What’s Dualism Got to Do with It?
Although I’ve mentioned various two-way influences between Wright and Walsh-Middleton, the connection goes even deeper, and it begins back in 1983. This was when Wright was working on his first book, a commentary on Colossians and Philemon for the Tyndale series (published in 1988).
Wright was writing the Colossians material when Brian Walsh first got to know him at McGill. Based on their friendship, the two would meet regularly to discuss what Wright had written, and Brian would give feedback and critique.
As Brian tells it, he kept challenging the sacred/secular dualism with which Wright was reading Colossians. Wright kept separating salvation in Christ from life in the mundane realm (including the political realm). But according to Colossians 1:15-20, the same Christ through whom all things were created, and in whom all things hang together, is the one whom all things are reconciled. The creator and redeemer are one.
So Walsh and Wright did regular Bible study in Colossians together during the time when Walsh and I were completing our work on The Transforming Vision. And our critique of otherworldly dualism and our framing of salvation as God’s redemption of earthly life managed to impact Wright’s reading of Colossians.
Wright’s own account of how he came to shift from a dualistic worldview to a holistic vision is recounted in his autobiographical essay “My Pilgrimage in Theology,” Themelios, 18/2 (January 1993): 35. There Wright states:
In 1983 I started work on my Colossians commentary. By the time I finished it in 1985 I had undergone probably the most significant change of my theological life. Until then I had been basically, a dualist. The gospel belonged in one sphere, the world of creation and politics in another. Wrestling with Colossians 1:15-20 put paid to that. I am still working through the implications (and the resultant hostility in some quarters): my book New Tasks for a Renewed Church is a recent marker on this route.
Although this article doesn’t mention Brian’s role in the shift, Wright thanks Brian for his contribution at the start of the Tyndale commentary (p. 11).
Now, I’m not going to claim that Tom Wright got his emphasis on the redemption of creation from Walsh and Middleton in any simple or direct sense. But it looks like our early work on worldviews, dualism, and holistic salvation served as a catalyst for Wright at a formative phase of his theological development. At the very least, our work enabled Wright to see what was staring him in the face all along in the text of Colossians.
I started this four-part post with a comment about the similarity between Tom Wright and myself on the eschatological redemption of creation, a point that many have noted. I’ve tried to explain how that similarity may have come about. It is gratifying to think that the early work Brian Walsh and I did on holistic salvation may have made some small contribution to the development of Tom Wright’s powerful and illuminating eschatological vision.
In another post I explore ways in which I’m not quite on board with all of Tom Wright’s eschatology.
You can read about my 2017 visit with Tom Wright at St. Andrews in Scotland here.