Book Review: Tom Wright for Everyone

Tom Wright for Everyone Stephen Kuhrt

In preparation for a conference paper, I’ve been dipping in and out of a whole host of stuff by Tom/N. T. Wright, when I noticed in my digital library that I had a copy of this book. I read it one sitting – and I’m very glad I did. I’m a Wright fan – though not uncritically – and am part of a movement of churches (The Vineyard) whose theology and practice, properly understood, has real resonance with a lot of what Wright has written. This book is not a theological analysis of Wright (though it is that in part, and very competently and very readably so!) but rather a book about putting Wright’s theology into practice in the local church.

Before getting on to what the book is allegedly mostly about, though, this book is a fascinating insight into British evangelicalism, specifically of the Anglican variety. The author, a vicar, writes concisely and engagingly about the formation and career of Wright – as well as the circumstances which led Kuhrt to both enjoy and put into practice what Wright is doing. At no point is Kuhrt hagiographic – though clearly he is a fan – but he locates Wright accurately in his ecclesial and academic contexts: challenging contemporary ‘orthodoxies’, but ultimately seeking to read the text (And the world behind it) of the Bible well, and ultimately calling people (from both the seminar room and the pew) further up and further in to the great tradition.

Whilst this book will primarily be of interest to church leaders interested in putting the theology of Wright into practice in their church, I think it is actually a book that would be extraordinarily useful for any church leader seeking to make the mission and minsitry of their church properly theological. The emphasis is on connecting theology to the stuff of doing church – and Kuhrt demonstrates both the how and the why, as well as sharing a bit about the what next. For someone like myself – theologically interested, but not currently involved in overal local church leadership – this is a book that is deeply encouraging: showing the good fruit of digging deeper into the Bible, as well as providing some pastoral and practical advice on how to do that without alienating people.

That’s pretty much it! I close with Kuhrt’s closing words – which, without you having decided to go away and read this book, should hopefully give you a good flavour of the book:

Within the Church of England and Anglican Communion, the more catholic and liberal traditions have often given greatest value to those aspects of worship and mission of the Church that Wright has sought to promote. The biblical foundations that Wright has advanced for both sacramental worship and the Church being at the forefront of promoting social justice, will, it is hoped, be welcomed with enthusiasm by catholics and liberals. In response to this, Christians from within these traditions might then be given courage to engage more deeply with some of the traditional emphases of evangelicalism, resisting their particular fears of what such an engagement might lead to. This two-way process has the potential to lead to the breaking down of some of the disastrous dichotomies that have existed for too long within the Christian Church: the divides that exist between, for example, classical evangelism and social mission, preaching and sacramental worship, the need for personal conversion and a ‘high’ view of the Church, ‘inclusion’ and ‘transformation’, the supremacy of grace and the need for an active pursuit of holiness. Wright’s theology has provided such a strong model for integrating these different aspects of Christian belief and practice that this, as much as his understanding of ‘justification by faith’, has huge potential for bringing evangelicals, liberals and catholics closer together.

This applies more than anywhere else in terms of holistic mission. The utterly clear biblical foundation established for this by Wright’s eschatology remains, in my opinion, the most significant outcome of his thought. Humility is needed from both evangelicals and liberals here, as acceptance of this theology requires both ‘sides’ to recognize that a high Christology and the radical social mission of the Church are inextricably entwined. Speaking as an evangelical, however, I do believe that the challenge in the first instance lies with evangelicals to demonstrate that credal orthodoxy is truly radical rather than oriented to the status quo. If this can happen then it is possible that the disastrous schism towards which the Anglican Communion is currently moving can yet be averted. The Christian response to homosexuality will, of course, remain an utterly divisive issue. However, if evangelicals can be at the forefront of fighting injustice, there is far less chance of liberals seeing a conservative stance on homosexual practice as simply another instrument of oppression. The development of a really positive theology of creation will help here since it will demonstrate that evangelical concerns about homosexuality are based on a well thought out and sincere theology for the leading of fully human lives rather than the reactionary employment of a few arbitrary ‘proof texts’. From this basis, a properly pastoral response that aims to ‘meet people where they are’, based upon humility and careful listening, may win respect from those who still cannot agree with its premise. Obviously this will not be nearly enough to lead to an easy resolution of this utterly complex issue. But it will provide a far more secure basis for what many are now starting to realize is a conversation waiting to begin.

The theology of Tom Wright has, therefore, emerged at a really vital moment for the Church. Christians everywhere face the challenge that Wright has issued to review the inadequate aspects of our traditions in the light of his fresh and explosive interpretation of Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament. It would be much easier and seemingly safer to continue the avoidance of engaging with Wright’s theology that many at both ends of the theological spectrum appear to be determined to maintain. But for the sake of the worship, mission and unity of the Church in the twenty-first century, it is vital that this proper engagement occurs.

Stephen Kuhrt, Tom Wright for Everyone: Putting the Theology of N. T. Wright into Practice in the Local Church (London: SPCK, 2011), 107–108.”

If you want to read some reviews of some of Wright’s recent books, here are a few that I enjoyed:

  • God and the Pandemic – a short book about COVID, but also a helpful intro to Wright’s theology and how it works/matters.
  • History and Eschatology – Wright’s Gifford Lectures, this is a technical book.
  • For All The Saints – an older short book, applying Wright’s theology to issues of what happens when we die.
  • New Testament Prayer for Everyone – a short book in the FE series of studies/commentaries, this is a great little book on prayer.
  • Surprised by Hope – this is probably among the most influential books Wright has written at the popular level.

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