A Bunch of “Shout Outs” by Wright
Back in 1992, before Wright had achieved his present international stature, Brian Walsh and I were already excited by his work and quite taken with his newly-released The New Testament and the People of God, which he conceived as the first volume of a project entitled “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” We were therefore honored that Wright used our four worldview questions from The Transforming Vision as a tool for his analysis of first-century Judaism in that book (pp. 122-23). Brian is also mentioned in the preface, where Wright thanks him for his extensive feedback on the manuscript (p. xix).
We repaid the honor when we used Wright’s conception of the biblical story as a five-act drama and added a sixth act, in the last chapter of our book Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be (1995). In fact, our book is indebted to Wright’s ideas at numerous points. Wright then wrote an appreciative blurb for the cover of the British edition of the Truth is Stranger book (published by SPCK).
With the second volume in Wright’s project, Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), he again thanked Brian (also p. xix). This time Wright added a fifth worldview question (p. 138, n. 41) and used the five questions to structure an entire chapter (chap. 10: “The Questions of the Kingdom,” pp. 443-74).
More recently, in the fourth and final volume (which is itself two volumes!), Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013), Wright once more acknowledged his debt to the Walsh-Middleton analysis of worldviews (pp. 27-28).
I know this sounds like boasting; but I’m only just getting warmed up.
It was 1992 (or possibly 1993), soon after The New Testament and the People of God had been published. Brian Walsh and I were attending the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). It was lunchtime and we were wondering around one of the big hotels that hosted the SBL meetings. We were walking along the balcony of one of the upper mezzanines while looking down at the courtyard and there we saw Tom Wright giving a lecture to a group of scholars seated at tables having lunch. He looked up, interrupted his lecture, and called out: “There are my friends Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton!” Then he went back to his lecture. I was stunned.
Some years later at another SBL meeting (2009, New Orleans), Wright was giving an evening lecture on his new Justification book to a group of about 700 (the hall was packed). I was sitting beside Keith Bodner, an Old Testament scholar from Crandall University in New Brunswick. I had given a paper that afternoon on the role of humanity in Psalms 8 and 104 (plus another paper the previous day in a session Bodner chaired). I was beginning to relax, now that my “duties” were over. To my surprise, near the start of the lecture Wright made mention of my Psalms paper that afternoon and said he would like to have heard it since he was sure it would have been as helpful as my analysis of the imago Dei in The Liberating Image. At that point, Bodner leaned over incredulously and said: “You got a shout out from Tom Wright!?”
But I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. I had come to know Tom Wright as a generous person, who invests his time and energy in the building up of others. This goes well beyond his prodigious writing and speaking. After all, he had accepted my invitation to have dinner with a dozen of my past and current students the previous year, at the 2008 SBL in Boston. He and Maggie graciously spent an evening with our group, eating Italian food and engaging in stimulating and heart-felt conversations about Scripture, theology, and the church.
In part 4 of this post I’ll address the possibility that Walsh and Middleton affected Wright’s views of the redemption of creation.