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'Mystery Resolved' of Theology Book that N. T. Wright Didn't Write

Yesterday's kerfuffle over Breaking Beautiful explained.

The theology blogosphere was abuzz yesterday over rumors that an upcoming paperback by prominent theologian N.T. Wright was a "forgery." However, the concerns that Australian theologian Michael Bird expressed about Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World (the book page has since been pulled down) proved to be only partially correct.

Bird pronounced what he termed "Wrightgate" after discovering that the Amazon.com blurb for the 160-page book, originally slated for a July 1 release, said "Celebrated theologian N.T. Wright partners with Tim Suttle to discuss how Christ, as the fulfillment of God's promise, has become the source by which we perform truth in the world." (Suttle is a Kansas pastor and blogger.)

Yet Bird corresponded with Wright, with whom he is working on a forthcoming book project, and said the noted theologian denied any knowledge of Breaking Beautiful.

"He was mystified when I mentioned the book to him since he's never heard of it before, nor does he recollect ever meeting a chap called Tim Suttle," wrote Bird (in a post he has since taken down). "Hmm. Very strange indeed. The immediate word that comes to mind is 'forgery.' "

"Hopefully more details will come to light explaining the mysterious book," Bird went on to write. "In the interim, however, this might be a wonderful illustration of modern pseudepigraphy."

(Note: At press time, Wright had not addressed "Breaking Beautiful" via his website or Twitter.)

Suttle defended himself on his own blog, explaining that the book was a publishing project that was legally created but poorly marketed.

He said he was hired by The House Studios to write six chapters of a small groups resource that would accompany a series of videos by Wright. Suttle, a self-described fan of Wright's theology, clarified the arrangement on his blog months ago when readers asked questions about the book's cover.

Suttle expressed surprise at "the glee with which Christians can tear each other apart." "I knew the SBL crowd was dog-eat-dog," he wrote. "I didn't know that it was Facebook-cruel."

Bird retracted his first post and apologized for his comments. "I confess that my conjectures towards "forgery" were unfounded and have been injurious to Tim Suttle," he wrote. "Given what I was told by Amazon.com and by Tom himself, it seemed like a reasonable inference to explain how someone's name can appear on a book that he did not know about or authorize. Now that further information has come to light I am genuinely sorry for putting Suttle in that light."

However, he also took a stab at some lessons to be learned:

First, you cannot take someone's material, adapt it and augment it without the persons knowledge (even if you technically have legal permission). Tom never saw the final product and had no opportunity to comment on its development or marketing. I am co-authoring a book with Tom and one important thing about the project is that he knows that he's involved in it!

Second, Tom was not happy with the content, especially some of the language in the blurb as representative of his views.

Third, the blurb was quite deceptive in saying that Tom "partnered" with Suttle to produce the work. You cannot partner with someone you don't know. Suttle has stated that he himself was unhappy with that language.

Fourth, given that Tom has contract arrangements with other publishers, to produce such a work like this without his knowledge or authorization, put him in a very awkward legal position.

As you can imagine, the project has now been pulled, and hopefully lessons learned.

Meanwhile, in a spirited comment thread below, Elizabeth Perry, editor for The House Studio offered a public response:

Hi Michael,

Elizabeth Perry here from The House Studio. We understand that you are a theologian and not a journalist, and we want you to know we get that. However, a small amount of research (going to the source) would go a long way in getting you some answers.

There was no attempt to steal N. T. Wright's name and likeness. The House Studio has a reputation of impeccable integrity; that's not the way we operate. We have been in correspondence with Dr. Wright, apart from a legal contract, regarding the terms of this project. The details of that correspondence and contract are proprietary.

I can tell you this much: The centerpiece of this project are video segments by Dr. Wright. We enlisted trusted, local parish pastor, Tim Suttle, to write a curriculum around Wright's words. The reader would at no time confuse the chapter material for Wright's. Video transcripts are Wright, but the commentary is uniquely and clearly Suttle in the first person.

Commentator Scott Savage observed: "This is actually a perfect example of how social media goes wrong for the church, when we jump to unfounded conclusions."

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