RBL caught up with prolific Bible scholar N.T. Wright after he finished some morning talks at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and before an interview with another magazine. He had spoken at the mega-church Willow Creek in suburban Chicago the day before. The former bishop of Durham, now research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews, has three new books this fall: Revelation for Everyone (Westminster John Knox, Oct.); Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (HarperOne, Nov.); and The Kingdom New Testament (HarperOne, Nov.), Wright’s own translation.
RBL: How do you manage to write so much?
Wright: I didn’t write much until I turned 40. Up until then I felt constrained by a sense of the discipline of New Testament studies and a sense of the ruling elite in theology and biblical studies. I’m from the far north of England; I grew up with a lot of that. So I (finally) said, ‘Blow you, I’m not going to take that from you.’ It took me a long time to find my own voice as a writer.
RBL: You write both scholarly books and more popular ones. What’s involved in keeping it simple?
Wright: I wrote a column on the lectionary(book of daily liturgical readings). For five years I wrote 500 words a week on things for Sunday’s lectionary. I would routinely write 700 to 900 words and then shrink it. I worked on making it spare and tight. Jargon has its place; that’s how we’re able to move faster through a complicated area.
RBL: England is seen as quite a secular nation these days, with churchgoing in decline. What do you see?
Wright: The imminent demise of the church has been predicted since the middle of the 18th century. This is the regular secular mantra if churchgoing declines. I could take you to plenty of churches that are full to bursting and new churches being built.
RBL: Simply Jesus offers a “new vision” of Jesus. What’s new?
Wright: I think in the church the so-called liberals have shrunk Jesus. We have hidden behind our orthodox doctrines and we have forgotten about the kingdom of God.
RBL: And the kingdom of God would be?
Wright: The whole point of the kingdom of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.