It’s not often a former member of the UK’s House of Lords visits Houston Baptist University. But this week, Professor N.T. Wright spoke here at a conference focused on the Apostle Paul.
The man that Time Magazine characterized as “one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought” is currently research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Brett McCracken, writing in Christianity Today, referred to Wright as, “perhaps the world’s leading Christian theologian-writer-intellectual,” but a shorter description for him might simply be “defender of the faith.” That’s because Wright has staunchly defended what he sees as Christianity’s core doctrines concerning the resurrection and the authenticity of the New Testament.
He set aside some time for a question-and-answer session with Faith.
Q: The church at large and especially the church in America has rarely experienced such rapid and profound changes in shared values and visions as it has in recent years. What advice do you have for American clergy in dealing with the radical shifts on marriage, sexuality and truth?
A: It is hard for anyone, old or young, clergy or lay, to keep their balance. Clergy in particular need to be very firmly anchored in the scriptures, in prayer, in the sacramental life and in ministry to the poor. These four things keep clergy (and anyone else) close to Jesus himself, and he alone is the true anchor in these or any storms. There is a lot of confusion and a lot of confident-sounding, but in fact, confused talk on marriage and sexuality. We urgently need serious work in these areas rather than simply going with a political flow of whatever sort.
As for truth — well, there is a brittle, modernist kind of ‘truth’, which is a kind of rationalistic reduction of the Christian message. The challenge is to grow out of that bad habit into a more biblical, and hence more supple and narratival truth, without losing hold of the Truth in Person, Jesus himself.
Q: Popular anti-theists rail against the New Testament and its claims. Where should a believer turn for assurance that it is reliable?
A: The more we know about the Jewish world of the ancient Middle East, the more sense the New Testament’s picture of Jesus makes. The popular anti-theists regularly quote a very small and skeptical sample of scholars when they try to dismiss it. But any historian has to ask, ‘What caused the sudden and steep rise of early Christianity, and why did it take the shape it did?’
It is ultimately impossible to answer that question without giving an account of Jesus and his kingdom-preaching on the one hand and his death and resurrection on the other, which will point us back to the New Testament as being basically reliable. The manuscripts on which it is based are far more numerous and ancient than those we have for any other classical work.
Q: You have been quoted as saying, “(Arguments about God are) like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining.” Could you unpack this for us?
A: There is a danger that we try to stand somewhere ‘neutral’ and, starting from there, work up to ‘proving’ something about God (including his existence). In fact, if God is God, he isn’t an object in our world; we are objects in his world. Trying to ‘prove’ God in terms of something else always ends up making that ‘something else’ the real fixed point. I think I first met the analogy of the flashlight and the sunrise as a variant on something C.S. Lewis said, ‘I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen; not because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.’