Early in 2019, I made it my goal to read through most, if not all, of NT Wright’s scholarship in his printed material. I also planned on reviewing and interacting with the material on the blog. Half of my goal is going well – read on for some updates.
You may notice that I haven’t written on this blog much in the past couple of weeks. There are some good reasons for this, and maybe some less good reasons for that. You can decide which reason falls into which category below. First, I am graduating in June! So that’s taken a lot of my time as I write an overview of Old Testament Theology, personal reflections for my Seminar class, and other assorted homework. Alongside being a ministry leader at church, full time salesperson at work, and a Cru volunteer, I now have an internship with a homeless ministry and a ministry related to sex trafficking. That one has definitely taken a lot of time, not just brain-space.
So, yes, sorry for letting the blog fall by the wayside. If it’s any consolation, and you’ve been chomping at the bit to see more content from my TwentyWrightTeen challenge, let me re-affirm my commitment to the challenge and give you some general updates.
For the easiest part of the update, let me tell you how much or what I have read so far in 2019. I mention 2019 specifically: I have read a lot of his other works, but plan to re-read them this year. Despite not having written much, I have been reading, taking notes, and using copious amounts of flags for review material and material to interact with in other blog posts. (Remember, you can always see this info on my Goodreads profile, where you can track what you’ve read, what you’re reading now, and what you want to read in the future.)
Anyway, so far I have read:
- God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today
- Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013
- Evil and the Justice of God
- Creation, Power and Truth: The Gospel in a World of Cultural Confusion
- For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church
- Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today
- The Lord and His Prayer
- For All the Saints: Remembering the Christians Departed
- Small Faith–Great God: Biblical Faith for Today’s Christians
- Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues
- Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship
- Spiritual and Religious
- Who Was Jesus?
- Beyond Atonement
Looking at this list, I think I am surprised. It feels like I have read a lot more of him this year, but that’s probably an illusion caused by so much overlap in the books’ material. Broadly, Wright writes about Pauline theology (which, of course, as in most modern academia means he writes primarily about Galatians and Romans), certain themes in the Gospels, and the Resurrection. Everything else spins out of that. Let me write about some of the biggest struggles I’ve faced in the challenge, too:
- The first challenge has been trying to read some of the books that are simply collections of lectures. For example, of what I’ve read so far, this would include God in Public, For All God’s Worth, and Following Jesus. None of these challenges that I mention necessarily imply that the stuff I’m reading is bad – heaven forbid! It just means that these are roadblocks which stop me from reading through his bibliography quite as fast as I would normally. Unfortunately, since these books are thematically connected, but weren’t necessarily written at the same time, the writing and flow of the book is impacted. You can feel the difference between his books which were written at once compared to these, and it slows me down considerably because each chapter generally needs me to cleanse my palette to prepare for either something somewhat repetitive or unrelated. God in Public is very guilty of this.
- The second challenge has been trying to read some of the book that are simply collections of essays. Pauline Perspectives and Surprised by Scripture are the main culprits here. These provide some different types of challenges. One is that there can be little internal cohesion. Surprised by Scripture might be better re-named “General Essays”. This book might have served better by being taken apart and having essays appended to the ends of related books. The second challenge is that the essays might be snippets that became larger books. Who Was Jesus is, essentially, a footnote from Jesus and the Victory of God turned into a 100 page book. Pauline Perspective features essays that are serviced in his larger Pauline works, making a lot of them redundant.
- The third challenge is just repetition of subject material in general. Coming up, I’ll have a lot of books on Paul to read, some of which I know will circle the same topics: What Saint Paul Really Said, Paul in Fresh Perspective, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Paul and his Recent Interpreters, and Paul: A Biography. I’d love to space these out, but I’d essentially be spacing these out with his counter-series on Jesus! I think I took a good two week break from Wright to space this out in my mind. Of course, everybody has pet verses, books, and theological commitments that rear their heads fairly often, but I don’t notice that as much when they’re not written down and I’m not paying for them.
So, finally, when I start reviewing his works again (and I will! I promise!), I think I’m going to implement a new rating system, which I will outline below. There’s a wealth of knowledge and scholarship in Wright’s books, and I think the church would benefit greatly when more people read him. What I would love to do with this system is help readers know which are the primary texts to read and which should generally be put off until later. (The names are subject to change, because these are nerdy, and if I were to be nerdy, I should come up with theologically nerdy names.)
Level Five: The must-read texts. This will, of course, include the New Testament and the People of God series, and probably also include the Surprised by Hope “trilogy”.
Level Four: The absolutely important texts, but secondary to the foundation texts. When God Became King or Simply Jesus would probably fall into this category because these distill portions of the NTPoG series into more easily digestible, popular level editions. They are important in that they provide a deeper focus on single elements of his thought, but stand as incomplete after the foundation texts.
Level Three: The good to read texts that deal with subjects not covered in the foundation texts. Off the top of my head, I can imagine that The Case for the Psalms or The Lord and His Prayer would fall here. These two texts are really important and beneficial, but I would prioritize other works first.
Level Two: This is where we’d move into the specialty fields. Do you want to see how NT Wright’s theology works in practice or worldview? God in Public or Creation, Power, and Truth might fall into this slot. People unfamiliar with Wright should start higher up on this chain and work their way here.
Level One: One NT Wright’s mega-fans would really get a lot out of these. Some are because they are too focused on Anglicanism (and I know most, if not all, of my readers are NOT Anglican) to speak into your church context. Others may focus too narrowly on Wright’s theology and won’t provide a lot of context for your church life, either, like Surprised by Scripture.