I want to invite you to join a Facebook group I started called, Thanks N. T. Wright for helping me see a Bigger Gospel! This is a way to acknowledge how Tom Wright has influenced you in various ways, and a chance to exclusively discuss his work with like-minded facebook friends (well, hopefully they become your friends!).
I want to tell the story of how N. T. Wright totally changed my way of viewing the Gospel of Jesus. I grew up in a typical evangelical setting. I say that, and instantly there is one of two reactions: 1) what’s so bad about that… do you have to spit venom? OR 2) ya, me too and now I’ve moved way past such a polarized simplistic faith. I want to make clear that I still consider myself an evangelical (but as some have said, with a small “e”). Anyway, I grew up viewing the Christian life as a moral evacuation plan. God would come back to gather up the moral/faithful/set apart/believers and would rapture us away from this evil world. In high school (I attended a great Christian one), I read several books in the Left Behind series and found myself enraptured in their storyline.
This all began to change back in about 2004 while I was interning at a church in college. I had been exposed to issues of social justice. I had developed a growing compassion. But my theology of evacuation and rapture, my cosmological dualism [physical = bad (world, the flesh, etc.), spiritual = good (all things pertaining to our ‘real home’ in a disembodied heaven)], did not give me a proper theological framework for managing such passions. Then one day, my boss introduced me to an audio series called “Velocity 2004” by Ron Martoia, which challenged my thinking about church and theology in many ways; especially his talk titled “Improvising the 5th Act.” This particular message to pastors explored a narrative approach to Scripture using the 5 Act play model of some random theologian from England: N. T. Wright. This was completely revolutionary to me so I began to explore the free resources on http://ntwrightpage.com and discovered a plethora of audio resources that I could listen to (and re-listen to) while I drove to school, work, and wherever else. I think the first and greatest discovery I made because of this was the middle-second half of Romans chapter eight!
So, after much wrestling, I came to understand that the bible is a narrative that has a flow to it. It is one that begins in Genesis with creation. This was a good creation… in fact, “very good!” It is a story of how God has remained faithful to his WHOLE creation project. The word “story” doesn’t mean “fairytale,” but is a way to understand the big picture of what the Bible reveals to us about God’s interaction within history. Here is a basic layout of how this approach to the bible breaks down:
Act 1: Creation – God creates the universe and declares it to be “very good.” His creation project is not static, but designed to flourish with humanity as God’s gardener/image bearers. (Genesis 1-2)
Act 2: Crisis – The powers of evil and human rebellion have damaged God’s good world. God doesn’t give up on the creation project at this point, which demonstrates his grace toward what he has created. (Genesis 3-11)
Act 3: Community (Israel) – God calls Abraham to be the beginning of the solution to the problem of sin, by forming a new human family that has been “blessed to be a blessing.” (Genesis 12)
Act 4: Christ – Israel has not lived up to her calling to bless the world, so God sends his Son into the world to be everything that Israel failed to be. He is gathering a “new Israel” community that is called to be a blessing in the world, driven by their salvation they receive because of the resurrection of the Messiah! (the Gospels)
Act 5: Church – The community that gathers around the risen King Jesus was formed in the first century and has been forming ever sense, to be the “new humanity” that God has always had in mind. This community is an ambassador of grace, justice, and hope for a broken world! (New Testament Writings). But, the critical part is that it does not end there. In act five it seems that we are missing a few scenes (these are the scenes of the narrative that we now improvise in faithfulness to what came before it toward what is to come). And then, the final scene, the new heavens and new earth (meaning “renewed”) are also given to us in scripture. God has not given up on his creation project. He has promised to return one day to renew the cosmos, to bring heaven and earth together, and to rule the world where there is “no longer any morning, crying, or pain.” This will be the ultimate completion of God’s creation project! (Romans 8, Revelation 21-22, Colossians 1)
Based on this reading, the role of the church is to be a signpost of God’s future world (this world restored to God’s intention, flooded with restorative justice). All evil will be judged and condemned, and the cosmos will once again experience the holistic shalom of God’s grace! Therefore, every time we live empowered by God’s Spirit as a signpost of God’s future intent for this world, we witness to the whole gospel of the kingdom (through proclamation, social justice, ecology, etc.). This world is not something to be escaped, but something God intends to redeem!
For a starting point into N. T. Wright I suggest the following two part series from the European Leaders Conference 04:
How has N. T. influenced you… if at all? If you are new to Wright, what are you thoughts on the summarized version of his reading of Scripture?
Finally… I invite you to share your stories here and then to crosspost them to the FB page here!