Tom Wright (Theologian)

The Rt Revd
Tom Wright
MA(Oxon) DD
Professor at St Andrews
Wright speaking at a conference in December 2007
In office 1 September 2010–present
Other posts Bishop of Durham (2003–10)
Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey (2000–03)
Dean of Lichfield (1994–99)
Ordination 1975
Consecration 2003
Personal details
Birth name Nicholas Thomas Wright
Born (1948-12-01) 1 December 1948 (age 65)
Morpeth, Northumberland
Nationality British
Denomination Anglican
Residence Auckland Castle, County Durham (2003–2010)
Spouse Maggie[1]
Children Four children[1]
Alma mater Exeter College, Oxford

Nicholas Thomas Wright (born 1 December 1948) is an Anglican bishop and a leading New Testament scholar. He is published as N. T. Wright when writing academic work, or Tom Wright when writing for a more popular readership (although this may also vary dependent upon publisher[2][3]) Wright was the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England from 2003 until his retirement in 2010. He is currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Among modern New Testament scholars, Wright is an important proponent of traditional views on theological matters including Christ's bodily resurrection[4][page needed] and second coming.[5] Further he has expressed strenuous opposition both to the ordination of openly gay Christians and the blessing of same sex partnerships and marriages as occurs in the Episcopal Church.[6] On the other hand, he has criticised the idea of a literal rapture,[7] co-authored a book with his friend Marcus Borg,[4] a widely known voice of liberal Christianity, and is associated with the Open Evangelical movement and New Perspective on Paul, both of which are controversial in many conservative theological circles.

Early life and credentials

Wright was born in Morpeth, Northumberland. In a 2003 interview he said that he could never remember a time when he was not aware of the presence and love of God and recalled an occasion when he was four or five when "sitting by myself at Morpeth and being completely overcome, coming to tears, by the fact that God loved me so much he died for me. Everything that has happened to me since has produced wave upon wave of the same."[8]

In addition to his Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University[9] he has also been awarded several honorary doctoral degrees,[10] including from Durham University in July 2007,[11] the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in April 2008,[12] the University of St Andrews in 2009,[13] Heythrop College, University of London in 2010, and the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary & University in May 2012.


Educated at Sedbergh School, then in Yorkshire, Wright specialised in classics.

From 1968 to 1971, he studied literae humaniores (or "classics", i.e. classical literature, philosophy and history) at Exeter College, Oxford, receiving his BA with first class honours in 1971. During that time he was president of the undergraduate Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. In 1973 he received a BA in theology with first class honours from Exeter.

From 1971 to 1975 he studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, receiving his (Oxford) MA at the end of this period.

In 1975 he became a junior research fellow at Merton College, Oxford and later also junior chaplain. From 1978 to 1981 he was a fellow and chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge. In 1981 he received his DPhil from Merton College, Oxford, his thesis topic being "The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans".

After this, he served as assistant professor of New Testament studies at McGill University, Montreal (1981–86), then as chaplain, fellow and tutor at Worcester College and lecturer in New Testament in the University of Oxford (1986–93).

He moved from Oxford to be Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994–99) and then returned briefly to Oxford as Visiting Fellow of Merton College, before taking up his appointment as Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000.

Between 1995 and 2000, Wright wrote the weekly Sunday's Readings column for the Church Times. He has said that writing the column gave him the "courage" to embark upon his popular For Everyone (SPCK) series of commentaries on New Testament books.[14]

In 2003, he became the Bishop of Durham.

On 4 August 2006 he was appointed to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved for a period of five years.[15]

On 27 April 2010 it was announced that he would retire from the See of Durham on 31 August 2010 to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College, St Andrews in Scotland, which will enable him to concentrate on his academic and broadcasting work.[16][17]


New Testament doctrine

Wright's doctrinal perspectives, with reference to the New Testament, are expressed throughout his writings. In his popular-level book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, he teaches a position referred to as Christian mortalism. He also advocates a reunion of soteriology and ecclesiology, commenting that such a connection is often neglected in Protestantism. In addition, he is critical of various popular theological ideas, such as the dispensationalist doctrine of the rapture.[18]

Scholarly work

Wright's work has been praised by many scholars of varying views, including James D.G. Dunn, Gordon Fee, Richard B. Hays and Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Critics of his work are also found across the broad range of theological camps. Some Reformed theologians such as John Piper have sought to question Wright's theology, particularly over whether or not he denies the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. Although Piper considers Wright's presentation confusing, he does not dismiss Wright's view as false. In response, Wright has stated he wishes Piper would "exegete Paul differently" and that his book "isn't always a critique of what I'm actually saying." Wright also expressed how he has warmed to Piper and considers him a "good, beloved brother in Christ, doing a good job, building people up in the faith, teaching them how to live."[19] In 2009, Wright has since addressed the issue in his book Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2009). He has sought to clarify his position further in an interview with InterVarsity Press.[19] Many conservative evangelicals have also questioned whether Wright denies penal substitution, but Wright has stated that he denies only its caricature but affirms this doctrine, especially within the overall framework of the Christus Victor model of atonement.[20] Despite criticism of some of his work by Reformed theologians, other Reformed leaders have embraced his contribution in other areas, such as Tim Keller who praised Wright's work on the resurrection.[21]

Secular utopianism

In 2008, Wright criticised "…secular utopianism," accusing it of advocating "the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people..."[22] Times columnist David Aaronovitch challenged Wright specifically to substantiate his claim that any secular group does indeed advocate the killing of elderly people, leading to an ongoing exchange in which Wright held to his main point.[23][24][25][26]

Historical Jesus

Regarding the historical Jesus, Wright stands broadly in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer (thoroughgoing eschatology), against what he sees as the thoroughgoing scepticism of William Wrede (famous for his thesis on the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark as an apologetic and ahistorical device) and the Jesus Seminar, Wrede's modern-day counterparts.[27][page needed] He tends to agree with and laud such scholars as E.P. Sanders and the lesser-known Ben F. Meyer (whom Wright calls "the unsung hero" of New Testament studies),[28] although he thinks Sanders and others go too far in their use of form criticism. He also thinks it is a mistake to say that Jesus expected the imminence of the end of history, as Schweitzer thought,[27][page needed] but rather thinks that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something both present and future. He has also defended a literal belief in the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead as central to Christianity.[5]

Wright has also received criticism in some more liberal theological circles, e.g. by Robert J. Miller. In contrast, the Jesus Seminar's Marcus Borg, with whom Wright shares mutual admiration and respect, has co-authored with Wright the book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.[4] In 2005, at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, Wright also conversed with Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan as to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Wright and Crossan, who also hold mutual admiration for one another, hold very different opinions on this foundational Christian doctrine. For Crossan, the resurrection of Jesus is a theological interpretation of events by the writers of the New Testament. For Wright, however, the resurrection is a historical event—coherent with the worldview of Second Temple Judaism—fundamental to the New Testament.[29]

With the publication of Wright's 2012 book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Wright has been critical of some ideas concerning the historical Jesus in both American evangelical preaching and the work of C.S. Lewis, who Wright admits was a major influence in his own life. In an interview,[30] Wright summarises this critique: "One of the targets of this book is Christians who say: Yes, the Bible is true. It’s inerrant and so on. But, then, they pay no attention to what the Bible actually says. For too many Christians it seems sufficient to say Christ was born of a Virgin, died on a cross and was resurrected—but never did anything else in between. I’m saying: That’s not the way to understand the Gospels."

Homosexuality in the Anglican Communion

Wright was the senior member from the Church of England of the Lambeth Commission set up to deal with controversies that emerged following the ordination of Gene Robinson as a bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.[31] In 2009, the Episcopal Church authorised the clergy to celebrate commitment liturgies for people in same-sex relationships. Wright described the action as a "clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion" in a Times opinion piece.[6]

Wright attracted media attention in December 2005 when he announced to the press, on the day that the first civil partnership ceremonies took place in England, that he would be likely to take disciplinary action against any clergy registering as civil partners or any clergy blessing such partnerships.[32]

He has argued that "Justice never means 'treating everybody the same way', but 'treating people appropriately'".[6] In August 2009, he issued a statement saying:

...someone, sooner or later, needs to spell out further (wearisome though it will be) the difference between (a) the "human dignity and civil liberty" of those with homosexual and similar instincts and (b) their "rights", as practising let alone ordained Christians, to give physical expression to those instincts. As the Pope has pointed out, the language of "human rights" has now been downgraded in public discourse to the special pleading of every interest-group.[33]

Selected works

  • .
  • — 1st ed. by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).
  • .
  • .
  • — 1st edition by Augsburg Fortress.
  • Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Fortress Press, 2005 ("Paul: Fresh Perspectives" co-edition SPCK, 2005).
  • The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. Harper SanFrancisco, 2005.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Hardcover ed. SPCK, 2006 co-edition HarperCollins Pub., 2006.
  • Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?. SPCK 2006 / Baker Books, 2006.
  • Evil and the Justice of God. SPCK, 2006 / Intervarsity Press, 2006.
  • "The Reasons for Christ's Crucifixion," Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ (ed. by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin), 2007.
  • .
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. SPCK, HarperOne, 2008.
  • Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. SPCK, 2008 / Westminster John Knox, 2009. (co-authored with Craig A. Evans) Ed. Troy A. Miller.
  • Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. SPCK, 2009.
  • Virtue Reborn. SPCK, 2010. Published as After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters through HarperOne in North America, 2010.
  • Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. HarperOne, 2011.
  • How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. HarperOne, 2012.

Christian Origins and the Question of God series

Four volumes published, two more planned:

  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • . The four gospel writers as theologians in their own right.
  • . The practical, hermeneutical and theological implications of all of the above.

For Everyone series

The For Everyone series, a commentary on the New Testament, was completed in 2011:

See also

Christianity portal
Anglicanism portal
Biography portal
  • Theological critical realism


External links

  • N. T. Wright Page, a collection writings
  • N.T. Wright In-depth Interview on "Beyond Evangelical"
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Michael Turnbull
Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by
Justin Welby
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