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People who are asked to write about N. T. Wright may find they quickly run out of superlatives. He is the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation. Some say he is the most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham, England, before his current teaching post at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
But perhaps the most significant praise of all: When Wright speaks, preaches, or writes, folks say they see Jesus, and lives are transformed. A pastor friend of mine describes a church member walking into his office, hands trembling as he held a copy of Wright's Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. "If this book is true," he said, "then my whole life has to change."
The superlatives are striking, considering Wright's goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school.
"Apologist" and "revisionist" usually don't fit on the same business card. A significant New Testament scholar told me of the time he first heard Wright speak. "He sounds like the voice of God," he told a friend on the way out. Then he overheard someone else leaving the same lecture quip, "That guy thinks he's the voice of God." ...