This discussion of N. T. Wright's theology is essential reading for those following his work.
Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright
Editors: Nicholas Perrin and Richard B. Hays
Publisher: IVP Academic
Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright serves as a valuable reminder that we all have our limitations. In appraising Wright on justification, Kevin Vanhoozer offers this concluding thought, "No single voice can speak the whole truth. If no one Evangelist could say everything that needed to be said about Jesus Christ, then it should come as no surprise that no one New Testament scholar can do so either. Yes, Scripture is the supreme authority for the church's life and thought. But Wright is not the first to attend to its meaning. No one person, even one with Wright's energy and prodigious intellectual gifts, can work a paradigm revolution single-handedly. He needs to win not more battles, but more allies."
As much as I applaud N. T. Wright, I must remember that not even he can be right on every detail. When I become enamored by some teaching, I might be tempted to think that it is all I need. May I ever be mindful that the whole counsel of God often comes through a multitude of counselors. What I receive needs to be informed and supplemented by those who might see different facets of the same truth or offer needed correctives.
This book brings together nine biblical scholars who not only admire N. T. Wright, but as faithful stewards of their own gifts, assess his theology for the benefit of Wright and the whole church. Wright was one of the participants at the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference, which was the setting for the dialogue that serves as the basis for this book.
Wright gives brief responses to each essay and also contributes two substantial essays on the state of historical Jesus and Pauline studies. The book is worth having just for these two individual essays.
The discussion about Wright's work highlighted for me distinctives that I sometimes missed or glossed-over. One slight drawback is analysis that can get tedious. I was tempted to lament that theology, which I enjoy, gets complicated at times. This book is published under the academic arm of IVP for good reason. It's not a volume that I will be giving to my mother, though I might wish that all Christians would wrestle more with the finer points of doctrine.
If you have any doubt about the importance of theology, read Wright as he ponders how to sustain the united community he sees as being at the center of Paul's worldview: "How can such a fellowship keep going, when living in a world from which the normal symbols that define the various constituent communities have been taken away? The only way this community can be sustained, I believe, is through what we call theology. I believe when we are reading Paul we are seeing the birth of a discipline, which we now call Christian theology." He believes that theology must grow to take on a new role: "The prayerful, wise contemplation of who God really is, and the reflection on and invocation of this God, has to be undertaken in quite a new way, in order that the united community, through its own worship and prayer and witness, can be rooted in this God and so sustained in its common life."
Wright's emphasis on knowing who God really is reminds me of what F. W. Boreham wrote at the age of eighty-six, after authoring more than fifty-five books, 3,000 editorials and preaching countless sermons over a span of almost seventy years: "If I could have my ministry over again, I would talk more about God. Not about God's works or God's ways, God's power or God's bounty. But about God's very self—God's omnipresence, God's omniscience, God's omnipotence; God's unutterable goodness, God's ineffable holiness, God's splendor, God's glory, God's love. For if I could make people very sure of God, they would soon hurry to that divine Savior who is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by Him."
The community of God's people which Wright points us toward is nurtured and sustained by an expansive view of God himself. It's these big, bold vistas, which come from Wright, that keep me reading.
The irenic tone makes this a pleasant read, despite any tediousness and disagreements. The conversation is respectful with an absence of hostility. This kind of humility is welcome and needed today, and the book is an example and encouragement toward that end.
It is not as enjoyable as the books where N. T. Wright is the sole author, but it's a valuable tool in understanding and evaluating his theology. Critiques combined with responses provide clarification and suggest areas for further study. This is an essential addition to any N. T. Wright collection of books.