29 August 2011

review: tom wright for everyone

Stephen Kuhrt. Tom Wright for Everyone. London: SPCK, 2011. 9780281063932.

Tom Wright (known also as The Bishop) is undoubtedly one of the most influential theological voices in the world today. One of the distinguishing marks of his scholarship is that he is able to engage it both in the realm of higher academia as well as accessible lay theology. His writing accomplishes this quite naturally, thus providing a rather large base for those who are intrigued by his perspective.

Although the impact of Wright's theology is widespread and has changed the perspective of many, the stark reality of the typical evangelical church is that we don't know what to do with such seismic shifts in our theology. That is to say, we like what we have heard Wright say but we, by and large, don't know what is next. Maybe the book will emerge, After You Believe Tom Wright, or perhaps this is the first step in making that journey.

Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, UK. He writes this particular volume as an introduction and overview of how his congregation has implemented Tom Wright's theology into practice as a community. As a primer, it is a good 'first steps' to connecting theology to practice around Wright's perspective.

The first three chapters of the book serve as an introduction to Tom Wright and his theology. Chapter One introduces the reader to his career and emergence as an internationally renowned scholar. Chapter Two begins to connect a wide range of readership to Wright's theology, mostly by surveying the current landscape of evangelicalism and the "Theological questions awaiting an answer . . ." Kuhrt includes here the questions surrounding resurrection (and its implications), the atonement, the mission of the church, etc. This chapter serves as a bridge from the state of the church to the theology of Wright. Then, Chapter Three provides the reader with an overview of Tom Wright's theology. Perhaps for those yet familiar with The Bishop's writings this will serve as an invaluable introduction to the sometimes-daunting work of understanding Wright's theology.

The next three chapters begin to place Wright's theology into the practice of the local church, rounded out with examples of the ministry happening through Christ Church, New Malden. Chapter Four is "Tom Wright's Theology in a Pastoral Context," and focuses mostly on the impact of the resurrection within the work of the clergy. The central idea here is the aspect of funerals which often give the most challenging opportunity to setting resurrection theology in its proper perspective.

Chapter Five then moves to a missional context in which Kuhrt follows up on Wright's theology of a new heavens and a new earth becoming a present reality, not simply an end-times salvation destination. To move this into the local parish requires structural change as well, ultimately resulting in a fuller practice. "The preaching of 'new heavens, new earth' as the Christian hope, and going on to explain its practical implications for Christian mission, has resulted in a more holistic approach to mission, achieving a far greater degree of both confidence and clarity" (75). Kuhrt explains that such an approach will require a much greater degree of humility within the church (81) if it is to be about the business of God's kingdom-building.

Chapter Six speaks of the 'Church Life' theology that emerges from Wright's perspective. Kuhrt explains, "Like many evangelical churches, Christ Church has had a tendency throughout its history to be a 'gathered' congregation, with its major emphasis on teaching 'the faithful' (83). This perspective begins to shift when the kingdom is seen as presently inclusive rather than a removed future. Readings of Paul's literature in particular have challenged this congregation with such issues as the inclusion of outsiders, the edification of the community, the development of Christian character, the use of gifts and talents, the full ministry of women, and others. Many of the conclusions rest upon, "But the principle of constantly seeking to be reformed by Scripture has remained our conviction, and the church as a whole has been pushed on in this agenda and received immense blessings as a result" (101).

The final chapter then works as a conclusion and challenge for churches to continue to find ways in which Tom Wright's theology can be pragmatically implemented in local ministry. One of the questions Kuhrt leaves with the reader is, ". . . what fresh insights from the Bible have really changed our evangelical tradition in the last ten years?" (103). Tom Wright has proven himself to be a significant voice within both academia and the church. His scholarship cannot be ignored and the practical implications of his perspective will clearly enhance the mission of the church.

Let me finish by saying that neither this book or this blog are interested in making the mission fo the church about Tom Wright. Kuhrt's work does not read that way; he keeps a clear focus on the Scripture and Spirit in the kingdom-building life of the church. Why does the world need a volume like this? Because Tom Wright is an extensively present significant voice in the life of the church which needs to be heard, understood and considered in our praxis.

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