God in Public– How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today
By Tom Wright
ISBN: 978-0-281-07423-5 paperback
Review by Douglas Balzer
God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today by Tom (N.T.) Wright is a brilliant collection of lectures dealing with the issue of Christianity as a definitive influence holistically in the public environment of Western culture. If you have not heard of N.T. Wright before, he currently serves as a Research Professor and as the Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, UK. He has been and is one of the leading voices moving working to advance Christianity within the Post-Christian and Post-Modern culture of the UK. He is the retired Bishop of Durham with the Anglican Church of England.
God in Public was recently released into the US market, 2016. It has been available in the UK market for about two years. The contents of this collection of lectures demonstrates the brilliance of Tom Wright as a semiotician and future thinker. If you are a student of Leonard Sweet, the style and content of Wright’s writing will resonate with you.
The lectures flow contextually and build upon each other preparing the reader for the development of the ultimate challenge Wright concludes. I highly recommend reading the preface of the book after you check out the chapter titles. The introduction explains the presence of some repetition found within the chapters, as well as sets up the flow of the content.
The feast began the moment I sat down and started reading. Wright practices what he preaches and teaches concerning style and technique in writing methods. His book is relatable and draws you in as a reader. For me, it was as if we were having a conversation about the critical issues faced by global Christianity, but especially within the Western cultural context. Wright’s point in publishing this collection of lectures is to “bring together the message of Jesus – in its larger biblical context – and the challenges of the contemporary public and political worlds.” He examines the current cultural paradigm of postmodernity and the deconstructive nature of this system of thinking. He notes that the secular model of modernity is struggling with the paradigm shift as secularism has worked through the Enlightenment to our modern times to thwart and replace Christianities grand narrative with it own, now, finds its narrative deconstructed. But, postmodernity does not have a story of its own to replace all the deconstructed narrative it has displaced leaving a void.
Wright presents that this is an opportunity for Christianity. Now is a time for a biblical challenge to postmodernity. Through the following chapters, he deals with the issues of the realms of influence both private and public. He deals with the problem of taking back the public sphere by having a public faith beyond a postmodern world into a post-postmodern world.
He writes, “It is rather, that the Bible, and the Christian gospel point us, and indeed urge us, to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology, and even academic biblical studies, a worldview which will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy, humour and gentleness, with good judgment and true wisdom.”
In my observations about the church in the present postmodern paradigm is it has not done well in recognizing the shifts of paradigms and been tripped up within the process. As a futurist, Wright in this book is primarily working to prepare the church for the next cultural paradigm shift he refers to as the post-postmodern culture.
Wright begins the process of preparation by engaging the grand narrative of Christianity by introducing the significance of the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 18 and 19. Through his analysis, he draws both ancient and contemporary world into the interplay and then pointing to the Kingdom of God as being for this world in the person of Jesus. The emphasis being the argument that the King James Version mistranslates Jesus’ conversation with Pilate. Now, it is important not to give any spoilers here. I want to give you enough to encourage you to pick up this book and read it.
As a semiotician, Wright directs the reading by reminding us as a reader the importance of reading the “Signs of our time.” He engages a discourse on the issue of the power differential that exists in contemporary media, politicians, the public, religion, and corporate institutions. The greatest need is the ability not to be highjacked through intentional misrepresentation through the press. Tom notes the backlash the news media is receiving due to the practice of manipulating the narrative to fit what the political establishment desires. The lack of trust from the public is apparent. Throughout his lectures; he uses the Story as a manner to help develop the capacity to read the signs of the time. He gives the challenge to call Christians to be a voice in the culture, but not just any voice. He calls for a wise Christian voice to come to the table.
It feels like I have hardly scratched the surface of the depth of this book or given you a decent taste of the content. Yes, it is a compilation of previous lectures given over several years and in various contexts, but the cohesion draws together some of the best thoughts of Tom Wright on this critical issue of allowing the Bible to speak to the power today. As the church of Jesus Christ, Wright gives to us some remarkable advice, examples, and a challenge to become fully engaged in the public context while being wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.
I hope you find reading this book as stimulating and thought-provoking, as well as something that prompts you to action or activism. Blessings.