Who is Tom Wright and why does it matter?
Carrie and I first met Tom Wright in April 2001 when we were in England for the celebration of John Stott’s 80th Birthday and Board meetings of the John Stott Ministry. On the Sunday we were in town we attended Sunday morning worship at Westminster Abbey with friends and heard Tom preach a remarkable sermon on the resurrection of Jesus. At that time, Dr. Wright was Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey and already one of the leading New Testament scholars in the world.
Later that same day, we were privileged to join Tom and 3 of our other dear friends for dinner. Tom told us to meet him at one of his favorite London restaurants. We arrived at 7 pm and were promptly escorted down a set of stairs under a canopy to a basement restaurant. Once inside, we descended another full story into the ground into what felt like a rabbit’s warren, a small private dining room.
We proceeded to feast on the most wonderful food and wine you could imagine. But what I remember most from this day in London was the conversation. One of us asked Tom why his sermon was only 11 minutes long. He proceeded to explain why he preached 10 minute sermons, (he went over by a full minute this particular Sunday!) His reason was that preaching at Westminster Abbey is like preaching to people on a moving walkway, like the ones you find in airports. Every Sunday, thousands of tourists come to the Abbey on their historical tour of London. They come from all over the world and a small portion decide that as part of their Sunday visit to the Abbey, they will attend worship, or just hear the sermon.
Of course there is a lot to see at Westminster Abbey, everything from the tombs of Geoffrey Chaucer and George F. Handel to T.S Eliot and Charles Dickens, to Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill to Isaac Newton and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not to mention the priceless sculpture and paintings and the soaring architectural grandeur. The Kings and Queens of England from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II have held their coronations at the Abbey.
So, Tom Wright explained that there is a lot to compete with to hold the attention of all these tourists, this ‘moveable congregation’. For the next couple of hours we talked about Wright’s vision for the church of Jesus Christ at the dawn of the 21st century, a vision of evangelism to a post-Christian world, of engaging with skeptics and critics, of embracing the least and the lost. His extraordinary mind and deep pastoral heart for the church and world were what affected me the most.
Wright went on to serve as the Lord Bishop of Durham and he now is Research Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews. During April we are going to be sitting together at the feet of Bishop Wright, learning from him in a variety of ways. Let me encourage you to join us for Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. where begin on Easter Sunday with a look at the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for today. We will follow this with a 4 part DVD of Tom Wright from his new book Evil and the Justice of God. You won’t want to miss this.
As Peggy Wehmayer, former religion reporter with ABC News put it: “Tom Wright offers a breathtaking glimpse into the mind and purposes of God . . . and a hope-filled plan for how we can reconcile a broken world with the kingdom to come.”