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Surprised by Scripture is a collection of papers and addresses given by N.T. Wright in noted places both in the US and Europe, ranging from 2004 to 2013. While Wright addresses the contemporary Western world in general terms, the reader can’t help but notice the many specific references to the US. Wright’s reason: because of the powerful influence that the American culture in the rest of the world. Two important elements through the book is Wright’s repeated attention to the philosophies of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, on the one hand, and the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism in a modern guise, on the other.
The book is comprised of twelve essays, which really are showcase of one of today’s most brilliant biblical scholars engaging contemporary issues, per its subtitle. The reader must also keep in mind that N.T. Wright is not only a biblical scholar but a historian as well. As the reader moves through each chapter, he or she encounters both the theologian and historian on each page. The book is engaging, witty, and often focuses the reader to rethink held positions. And what is central to the book, the one constant, is the author’s modus operandi: how God is putting the world to rights through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and thereby launching the new creation.
Above I mentioned Wright’s modus operandi (so much more can be said). Readers of Wright’s works would know what I mean. It is this Wright uses to engage the contemporary issues addressed in this work. Now what ultimately determines the usefulness of Surprised by Scripture is this: Is Wright’s reading of Scripture correct?
But not all the essays in Surprised by Scripture are engaging and useful. While there are several gemlike and evenly balanced essays, the one I was expecting the most from turns out to be the most disappointing: “Do We Need a Historical Adam?” Instead of an assured, challenging and thoughtful Wright, who forces you to rethink, what we get in this chapter is a very speculative and sloppy Wright. For example, in an effort to draw a parallel between nation Israel and Adam and Eve, we find this: “that just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special, strange, demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation” (p. 37). But Wright offers no explanation as to the origin of these socalled “early hominids.” However, all is not lost in this essay. I found his bit on the young-earth position mature and wise.
Wright continues his critique of the Rapture and a Dispensational reading of Scripture. Before you wonder why. Because of Wright’s own reading of Scripture, there can be no place for a Dispensational reading, especially the Rapture position. At any rate, before I bring this review to an end, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something on the essay “The Biblical Case for Ordaining Women.” I consider this one of the gemlike essays. For years, I’ve been waiting for an egalitarian to do what Wright does in this essay: “Galatians 3 is not about ministry…” (p. 65). Instead Wright lays a foundation for his interaction with 1 Corinthian 11 and 14 and 1 Timothy 2. As a complementarian, I challenge fellow complementarians to read this essay with an open mind.
Above all, to see how N.T. Wright’s reading of Scripture engages some of our leading and controversial contemporary issues is what commends Surprised by Scripture for me. Wright is not for the faint of heart. But neither can he be ignored. I’ve even read where senior denomination leaders have asked their younger pastors to stay away from the writings of N.T. Wright. Why? Because Wright will challenge you to rethink your beliefs, and worst, even cause you to give some of them up. Rather than frustrating a reading of Wright’s works, I so wish that denominational leaders would engage an N.T. Wright, not least in the US, and perhaps be the better for doing so. A la Luther. Semper reformanda.