Tom Wright is one of the most influential figures in contemporary theology. He has three books coming out on Paul. I had the opportunity to interview him and here is the interview:
You are coming with three different book on Paul and his theology. What are you trying to achieve in each book?
The first book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is actually two volumes and is the major work on Paul. The second, Paul and His Recent Interpreters, is the story of recent Pauline scholarship which explains in effect what the debates are to which the book is contributing. The third, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013, is a collection of all the articles I’ve written about Paul over the last 35 years except for those which are in Climax of the Covenant: Christ And The Law In Pauline Theology (1991).
How do the three books compliment each other?
They complement one another because the articles offer detailed back-up for the major exposition (e.g. there’s no room in the big book for a 50-page article on Abraham in Romans 4 and Galatians 3!) and explain where the discipline of Pauline studies has come from.
What do you hope that readers get out of the books?
I hope and pray that readers gain a big, big picture of who Paul actually was in his full and wider culture – Jewish, Greek, Roman, religious, philosophical, cultural, political and above all spiritual – and will be stimulated to get stuck into fresh readings of his letters for themselves.
How has writing these three books impacted you spiritually?
It has been a major and wonderful task of prayer as much as thought. Several friends have been praying for me all the way and their prayers have really helped as I have wrestled with huge issues and tried to make them clear. Again and again the insights I’ve needed to take the book forward have been as much a matter of prayer as of study. That doesn’t mean they’re right, of course . . .
Some of your perspectives on Paul has been have been critiqued quite strongly, in what ways will these books help you answer some of your critics objections to your work?
These books will set my perspectives on Paul in a MUCH larger context than before so that the controversial issues will be approached from many different converging angles. For instance: ‘justification’ and ‘the law’ are set where they belong in Paul’s wider world, which is the revision, through Messiah and spirit, of the Jewish doctrine of God’s people (= ‘election’).
Whose critique of your work have you most profited from and why?
That’s difficult. I covet good criticism but many conservative critics haven’t really taken the trouble to understand what I’m saying and most of the more liberal critics have hardly noticed my work! I hope this will make a difference.
What do you see lacking in the contemporary reformed position on justification and how do you outline justification in these books?
Justification is the hugely important central feature of Romans and Galatians, two of the most stunning letters ever written. When we place it – as Paul does – within the story of Israel, and the inclusion into that story of believing Gentiles, we discover how many-sided it really is. It all depends of course on the utter free grace of God given in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and made effective through the spirit: placing chapter 10 of my book (election, including justification) right after chapter 9 (the revision of monotheism through Messiah and spirit) enables Paul’s fully Trinitarian framework to be seen as the framework for justification too; and then chapter 11 (eschatology) shows that likewise you need the full story, right through to the end, to understand what justification is. Within that larger framework, justification is God’s declaration that his people are ‘in the right’. God made that declaration over Jesus the Messiah when he raised him from the dead; he will make that declaration over all his people at the last when he raises us from the dead. Present justification is held between those two events, founded on the first and anticipating the second. To believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus as ‘for me’ is to believe that God is already saying, over ‘me’, what he said over Jesus in his baptism: ‘this is my beloved child’. This is the ground of Christian assurance and also of all ecumenical work, since justification is the same for all of us. That’s one of the main points Paul is making.
You have written a quite vastly, if someone has heard of you but never has read one of your books what would be the best book for them to start with?
Depends entirely on where they are coming from! For someone who likes good big chunky books, I’d say, start with The New Testament and the People of God Volume 1 . For someone who reads shorter books, start with either Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense or How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. For someone facing bereavement or puzzled about the’rapture’ and all that – read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church…
How many books are there still to write in the Christian Origins and The Question of God series and what will they be on?
Supposedly, two more: one on the gospels and one on the early Christian mission as a whole. Don’t hold your breath, though!
Thanks again for your time, I really appreciate it!
Thanks, Hans. Warm good wishes to you and your readers