A friend of mine recently pointed out to me that N. T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, is on the Emergent Village reading list. Why are Emergent pastors reading N. T. Wright?
Well, besides the fact that Wright is a great writer and this is a very engaging book, Emergent pastors often critique traditional forms of evangelicalism, embrace narratives and stories, eschew propositions, and relish fresh approaches to old questions.
N. T. Wright is not afraid to go after those both to the right and the left of himself, he is a gifted storyteller, and he always communicates with creativity and verve. On the one hand, Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God is an 800 page academic tome that defends the bodily resurrection and commands the attention of every New Testament scholar, liberal or conservative. And this fat book reads like a novel. On the other hand, Wright takes cheap shots at Martin Luther and has lately taken to critiquing US foreign policy as imperialistic and reminiscent of the Roman Imperial Cult denounced by the Apostle Paul. Wright’s failure to speak openly and clearly on the issue of homosexuality, however, robs his pronouncements of their prophetic potential and leaves him looking a little left of the Bible.
This mix of respect for historic orthodoxy and ancient tradition, serious doubts about the way that Protestants have formulated the doctrine of justification, with open contempt for the political right resonates with many in the emergent stream. So a book like The Challenge of Jesus, which takes a fresh look at Jesus in light of his Jewish background, catches a wave of discontent and holds out a new opportunity to “speak truth to power.”
For all that, to the pure all things are pure, and there is much we can learn from Wright’s thorough knowledge of the text, remarkable ability to communicate, and invigorating sense that there is always more to learn about Jesus.
And, we should pray that N. T. Wright would have wisdom and courage to speak the truth to his own communion as boldly as he speaks to us North American evangelicals, whom he does not always represent fairly.