The Dick Staub Interview
Tom Wright Comments for Everyone
N.T. (Tom) Wright is the Bishop of Durham in England and was formerly Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and Dean of Litchfield Cathedral. He has taught New Testament studies for 20 years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities. His Jesus and the Victory of God, The New Testament and the People of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God are three volumes in a projected six-volume series entitled Christian Origins and the Question of God. He has also written The Original Jesus, What Saint Paul Really Said, The Challenge of Jesus, and The Climax of the Covenant. He is also working on a 12 volume For Everyone series, in which Wright provides a translation and commentary new Bible students.
I read a quote from C.S. Lewis the other day, and he said, "The problem when I became a believer in England was that you were left with either the hysterical rantings of the fanatics, or the intellectual elite of the clergy." He said, "Had theologians been doing their work, I would have been unnecessary." Why is it so rare for academics to connect to the mass of people?
I think the answer is partly just sheer pressure of time. If you're an academic and you want to get tenure, or you want to maintain your credibility within the guild, you've probably got academic projects which you're eager to get on with and write articles, and books in order to get your main ideas out among your peers.
There's always the hope that they will trickle down to the ordinary folk in the churches. That sometimes happens and sometimes doesn't happen. One of the reasons that I left the academy some years ago and went into full-time work in the church instead was that I found I was getting more of a buzz myself out of meeting clergy who were at the [coal] face, if you like, than simply teaching undergraduates who wanted to know "How soon can we finish this tutorial and then I can get off and play tennis?"
In the first chapter of Mark we read about demons and exorcisms. You have this phrase, "They can shriek but without authority." There are a lot of Americans who would argue that these are not real stories, there is no such thing as a demon. How did you interact with the idea of a spirit world and how does that relate to people today?
C.S. Lewis had a famous remark at the beginning of Screwtape Letters where he says "The average person has two equal and opposite reactions when faced with demons and devils." Either they're tempted to say that this is all a bunch of nonsense and we can't believe in them, or to take a very unhealthy interest in them. Lewis says neither of those is the right approach.
I learned from that and I think that's basically right. I think we, in the western world, have often tended to dismiss as either nonexistent or irrelevant things that we don't understand. That's a very arrogant thing. People in many, many other parts of the world are perfectly aware that there are hidden forces in the world and around us, some of which are malevolent, and whatever language you use for them, you've got to do business with that stuff.
God's kingdom is a central theme throughout the New Testament. What are some of the things that you wanted the everyday person to understand about God's kingdom?
I think one of the critical things that I have worried about a lot is that many people when they hear the idea of kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven, they think it simply refers to a place called heaven where you go when you die. That is clearly not what it means in the New Testament. It's like kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. It isn't kingdom as in a place; it's kingdom as in kingship, as in sovereignty, as in rule. I've sometimes heard Americans say we don't understand kingdom because we live in a democracy, and it's you Brits who have a king.
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