Thursday, April 10, 2008

Anglican Centrist Bishop

I've written about the work of N. T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham in England, a number of times on this blog.

Quite often, he's characterized as a conservative evangelical, perhaps, in part, due to his high view of the authority of Holy Scripture, his forceful arguments in favor of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his opposition to gay marriage. For many, that places Wright squarely in the camp of the Anglican Right.

On the other hand, Wright also employs historical critical methodology in his biblical scholarship. And he's on record as opposed to the war in Iraq, champions the cause of Third World debt relief, and affirms the need to address global warming. That may sound like it places Wright squarely in the camp of the Anglican Left.

The truth is that Wright cannot be so neatly labelled.

On the contrary, Wright's work explodes the binary logic and polemically exclusionary rhetoric governing the ideology of the Left-versus-Right divide. It opens up other possibilities that are faithful to both the historic faith of the Church and to the Church's prophetic engagement with issues of peace and justice. And so the more I get to know Wright through his writings, the more I find him to defy the easy categorizations of "Left" versus "Right," and the more I come to admire and respect him (even when I don't always agree with him). And the more I come to think of him as an Anglican Centrist bishop.

There's an interesting article that touches on all of this over at the website for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. It's entitled: "Wright challenges conservatives, liberals: Bishop of Durham refuses to marry religious beliefs with political trends." Here's an excerpt:

Bishop N.T. Wright spends a good deal of time explaining to admirers that they misunderstand him.

To those impressed by his rigorous, evangelically-inclined biblical scholarship, he must explain that "conservative" convictions regarding the interpretation of Scripture do not, in his case, translate into support for the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.

"I often meet people in this country who tell me, 'I love your books on Jesus. I really enjoy your work on Paul. But how can you criticize our president because God has raised him up to bring justice to the world?'" says Wright, the prolific author who is also the Bishop of Durham.

To liberal Christians who cheer his opposition to the war in Iraq and his advocacy of greenhouse gas restrictions, he must break the news that he parts company with them on issues such as gay marriage, and wonders whether their politics shapes their faith, rather than their faith shaping their politics.

"I think, for example, that some people oppose the idea of a bodily resurrection because it is part of a 'center-right' package in this country," Wright said. "And if you believe in a bodily resurrection you are in with people who believe other things that you don't believe. Part of my job is to constantly uncouple these assumptions. I think we just have to start with first principles on each issue."

Be sure to read it all.

Hat tip: A Pilgrim on the Canterbury Trail.

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