Surprised by Bishop Wright
By Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne Senior V.P./Executive Editor
November 16th, 2011 by admin
The late great Bible scholar F. F. Bruce once remarked that he would not have been able to do his work if he had taught within a confessional institution, such as a seminary or Christian college. What I found odd about his comment was that he was, at the time, often listed as one of the top evangelical New Testament Bible scholars of the day. Why would his work change if the results of his scholarship aligned with the faith commitments of those schools?
I think the answer helps explain why conservative Bible scholars rarely write books that break out into the wider market. What many admired about Bruce’s work was the sense that his conclusions were based on where his arguments led him and not on where he needed to land. One did not perceive that he was steering his readers to the “evangelical” position; instead, readers sensed his curiosity and delight in solving the puzzles he posed.
To be taken on a journey, to have new possibilities opened up for you, to gain a deeper and richer understanding on what you thought you knew—aren’t these the very mission and wonder (and joy) of reading books? So when you know ahead of time exactly where the author must land (because of ideological affiliation), much of that sense of adventure or journey is drained away. The work can feel more like propaganda than exploration. This is why there are so few popular books written by orthodox Christian Bible scholars (outside of textbooks).
Which is why the publishing career of N. T. Wright is so surprising. As an Anglican bishop and Bible scholar at the University of Aberdeen, he has written both scholarly tomes and bestselling popular books. Hailed as a model and champion to many evangelical scholars and leaders (where he has often been compared to C. S. Lewis), he is also highly regarded in the academic world and within other faith traditions. In the same year, he was hosted and asked to speak by the Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, by the pope and the circle of cardinals in Rome, by the evangelical Wheaton College’s annual theology conference (where they tripled the previous attendance record), and by the Society of Biblical Literature, where he spoke to overflowing rooms.
And despite being described as “orthodox,” “conservative,” and “evangelical,” what almost all readers discover as his main trait is that he is “surprising.” Lifetime students of the Scriptures see insights and connections that they have never noticed before. And not only are these insights fresh and new, readers also sense their inevitability—“why didn’t I see that before?” As an editor who has worked with Christian authors for almost three decades, I can assure you that N. T. Wright has a rare gift. He takes what can at times feel stale, burned over, and overly dissected, and make it fresh, exciting, and even life-changing.
And that is why his latest book is so important. Tom has stepped back from his academic post, surveyed his decades of scholarship and church work, and addressed to a general audience what we can say about Jesus. Yes, we are indeed publishing another book about Jesus. But I suspect you will find, as I did, that Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters fresh, revolutionary, and very surprising. Enjoy the journey.
Senior V.P. | Executive Editor | Director of Bible Publishing