SURPRISED BY SCRIPTURE – Engaging Contemporary Issues
By N. T. Wright
Published by Harper Collins (2014) 240 pages
N.T. Wright has been described by Newsweek as “the world’s leading New Testament scholar” because of the unusual combination of gifts of “scholar, churchman, and leader” in one individual. These qualities stand out so clearly in his latest book, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues.
The book is about scripture and N. T. Wright writes not as an apologist or a reductionist, but as a faithful Christian seeking to understand the bible without presumptions. People hold certain assumptions, for example, that the bible offers particular views on topics such as science and religion or ordination of women. The “surprise” in the title, the author notes in the preface, is the fact that, one, the view in the bible is not what people may have expected and, two, where they thought the bible offered no position, it actually does.
The 12 chapters of this book deal with 12 contemporary topics, including the “divide between science and religion”, the Resurrection, ordination of women, the so-called rapture, problems of evil and tragedy, modernity and idolatry, the role of the church in politics, and apocalypse. They originated as lectures and papers the author delivered to audiences, mostly in the United States, and now compiled into book form.
His observations are therefore western oriented – U.S especially, and U.K too – but the lessons derived there from are universal.
At the core of western culture, N. T. Wright observes, is 18th century Enlightenment. Paradoxically – because many do not know this – the Enlightenment is a modern form of Epicureanism. In Epicureanism, the gods were seen as far removed from human affairs. Thus, humans could do their thing without regard to the gods. Similarly – and unwittingly – the Enlightenment relegates God to the spiritual, debarring God from the world.
The Left fights for separation of church and state, for example, (and the U.S Constitution clearly spells it out). God has no business in public affairs. The Right, though desiring God in politics and public affairs, unwittingly affirms the separation, through literalism of scripture as evident, for example, in the debates over creationism and evolution.
This is a captivating book, a must-read for every serious Christian. How can one understand, for example, the almost fanaticism of American debates over creation and evolution or obsession with the rapture and end-time?
I strongly recommend this book.