Next Friday and Saturday the annual Wheaton College Theology Conference in Illinois will be devoted to the subject of N.T. Wright’s contributions to the study of Jesus (Friday) and Paul (Saturday). “A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright” will consist of a series of presentations by some of the world’s top biblical scholars and theologians, a panel with the presenters and Tom Wright each day, chapel with Tom preaching, and a concluding lecture each night by the good bishop.
Why are 1,100 people, including yours truly, attending? Why did 900 come to my seminary to hear him, and in the process buy $13,000 worth of his books in about a 24-hour period? He may well be the most widely and influential New Testament scholar of all time.
A few thoughts:
1. Bishop Tom is a first-rate historian, New Testament scholar, theologian, churchman, and rhetorician all rolled into one. He is the total package.
2. As an historian and interpreter of texts, he is enormously insightful in his analysis and creative in his synthesis.
3. He has almost boundless energy and is simply a spellbinding speaker. As one noted speaker said when introduced as the next presenter following the bishop’s magical presentation, “No one should have to follow Tom Wright on a program.” Amazingly, he can do what he does often with little time for preparation—for instance, a riveting lecture or sermon prepared in a few minutes early in the morning and delivered before the rest of us have begun to think for the day. As one good friend of mine says, it’s a question of theodicy, of the justice of God, that someone can do that.
4. He is sometimes traditional and sometimes progressive, and often both at the same time.
5. He brings theology and Scripture to life, making the connection between them and the role of Christians in the real world.
6. Finally (at least for now) he has helped to revolutionize and solidify our understanding of many things about Jesus and Paul and the mission of the church. That’s not to say anyone, including me, agrees with him all the time. But he must always be taken seriously.
What else about him is worth noting?