Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues
In this book, renowned scholar and author N. T. Wright treats at a popular level difficult issues Christians face. It contains twelve chapters, each based on a paper or lecture delivered in America or the United Kingdom during the last decade and updated for publication (original sources are listed in the “Acknowledgments”). Readers expecting Wright to offer a final or decisive word on these contemporary issues will be dissatisfied. The author has no fancies of offering “dogmatic pronouncements” (p. ix). Instead, he intends to participate in and advance ongoing complex discussions. In the process he exemplifies how to engage the issues of culture from a biblical worldview.
Wright explains that each chapter addresses its issue in an American context, since most of the lectures were delivered originally in the United States (p. x), and he did not attempt to turn them into a “single exposition” (p. ix). Essentially, therefore, each chapter in this book of essays stands alone, and there is some repetition from topic to topic.
Wright engages the issues from the perspective of a well-crafted biblical theology. Generally he does not discuss specific biblical passages, preferring to engage topics from a “big picture” perspective. Throughout the book Wright refers to his other writings for in-depth treatments, which leaves readers wanting more but with places to go for further discussion. Footnotes and a supplementary bibliography would have made the work more user-friendly, especially for those who want to probe the issues.
Wright begins chapter 1 by addressing the debate over creation versus evolution. He reveals pieces of American history and culture that show why the debate receives marked attention in the States. He continues in the next chapter by examining the significance of belief in a historical Adam. Wright dissects knowledge and faith in the interaction between science and history in his third chapter about science and the resurrection. In chapter 4 he defends the ordination of women, and in chapter 5 he examines environmentalism, advocating for an eschatology that values and redeems the earth. Wright challenges the assumptions of contemporary culture in chapters 6 and 7 when he addresses the “new problem of evil” (for a culture feigning innocence) and the cultural divide resulting from a transition away from the ideals of the Enlightenment. The next two chapters articulate Wright’s thoughts on contemporary idolatry and his political theology based on Jesus’ life and teachings. The book concludes with three chapters describing cultural engagement, beauty and art in the apocalypse, and thoughts on becoming a people of hope.
Wright sees the Enlightenment and Epicureanism continuing to grip Western culture with subversive influence. From the way politics are conceived to the conflict between science and faith, these communities of thought (while intimately connected) are responsible for the foundation of the Western psyche. Epicureanism is a worldview “in which God, or the gods, may perhaps exist, but if they do, they are far away and remain uninvolved with the world” (p. 6). This philosophy leaves its adherents with a “stop worrying and enjoy your life” perspective (p. 8). Therefore, when religion tries to enter any dialogue, be it politics (chapter 9), science (1 and 3), ecology (5), or culture (6 and 10), the Epicureans attempt to push it to the sideline and alienate it from further participation.
As in his many other works, Wright also yearns to correct culturally inaccurate interpretations of Scripture (chapters 2, 4, 5, and 7). For example, in his discussion of environmentalism he argues that for the past few decades the church has subtly and persuasively convinced believers that heaven is the final destination and that God’s work of redemption of this world pertains only to humans. Based on his theological framework and key passages, Wright constructs an argument for enjoying and redeeming creation now. Christ is coming back to this world, and He will recreate this originally good earth into an eternal home for believers. Thus, rather than contending with environmentalists, Christians should join them by planting trees.
Overall, Wright approaches each topic with the same purpose: to present God as putting the world to rights through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and thereby launching the new creation. The discussion of each topic reflects years of scholarship and pastoral ministry, making this a valuable work that few others could write. No chapter exhausts the extent of the author’s knowledge, but each dips into an ocean of sermons, lectures, and published works. Readers will receive an introduction to the corpus of N. T. Wright and to each topic he addresses. This is an excellent volume for pastors, students, and lay Christians looking for an exemplary model of cultural engagement.
About the Contributors
Glenn R. Kreider
Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.