Surprised by Scripture by Tom Wright
The influential scholar explores contemporary issues from a Biblical perspective in this stimulating and exhilarating read
Surprised by Scripture
By Tom Wright
Reviewer: John Biggs
Now for something different from the pen of Tom Wright. This is not an extensive theological deliberation on a single theme, or purely commentary on scripture, but ten essays and two sermons on themes that were generated by invitations from various institutions, two-thirds of which were in the United States. The sub-title is “Engaging with contemporary issues”.
Wright cites two surprises for his readers. First, many will not expect the Bible to have much to say on topics such as the ordination of women or political debate in the public arena, and second, when it does speak to them the Bible may not say what they imagined.
Those familiar with his writing elsewhere will recognise he is drawing on previous work: he is re-stating his understanding of scripture. Those unfamiliar with Wright can therefore use this as an introduction to his thought. But it’s splendid stuff: fluent, highly readable, full of quotable passages, enjoyable and penetrating. He admits that, in having to introduce topics to different audiences, he has had to repeat material in more than one chapter. A notable example is his condemnation of the Enlightenment with its basis on Epicurean assumptions on which so many modern presuppositions exist.
Again and again in tackling his subjects he leads to somewhere you, as a reader, never expected to arrive at. “Can a scientist believe in the Resurrection?” becomes an examination of the difference between knowing and believing, asking us to appreciate the event of the resurrection from the position of a larger reality than either scientific or historical considerations. In arguing the case for the ordination of women he pleads again to put this “in the framework of biblical theology”. “I think we need to radically change our pictures away from medieval ones back to biblical ones … of what men and women are and how they relate to one another within the church”.
In stressing the importance of scripture interpreting scripture, he commonly returns to Genesis 1 to 3 when interpreting Paul, and there is a magnificent exposition of Romans 8:18-27 in the paper entitled “Jesus is Coming – Plant a Tree!” Here is Wright at his best. “The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the spirit mean that we are called to bring forth real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation even in the midst of the present age.”
His critique on current politics begins with some of his own personal history. He believes the Bible enables us to navigate “a path of wisdom not just halfway between secularism and fundamentalism but on a trajectory that shows up those ugly brothers as simply missing the point, representing two opposing wings for a now thoroughly discredited world view”.
Throughout this is stimulating, and an exhilarating read.
Dr John Biggs is a former President of the Baptist Union