If this issue's cover story is your first introduction to N.T. Wright, you can't blame us. He's been all over this magazine for years. As recently as September 2013, we interviewed him about his book on the Psalms. But he hasn't been on the cover since 1999, at the end of his tenure as dean of Lichfield Cathedral.
In that profile, by Tim Stafford, Wright ruminated about why so many Bible scholars had been hostile to orthodoxy. "Sometimes, it's senior scholars who look back with a certain embarrassment to a time when they were quite conservative themselves," he suggested. They'd been excited about the Bible, then went off to college and discovered unorthodox theories at the same time they discovered new foods and new ideas home life hadn't provided. "Probably they learned to disbelieve in the miracles of Jesus at the same time they first had sex. For them this stuff is part of liberation. To say maybe the conservative position is right is really to undermine their lives."
Wright never says it outright, but I wonder if this is one reason why, as Stafford put it, "Wright paints on big canvases with brilliant colors; he writes symphonies, not cantatas." Discovery is intoxicating. I'm not the only one of my friends who came across a Wright speech, book, or article shortly after college and became enthralled by the grand scale of his vision and the enthusiasm with which he preached it. I was hitting ntwrightpage.com weekly, downloading new sermons, conference videos, and op-eds he was writing for British papers. I pilgrimaged to Westminster Abbey when he was canon theologian to hear him preach. Liberation isn't far off from how it felt, except that it was about freedom to embrace a big vision rather than to cast off a small one.
"When you really do business with the Bible at the fullest historical and theological level, then it is passionately and dramatically relevant, life changing, and community changing," Wright told Stafford. Those were the days before he became commonly name-dropped in sermons, before he was going on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report alongside Cookie Monster, before Wheaton College and the Evangelical Theological Society were devoting entire theology conferences to his understanding of the Bible. As his time at Lichfield wound down and we asked what he wanted to do next, he responded:
I suppose I would like to kick-start a biblical renewal within the church—not simply a renewal of private piety, though God knows if you got the sort of renewal I am talking about, it would drive people to their knees, it would fill their hearts with joy, it would challenge them at every possible level.
Seems the man is getting his wish.
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