, and sometimes controversial writings, Wright — who is the former canon theologian of Westminster Abbey and who taught New Testament studies for 20 years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities — was named by Christianity Today in 1999 one of the world’s top five up-and-coming theologians for the new century. “Prolific” is hardly a strong enough word for this writer, who is as comfortable and adept at writing for the most cerebral of today’s scholar-theologians as he is writing for the laity, churched and unchurched. Wright has published 44 books, with (so far) seven more forthcoming; 127 articles; and 70 book reviews.

How is he able to be so productive, living as he does the life of a full-time bishop, globe-trotting lecturer, and family man (he and his wife, Maggie, have four grown children and one grandchild) — a life even he says is “too hectic for words”? “I have no idea how I write so fast,” he replies. “It just happens. I was always told when I was a small boy, usually by cross adults, that I had far too much to say for myself, and I guess I have turned that to good use here and there. Oh, and I watch very little television.”

Wright is generally associated with two theological schools of thought: the so-called “Third Quest,” because of his insistence on approaching Jesus through the perspective of Jesus’ first-century Jewishness; and the so-called “New Perspective on Paul,” because of Wright’s focus on the importance of Paul’s inclusion of Gentiles on equal terms with Jews. But in the end, Wright’s evangelical theology, as unique as it is grounded in Scripture, defies categorization.

A recurring theme in Wright’s four lectures at Seattle Pacific was the promise of Isaiah 11:9 — “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” — and his message was primarily one of responsibility and hope for this time in history: “We, my friends, are called to live between the vision of the world which is already filled with the glory of God, and a world which is yet to be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.”

The following are the full-text versions of each of Wright’s lectures on campus.

The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World
Decoding The Da Vinci Code
The Bible and Christian Imagination
God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil

Editor’s note: Each of the Wright lectures is recorded individually. You can order them each on DVD ($10 each), CD ($7.50 each), or audiocassette ($5 each). (For example, all four lectures on DVD is $40.) Click here for an order form.

— Introduction by Kathy Henning

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