N.T. Wright Comes to Newport Beach

I spent my Saturday morning at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (here in my neighborhood) absolutely enthralled by the extraordinary N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, and perhaps the very finest theologian on this side of glory. I thanked him for being the ultimate example to me that one can be unbelievably appreciative of the work someone has done, even when there is incredible disagreement with other aspects of that same person’s work. In less mature years, I had a tremendous problem when I did not agree with every jot and tittle of someone’s ideological contributions (in my defense, it seems to be a requirement for entrance into Reformedville). In the case of Bishop Wright, he represents the very extreme of both sides of this for me. Because I already know what hate mail I am going to get for the praises I am about to extend to N.T. Wright, I will say that I find the vast majority of his socio-economic contributions to be atrocious. And, for someone who I genuinely believe knows and understands Paul more than any New Testament scholar I have ever read, he gets Paul’s own writing on women and worship so wrong, I am just mystified. But somehow, despite huge disagreement on American imperialism, third world debt, and free market capitalism, it is not in the least bit difficult for me to acknowledge the Bishop of Durham as one of the primary influences in my life, and one of the most inspiring speakers and writers on the subject of the Kingdom of God who has ever lived.

The Pastor of St. Andrews, Dr. John Huffman, shared with us that all the Pastors in their regional Presbytery spent two and a half days at a retreat with Bishop Wright last week where he led them through the entire book of Acts. Jealousy abounds, as I suspect that this Bishop leading an intense multi-day study through that book must have been awe-inspiring.

Wright started his three-hour talk this morning by simply stating that we have not wrestled with the issue of “kingdom of God” the way we should (Protestants, Catholics, liberals, or conservatives).

He nipped much of the alleged theological controversy about his Pauline views in the bud – a controversy that I find utterly stupid, and incredibly boring – by saying this: “If you happen to meet someone who thinks they have to earn their way into heaven, please take Paul and beat them over the head with it. But Paul has so much more to say than just this traditional message regarding justification and sanctification.” For Wright, Paul affirms the Reformers view that salvation is not something to be earned. The problem, as Wright has repeatedly taught us, is that it does not end there. Paul is just getting started.

He has written for years that heaven is not our final destiny. It is not the end of the world. The final consumation is the coming together of all things on heaven and earth. Bishop Wright gets the adage that “God is in the universe business” better than any Reformer alive today. His focus on the “reign of God” is somewhat eschatological, but more importantly it is deeply theological.

A few highlights:

“This world is just a shadow of its future self. If we could capture all this Christian discipleship would be turned on its head. The kingdom of God is not about escaping the uncomfortabilities of this world. It is about the continual process of renewing creation. Paul’s vision is that we get to be agents in the Kingdom of God as it progressively reflects the truth, beauty, and goodness of God. Our efforts do not usher it in, but we are the agents God uses as He Himself ushers it in.”

“The ‘Adam project’ is not that God wanted a special friend to repudiate the world He created with Him. The ‘Adam project’ is God wanting mankind to be His image-bearers to the world. Ever since the enlightenment, western culture has been taught that the idea of a bodily resurrection of Christ is a fantasy. Our hope and our faith is not only in its historicity, but in the effects it has had on the entire cosmos.”

I read stuff on this subject every single day of my life, and I have made this very issue the ultimate passion of my faith. I have never read or heard anyone who possesses the clarity and conviction on this subject that Wright does. His understanding of covenant theology is extraordinary, and the way in which he explains the coming together of Jews and Gentiles as a single family of God is devotional.

I believe Bishop Wright is a dynamic foe of the great evil of dualism, and the equally dangerous foe of pietism. His theology is a theology of Kingdom. He preaches a Scripturally-based antidote to the secular side-effects of modernism and post-modernism. When I say “Scriptural”, I mean it; he is so versed in the Word of God it is unbelievable. I have never soaked in the Pauline epistles the way he has caused me to.

“Resurrection means ‘God is running this show’ … The last enemy – death – the ultimate weapon of the tyrant – has been defeated.” Amen and amen.

It brings me much joy to see this beacon of Kuyperianism speak to a gigantic audience of believers – filled with even college age people – in this day and age. Wright is not someone I would engage to talk about American exceptionalism, or the morality of private enterprise. But he is the best Christ’s bride has when it comes to Kingdom subjects. And I was blessed beyond words this morning.