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Wright’s Symphony

19 March 2009

There comes a time in every major symphony that the audience relaxes, sits back from the edge of its seat, and yields to a knowing smile.  The climax has passed, and yet the music continues, asking new questions that take a now-familiar shape.  The end is near, but the melody carries on, and the audience, though no longer pulsating in rapt delight nor riveted to the baton, now absorbs the lingering touches of magnificence, knowing where they lead though not conscious of even the faintest ennui.  The composer, we find, has taken us seriously indeed, for though his greatest work is done, he knows that it would be unworthy of him to return us hastily to our pallid lives.  He still owes us, and he delivers.


As qb approaches the end of N. T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, that is precisely the case at hand.  We haven’t the time for a full exposition of the piont, unfortunately.  But this is a truly incredible piece of work, a symphony in three movements with a sequence of climaxes so satisfying that each of them could stand squarely on its own.  Carefully, painstakingly, so patiently crafted, Wright’s book embodies a wonderful counterpoint between author and reader, moving briskly ahead when the reader wants to linger, and braking abruptly for rest as the billowing waves of adrenaline sweep over the reader’s deck, finally leaving the reader breathless, exhausted, and craving a Marlboro.


Richard Hays blurbs it, right on the money:  

“The sweep of Wright’s project as a whole is breathtaking.  It is impossible to give a fair assessment of his achievement without sounding grandiose; no New Testament scholar since Bultmann has even attempted – let alone achieved – such an innovative and comprehensive account of New Testament history and theology.”

Stand by, gentle reader, for a pastiche of excerpts from the ebbing phase of this monumental work…though I fear that no mere sampling of the work will do it justice.  It has taken me months to read it, to digest it, to mull it over, to exult in it, to wonder at it, to be skewered and slain by it.  It may not be for you what it has been for me, and yet at 5:30 every Tuesday morning, when I join six other men to study the Gospel of Matthew, I find that Wright has insinuated himself into every conversation, quietly and imperceptibly enriching it, urging it forward and then pulling back the reins, teaching all of us to wonder at what the Holy Spirit has wrought in the text before us.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 20 March 2009 3:04 pm


    It doesn’t surprise me that the idea that we–in cooperation with the Spirit–are completing the final act in God’s great redemptive drama comes from an Englishman. Your part is to meet on Tuesday morning at 5:30 over the Gospel of Matthew. Keep doing that.

    And now a related story to give you a smile about how God works: Two years ago, at the end of one of my spirituality groups with Veterans in our dementia ward. The dementia ward where I conduct the group is a closed unit to prevent wandering. At the conclusion I asked the Vets if anyone wanted to share a hymn with the rest of us. One of my Vets, who never goes anywhere without his Stetson, stated: “I’ve got a hymn Chaplain.” And then he promptly launched into the old Jimmie Rogers song, recorded by many, “He’s In The Jailhouse Now.” He altered the lyric by singing, “We’re in the Jailhouse Now.” Most of the Vets joined in. It was, for me, the most joyous benediction I’ve heard. It has become a tradition (though no doubt inspired by the Holy Spirit). The only other song they belt out consistently is “Jesus Loves Me.”


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