N.T. Wright's dynamic orthodoxy

wrightofficeI first heard N.T. Wright in 1993, at a conference of Episcopalians called Shaping Our Future. (The Rev. J. Stephen Freeman, whose essay of the same title prompted the conference, edited a collection of essays from that conference before converting to Orthodoxy.)

Wright lectured on the gods of the left and the right, and in such an even-handed and manner that I had no trouble agreeing with his assertion that the right worships Mars and Mammon. (I already agreed that the left worships Venus.)

Since then, Wright has passed through posts as dean of Litchfield Cathedral and canon theologian at Westminster Abbey before becoming Bishop of Durham.

Wright’s lengthy interview with John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is a feast for people who love Allen’s acclaimed religion coverage and Wright’s dynamic Anglican orthodoxy.

Here are a few appetizers:

On same-sex unions in antiquity
As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato.

On Episcopalians’ independent streak
Of course, the American church has a long and noble tradition of jumping the gun on things. I understand that. The American nation grew out of a rejection of British imperial rule, and a desire to do it its own way. It’s very difficult psychologically [for Americans] to accept a decision reached in London, even if it is made by a global community.

On Baptist vs. Anglican ecclesiology (for my colleague Terry’s amusement)
I have friends in the Texas Baptists where every single church is autonomous. I’ve asked what Texas Baptists believe about this or that, and they say you just have to ask the individual church. It’s up to them. They guard that independence jealously. That is the other route you could go, but most Anglicans around the world have never seen their koinonia that loosely. They’ve seen it as very much a matter of tight, shared bonds, and mutual support that goes with that. For instance, when Desmond Tutu was standing up facing rioting mobs who wanted to kill people, the Archbishop of Canterbury would send a senior bishop physically to stand beside him, as a way of saying that Tutu is part of a larger thing, and we’re here supporting him.

On the crisis management of the Lambeth Commission
For me as a New Testament scholar, it’s very rare to find a new problem to work on. The New Testament is a small book, and every single verse has been fought over by somebody. It’s quite interesting theologically to find that we have not been this way before, so we have to set parameters so we can move forward. That’s what we’re doing. I wish it were not so sad and contentious and damaging an issue, because on many things it would be really exciting to do this kind of fresh theology together. But unfortunately we’re doing it with a gun to our heads, and that’s tough.

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  • http://cubswn.blogspot.com sam

    thanks for the heads-up, douglas! i am working toward becoming an episcopal priest, and i’m an avid fan of tom wright, so i look forward to reading the ncr interview w/ john allen. if it’s as good as i think it’ll be, i’ll link it on my weblog, too (w/ appropriate attribution to getreligion of course!).

    pax –


  • http://www.hornes.org/justmark/ mark

    Don’t forget Kevin Bush’s web page:


  • Ken

    Actually, to not just the individual Baptists churches which are autonomous, but each believer. As a practical matter, like-minded folks tend to pick their congregations according to their belief systems, but in theory, at least, each Baptist prepares his/her soul to stand alone before God and give account.

    Over the past 20 years, the Southern Baptists have struggled with the incursion of contemporary thought and ethics into their life, most notably around issues of biblical inerrancy. Their fundamentalists (literal, not pejorative use of the term)have effectively neutralized the revisionist cohort politically, but I’m not sure how they have responded to the revisionist complaint that fundamentalists are imposing a creedal requirement that is antithetical to the Baptist tradition.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com bob smietana

    His thoughts on Eucharistic fellowship are worth noting as well:

    If I were simply to pick up 1 Corinthians 11 and ask, “What does this suggest about Eucharistic fellowship?”, the biggest issue that shouts straight back at me is that the rich, white, Western world, which keeps the “two-thirds world” in grinding poverty and unpayable debt, stands condemned every time it receives the Eucharist because its brothers and sisters in the two-third world are growing the wrong sort of crops, are paying compound interest they can’t afford, and are being left on the side. I really would want to go very hard on that. If you want to start with scripture, that is the moral issue that comes straight out of 1 Corinthians 11. Until one addresses that sort of question, more local questions about “the church teaches x, but this person says y, therefore should they be allowed to receive the Eucharist?” what’s the point of even putting that one on the table until we’ve started to address the big ones?

  • Wooderson

    NT Wright’s a smart guy, yes, but, to paraphrase the Pope, how can we be truly concerned about quality of life when we’re willing to tolerate attacks on the sanctity of life? Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

    More annoying is the idea, common in enlightened Anglican circles, that third-world debt and global economic systems are easily-resolved problems. Really? Where are the legions of macro-economic thinkers and bankers who’ve resolved this issue? I’ve yet to meet up with one of them in my Economics studies – though I have met up with plenty of people in other faculties, including theology, willing to entertain conspiracy theories about the IMF and suggesting that the West help impoverished nations while simultaneously attaching no conditions to their development.

    Yes, let’s stipulate that the West is bloated, greedy, selfish and stupid. Yes, let’s stipulate that capitalism often sucks. Yes, let’s stipulate that the West continues to suck third-world countries dry.

    Then let’s discuss the evil, bloated, greedy, selfish and stupid third-world leadership that enlightened Western thinkers tolerated, supported and endorsed for 30 years. Let’s chat about the “four pillars” of macro-economic development, and the enlightened Anglican’s refusal to discuss the theoretical root causes behind much of third-world poverty. And let’s talk about the affect of sin on both Western economic policy *and* third-world economic development.

  • Michael D. Harmon

    I would concur about the gods the Right worships (and I am a man of the Right), but to the Left’s Venus-worship I would add Moloch. The god of Choice, both for the unborn and the aged and infirm, is a jealous and demanding god who needs continual feeding. And he is getting it…

  • http://www.pmsummer.org P.M. Summer

    “I would concur about the gods the Right worships (and I am a man of the Right), but to the Left’s Venus-worship I would add Moloch. The god of Choice, both for the unborn and the aged and infirm, is a jealous and demanding god who needs continual feeding. And he is getting it…”

    Please take no offense, except that of the Gospel.

    Tom Wright’s views about the Left and the Right need to have VERY serious attention paid to them. All too often, the response is a knee-jerk reaction that “their false god is worse than my false god”, without recognizing or admitting that Mammon and Moloch both have the same source.

    The Christian Right and the Christian Left have both cut themselves off from Christian Authority…and it shows in the decline of Western Culture.