Bishop N.T. Wright on How God Became King
Email to a FriendX
HH: This is a special treat for me, because I am spending a lot of time today with N.T. Wright. N.T. Wright is the former bishop of Durham in the Church of England. He is one of the leading scholars of the Bible in the world. He is now serving as the chair of the New Testament and early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. And he has a brand new book out, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story Of The Gospels, which is linked at Hughhewitt.com, which along with Simply Christian, I think will become must reads for almost everyone who concerns themselves with these subjects. Bishop Wright, welcome, it’s great to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.
NTW: Thank you. Very good to be with you.
HH: It is a very interesting time to be speaking with you as Holy week opens, and with the elevation of Francis in Rome. On the latter, do you have a reaction to his election and his early statements?
NTW: Well, I haven’t seen very much of what’s been going on, because I’m extremely busy at the moment with trying to finish a different book. But it was extremely exciting, really, to watch the election of a pope from the Americas for the first time ever, and particularly a pope from the third world for the first time ever, if Argentina still counts as the third world, which I suppose it does. And certainly his opening statements about the importance of the poor, and the Church’s focus on the poor, sounded as though that really is absolutely at the center for him rather than simply being one of the things which we all know is important. For him, it is, it seems to be absolutely a center.
HH: You also will be surprised, Bishop Wright, I think, when you read his inaugural homily, to find him talking about in every period of history, there are Herod’s, who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women. Given how in your new book how God became king, the third part of your book is all about that. And it’s really quite eerie to have been reading his sermons while having been preparing for this interview and reading How God Became King.
NTW: Well, I’m grateful for the tip. I need to go online and get that homily. All I heard was little bits that were reported on our news bulletins, and as usual, the journalists just give you a quick soundbyte, and that’s it.
HH: I think you will find that first homily, it’s linked at my website, to be quite amazing.
NTW: All right.
HH: Let’s dive in, then.
HH: Are you at all weighted down by the fact that, really, millions of people read your books and look to you for inspiration? Does that burden you?
NTW: I don’t really think about that too much. Most of my time is spent, actually, thinking about the book that I’m currently trying to write. And as soon as that one’s finished, I move on to the next one. From time to time, it is a bit scary to think of people reading stuff that I write. I very much doubt it’s in the millions, but it’s certainly a significant number. And the way I deal with that is that every Sunday morning, I pray for the people who read what I’ve written, and especially for any clergy and preachers and pastors who are using stuff that I’ve written in order to preach and teach people, because that’s a really, you know, that’s a big thing. If I got something wrong there, and they’re teaching people from it, then we’re all in trouble. So I do pray regularly for the people who do that.
HH: And do you mind, or do you welcome the comparisons which are everywhere with C.S. Lewis?
NTW: Oh, I think it’s a facile comparison in many ways, but I think it’s just that for some reason, C.S. Lewis was very important to me when I was young, and I mean, that’s so familiar to people, of course, but in my case, I remember taking to heart his comments about what you have to do if you’re going to be a Christian writer. He had this wonderful advice. He said first, you have to be sure what it is you want to say. And second, you have to be sure that you say exactly that. Now that sounds easy, but actually, it’s not. And I have struggled, and sometimes, I hope I’ve succeeded in a measure to follow his advice. But I still, when I read him, I think you know, here is a master. I disagree with him on several issues, but his writing style is just so extraordinary that I should be so lucky to get anywhere near it.
HH: Well, you do, and How God Became King has much of that winsomeness in it. Now this is the most recent of many books by you, and I always ask authors who produce many books, you know, it’s your most recent, so it probably represents your most mature thinking, or the evolution of where you are. But it isn’t your favorite child. And do you have a favorite child among all those books?
NTW: Somebody asked me that the other day, and it depends, really, on how I’m feeling at the time. Right now, the favorite child that I have is the one that is struggling to be born, which is the enormous, big book on St. Paul, which I am still, I am fiddling with the footnotes at the moment, and the bibliographies and stuff, so it’s basically written, and it just needs to be polished off. It should be out later this year, and I find great satisfaction in that. But as I look back, actually, I do find How God Became King a very exciting book to have written. And I’m kind of surprised in a way that I hadn’t said it before, because now it all seems so obvious to me. And yet I’m aware, and this is the point of the book, obviously, that an awful lot of people simply haven’t looked at the Gospels like this. And I think we should. The other one that is really a big favorite child of mine is the everyone commentary on Acts. I haven’t written much about Acts before, but when I wrote that commentary, Acts For Everyone, it was enormously exciting. I was like going into retreat. I just had the whole of the book of Acts in my head for as long as it took to write it, and all I had to do is sit down at the desk, and it was like turning on a tap. I just couldn’t stop. It was a very exciting, exhilarating time.
HH: Oh, wow. Now the opposite question, those who write many books and essays have a few spokes that they’ve thrown. Is there one you wish you could recall that you wish you hadn’t written?
NTW: Now that’s an interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. There’s some essays that I think well, I didn’t really nail that one. But essays kind of go out into journals, and they get quietly forgotten. I think some of the early volumes in the everyone series, I was just trying to get into the style and the groove for that, and so I guess the Mark and Luke books, particularly, one of these days, I probably should go back and redo them. It won’t be anytime soon, because I’m not sure that it all worked as well as it might have done. Yeah, that’s actually quite a tricky question. I think as well, I have learned a huge amount in the last twenty years. My book writing has really been in the last 20 or 25 years, I really got going when I was in my late 30s, early 40s. And some of the stuff that I’ve learned in between does make me want to go back and do a quite fresh edition of the big book called The New Testament And the People Of God, because of the lot of stuff that if I was writing that now, I would put in and make more foregrounded than it was there. The problem is I don’t have the time to do it, and it would result in the book growing to about 800 pages, which I don’t think I particularly want to do.
HH: Well, the reason I asked that is because when I finished How God Became King, I said to myself wow, I’ve begun to think about the Gospel writers as biographers. And biographers look back at their corpus of work, and Andrew Roberts is a friend, and he said you know, Salisbury is too long, or this is too…and William Blake’s Disraeli, I think of these biographers, and some things they would want to do differently. And you’re a writer, and you’re a biographer of these Gospel writers, in many respects, and you wonder if they knew now what they didn’t know then about how the Church would use their work, what would they have done differently?
NTW: Yeah, now that’s a fascinating question, and I suppose they can be jolly grateful that they didn’t know the messes that we would have made, or they would have been tearing their hair out and saying is it any point in us starting at all, because of course, the culture has changed so much. And they could take so many things for granted, that their readers and hearers wouldn’t need spelling out, which we do need spelling out. You know, we just do things differently, and we think of things differently. And so little things which they could hint at, which their readers would pick up straight away, we have to spend ages looking things up in dictionaries, and doing the historical background in order to gain one flicker of insight. So as things change over the years, that’s bound to be the case.
HH: I’m talking with N.T. Wright. Bishop Wright’s new book, How God Became King, is linked at Hughhewitt.com. Bishop, we have about a minute and a half to our first break.
HH: Let’s, could you just give us a quick summary of canon creed Gospel dilemma?
NTW: Okay. I grew up in a Church which said, and still says, the creeds day by day and week by week. And in the creed, you get this statement that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. And there’s a skipping over of a lot of material there, straight from Bethlehem to Calvary, if you like. And of course, the Churches here does something similar, that we go from Christmas to Easter with only really Lent and a little bit of Epiphany in between. And the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, don’t do that at all. They spend a lot of time precisely on the material between the one and the other. And so there’s a kind of a mismatch. And I suspect that for that reason, a lot of Christians haven’t really known what all that stuff in the middle is all about. And that, in my mind, goes with the question of what the Christian life is all about in between, if you like, the baptism and the funeral. Once somebody gets converted, what are they supposed to be doing between then and when they die?
— – – –
HH: Bishop Wright, I’m using Mozart as my breaks in and out today.
NTW: Very nice.
HH: …because of what you wrote on Page 157. I want to read it for the audience. You wrote, “As I read the Gospels, and think of what the Church has done and hasn’t done with them, I’m reminded of the wonderful scene in Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus. There, the cynical, old court composer, Salieri, contrasts his own operas, telling and retelling great tales of legendary heroes, but through stale and tedious music, with Mozart’s astonishing ability to take characters off the street and create something truly magical. He is taking ordinary people,” says Salieri, “Ordinary people, butlers and chambermaids, and he has made them gods and heroes. I have taken gods and heroes, and made them ordinary.” So Bishop Wright, how is that what the Church has, explain what you then went on to write about.
NTW: Well, I think when we read the Gospels, often we make Jesus just another teacher, maybe a very fine teacher, but basically somebody who’s telling us good advice about how we should live, about what the meaning of life is, and so on. And then people read a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and especially in Churches which use a lectionary and work through the Gospels, as my own Church does, you get maybe ten or twelve verses on a Sunday morning, and the preacher will get up and turn that into a nice, little homily about how you have to behave this week, or maybe how you should order your prayer life, or about the problems of the world or something. And we all sort of think yeah, okay, fine, that’s what that’s about, and we go back to doing whatever we were doing. And meanwhile, I can see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John going about their business saying no, you don’t understand. This is explosive. This is something breaking in. This is something which turns the world upside down and inside out. And you just turn it into little bits of stuff. And so I’ve, going back to Mozart, I have the image in my mind, imagine you go to a concert hall, and the concert master says okay, this week, we’re going to have bars 22-53 of the 2nd movement of the Jupiter symphony, and the orchestra plays just those 20-odd bars, and then the concert master says okay, that’s all, come back next week, and you get the next 20 bars. And you think no, this is an amazing symphony. I want to hear the whole thing, because only then do we realize just how powerful and life-changing it is. So I think there’s a sense of domesticating what is in fact an extremely explosive and extraordinary narrative. And I think many Christians have just never even realized that it’s like that.
HH: You know, I’m going to give away the end of the book here, How God Became King. One of the things you recommend is something you did in the Durham Diocese, which is to, during Holy Week, in fact, convene the Church and read the entire Gospel. Now I must tell you, as a Roman Catholic Presbyterian, and I can explain that later, I always dreaded Passion Sunday, because you had to stand up for the whole doggone passion. And you know, you’re a little kid, and you’re sitting there, you say I don’t want…so the idea of the whole Gospel, how did it go over with the congregation?
NTW: I think they loved it. They wove it into the liturgy, or rather, they wove the liturgy into it so that each Sunday, I think actually, I think it was through Lent, I just can’t remember the details now, but it was one of the Churches in the city of Durham that pioneered this. And they began with, it was Luke that year, so they began with the opening of Luke, and they just read that straight off. Then they had the first hymn, and then they read the next bit, and they did the confession and absolution, then they did the next bit, and then they said the intercessions or whatever, and so it went. And it took a few weeks, actually, but they got through it. And so they timed it so that of course, the great passion story happens, then, on Good Friday, and the Easter story on Easter day itself. But so by the end of the sequence, they had actually lived through the whole of the Gospel story, and they had, as I said, woven the liturgy, the stuff that you would normally have as the framework for the Gospel reading instead, that became the filler in the sandwich, and the outer bits of the sandwich was the Gospel itself. That was hugely creative and innovative, and it’s the kind of thing that does a bishop’s heart good, actually, to think that your parishes are coming up with creative ideas like that.
HH: I will tell every pastor and priest out there that if they get to the end of How God Became King, they will be rewarded with some very concrete, practical suggestions on how to introduce these elements into their worship. But now here’s my one overarching reaction before we go to the specifics, Bishop Wright. I am a dualist. I go to Mass on Saturday, and to my Presbyterian Church on Sunday, and I’ve had the benefit of both for many years, and a great theologian in Mark Roberts, who’s a friend and a pastor. So I actually don’t, I was finding it a little alien as you talked about the dichotomy between the creed and the canon in the Gospel. And I began to ask myself whether or not Catholics, especially those who say the Rosary, they always say the Apostle Creed, and then it’s immediately followed by the Our Father, and they reflect upon the mysteries of the Gospel, which are themselves, for example, the mysteries of light include the arrival of the Kingdom. Or in a liturgical setting, you get the Nicene Creed, but you only get it after you get the Psalm and the Responsorial Psalm, the Old Testament, the Epistle, and the Gospel. So maybe the disintermediation between canon, creed and Gospel doesn’t happen among the more liturgically rigorous? Is that possible?
NTW: Well, it might. I mean, it still can, because it depends whether the teaching is framed by the creed or by the canon. The creed is never designed as a teaching aid, but in many traditions, and in seminaries and in Churches where they have teaching programs, people say well, we want to teach people what the Faith is all about, so let’s go to the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed, and so you will talk about God, and we’ll talk about Jesus, and we’ll talk about the Holy Spirit. But one of the key things, then, is if you ask the question when does the Kingdom happen, when does the Kingdom of God happen, and for many, many people, many, many Christians, the Kingdom of God means either when we go to Heaven when we die, or something that will happen at the very end of time, because the creed says He will come again, and His Kingdom will have no end. And so people often imagine that the Kingdom is something which will happen only in the future. And this is really the burden of the song throughout my book, of course, that in the Gospels, Jesus is inaugurating the Kingdom. He’s launching the Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven in the present. And so I think however much people get the Responsorial Psalm and the Old Testament and the whole thing, and I love all that, that’s great, I’d much rather have that than not, if they’re still thinking in their heads and their hearts that actually God isn’t in charge, we’re still waiting for that to happen, then they’re missing out on something which is really central to what the four Gospels are trying to tell us.
HH: Why do you think so many faithful Christians have missed that message of the Kingdom of God being present? We have a minute to the break, Bishop.
NTW: I think in our own day, it’s partly because in the Western world, the 18th Century enlightenment taught us to think of religion and spirituality as something private and only personal, and not public. And so that the idea of God being in charge was quite offensive, and still is offensive to many people, because they think that means a kind of ecclesial totalitarianism where you get priests with a hotline to God, telling us all what to do and making us all afraid. And for two hundred years, Western culture has been in severe reaction against that. So that is precisely the message of theocracy that people do not want to hear.
— – –
HH: Bishop, I love great writing, and in great writing, there is always great metaphor. And in How God Became King, there are two. I’d call them killer apps, actually. The four speaker, and the disassembled car. And so at the beginning, before we plunge into what each of those speakers is or is not playing, and at what level it is amplified or distorted, would you explain the four speaker metaphor? We’ll come back to the car later.
NTW: Yeah, I’m not a great electrician or whatever, but from time to time when we’ve moved house, one of the things we ask ourselves is okay, we have an electronic sound system. It used to be a record player, and then it was tapes, and now it’s CD’s, and we want that in the living room, and where are we going to put the loudspeakers? And if you have one of those really sophisticated sets that’s got four loudspeakers, so you have one more or less at each corner of the room, you have to get them lined up and positioned, but you also have to get them turned up to the right volume, depending on where you’re going to sit and so on, so that you get the proper balance. And I’ve used that as an illustration, because if you imagine, those speakers are designed to make you feel as though you’re in the middle of the orchestra. If you listen to orchestral music, you’ll the violins over to one side, the basses over to the other side, the brass somewhere else, the woodwinds somewhere else, and so you’ll be able to feel spatially where you are in relation to them all. Now if one of those speakers becomes unplugged or switched off, then the whole music is going to be distorted. There’ll be things you’re meant to hear but you’re not hearing at all, or maybe only very faintly through the other speakers and so on. And I’ve found as I’ve used that illustration many times in speaking before I finally wrote it down, and it was interesting, something I think that most of my audiences were able to get hold of and understand. And part of my point, then, is to say that there are various themes in the Gospels which need the relevant speaker to be turned up to the proper volume. Otherwise, we just won’t get what’s going on.
NTW: No, no.
HH: and if I can add a note of explanation, the four speakers are not the four Gospels themselves. They are four themes.
NTW: That’s important. Thank you.
HH: So the first one, the four Gospels as the climax of the story of Israel, but you note that this speaker is kind of turned off, because those creeds don’t mention Israel at all.
NTW: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s interesting, you’ve mentioned twice an earlier book of mine, Simply Christian. When I was writing that book, I thought to myself well, what we’ll have to have in the middle of it is a section on God, a section on Jesus, and a section on the Holy Spirit. And then I realized that actually, in order to get the Jesus section, I had to have a whole extra chapter on Israel, because unless you get the story of Israel firmly in your head, in other words, basically the Old Testament story and then what comes after that, you just don’t understand why Jesus is who He is. And of course, the four Gospels knew that very well, and they tell the story in such a way as to make it clear. This is the climactic chapter in a much longer story or novel or drama or history, which they assume that their readers will know.
HH: And that the Church today has failed to tell in its full implications for the Gospel.
NTW: Well, I think that’s right, because I mean, a well taught Christian to this day will no doubt know the story of Abraham, of Noah, of Moses, of David, and those of us who went to Sunday School still have got all that kept somewhere in our heads. But it’s not usually seen as a continuous narrative running up to and climaxing in the story of Jesus. It’s usually seen as a book of prophecies and illustrations and moral lessons and so on. And to be sure, it’s all of those. And that’s not wrong. But what it is much, much more is a single narrative of the way in which God’s plan was working its way out. And that’s the narrative that comes to its head in the story that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are telling.
HH: That’s the first speaker. And at this point, I was to introduce that at one point, you say the so-called Gnostic Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas and the rest, are simply in another world. I thought to myself, using your analogy, it’s like the person through the flat wall who has turned up their speakers very, very loud, and they’re interfering with their music.
NTW: Yes, that’s very good. I’m grateful for that. Next time I speak on it, I will use that. But that’s exactly right, that it is interfering with the music. And somebody who’s just recently produced a book called, is it the New Gospels or something like that? I’m not sure. Or no, the New, New Testament, trying to make out that actually, we need to get all those other books in there as well. In fact, they will pull away from what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are doing.
— – –
HH: Bishop Wright, the second speaker in the analogy of the four speakers playing four themes which have to be balanced in Christianity’s story is about the story of Israel’s God coming back as He always promised in the person of Jesus. And you write that modern Churches amplified this part, this speaker, because of two reasons, the rise and the threat of the new Biblical criticism, and of the new atheists. I want to play for you an exchange. I’ve hosted a lot of debates about God over my years on the air, and they’re collected in an e-book called Talking With Pagans. And the most memorable of all those exchanges occurred with Richard Dawkins when he and I did this.
RD: Do you believe Jesus turned water into wine?
RD: You seriously do?
RD: You actually think that Jesus got water and made all those molecules turn into wine?
RD: My God.
HH: Yes, my God, actually, not yours.
RD: I’ve realized the kind of person I’m dealing with now.
HH: And so, that sort of perfectly encapsulated for me what you were talking about. When you run into Dawkins all the time, the tendency is for someone in my business to turn up the volume.
NTW: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly right. And it’s very revealing. I’ve only met Dawkins a couple of times, but you know, he has lived all his life, or most of his life, in a world which is just the utterly secular world, where any sort of God is just not wanted on stage, thank you very much. Actually, it isn’t a modern world, that. It’s ancient Epicureanism in modern dress. I don’t know whether Dawkins realizes that or not. But the idea of banishing God away from the world so that He’s got nothing to do with it. And then we overreact, and this is why you rightly say the loudspeaker has been turned up too loud. Christians overreact by saying yes, God is so big, He can do anything. He’s great. He does this, that and the other. And we forget the very specifically Jewish way of telling the story of God in the world. And this is actually very poignant. It’s a story that people don’t really know. But if you look at the book of Ezekiel, there at the beginning of the book of Ezekiel, it says that the people in Jerusalem, and the priests in the Temple, have been so badly behaved, and so idolatrous and so wicked, that God is actually leaving the Temple. And we have to realize that the Temple in Jerusalem was always designed not to be just like a big Church on a street corner somewhere, but to be the one place on Planet Earth where the living God chose to dwell personally. It was his own residence. And so the idea He would leave and go somewhere we don’t know where, it terrifying. And of course, Jerusalem was destroyed as a result. But then the prophets like Isaiah, and the great prophet, Isaiah, 40-55 particularly, basically says He’s coming back. And you’ll see Him come back, and you’ll rejoice and celebrate because He’s coming back. And He’s coming back to be king. And the New Testament is written to say yes, and He did it, and it looked like this. It looked like Jesus of Nazareth coming back, and coming…and He came to be king. And so we don’t realize that this idea of a personal God who has long been awaited is actually returning, but He’s not returning in a blaze of glory and flashing fire. He’s returning in and as a human being. And that gives to the whole idea of who God is, a much more focused image and picture than we, certainly than I got growing up as a regular Churchgoer, or that I knew from my own theological training.
HH: Now what’s very fascinating about this, because I am afraid to turn down the volume of that second speaker because of the noise out there. And a friend of mine, I consulted three people when I was getting ready to talk to you, and I asked, they’re all great fans of yours. One of them, Steve Tem, sent me this question which fits right here. In applying the wide angle lens of the new creation, the Kingdom of Heaven, does Bishop Wright sense any risk that a message of personal sin and salvation is weakened? What is the message? I.E, is our traditional evangelical understanding of the Roman road string of salvation verses still valid? And how would the Bishop communicate that message to my unbelieving neighbor who wants to know why I am a Christian, and why he or she should become one? And if we turn down the volume, I’m adding this on, don’t we give up on that neighbor?
NTW: No. I mean, if you’ve got the volume turned up too loud, then you won’t be able to hear the nuances in the music. You know, you’ll just blast everybody out and make the whole room shake. But you won’t actually be able to distinguish the oboes from the clarinets from the basses from the violins, going back to the orchestra again. And it’s the nuanced reading of the New Testament which will actually appeal, because people don’t know it. Christians don’t know it, and atheists certainly don’t know it. And so the atheist simply thinks that you and I believe in this big bully in the sky who is coming to get you, and will occasionally do funny tricks like changing water into wine, that basically He’s a distant God who has got a very severe moral program for us, and He is capable of doing anything He wants, but we don’t normally understand it. And this is a very un-Jewish vision of God. This is a combination of older pagan views of God. And part of our trouble in the Western world today is that we’ve forgotten that there are many different meanings to the word God. And clearly, Dawkins has one vision of who God is in his mind, and it’s quite different from what you find in the New Testament. So we have to turn the volume down so that instead of people just hearing us thundering on about God, God, God, we say no, wait a minute, we’re talking about the God we see in Jesus. Now let’s just calm down and look more closely at this. And you see, this fits, because one of the things we learn when we do that is that God isn’t a big, thundering bully, that God is like Jesus. Michael Ramsey once said, great Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said that God is Christ-like, and in Him is no un-Christ-likeness at all. That’s part of what it means to believe in the incarnation. St. John put it like this. No one has ever seen God, but the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has made Him known. Now we’ve shouted so loud, God, God, God, that people have heard the God of late Western imagination, not the God of the Bible.
HH: When we come back from break, I’m going to ask Bishop Wright in our short three minute segment before hour two, what about the Hitchens problem, because my friend, Christopher, was my guest 70 times on this radio show, and I don’t think I made a dent, and we did not shout. And so the question is what do you do with what the Roman Catholic Church would call the invincibly ignorant, because the speakers don’t matter.
— – –
HH: Bishop Wright, did you know Hitch?
NTW: No, never met him, or his brother, either, who is still alive.
HH: Yeah, I’ve talked with Peter on the air…
HH: But Hitch was a friend, a journalist friend.
HH: And 70 times he came here, and I never made a dent, or at least he said he never had a dent made. What happens there to your idea of balancing the speakers?
NTW: Well, nothing in what I’m saying implies that if we do our homework and get it all right, everybody in the world is going to keel over and say oh, I get it now, fine, okay, I’m going to become a Christian. It’s much more complicated than that. Paul addresses this question in 2 Corinthians 4, when he talks about the God of this world blinding the hearts of unbelievers. And there’s a deep mystery there. And I think part of the problem is that again, in our modern world, modern Western world, we have assumed a sort of 18th Century rationalism which says if I only explain this clearly, everyone will understand and believe it. And the trouble with that is that yes, I can explain it clearly, but if it requires a whole worldview shift, then people perhaps are never going to get it, because they like the worldview the way they’ve got it. And unless something happens to jolt them out of that, then they may well just not want to change at all.
HH: Now I’m not going to ask you whether you think Hitch is up in Heaven or down in Hell, but I do want to say to people that you deal with the problem of Hell in How God Became King, but in an interesting way in that you just urge people a more sophisticated version of it. But you do believe in Hell, correct?
NTW: Well, it depends what you mean by Hell, like it depends what you mean about God. Let’s put it this way. I do believe that all humans have the chance, if they choose, to dehumanize themselves by, the Bible has this word idolatry, worshipping idols. If you worship that which is not God, you stop being a genuine human, little by little. And I believe that after death, if somebody has made that choice, no I’m not going to worship the true God, I’m going to do my own thing, I’m going to worship whatever I want instead, then that choice is, as it were, ratified, and that God will not, as it were, change the rules of the game at the last second so that you don’t have to suffer the results of the choices you’ve made. Now if that’s a way of talking about Hell, then fine, okay. My fear is that our picture of Hell often is actually a pagan picture. They believed in Hell in the ancient pagan Roman world. They had a lot more in ancient classical mythology about Hell than there is in the New Testament, curiously. And what happened in the Middle Ages was that people got hold of that vision of Hell, and they made that a huge, great bogey monster to beat people up with. And so there’s been a natural reaction against that by people who realize in the New Testament that the picture is a bit different from that.
— – –
HH: Bishop Wright, when we closed the last hour, we were talking about Hell. And during the break, I grabbed an email from my friend, Mike Regele, great fan of yours, and he said you know, ask the Bishop about Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, And The Mission Of The Church, the section in which he says, “Just as many who were brought up to think of God as a bearded, old gentleman sitting on a cloud decided that when they stopped believing in such a being, they therefore stopped believing in God. So many who were taught to think of Hell as a literal underground location full of worms and fire decided that when they stopped believe in that, so they stopped believing in Hell. The first group decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of God, they must be atheists. The second group decided that because they couldn’t believe in childish images of Hell, they must be universalists.” What’s the implication of that for understanding what happens?
NTW: Yeah, I kind of liked that sentence. I’d completely forgotten I’d written it. It must be nearly ten years ago now. The implication is that we mustn’t mistake the image for the reality. This is the sort of point C.S. Lewis loved to make, that we have been fed all sorts of picture images, and sometimes they become difficult for us, for whatever reason, to accept. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reality. And as far as I can see, the reality is that after people die, the sort of creatural being they become depends on certain things that have happened during this life, and that one of those options is, as I was saying just before the break, that people, if they worship that which is not God, that’s what the Bible calls idolatry, but to be a genuine human being, that is to be made in the image of God, you have to worship the true God, the one we see in Jesus, the one we know in Jesus. And so you have the choice. Either you become a more truly human, a renewed human indeed. Paul talks about being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator in Colossians 3. Or you become a creature that is becoming progressively less and less genuinely human. And I think Hell, if you want to use that word, is the result of what happens when a creature decides effectively to dehumanize themselves and become a creature which is a very sad and lost being altogether.
HH: When Jesus in the Gospel says there will come a time when I will separate people in the burning lake, and into those who are coming with Me, what’s he trying to communicate, Bishop Wright?
NTW: Which passage are you having in mind here?
HH: The sheep and the goat.
NTW: The sheep and the goats. Okay, well, Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats, it’s actually a very interesting passage. It seems to be a parable, and so as in all parables, you have to be a bit careful not to take everything as a literal description of something that’s going to happen. When Jesus tells the story of the sower sowing seed, this isn’t an advice about how to run your farm. It’s got quite other levels of meaning. However, it’s very interesting that in the sheep and the goats, the people who end up as being the sheep on one side of Him are the people who have served Him in the persons of the poor and the needy, and the people in prison and so on. That’s actually a bit scary for many Christians, because many Christians are taught that the one thing that means you’re a sheep, not a goat, is that you have made a decision, that you’ve said a prayer, that you’ve asked Jesus into your life, et cetera. There’s nothing about that in that passage. It’s simply about whether you have looked after the poor and the homeless and the needy and the prisoners and the hungry, and so on. And so many Christians actually shy away from it for a bit, because they say hey, that sounds like justification by works. So this is why I say we’ve got to be a bit careful. That passage isn’t the be all and end all of a Heaven and Hell picture. It’s actually a challenge to the Church to be the Church by discovering where Jesus is hiding in the persons of the poor. I think the new Pope will be quite keen on that.
HH: Oh, I think you’re absolutely right. In fact, he is quite keen on that. But Bishop Wright, last question on Hell, because I want to get back to the four speakers. Is that, in your understanding after a lifetime of study, because this is a few kind words for Hell here, does it involve pain?
NTW: It’s a funny thing. I don’t know what the word pain would mean if somebody has passed form this world into a new one. However, everything that we know about pain makes you want to say yeah, our idea of pain is probably as close as you can get to it. But just like people say will there be pets in Heaven, or will there be this or will there be that, the answer is all our language about the future is a set of signposts pointing into a fog. They are true signposts, but they don’t actually tell you exactly what it’s going to be like when you get there. So we do, we have to be careful. But yes, the sense of utter loss, utter sorrow, utter pain in dimensions that we find it very difficult to imagine, I think that’s what we’re talking about.
HH: Now I want to, as we go back to the four speaker analogy, I urge my listeners who missed the first hour to understand that Bishop Wright is not talking about the four Gospels. He’s talking about four themes of a complete understanding of Christianity, which all must be interwoven if you’re going to understand the music, if you’re going to appreciate the music. And we covered the first two speakers in the first hour. The third speaker, Bishop Wright, is the Gospels represent the life of the early Church, and that it’s a real story of Jesus in the person on Earth at a particular time. But you think we’ve overamplified this as well.
NTW: Yeah, I think what’s happened is that we have often said well, the Gospels are basically our instruction kit. This is Jesus telling us how to behave, and so we read the Gospels as that. And the danger with that, again, is the music gets distorted. The Gospels are the story of something which happened uniquely. It’s an event, a set of events to do with Jesus, as a result of which the world is a different place. Now as a result of that, we do have a set of new tasks which we have to get on with, a new life which we have to lead, that if we simply read the Gospels as oh, here’s a book of moral instruction, then it can come across as oh, my goodness, it’s Jesus just giving us a bunch of rules, now what are we going to do? And then we miss the whole thing, which in the technical terms, is the eschatological meaning, that is that some great even has now happened which has transformed the way the world is. So then, I mean, my parade example of this is with the Beatitudes. When Jesus says blessed are the meek and the poor in spirit, and the peacemakers, and the hungry for justice people, and the mourners, He’s not simply saying here are the rules for how you are to be. He’s saying I am going to make sure that the world is now to be run by and through people like this. In other words, the blessing is not just on the meek and the poor in spirit, it’s through the meek and the poor in spirit. This is how God becomes king.
HH: I also have to pause and compliment you on a real eye-opening device, to understand that the Gospel writers were writing about Jesus in much the same way that a Brit would be writing about the Battle of Britain years down the road as a myth, not as something made up, something that happened, but with story and element of teaching, and goal built into it. IT’s just, it had never occurred to me that’s a marvelous analogy.
NTW: Yeah, yeah. And I guess you in America, you tell the story of your Civil War. I mean, I haven’t seen the movie Lincoln, which I gather won some awards recently, but when Americans see the movie Lincoln, they are seeing part of their own history from 160 years ago or whenever it was, 150 years ago. But they’re also reliving a myth, a true myth, about the nature of American society.
HH: I think I can say with great certainty you will be captivated by the performance of Daniel Day Lewis as the sorrow…
NTW: Right. I’m sure, yes, yes.
HH: Now back to this third speaker, then, the foundation documents that are these Gospels, they are not neutral reporting. By the way, your media criticism and mine matches up about 100%. There is no such thing as neutral reporting.
HH: All stories are told from the point of view, and modern scholarship, Biblical scholarship, overstates the idea that differences in accounts equal a credibility assault. Can you expand on that for people? We have a minute to the break.
NTW: Yeah, I mean, if you read four different newspapers reporting a football game that you were actually present at, or that you weren’t present at, but a football game anyway, you hope that the four different newspapers are going to tell you who scored the goals, and what the end result was, and who was sent off for bad conduct, or whatever. And if between those newspapers you discover that they’re getting events in a different order, or that the results of the game is different, you say I can’t trust these newspapers. I wonder which, if any of them, is telling me the true story. Now people have come to the four Gospels and they’ve said oh, my goodness, there is something which happens in this Gospel which doesn’t appear at all in that one, so maybe we shouldn’t trust them. And people have said I tried to work out the resurrection stories, how many women went to the tomb, and who ran where, and which people they met, and it didn’t seem to fit together. And so maybe can’t trust them at all. And of course, in fact, the Gospels are doing something much more complicated than reporting on football match. The Gospels, which most people now assume are written about 30, 40, 50 years after the time of Jesus…
HH: Hold onto that though, Bishop, I’ve got to go to the break.
HH: We’ll come back and talk about what they’re doing with Bishop N.T. Wright.
— – –
HH: Bishop Wright, when you were talking about, when we went to break, the Gospel writers had a much more complicated story than merely reporting the results of a football game. And as a result, these discrepancies, or these differences in account, are simply not significant.
NTW: Well, they’re significant in that they tell you which angle of vision the people are looking from. They’re not significant in the sense that they should make you say therefore, they’re all making it up. It’s a very complicated business, but I spent several years some while ago studying the Gospels to write my book, Jesus And The Victory Of God, which then, there’s a simple version of it called Simply Jesus, which is recently out. And again and again, I find that the Gospel writers are not so much like four reporters telling you about the same football match. They’re more like four historians today telling you about, say, your Civil War, and looking at it from very different angles, from different perspectives. But actually, it is the same story underneath.
HH: Yeah, four biographers really made it make sense for me, because you know, Allistair McGrath just came out with a new biography of C.S. Lewis…
NTW: Yeah, I’m halfway through reading it right now.
HH: And it’s probably, and so there’s a new biography with a new bed of material, and it’s different from every other biography that came up.
HH: But the other ones aren’t bad. They’re different.
NTW: Yeah, that’s right. And I mean, in that case, McGrath does take issue with some of the previous biographers like A.N. Wilson, but basically, it’s the same story. You know, he has the same chap going to the same places and writing the same books.
HH: Now the fourth speaker turned on in the room that is the orchestra of Christianity being played is the story of the Kingdom of God, you write, clashing with the kingdom of Caesar. I quote you now. “It is only when we take fully into account The Gospels writer’s belief that Jesus was involved in the ultimate batter against ultimate forces of evil that we can begin to see how their combination of kingdom and cross, and looking wider at the incarnation kingdom, cross and resurrection begins to make sense.” Now I’ve got to ask, this is a battle which brings you perilously close to politics. Are you afraid of that?
NTW: No. I would be afraid of not coming perilously close to politics, because that would imply that Jesus was not actually Lord of the world. When I grew up, there was an old Christian saying, if He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all. And I believe that very firmly. And within my country, anyway, we have officially, and most people don’t believe it, but we have officially a way of acknowledging that God is God and Jesus is Lord, and that we are all supposedly subject. But of course, most people take no notice of that.
HH: Now there are many, many political battles from which to choose, and here I must ask your opinion both about abortion and about same sex marriage. To begin with, do you think they are both objectively evil?
NTW: Well, objectively evil, it’s interesting, the Roman Catholics used the word objectively to mean people may not feel it like this, but actually something so wrong with creation. I do believe that God made male and female in order to be the means of procreation and recreation and all the rest of it. And so it seems to me, and it has always seemed to me from both the world of nature and the world of Scripture, that the idea of same sex marriage is actually a contradiction in terms. Marriage is something between a man and a woman. And it’s something that results in children being created and families being brought up that way. So the same sex marriage, it seems to me a contradiction in terms, however much a secular state may want to make arrangements. We had a thing in this country called civil partnerships which enabled couples of the same sex to have the same legal rights as married couples. But to call it same sex marriage, it just still seems to be a contradiction in terms. Abortion is a difficult one, because there are always, and the moral theologians know this better than I do, there are always the hard cases about when somebody, when the mother’s life is in danger and that sort of thing, or in the cases of rape, imagine a 13 year old girl being raped by somebody. Does she have to go ahead and have the baby and all that sort of thing. So there are hard cases, and hard cases make bad law. But I have tended to take the view over the years, as I know many of my colleagues in the Church of England do, that basically abortion is at the very most, it could be the lesser of two evils. But normally, it is an evil and should be resisted.
HH: Now here comes my Catholicism – the cooperation with evil doctrine. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a friend of mine, comes on a lot, and he has a book, Render Unto Caesar, in which he spends quite a lot of time saying look, abortion is not just one of many evils. And other Christian writers, like Robert George of Princeton, and Timothy George at Beeson, they argue that things like redefining marriage isn’t just another political debate. So when we come, in your book, How God Became King, to the idea that Church and world are not going to get along, is there a priority of where they need not to get along, in your view, Bishop Wright, that begins with those two issues?
NTW: Yeah, that’s a nice question. I mean, part of the difficulty of beginning with those issues is that what we’ve seen over mean years is the rich world arguing about sex, while the poor world is desperate for justice. And one of the reasons that I often resist being drawn into questions about issues to do with sex and reproduction and marriage and family life is that for most of the world, these look like Western luxury issues, and please can they talk about the really important things. You know, there are people dying in Syria as we speak.
NTW: Because of all sorts of issues of justice and injustice, that we bombed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq over the last ten years. And we’re sitting here talking about sex? You know, what is this about? So I think we need to get a global perspective, and when we get that global perspective, some of the issues that loom very large in my country as well as yours, really do, I think, be need to put in the shade by the real issues that are out there of people, millions of our brother and sister human beings, who are either starving or being murdered or whatever. Those are the real big political issues. And so as a matter of politics, I think we have to say let’s actually reorder the order of questions that we’re going to deal with.
HH: Well, that’s why I go back to Archbishop Chaput, who says 55 million abortions, and to the issue of marriage, which I call one of the weight-bearing walls of Western civilization, and I’m not, you know, we will disagree about Iraq forever, and it’s an interesting conversation. But war is clearly at the top of that list. Where do you put the abortion and the marriage issue relative, for example, on the 10th anniversary…
NTW: I mean, this is rather like saying which of your children would you like to see murdered or sold into slavery? Of course, if you have lots of children, you don’t want any of them, you want all of them to be healthy and flourishing. So I want to see a world, a society in which wisdom and justice and upright living flourish and are supported and are sustained right across the board. But it is noticeable that in the Western world, we have got fixated on some particular issues, which I think are very important, and I’ve given a lot of attention to them. And when I was an active bishop as opposed to a professor, which I am now, I was constantly working in those areas. But I do think we do need to get our priorities organized, and I think it’s not just, I mean, I only mentioned Iraq because the 10th anniversary has just happened just in the last 24 hours. So it’s been in the news again. But issues of global poverty, of global climate, and what we’re doing to the planet and so on, these, I think, are massive issues. And we’re in danger of pushing them off the agenda in order to talk about our favorite topics.
— – –
HH: We were talking about the collision between the Kingdom that Christ inaugurated and the world, the political Herod’s that run it, and Bishop, I want to return to that for a second, because here’s a really difficult question for a journalist. You and I fundamentally disagree about the invasion of Iraq. I believe not only was it a just war, but that the world is much better off for having it occurred. But I don’t want to talk about that with you. But how do you recommend, when you have, I obviously have read and deeply admired your work, and esteem you, but I think you’re wrong. And you obviously don’t know me, and don’t know what I think, but you’ve already stated that you would…how ought then you and I to talk about a subject like the Iraq war?
NTW: Oh, we ought actually then to be able to find a common language in which we can discuss the rights and wrongs. I mean, I’m not a pacifist. Let me say. There are some of my friends like Richard Hays in Duke Divinity School who I agree with about a great many things, he is actually a pacifist. He would say that war is never the right option, and that we must always work for other options. That has never been my position, and it isn’t my position now. But it’s a discussion that Richard and I can have. And we frequently do have that sort of discussion. But there are all sorts of ways in which you can have the discussion. One of the risks that is happening in our present world is that we’ve forgotten how to have the really difficult discussions. And so what we tend to do is we lob verbal hand grenades over the fence at one another. Oh, you’re just a liberal, oh, you’re just a conservative, you’re just a reactionary, you’re a this or that or the other. And that’s, we have lost the art of saying now where is the common ground? What do we agree on here? And then how do we go forward from there? And I would love to have that conversation. It’s obviously impossible now…
NTW: On this program, but so I used to say in Durham, I believe in the authority of Scripture. I believe in the appropriate authority of tradition. I also believe in the appropriate use of reason. And I don’t see a lot of reason out there in my country, certainly, at the moment.
HH: Now I am very guilty of throwing hand grenades, because that’s my business. But as I read through How God Became King, verbal hand grenades, I only stopped once and said whoa. It’s on Page 166 when you write, “Listening to the sub-Christian language on display among those exultant at the killing of Osama bin Laden in the early summer of 2011 was an example of the right wing tendency. Anything that advances the worldview of Fox News is assumed to be basically Christian, wise and automatically justified.” Wow, you pulled the pin there, Bishop.
NTW: Well, I was sitting here in the same room that I’m in right now talking to you when Osama bin Laden got killed. And I went onto various websites to see and measure the reactions. And I, the thing that I said, I was actually on a radio show not long after that, and it occurred to me how would it be, there are convicted Irish Republican Army terrorists who have murdered people in Ireland, and have fled to America. And they are being looked after and kept safe in towns like Boston and so on. How would it be if the British government moored an aircraft carrier somewhere off the Massachusetts coast, and sent in the SAS to take out some of those terrorists who are being sheltered in America? I suspect that your State Department, well, they wouldn’t let them get near for a start. But you might have something to say about our going after another sovereign state, and using, doing something on their territory. I appreciate that Pakistan and Boston are not exactly the same sort of place. However, at the moment, the extradition treaty between Britain and America is ridiculously one-sided. You can point the finger at somebody in the U.K., and we have to extradite them whether we want to let them go to your courts or not. There’s a guy who’s been in prison in Texas for years on that basis. We don’t have the ability to do reverse extradition. So you know, it’s that kind of problem that I think we should talk about. Obviously, this isn’t something that comes up in the book.
NTW: But there are major issues of global justice going on here, and I don’t think anyone gains by our refusing to face them.
HH: I agree, and in fact, I am so encouraged that the new Pope has in fact thrown a number of these verbal grenades into his first week in office, because it’s going to be very…
NTW: I think that’s good. I haven’t heard. What’s he been saying?
HH: Oh, he’s been talking about global economic stewardship, the protection of the environment, the protection of the poor. Now as a capitalist, and as someone…have you ever read Arthur Brooks’ The Path To Freedom, Bishop?
NTW: No, I haven’t.
HH: The Road To Freedom? Arthur Brooks is a devout Christian man, and he writes about why capitalism will raise the poor up. I doubt that the Pope has read that, either. But when we come back from break, we’ll talk about how to have these conversations, especially when Caesar’s coin is involved.
— – –
HH: And to my friends who are listening who want me to engage in a political discussion with the Bishop, forget it. I don’t get a chance to talk with one of the great world theologians, and to do that, what I do every day. I want to go back to the book, Bishop, if I might.
HH: There is a passage that you talk about in John 12, where Greeks come and they want to gawk at Jesus. And thunder is heard. And you tell the story, and you come to this conclusion, Jesus is no mere tourist attraction for pilgrims to come and gawk at. Jesus is to be the true world rule. I had never read it that way before, but I guess you’re trying to communicate stop, look, listen at what happened in this passage, and what it says for today.
NTW: Yeah, well, that’s right. And that’s so again and again in all of the Gospels, and perhaps particularly in John’s Gospel, that of course, it’s easy for people just to gawk and say oh, isn’t he interesting. But what’s going on there is it’s the revolutionary moment at the heart of all human history. I think this is something that’s very difficult for us to get our heads around in the modern Western world, in Britain or America, that actually world history reached its climax with Jesus. And everything has been Jesus shaped, whether it knows it or not, since then. We tend to think, we in the modern world, we, actually, world history reached its climax in the 18th Century with our new technologies and democracies and so on. But actually, that way, danger lies. And the Gospels constantly say no, it’s all about Jesus.
HH: Now on Page 149, not long thereafter, you write that you’d wished you’d had more courage when translating the Caesar’s coin excerpt when you did your translation of that. It’s a remarkable admission. But would you expand on that for the audience?
NTW: Yeah, when they show Jesus a coin, and because they say, you know, should we pay the tax or shouldn’t we pay the tax, and you need to, people need to realize that this has been a major political issue in Palestine in Jesus’ day. When Jesus was a little boy, there were riots, and people were crucified for refusing to pay the Roman tax, because they said we don’t believe in being ruled by Rome. And to pay this tax is a sign that we are being ruled by hated, wicked, Gentile foreigners, and we don’t want that. We want to be free. So shall we pay the tax or not was like me saying shall I fill in my tax form every April, which we have to do. This was a major political issue. And so Jesus realizes that they want to skewer Him on which side He’s on. And so He plays a trick on them, and so He says show me the coin. Who’s head is this on the coin? And they say Caesar’s. And then He uses a very cryptic phrase, and it’s like a riddle. It’s like a joke. It’s not a political philosophy. It’s like just a quick, sharp one-liner. And I think the way that you might translate it is well, you’d better pay Caesar back in his own coin, hadn’t you, because of course in English, pay somebody back in their own coin means give as good as you get. If Caesar is being mean to you, you just be mean back to Caesar. But if he’s holding a coin there, and somebody is saying should we pay the tax, and He says pay Caesar back in his own coin, it could sound as though He’s just saying okay, pay him the tax then. And I think it was a deliberate double entendre as a way of playing a trick back on them, because they were trying to play a trick on Him.
HH: So how would you advise people to understand what Jesus is saying there vis-à-vis the government?
NTW: I think He’s, the sting comes in the tail, because the next thing He says is pay God back in God’s own coin. And then, of course, people have pointed out well, if this is Caesar’s image on the coin, what does it mean to pay God back in God’s own coin? Well, we as humans are made in God’s image. So the answer is that actually, God’s Kingdom always trumps Caesar’s kingdom. And the way to be part of God’s Kingdom is to give God your whole self, which is made in His image. And that is the way to something much bigger, which will then relativize the question of whether you pay this tax to Caesar now or not.
HH: Now here is the interesting problem. I think that my friend, Wayne Grudem, who is a very distinguished, systematic theologian, would agree with everything you just said, but that in application, he has a great book out on Christianity and politics, which I’ve interviewed him about, in application, I doubt you two would agree in practical political terms one out of ten issues, maybe three out of ten issues. I don’t want to overstate it. So what’s a Christian to do?
NTW: A Christian ought to think, to talk, to pray. One of the curious things about this sort of NATO world we live in, the North Atlantic world, is that there are some things on which we absolutely agree foundationally, and other things on which we really don’t. and we in Europe have dozens of different political philosophies sloshing around. You in America have one or two, and part of the problem that I see as an outsider, and I stress as an outsider, though I do some to America quite a lot, is that you’re much more polarized now as a society than you’ve ever been in my lifetime. And it’s usually, that’s very dangerous, because people then bundle up issues together, and they think that if you check this box on this side of the page on this issue, you’re going to go all the way down with that, so that if you’re pro-gun, you must be anti-gay, or vice versa. And most issues just don’t come away clean like that. They’re more complex. And so people oversimplify the world, and we do that in Britain as well. It’s just we do it on different issues from what you do. And it seems to me as part of the Christian task is to think more thoroughly through the issues, and to do so in dialogue, in dialogue with people you disagree with. And I’ve always done my best to do that.
HH: And how often do you immerse yourself, for example, in conservative periodicals like the Weekly Standard or Commentary Magazine? I don’t know what the equivalence would be.
NTW: I don’t read at the moment. My job is to study and teach the New Testament, and I have some bright graduate students who are throwing excellent work at me. And I’m reading what they’re writing. I do not have much time at the moment to immerse myself in the political issues. When I was bishop of Durham, I was a member of the House of Lords in the U.K., and so I was constantly coming up against all the many political issues that we were dealing with then. But that’s, but in the last three years, I’ve had to concentrate much more. I actually live in the 1st Century rather than the 21st, trying to understand the New Testament as best I can.
HH: I hope on your list of to-do’s is a memoir, Bishop Wright, because I think that would have been a fascinating chapter.
— – –
HH: In our last hour together, which I will play next week, I will cover with him his theory of forgiveness. But Bishop, this is a three minute segment, which is a bridge segment. I’m coming up with Dr. Larry Arnn, and we’re going to talk about Thucydides.
HH: So what I really want to ask you here, just a couple of personal questions. Whom do you read for fun? What do you read when you don’t want to be N.T. Wright anymore, and you want to put the 1st Century away?
NTW: Well, you mentioned that new biography of C.S. Lewis by Allistair McGrath. I’m halfway through that at the moment. There’s a very interesting, you mentioned a memoir. I haven’t actually thought of writing a memoir, but you never know. But I’m reading at the moment the political diaries of a British politician, you won’t have heard of him, called Chris Mullin, who for most of his career was a back bencher. But he was there all through the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, and very, very interesting stuff through the 1990s and then through the last ten years. And so that’s been fun. I read poetry from time to time. I’m very fond of the world of the Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail. Oh, what else is on the go?
HH: Do you read any novels at all? Do you read thrillers or anything that’s just sort of throwaway?
NTW: Well, I read novels on holiday occasionally. I find that when I’m working in the sort of work that I do, my brain is quite taken up with lots of complicated issues. And it’s a funny thing. When I was a bishop, I actually tried to read novels sometimes, and I found it was very difficult because most of my life was taken up with trying to understand complicated human situations in this parish or this person’s life. As a pastor, you’re constantly thinking into complex human situations. And I didn’t want to spend my leisure hours doing that as well.
HH: And I don’t know that you have an iPod, but if you do, what is on Bishop Wright’s music playlist from iTunes?
NTW: Oh, I have all sorts of things. I go from Sibelius and Bach through to the Beatles and Joni Mitchell and Jersey Boys and Mozart and Schubert, and quite a bit of jazz. I’m very eclectic, musically.
HH: And if we dip back and we had the camera on you when you were a teenager, would you have been the bad boy ever? Or were you always the studious scholar, theologian in the making?
NTW: I was never a particular studious scholar. I was looking for every opportunity to get out there and kick a ball or hit a ball. I played all the sports that were going, and I played as many musical instruments as I could get my hands on as well. I played the guitar and the piano and the trombone, and things like that. So music and sport were the foundation of my life, and I just managed to do enough schoolwork to get into Oxford University by the skin of my teeth, and then took off academically after that.
HH: So at what age did the light go on saying this is what I’m called to do?
NTW: Oh, I knew from about the age of seven that I was called to be ordained, to be a priest and a preacher. It never occurred to me until I was at Oxford as a student that I might actually be, that there might be such a thing as academic theology, and that it might be for me. But there was a very definite moment when I was listening to a lecture, and the guy said we need people who love Jesus, and who love Scripture, and who have half a brain to get in there and do the work. And I remember thinking, oh, my goodness, what a wonderful way to spend your life.
HH: I’ll be right back with Bishop Wright, and we’ll talk about that. How God Became King is linked at Hughhewitt.com.
—- – –
HH: Bishop Wright, we go to the end of the book here, and I want to read this. “When we step back from our own personal anxieties and awareness of guilt, we recognize that the world as a whole needs, longs for, aches and years for, cries out for forgiveness, for that collective global sigh of relief that means that nobody needs seek vengeance ever again, that nobody will bear a grudge ever again, and that the million wrongs with which the world has been so horribly defaced will be put right at last, that in God’s ultimate new world, there will be no moral shadow, no lingering resentment, no character warped by another’s wrong.” You know, you build to climaxes in books, obviously. Were you building to this climax of forgiveness?
NTW: I don’t remember how that bit got written. Is that in the very last chapter?
HH: Yes, it is. It’s on Pages 271 and 272.
NTW: Yeah, okay, okay. Well, I’m looking at the chair in which I was sitting when I wrote that, but I don’t remember how that actually came about. I guess I wrote that a couple of years ago now. But that theme of forgiveness has been a major theme in several of my books. In Evil And The Justice Of God, for instance, where I go into it in more detail, the nature of forgiveness, and vis-à-vis the nature of evil. And for me, this idea of global sigh of relief, of God putting everything right at last, is such a wonderful vision. And of course, for the individual Christian, one of the ways in which people often come to faith is realizing that they are guilty, and that God is holding them to account, and that because of Jesus, God is forgiving them. And you asked me in one of the earlier segments about that, and that is, of course, absolutely at the heart of the personal Gospel. But I think what people often don’t realize is that that very personal, very hugely important, central thing is something that God intends to happen on this global and cosmic scale as well. And the Psalms are full of that, this sort of sense of delight because God sorted the whole mess out. And I just exult in that.
HH: Now I wonder how you maintain your hopefulness, and your hope of the forgiveness, against the backdrop, as we said in the earlier segment, of chemical weapons being used in Syria, of a North Korean despot who has starved his own people, of massive, just terrible things around the world, almost a crescendoing of evil, and the almost near-certainty that nuclear weapons will be used, if not in our lifetimes, then shortly thereafter, Bishop Wright. How do you maintain that?
NTW: My hope is not built on observation of stuff that is going on in the world at the moment. My hope is built firmly on the fact that three days after He was crucified, Jesus of Nazareth rose again, bodily, from the dead. That is the basis of everything. I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I simply believe that Jesus rose again, and that what God did for Jesus at Easter, God will do for all His people at the end, and God will actually do for the whole of Creation at the end. St. Paul is very emphatic that the whole Creation will be set free from its bondage to decay, to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God. That’s a wonderful hope, and it’s built on the resurrection of Jesus. So that’s the framework of hope. Now of course, between now and then, humans have plenty of chances to mess stuff up, and we regularly do. But I don’t think, you know, if I may say so, I don’t think it really helps if we simply point the finger at North Korea and Syria, and other such places, because certainly we in Britain have gone around the world getting things wrong, and I daresay other imperial powers have gone around the world getting things wrong. And often, it’s very difficult to see ourselves as others see us. But there are many parts of the world that look at my country and your country, and if they make a list of the things that are wrong in the world, that’s where they start, I’m afraid. You know, that’s the reality. Now you and I might say well, hang on, actually, they’re getting that wrong. We are not part of the problem, we’re part of the solution. But we have to realize that if we want global peace, if we want justice, if we want people to understand one another, we have to look in the mirror and say actually, Britain and America are not everybody’s favorite countries right now.
HH: Of course, but then I think back to, not the current Pope, but the last one, Benedict, when he went to Regensburg, and he tried to give an academic discourse on why Islam and Christianity were going to have trouble.
HH: And it became kind of a nightmare for him and for the Church, because he was trying to make theological points. And I just look at the world and say there are some theological systems, much less political systems, which are not reconcilable. And so against that backdrop, Bishop Wright, and I want to, I’m going to use a question that was suggested to me by our friend, Mark Roberts. If Christians take seriously the thesis of your book, what difference is it going to make in the way that they live every day? For example, teachers, lawyers, politicians, bankers, what do they do differently in light of this, and in light of the fact that there are other systems out there which are going to absolutely reject and destroy what they believe in?
NTW: Yeah, of course, and that has always been the case. I mean, Christianity was born into a pluralist world with massive cultures that have their own agendas, et cetera. And the disciples of Jesus found then, as serious disciples of Jesus will always find, that they have to live against the grain of lots of bits of the surrounding culture. And that’s obviously been a problem for your country and mine, that we’ve sort of assumed that we are vaguely or semi-Christian countries, and so we’ve forgotten that we actually have to live against the grain. And it’s now becoming a bit more apparent. And the Gospel of Jesus doesn’t say that everyone else is as wrong as they could possibly be, because we believe that God’s image is reflected in a measure in all humans, even though we sin and get things wrong. So the Christian has to find, and it varies from case to case, from person to person, from place to place. It’s a matter of the freedom in the spirit to discern, to think through what my responsibility here in this situation is now, today. And there is no one size fits all, of course. The one size that does fit all is Jesus and the Holy Spirit and Scripture, and so on. But within that, God has a million different things for His people to do. And a teacher in one school won’t have the exact same agenda the teacher in another school has, so it’s impossible for me simply to say okay, here’s what you must all do, except to say we all have to pray for wisdom and discernment, recognizing that we are easily deceived, and we are deceived by ourselves, we are deceived by our surrounding cultures.
HH: Now Bishop, I promised last week that I would reveal the second great metaphor in How God Became King for me.
HH: And that is of the disassembled car.
NTW: Oh, right.
HH: And I’d like you to give the short version. People really need to read it in its full to get the impact of it, though.
NTW: This is, I’m used this image once or twice. I’m assuming that you’re talking about where I say that this is what happens when somebody goes to a theologian looking for a word of advice, and they just get a bunch of footnotes.
HH: Well, when you take your car in because something is wrong, and you come back, and it’s all been disassembled. And they know exactly what was wrong with it, but they took it apart.
NTW: Yeah, that’s right, that, yeah, the image is basically when you leave the car in the garage, and you come back at the appointed hour, and there’s all the bits of the car all over the floor, and the mechanic is quite excited because he says I found the bit that was wrong, and hey, look, it’s that. And that’s a really interesting think you have there, and that carburetor, that’s fascinating and so on. And the guy says, but I need to drive to work tomorrow morning. How am I going to do that? And my, what I’ve seen in the Church and the theological colleges and so on so often is people who spend all the time taking the Bible apart and analyzing this or that dogma or whatever. But people actually need to know how to pray, how to live, how to be wise and holy tomorrow. And so we have to be able to put it back together. And you asked me a while back about C.S. Lewis, and that’s one of the great things that I take from C.S. Lewis, that he could analyze things, but it would always come back to something which comes out sharp and clean about who we are, and where we are right now.
HH: Have you seen examples of Churches taking seriously the Kingdom of God as you understand it, and living it out? And what happens? How do they look different? We’ve got about a minute to the break.
NTW: One of the joys of my life in Durham was that there were many Churches, and it’s a very poor area of the north of England, where they were doing this very seriously, where people would combine the ministry of prayer with the ministry of working with the poorest people around, with people who were suffering from severe disabilities, with communities where the banks are shut and the shops had shut because there was just no money around, and the Churches actually rolling up their sleeves and doing that stuff. And this isn’t an either/or of either preaching for conversions or working with the poor. The best Churches always do both.
— – –
HH: You know, Bishop, one of my, the questions that Mark Roberts suggested that I bring around to your attention is that we Americans, we don’t do royalty, and we’re kind of proud of that, and as a result, the whole notion of kingdom is sort of foreign to us. To what extent might that explain at least in the United States the reticence to pick up the language of the Kingdom of God?
NTW: Yeah, the funny thing about that is, of course, that a 1st Century king would be completely different from anything that we’ve had in Britain for the last hundred, two hundred years, and the culture is entirely different. We have a constitutional monarchy, which is completely unlike what you would have had in Rome or in Herod’s court or anything. In fact, if you want to see what somebody in a major court looks like, you probably do better to go to the White House than to go to Buckingham Palace. Now I know that you elect one every four years or eight years or whatever, so that’s a bit of a cheap shot. But I think we all actually have problems with Jesus’ notion of king. And of course, there were many people in Jesus’ day who were fed up with King Herod, who were fed up with Caesar, and who would have quite happily thrown the whole thing over. And yet Jesus chose to use that image, so it isn’t a question of some cultures today understanding what a kingdom is and others not. It’s a question of actually do we believe that God is actually in charge? Or is God simply there to provide a bit of a spiritual backup when we feel a need of it? The danger, when people say to me what you’ve just said, I’m not accusing you of this, but I know some people who mean this, is that they don’t actually want God to be in charge of the world. They think we should be in charge of the world. And they just think God should be there to give us a pat on the back and a smile, and to forgive us our sins, and to look after us after we’ve died. And the Kingdom of God is bigger than that.
HH: What’s interesting about that, Bishop, is I know you don’t much care for Fox News, but one of the things that people worry about is Christianists. Andrew Sullivan, with whom I’ve had a very memorable exchange on this program, always accuses Christianists of wanting to take over power and impose the Kingdom of God. And of course, people like me, who are non-establishmentarian types, want nothing to do with fisher religions or doctrine. But what you just suggested could scare a lot of…
NTW: Exactly, but that’s because people don’t understand Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom. Jesus said the Kingdom of God looks like the meek and the poor in spirit, and the humble, and the broken-hearted, and the hungry for justice people. And the thing is this. The Kingdom of God has been going ever since, because the power brokers and the bullies think that that’s how you do power. Jesus actually said, it’s a famous saying in Mark 10, which people often, then, quietly ignore. He said listen, the rulers of the age of this world do things one way. We’re going to do it the other way. If you want to be great, you must be their servant. And if you want to be the number one, you must be the slave of all, because the Son of man didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. Now we’ve forgotten that, and so then when people say what I just said, then people get scared and they think hey, this is theocracy, this means bullying Christians who think they know what’s right imposing it on the rest of us. But the answer is no, it’s not like that. It’s a matter of the people who have this hunger in their hearts to feed the hungry, to work for the poor, to work for peace and justice. That’s what the Beatitudes are about. By the time the bullies have realized what’s going on, the meek and humble have gone out there and built hospitals and started schools, and are looking after the dying and the sick. And that’s what the Kingdom of God looks like on the ground.
HH: And Bishop Wright, do you recommend that people who are looking for that Kingdom involve themselves in politics? There’s a criticism in How God Became King of the neo-Anabaptists who say not for me, I’m not getting my hands dirty.
NTW: Yeah. Yes, some people need to do that. It would be terrible to think that we hand it over, the business of running our democratic countries, to people who by definition were not Christians. If we said Christians shouldn’t do that, that would be terrifying. Now it’s very difficult. Christians in politics face very difficult questions and challenges. And I know many people in that position. And they have to make compromises, and sometimes it’s very agonizing for them. But in the real world of making things happen, that’s how it goes. And I would much rather have as many Christians in there as possible than say no, no, it’s a dirty business, we’ll leave it to the atheists.
HH: Now an exegetical question. The Kingdom of God is referenced a lot in the first three Gospels, less so in John. And then Paul is basically not writing about it. What happened?
NTW: What happened was that Jesus was launching something, and Paul was taking it forward. Jesus was launching this Kingdom project, it’s been launched by the time Paul is up and running, so he isn’t launching the Kingdom of God. Jesus had already done that. He’s putting it into practice. But Paul is out there in the gentile world, the non-Jewish world, and they don’t know the phrase Kingdom of God, which is a Jewish phrase in the 1st Century. It goes back to the book of Daniel, to the Psalms, to Isaiah. But Paul instead talks about Jesus as kurios, which means Lord, which is for them a Caesar word, and as christos, which is Messiah, which is a king word. So he’s talking about God doing what he’s doing through King Jesus, who is the Lord. So Paul has translated the notion of God’s Kingdom, which is Kingdom of God, from the Gospels, into the language which is now necessary if the project is to go forward.
HH: Now I want to switch to one of the topics that you deal with quite extensively in How God Became King, which is the shortening of the story to the beginning and the end, and the way especially, this resonates with me with my experience in American Evangelicalism, both Roman Catholic and Protestant varieties, is Jesus came, believe in Him, you’re saved. And you know, we’ve got lots of friends in common, I’m sure, who were saved in such a fashion. Our friend, Mark Roberts, went to a Billy Graham crusade as a young man, became saved. Are you saying that the old Christian phrasing, believe in Jesus and you will go to Heaven when you die, that that isn’t true?
NTW: No, of course it’s true. But it’s not the whole truth, and that isn’t actually the way in which the New Testament usually puts it. It’s very interesting that when you believe in Jesus, of course in the New Testament, you would get baptized, you would become a member of the Church, and you would be assured that God would raise you from the dead on the last day. Interestingly, they don’t talk very much about going to Heaven when you die. That’s something we are much more worried about than they were. Of course you have the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus in Luke, Chapter 23. Jesus says today, you will be with Me in paradise. Yeah, fine, okay. Paul says my desire is to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Yes, that’s fine. That’s what we believe will happen to Jesus’ people, those who believe in Him and trust Him and belong to Him, after they die. But I note, I mean, I’ve just quoted two out of the three or four instances in the New Testament. The New Testament doesn’t encourage us to focus on that as the main substance of the message. The main substance of the message is listen, this world has a new boss, and He’s called Jesus, and he died on the cross to take away all the evil, including yours and mine, and He rose again to launch this project of new Creation, of the Kingdom of God. And that’s the thing we ought to be signing up for. And to have the main message about something after that, about what happens after our death, sort of cuts the nerve of the challenge and vocation that we ought to be responding to in the present.
— – –
HH: Bishop, C.S. Lewis lived through the War, and so he had a perfect experience of human suffering close hand. You were a bishop, which meant that you had to enter into people’s lives at a level that most theologians don’t get to, the level where suffering is there in very real ways every single day. How do you press through that?
NTW: Oh, my goodness, it’s a huge one. It depends entirely on who they are and what the particular problem is. I’m in regular touch at the moment with a former student whose mother is dying of cancer, and she, the former student, is being blamed by the mother for not looking after her and all sorts of things. So I mean, I’m quite close up as a pastor still to some real issues of human suffering. All one can do is find ways back to the foot of the cross. The cross is the point where the living God came into the middle of the mess of pain and shame of the world, and took its weight upon Himself. And that goes way beyond anything that we can analyze or even fully understand. But I just know that those who find their way back to the cross and the story, however they do it, listening to Bach’s Matthew Passion, or looking at a picture or whatever, will find that somehow, the God who loves them more they can imagine will meet them there.
HH: Now Bishop, driving around right now all over America are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t know what that means. What do you think, how do you explain to them what that means? They’re un-churched. 85% of Phoenix, one of my biggest markets, don’t go to Church.
NTW: Yes, it’s a strange thing, that somehow, the image of the cross, which most people still have an idea what that’s about, is about a human being who came as the living presence of the God who made the world, into our world, in the middle of history, and somehow reaches out His arms, it’s a very graphic image, He reaches out His arms to East and West and North and South, to rich and poor, to young and old, to male and female, and He says come to Me if you’re having a rough time, and I’ll sort it out for you. And that image of the cross, millions and millions of people, even if they don’t really understand anything much more, haven’t heard very much more about it, that can actually speak to them enough to get them started on the way of following this Jesus and finding out just who He is and what it means for them.
HH: Towards the end of How God Became King, you write, “I have written about this elsewhere, but it is perhaps worth reiterating it. If you belong to Jesus, the Messiah, if His spirit dwells in you, if you are a worshipper of the one true God, maker of Heaven and Earth, then however you feel at the moment, whether you are sick or healthy, handsome or jaded, you are simply a shadow of your future self. God intends to transform the you you are at that moment into a being, a full, glorious, physical being who will be much more truly you than you’ve ever been before.” Do you have trouble making postmodern people believe, or even begin to accept the premise?
NTW: Actually, I think postmodern people find it easier than modern people. Modernists, like Richard Dawkins, who we mentioned in an earlier segment, just find all that stuff rubbish and incredible, and they think that the present world is all that there is. I think one of the gains of postmodernity is that that’s all been shaken up. And people now realize maybe there are different types of reality, and maybe one of the things that the living God is going to do is to take the present world and transform it into some wonderful, radical, new way. And that’s the promise which the New Testament encourages us to live off.
HH: But at the same time that that promise is out there in the postmodern world, there are a thousand products for sale in the supermarket shelf of spirituality, Bishop Wright.
NTW: Of course, and that was so in Jesus’ day as well. The thing that makes it different is of course, Jesus’ own resurrection. And that’s why I come back again and again. None of this makes sense, none of this is really that believable, unless you say that actually, Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead on the third day. And that’s why I wrote a big book about the resurrection a while back, and why my book, Surprised By Hope, deals with it a lot, because without that, we’re just whistling in the dark. If it wasn’t for the resurrection of Jesus, I think I’m not sure what I would do. I would probably go and be a music critic, or something like that.
HH: So all parts of this week, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the resurrection, they’re all necessary, but you can’t leave any of them out?
NTW: Exactly. That’s exactly right. You can’t have the one without the other. The story, that’s why it’s a story. If we try to turn it into a set of detachable doctrines, we’ll get it wrong. That’s a modernist trick. We have to learn to live with the whole story. And as we read the story, and most people have got access to a Bible in some way, shape or form, read the story of Jesus in the Gospels, and you’ll find that it becomes your story.
— – –
HH: Bishop Wright, I want to thank you for spending so much time with me. The book, How God Became King, is linked over at Hughhewitt.com, and I always take a moment and say to an author after a long interview, is there anything that in my blindness I missed that I ought to have pointed out about the book?
NTW: I don’t think so. We’ve covered the main things in it. I think perhaps it’s just this, that the Gospels are more like a play which are inviting us to become characters in it than they are like a novel which you just read and think oh, what a funny story, and that something, there’s something there about the way that Christians read the Gospels. Instead of just thinking oh, well, isn’t that interesting, we ought to be saying wait a minute, this can become out story, that we need to be involved in this.
HH: Now you recommend Ignatian spirituality exercises at one point, which surprised me.
NTW: Well, they’re not for everybody, but there are many people who would gain and profit enormously from that.
HH: Now I want to close with two questions from my colleagues who helped me prepare. One, Mike Regele, wrote to me, if I were interviewing the bishop on a political show in America, I’d want him to discuss how he thinks what he is saying about the Kingdom of God should challenge our political thinking in a quest to be faithful Christians. And he goes on to quote your book, Evil And The Justice Of God.
HH: Evil then consists, actually, it’s from Surprised By Hope, evil consists not in being created, but in the rebellious idolatry by which human worship and honor elements of the natural world, rather than the God who made them. The result is that the cosmos is out of joint. Instead of humans being gods, wise vice regents over Creation, they ignore the Creator and try to worship something less demanding, something that will give them a short term fix of power or pleasure. Boy, that’s grim, Bishop.
NTW: Yeah, it is, and the world gets grim. The world has many grim sides to it. I mean, I’m basically an ancient historian before I was anything else. And I’ve studied the worlds of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and they are grim. And interestingly, the ancient Greek world of Athens in the 5th Century B.C., was a democracy. We believe in a democracy, and I believe in democracy. I don’t want to live in a non-democratic system. But there’s a danger that we’ve idolized democracy itself, and imagined that as long as people vote, this is going to make for the best of all possible worlds. And I think when you realize what it means for God to be king, you realize that even democracy has to be answerable to something other than just the will of the people. Then ultimately, if you just have the will of the people, that collapses into a form of atheism.
HH: and then my friend, Steve Tems, it’s just perfect, wrote to me, but when and to what extent should the Church engage with, employ and even adopt worldly kingdom needs to achieve Heavenly kingdom goals? Are there limits to that engagement? What would the bishop’s guidelines for such engagement look like? And what competing kingdom values shape those guidelines?
NTW: Well, great question, and it would take about a week of five hour seminars every day to begin to tease that out. The answer always has to be to go back to Jesus Himself, and to see what Jesus is doing as well as teaching about what it looks like to live in the Kingdom. It’s very interesting, people have great assumptions about this, but the Gospels are not always saying exactly what we might expect them to. And ultimately, one of the things which I love about the Kingdom of God, and about the Bible itself, actually, is that it’s a way of opening us up in freedom, in the power and presence of the spirit, that we have to do our thinking. We have to read and think and discuss and pray. There is no hand me down about this. The whole thing is designed so that each generation has to do its own homework, and figure out riskily, dangerously, prayerfully, humbly, how to live wisely in the time and day we find ourselves in.
HH: And Bishop Wright, I want to conclude on a personal note. You’re 64. You’ve had this prodigious output, this influential output. But a lot of people out there are tired, and they think “I’m going to retire and lay down.” It doesn’t sound like you’re retiring, but I know there must have been times in which you were discouraged or tempted to do so. What’s your advice to people who are just weary? And how long ought they to plan on being involved in this Kingdom building?
NTW: That’s a great question. I, for some reason that I don’t understand, I seem to have been blessed with high energy levels, and people sometimes comment on that. And so it seems to me much is expected of those to whom much is given. I want to go on using the energy that I’ve been given to do the work that I’ve been given to do as long as I reasonably can. I don’t know whether that’ll be another five years or what. We’ll see. But people are very, very different. Some people, I know some in my family, just have a different metabolism to me, and God doesn’t ask us to go charging off doing stuff that we’re not suited for. There are a million different levels of task that are necessary in the Kingdom, not least is prayer. I’ve mentioned prayer a few times this afternoon talking to you, and prayer is just so important. And anyone can do that, whatever sage and age they’re at. And that’s really the foundation of everything. So we’re all different, and I believe in freedom. I believe in vocation. I believe in people thinking through what it means to be the person that God wants them to be. And that’ll always be different. But prayer will always be at the heart of it.
HH: Then let me conclude with this question. How do you, N.T. Wright, pray on a daily basis?
NTW: I get up as early as I can, which usually is about half past five in the morning, I make myself a very large pot of tea. I then follow through the Anglican order for morning prayer, only instead of the readings set from the Old and New Testament, I have my own system of readings from the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. So that is normally, it takes quite a bit of time. And then I pray on a daily basis for some people, on a week basis for others, and so that is for me how I start the day. If I don’t start the day like that, I feel peculiar for the whole of the rest of the day. And then in the evenings, I use the shortened form of evening prayer before I go to bed. And that doesn’t usually have much in the way of sustained readings, because by the time I get to there, I’m usually quite tired.
HH: Bishop N.T. Wright, thank you so much for your generous time. Thanks for your work, and for especially How God Became King: The Forgotten Story Of The Gospels. Have a wonderful and a Happy Easter.
NTW: Thank you, and the very same to you and your listeners. It’s been very good talking to you.
HH: Thank you, Bishop Wright.
End of interview.