Ubiquitous NT Wright

Here’s my comment to ‘The Ubiquitous NT Wright ‘, written by the quite bright Dr Jim West, describing his annoyance at those readers who seem to concentrate their time and energy discussing NT Wright to the exclusion of other, perhaps more insightful, scholars. Here was my comment/response:

Dr West,

You write that reading Wright is ‘like going to a movie and thinking that, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, maybe the ending will be different this time’, but neglect asking, ‘Is this message one that is needed repeatedly’ (perhaps you’ve covered this elsewhere on the blog or in your writings and I am simply unaware)?

I get the sense that your anger on this topic is at the attitude of ‘I just want to learn this idea, nothing else’ and agree that this is a major concern in today’s church. However, I guess I just don’t see Wright inflaming this problem. The basic premise in much of his writing seems to be looking at old questions in new ways, thusly encouraging questions, not stifling them.

Also, since much of Wright’s scholarship (both academic and pastoral) is footnoted (unlike many ancient influential writers), its form is readily available as a doorway to other scholarship, not an obstacle.

Finally, I find your attitude to the website creator to be rather mean-spirited and wrongheaded. When he asked for recommendations of ‘English language works’, he clearly was not suggesting (and certainly not ‘hell bent’) that all other languages are inappropriate for theology or any other ‘narrow-ism of English only theology’ that you seemed to be hearing. Would it be equally inappropriate for a Christian to ask for an English translation of the Bible? Or are they being ‘too lazy to step outside our own compound to see what’s going on in another.’ In fact, looking for translations (which that writer never denigrated or attempted to ignore) seems to be an active attempt at looking around (though most assuredly, not as active as spending years becoming fluent in the use of a particular language and then absorbing the relevant material).

I apologize for my fervency, but I’ve seen very closed Christians who had little but disdain and distrust for the study of theology until a ‘big picture’ styled writer like NT Wright showed that there was more to theology than the bits and pieces find great joy and renewed energy in their study of the word. When you wrote, ‘I can’t suggest another English theologian because I won’t’, it seemed extremely elitist that you would presume to suggest that an English speaker who’s ‘only’ been learning ‘Latin and a touch of Hebrew’ should cease studying anything written (or translated into?) English and focus solely on works that were never translated into English (presumably a Frenchman should focus on learning the English scholars?). That type of attitude does little to foster a spirit of learning within the flock and merely sets into people that particular distrust of theology as solipsistic and, once again, elitist.

Please note, that I do agree with you than an uncritical and merely self-focused study of theology is not helpful to anyone. However, I think that the ‘big picture’ style of writing and thinking that Wright espouses provides strong guidance for others in theology (and in other areas of study too). As in chess, don’t just look at one piece; see the whole board.

I must note, not with a little embarrassment, that Dr West’s next post discusses the language issue in more detail (ie he had posted about it before I even sent the comment; I had simply failed to look).

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2 thoughts on “Ubiquitous NT Wright

  1. Nick –

    Thank you so much for the comment, I found it quite appropriate and engaging. I might even post it on my blog if I can find anything interesting to add to what you already have said.

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