Last April, I had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with N.T. Wright. I promised to write about the experience, and I have no idea why it has taken ten months. Even though our conversation is old news, I still wanted to share a bit about this man I have come to admire.
For those unfamiliar, Wright is the Bishop of Durham in the Anglican communion. I’m sure that some of my interest in Wright must be connected to my respect for Anglican theology and narrative (which has had an enormous influence on me, but that is for another day…). However, I‘ve stuck with him because he invites me into the broad, sweeping, dangerous gospel narrative in ways that stir my heart, move me toward repentance and (at the risk of sounding cheeky) simply take my breath away.
Wright has this uncanny way of being a provocateur while simultaneously holding us to the oldest truths. Wright embodies an imaginative fidelity (and the beautiful thing is that neither fidelity or imagination suffer – a difficult feat). I think of Wright as a faithful poetic theologian, and for me, that’s about as high praise as I know how to give a religious thinker.
Bishop Wright made first waves with his Biblical history trilogy (The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God). These mammoth volumes are not for the faint of heart, hefty reads. They were critical, timely pieces – dealing with questions raised about the historical Jesus. Since those treatises, waves continue. Current controversy surrounds his views on justification (for instance: he says Wright is dangerous; Wright says his critics aren’t listening well). We’ll see how it all plays out, but Wright’s impact on me has been primarily in other veins (though I imagine he might well say it’s all interdependent – and I think he’d probably be right).
I’ve appreciated (even if not always agreed with) so much of Wright’s thinking and writing. However, when I got my hands on Surprised by Hope, it went into deeper places, putting words to some of my truest hopes. So, on so many levels, I was excited when Wright was heading to Atlanta and I was able to arrange an interview for a piece that eventually landed at PreachingToday.com.
I arrived early at Wright’s hotel, the Four Seasons on 14th Street. Wright arrived exactly on time (punctuality is a British virtue, after all), and we made our way to the lounge. Nursing a raspy throat, he ordered tea (English breakfast, of course) with honey and lemon. And there I found myself in Nirvana, knee deep in theological conversation with a guy who has the kind of accent that makes every conversation seem more interesting, more important. I declare I was born on the wrong side of the pond.
We chatted about resurrection, about death and life, about hope, about the stunning vision (and promise) of God’s recreation. At the end, I saved 5 minutes for personal questions. One of the questions had to do with my pull toward the Anglican communion, complicated by the reality that there are a few concerns that would most likely prohibit me from being able to be ordained (at least for now). “Could you be Presbyterian?” he asked, only half-jokingly. I loved the humility and openness and graciousness that came from this man whose life is immersed in a particular tradition (I mean, his official title, after all, is: The Right Reverend Father in God, Nicholas Thomas Wright, by Divine Providence Lord Bishop of Durham) but who sees the wide vistas.
We all need guides, faithful voices who can point out the signposts, help us ask the questions, and encourage us to ask better questions, to hope for better answers. I’m thankful to Bishop Wright for being one such guide.