NT Wright: “Simply Good News” | Talks at Google

NT Wright: “Simply Good News” | Talks at Google


MALE SPEAKER: We are
glad to have here Professor N. T. Wright. He is the former bishop of
Durham, which, if I am correct, that makes you the House
of Lords, currently, but most well known for being a
Biblical scholar and the author of numerous texts. I believe it’s 50
different books you have [INAUDIBLE] all on
New Testament scholarship and religious studies. So I won’t exhaust this. He is, for many, does
not need an introduction, so yes, we’re excited
to have you here. So welcome, Professor Wright. [APPLAUSE] N. T. WRIGHT: Thank
you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s a surprise and
a delight to be here. Google for me is something
that comes up on the screen, and actually thinking
of it as a place, never mind a campus,
never mind people, is kind of blowing
my mind right now, and I’m very happy about that. I’m also happy about the fact
that whereas in my previous job when I was Bishop
of Durham, almost every church meeting I
went to, I significantly reduced the average
age of those present, I think now I’m
significantly increasing the average age of those. I suspect I’m at least
twice as old as most of you here in this room, and
I’m very happy about that. It reminds me that I’m
on my way to retirement, and listening to music, and
playing on the golf course, and so on. But at the moment, I’m
still bouncing around, talking about God, and Jesus,
and the Bible, and church, and the world, and
culture, and what we should be doing in our culture. And since you people are
part of the people who are shaping the way that
people– not only what people think about, but the
way people think, what I want to try to
do today is to put out some parameters to
do with how I think the gospel, the Christian
good news, actually works, and then to reflect
just a little on what being human within
that good news might look like and what, as humans, we ought
to be doing in order to engage with the wider world in a way
which is wise, and honest, and actually deeply Christian. The idea of Christians
engaging with the world at all has often been at a discount. People think, well, I don’t
really belong in this world. I have a spiritual identity. I’m off someplace else. And actually, that is deeply
un-Biblical, deeply untrue to the Jewish and
Christian vision. I’ll explain in a moment. But let me say one or two
things about good news. I have a book coming out,
which has just come out, called “Simply Good News.” I’m not sure it’s actually as
simple as some people think, but I’m trying to
make it simple. But the main
message of that book is that contrary to
popular imagination, the Christian message is
good news, not good advice, and there is all
sorts of difference between news and advice. And news is a funny
sort of thing. Many people think
you go to church in order to get good
advice about how to live. Well, maybe you
do, but that’s not the main point– or good
advice about how to reorder your private spirituality. Well, that, again, may
happen, but that’s not the whole point of it–
or even good advice about which technique to
be sure you plug into so that after your death, you
go to the right destination. Well, again, that
seems pretty important, but that sounds like
advice rather than news. News is about
something that happens, as a result of which the world
is a different place, often in ways that people don’t
expect, sometimes in ways that they don’t want. You all know where you were
on September the 11th, 2001. I bet you don’t know where
you were on November the 22nd, 2003. I know exactly where I. I was
in a hotel room in Atlanta, Georgia, and I phoned home
at 5:00 in the morning because the television
screens were not showing the event
that I wanted to see, which was the final
of the Rugby World Cup because England were playing
Australia in Australia, and nothing Australians
like more than to beat the British at
one of their sports. So I was naturally– England
had made it to the final, astonishingly, so I was
on pins to find out. And I knew my daughter would
be glued to the television, so I phoned her at
the appointed hour. Oh, Dad, it’s terrible. It’s gone to full time,
and the score is 17-all, and they have to play
another half-hour, and it’s all very tense,
and– so I got up, and I paced around, and I
waited for half an hour, and I phoned her
again, and hey, yay, we won on the last
kick of the match. Jonny Wilkinson, who was the
poster boy of English rugby, had done a drop goal. And as a result,
England had won, and Australia were decimated. And then I had a dilemma. I was in a semi-dark hall in
a hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, and I wanted to go up and
hug the hall porter and say did you hear we
won the World Cup? And I went, he probably
doesn’t know what rugby is. He may not even
know where Australia is, let alone anything else. So I wanted to tell the check-in
clerks, did you hear the news? And I realized this means
nothing to them whatever, and I was waiting for
somebody to come downstairs to the conference who knew that
there had been a game going on. And finally, somebody did,
and it was an Australian. So I had this good
news, which was foolishness to the Americans,
scandalous to the Australians, but for those of us who
believed, it made us happy all year. And one of the effects
was hundreds, thousands of little English
boys, and at least hundreds of little
English girls, wanted to be Jonny
Wilkinson when they grew up and
would be practicing drop goals in the schoolyard. Something had happened,
as a result of which, everything looked different. Now, of course, in
sport, that doesn’t last. We haven’t been to– one
of my Australian friends who read this book
and saw that I used that story upfront sent me
a rude email saying you wait. You won’t be using too
many more of those stories. We’ll get you. I did actually send–
when it happened, I sent him an email
congratulating the Australians on being such good
losers, and he sent one straight back saying, yeah,
considering how little practice we have at it– at
losing, that is. But you see, news
is about something that’s happened, as a
result of which the world is a different place, and
as a result of which things kind of fracture. Some people say this doesn’t
make any sense in our world. Other people say this
makes all the wrong kind of sense in my world. But some people find that
it transforms their lives. And in the early Christian
world, that’s what happened. How did it transform
their lives? What was going on? Well, the gospel, the good
news, is a message about Jesus, but so many people
have put that message within an implicit
back story, which makes it different from how
the early Christians saw it. You see, my back
story was that I’d been following English
rugby since the days when, believe it or not, I played
rugby myself as a teenager. I’ve been interested in what
they’re doing, following them. I knew the back story. The Australians knew
their back story, and those two were
going to clash. The Americans in Atlanta
had no back story at all, no interest–
didn’t mean a thing. I might as well go out on
the street in St. Andrews and say that, I don’t know,
Duke have beaten Caltech at basketball or something. People just aren’t terribly
interested in [INAUDIBLE]. I’m sorry about that. What’s the back story? The back story for so many
people, both inside the church and outside, goes
like this, that there is this dangerous God
somewhere up in the sky, maybe. We’re not sure. But if there is, he’s dangerous. He’s made a very
high moral bar, which he wants us all to jump over. We’ve all failed to jump
over that moral bar, so he’s out to get us. But then, at the last
minute, fortunately, somebody else steps in the
way, takes a hit in our place. Phew, so it’s all right. And it happens to
be his own son. So somehow, that’s OK. Now, I have not yet
found a preacher who admits to having preached
the gospel like that, but I know many, many people
in many, many churches for whom that is what
they’ve actually heard. That’s what they think more
or less the message is about. The back story, actually,
is very different to that. The back story is
about a good world, a good God who made
a good world and who made human beings to be
within his good world as people who would
bring wisdom, and order, and flourishing, and
possibility to that world to develop his creation. He says be fruitful and multiply
and look after the world. Name the animals. Tend the garden. And who would sum up the
praises of the world, the praises of the trees,
and the season, the animals, and so on, and present them in
articulate speech before God. This is the vocation
of being human, and that vocation remains–
come back to that in a moment. But when humans mess up and say,
no, we don’t want to do that. We’ve got our own
way of doing this, and we’re going to manipulate
the world in our own way, thank you very much. And, well, God, if there is a
God, you can do your own thing. The results of that is not that
you have a big, bad, angry God with a big stick about
to beat us over the head, but that the project for
the creation as a whole is out of joint. You see that in 100, maybe
1,000 different ways, both in the Bible and,
of course, in our world. Now, there are many, many
mysteries about this. I’m not saying that
human rebellion causes, say, earthquakes. A tectonic plate does what a
tectonic plate does, and so on. However, many, many
things have gone radically wrong in the world as
a result of human brokenness. And the plan, the back
story, is about God dealing with the human
brokenness in order to put the world right. In other words, God the
creator promises and intends to put the world
right, and so He puts us right in
the present in order that we can be part of
his putting-right project for the world. That’s how the story works. And within that,
you get, if you’re a traditional Christian
with theories of atonement, incarnation,
resurrection, et cetera, et cetera, you get all of that. In fact, you get it enhanced. It makes more sense of
your traditional frameworks and texts, not less. But what this leaves
us with is a vision of a world with the
creator putting it right, doing so through Jesus,
and then promising that what He did through
Jesus– uniquely one-off– that’s the news about the
event that actually happened. What he did with Jesus,
He will do in the future for the whole creation. Hence, the death and
resurrection of Jesus point forward to the
ultimate event, which is God putting the
whole world right, and we are held in between
the one event and the other. This is where the rugby story
doesn’t work quite so well. Another story which I use in
the book, and which I developed, is the ancient
historical story of what happened after Julius Caesar’s
assassination in 44 BC. His heir and putative
successor, Octavian, ended up in a civil
war against Antony, who’d been one of
Caesar’s best friends, because they could tell the
big prize was out there. Only one of them
would be the big dog in this great superpower that
was the early Roman Empire. And finally– and
all the Roman world was on tiptoe
waiting to see what would happen because half
of them were with one and half of them were with
the other, and half of them hated them both, and it
was all very confusing. Finally, Octavian defeated
Antony at the Battle of Actium, and Antony and Cleopatra
went back to Egypt, where they died not
long afterwards. And then, Octavian had
to go around all the bits that needed mopping
up and sorting out before coming back to Rome. But the word would
get back to Rome– and this is the point
of my telling the story. Something has happened, as a
result of which the world is a different place. Octavian has won. He’s now going to be in charge. You better get your head round
that one and your allegiance sorted out. Something will happen. He’s coming back
to Rome when he’s sorted out all the other stuff. And anyone living in
Rome between the victory at Actium in 31 and
Octavian’s return three years later
would know that they had to order their lives
in accordance with the fact that now there was a
different system obtaining. Something has happened, as a
result of which the world is a different place. Something will happen,
which will complete that, and we live in between the two. So when as a Christian I say,
well, something has happened. This is the death and
resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of this strange,
mysterious, sometimes intimate, sometimes frightening
force that we call the Holy Spirit– the
interval between those gifts and the final putting right of
all things is where we live, and that’s where the human
vocation gets restored. And the human vocation
in the New Testament will be, again, to
be image bearers. The image– by the
way, many of you may have heard this
language about being in the image of God, and there
are all sorts of theories about what that means. Biblical scholars now are
increasingly convinced that what it means is
that humans are designed to be a kind of angled
mirror so that you reflect God out into the world–
think of the angled mirror– and you reflect the
world back to God. And when humans go wrong, it’s
when they turn the mirror so that it reflects the
world back to the world, and then you go around
in a fairly deadly cycle because the world does
not have life in itself. It’s a God-given life. So the human task is
to bring God’s wisdom and flourishing to
the world to make the– there’s an old joke in my
country about a clergyman who’s walking down the
street, and he sees somebody digging the garden. And he says, isn’t
it wonderful what can happen when providence and
the hand of man get together and work on something? And the gardener says, you
should have seen this garden when providence had it
all to itself, because of course, what’s sad
about– and actually, it’s a silly joke. It’s a well-known joke,
but it’s a silly joke because in a Christian or
Jewish doctrine of providence, the way God wanted to work
in the world, large scale and small scale, is in so many
cases through human beings. Of course, you and I
didn’t make the sunrise or the moonrise last
night or this morning. You and I don’t do an awful lot
of things which nevertheless happen in the world. But the way God wants
this world to flourish is by wise human beings
taking responsibility, doing things which will
bring that flourishing to the world, which is
where you guys come in because of course, the
world needs information. Thank you. We get much more
of it as a result of what you do,
actually much more than we can possibly cope with. It’s like drinking
from a fire hydrant. And whereas when I
was a young scholar, I would trudge off
to the library, and I would get a
heavy, dusty volume out, and I would look up something
and take half the morning and then go and have a cup
of coffee to think about it, I now just go brrmph, and
there it is on the screen, although, of course, sometimes
I get conflicting information, even from you guys,
so that’s something one has to be careful about. But information
generally, obviously, is a very, very,
very good thing. And information– the gathering,
collecting, and disseminating of information
seems to me always has been actually a vital
part of the human task. That’s why education
is something which the Jewish and Christian
traditions have always insisted on as being paramount,
not just for the elite, but for everyone within reach,
that actually giving people the information about the world,
about themselves, about life is enabling. It’s part of human flourishing. And suddenly,
something’s happened in this last generation as
a result of everything here and in this surrounding
area, as a result of which, the world as a whole
is far better informed than it’s ever been. I suppose the question that
I have about that– well, I have many questions
about it, one of which is, what changes when, instead
of walking to the library, thinking about something,
looking it up, going and having a coffee and thinking
about, then going back to work– instead of that, it
takes me three seconds to find it through Google or whatever. Something’s changed about
the way we do research, and I’m not sure that
any of us have really come to terms with that yet. Whether we have the time
to reflect that we used to, or whether this just does
create more time to reflect because there’s less walking
around and sitting drinking coffee, whatever– well, maybe. We still walk around
and drink coffee. But in the middle of that,
there’s a difference– obviously, as you
know as well as I do, but I want to draw it out–
between information and wisdom. And what we find in the
Bible very interestingly is this famous character
called Solomon, one of the early
great kings of Israel. Well, he had problems
at a certain point, but basically, a really
extraordinary human being in the tradition. And Solomon, we
are told, collected information like nobody
had ever done before. He knew all about the trees,
and the flowers, and the birds, and the animals. He knew all about
what we would call the encyclopedia of
information known to humans, and he collected this. He had folk who went out
and gathered information. All sorts of stuff he knew,
and he could teach it, and he could inform people. But interestingly, none of
that stuff is in the Bible. I would love to have Solomon’s
lists of trees and animals. That would be brilliant. But we don’t. What we have instead is a book
called Proverbs, some of which may go back to Solomon, but
it’s the Solomonic tradition. And Proverbs has a certain
amount of information, but it’s actually– how do you
steer through this minefield of information? How do you navigate
a wise course? How do you know which to choose? When all this
information is out there, how do you know what you should
do now in this human situation? And of course, if I Google
for advice on something, I’m sure there’ll be all
sorts of websites that’ll come up telling me exactly
how to do everything from planting a tree to fixing
a card to whatever it may be I want to do– cooking a meal. I’m told there are now people
whose entire repertoire of cookery is what they find
online, recipes and so on. Fortunately, I’m not a cook. I say fortunately for
the sake of my family so that I don’t do that, but
I can see how useful that is. But the point is that
the book of Proverbs and the whole wisdom
tradition, which comes through into the New
Testament and beyond, is not simply about information. It’s about wisdom,
and at the heart of it is that rather strange
old line which says, “The fear of the Lord is
the beginning of wisdom.” And I need to say
quickly in brackets that the word “fear” doesn’t
mean a panicky, cringing fear. It means reverence. It means recognizing that God
is God and that I’m not God. And it seems to be the
danger with so many aspects of our culture– and this
isn’t a cheap shot at you and what you do because
actually, it affects all of us in one sort or another– is
that we think by gathering information, we’re in charge. We are controlling this. The equivalent I see in
my culture, interestingly, over the 1990s and then
on into the early years of the present century
is that whenever there was a problem in
my society, at least, and I think this
happened in America too, somebody in government
and in the civil service thought it was a good idea to
get us to fill in forms, often in triplicate, and to sign
off on them so that everything you did had a paper trail which
ended up in somebody’s office files somewhere. And we all used to
grumble and say, are we going to be given
extra secretaries to do this? And the answer was
no, can’t afford that. So everyone’s
workload just secretly expands into more
and more paperwork, as though by the
gathering of information, we will make sure that we’re
all behaving properly and doing things right. And I have to tell you, I
don’t think our behavior has changed at all. We just have a lot of very
bulging filing cabinets because the collection
of information does not necessarily
produce wisdom, but the collection
of information can give you the illusion that
actually, you can play God. Now that you’ve got all this
information, you’re in charge. And of course, if
you’ve got information, that does give you power. It gives you a lot
of power over anyone who doesn’t have information. But the real secret
is, how do you select, arrange the information,
and how do you do so wisely? In the New Testament,
that whole idea of wisdom, like so many other things
in the Old Testament, comes forward and emerges,
not just as an abstract ideal, but as a person, because one
of the big categories that swirls around in
the New Testament is the idea that Jesus himself
is the embodiment of wisdom. Saint Paul says,
“In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge,” which is like– how does that work? How does that cash out? Well, it doesn’t
mean that if you know Jesus, that if
you’re a Christian, you will suddenly become
a walking encyclopedia. It does mean, however, that if
you get to know Jesus and let him reshape your life, then
there is at least a chance that in some ways at
least to begin with, and hopefully more
as you go on, you will be making wise
choices about what from that world of information
to harvest, to deploy, to do things with,
and in particular, how to use the
information wisely for the benefit of
the whole world, because that’s the other thing. If you’re just
gathering information, it can be so that you
can simply do whatever you want to do and let the rest
of the world be as ill-informed as it wants. But the whole point of wisdom
in the Biblical tradition is about new creation,
that through wisdom, God wants to work through wise human
beings in every walk of life in order to bring
about healing, repair, flourishing, wise human
societies, wise ecologies, wise ways of being
in the creation. So the vision of good news,
of what happened in Jesus and what will happen at the
end, catches us in between it. When Jesus came out of the
tomb on Easter morning, that was the beginning
of new creation. So many Christians think, well,
he rose again three days later. That’s fine, so there
is a life after death, so we’re going to heaven. That’s not the point. The point is that when
Jesus rose on the third day, this was the launch
of the new creation, with Jesus himself
as its first example and as its active agent,
and God will do finally for the whole creation what
happened then at Easter with Jesus’ resurrection. That’s the Christian
good news, and I’ve suggested that as
we think about what it means to be genuinely human
within that vision, what we find is a vision
of Jesus himself as the embodiment
of wisdom giving us the human vocation, the
Solomonic vocation, if you like– yes, to have as
much information as we can. That’s wonderful–
but then, also to know how to use,
deploy, navigate it wisely for the benefit not just
of ourselves, but of God’s whole creation, of
his whole world. Now, I’ve probably said enough
to start a few hairs running. My watch says it’s
nearly half-past, so we’ve got about half an
hour before I think some of you have to disperse. So what I normally do
at this point, which might be a good idea, is just
to take a minute and everyone turn to their neighbor
and buzz and say what you found puzzling,
or exciting, or dangerous, or heretical, or
whatever it may be. Before I do that,
one other thing, because if I didn’t say this,
I have a colleague who would be cross with me for not saying it. I am working in partnership
with the Wisconsin Center for Christian Studies,
and they have set up some mass online courses
with me as the speaker, they they’re doing all the actual
work, preparing the course materials and all of that. And if you are interested
in following this up, the first one is now out on
the “Letter to the Galatians.” And then there are a couple
of others coming, one of which is based on “Simply Good News.” And then, God
willing, there will be more in the months that follow. And the key for this
is www.ntwright.org. So you all know about
mass online courses and how all that works. I don’t actually know
anything about how it works. All I do is sit in my room
at home and talk to a camera, and then somebody
else does the work. But I told him that I would
tell you, so I’ve now done it. There it is. So now, turn to your
neighbor and buzz about what you just
heard, and then we’ll take some questions
in just one minute. AUDIENCE: Hey. I would like to ask your
opinion on something. So in the beginning
of your talk, you were saying that
humans act through God, or Got acts through them
to create a good world, and sometimes they
get rebellious, and we mess things up. So do you think that
in history, there have been occasions where
when humans get rebellious or when they challenge a
status quo that it actually led to a good thing? I just moved here
recently from Ireland, and Ireland, as
you probably know, had a referendum last
week on same-sex marriage. So some people would call
that quite rebellious. It challenges a lot of things in
the Bible, so I was wondering– N. T. WRIGHT: Oh, OK. Yeah, I think we’re using
rebellious in different ways. I was meaning rebelling
against God’s will for humans, not rebelling against our
societies or whatever. AUDIENCE: But that’s
rebelling against what’s written in the Bible, isn’t it? N. T. WRIGHT: Oh, well, that’s
a whole other issue, which I’d be quite happy not to
get into today because that’s just– [LAUGHTER] We could spend the
whole day on it, and it is one of the
buzzy issues right now. But there are
differences there as to how a civil society
organizes itself in relation to what it deems to be wise. And from a Christian
point of view, many Christian
teachers, including most of the Christian
leaders in Ireland itself, were saying actually, no,
here’s the way we should go. And then, 60% of the society
of voted the other way. Now, if you live in a
modern, secular democracy, that’s just likely
to happen, but that’s just one of 1,000 things. For years, centuries,
governments often would be Christian
governments– have legislated in favor of, say, slavery, or
in favor of not giving women the vote, or whatever. And yeah, I think
bad things have happened as a result of that,
but it takes a long time. That wasn’t what I
meant by rebellious. Obviously, there might
be specific examples, but I meant in the much bigger,
more general sense– yeah, it’ll work out in the
particular ones as well. In the bigger,
more general sense, that there are broadly
pretty obvious ways of human flourishing. Start with the Ten
Commandments, for start, that if you don’t steal
and don’t commit adultery and don’t murder et cetera
and honor your parents and don’t tell lies,
especially on oath, then this will be a better
place to live in than if you go about doing those things. And so as I often say
to people when they say, oh, I don’t like
the idea of law. It’s so restrictive, as
though God has given us these laws to cramp our style. So when you’re driving
down the highway, actually, it’s a very
good thing that we know that– of course, here
you all drive on the right, but at home, we drive–
at least we have this law, and unless somebody forgets,
we can now all drive at a reasonable
speed– maybe not here, because there’s so
much traffic, but you know what I mean–
because we know which– if there was no law about
which side to drive on, we wouldn’t be able to drive
more than about five miles an hour because everyone
would be trying to navigate between everyone else. So when we rebel against the
broad law which God has given, as in the Ten Commandments,
et cetera, then yes, society fractures and
deconstructs, and bad things happen, and this has
spin-off effects. But not being Irish,
apart from [INAUDIBLE], I couldn’t possibly comment,
though I’d like to– but maybe we could have
a quick chat afterwards. I’d like to know about that. Next question. AUDIENCE: You had mentioned
the purpose of the resurrection wasn’t primarily yay, now
we all get eternal life, but to launch this new
creation, of which Jesus is the, I think you said the acting
agent and the first example of. N. T. WRIGHT: Put it close
to the mic [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: Oh, sure, yeah. From a Biblical
theology perspective, usually, people consider the
cross the center of history. Would you say that instead, the
cross is typological of this greater thing that’s actually
the center, or it’s– N. T. WRIGHT: Thank you. That’s good. I knew in talking
for 25 minutes that I was bound to give
hostages to fortune, and you just picked one of
them up, and that’s fine. The cross and resurrection
go absolutely together. The resurrection
means what it means because it is the resurrection
of the Jesus who was crucified. If somebody had just happened
to die and three days later be found to be alive again, that
wouldn’t have meant anything like the same thing. Likewise, the cross means
what it means in relation to the resurrection. Nobody at 6:00 PM on Good
Friday was saying, well, we’ve always
believed that someone is going to die for
the sins of the world. So he’s done it, and
yeah, it was messy, but it’s OK because he’ll
be– no, they just weren’t thinking like that at all. They were absolutely
devastated and distraught, and the resurrection
compelled a total reevaluation of the meaning of
what just happened. There are 1,000 ways
you can say this, but pretty essential
is that they came to believe that if Jesus
had been raised from the dead, this meant that Death itself–
Death with a capital D, If you like– had somehow
strangely been overcome, been beaten, been defeated. And then they said,
wait a minute. All those strange things
Jesus had said and done about his own forthcoming death,
which we didn’t understand at the time– maybe that
was about that on the cross, he was going to do that
somehow defeating of death and of the evil
which causes death. And so you get growing up very
early in Christianity theories about how the cross means
what it means in relation to the resurrection. And so because the
cross has defeated the power of evil and
of death, then Jesus is raised from the dead,
which wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and
then a new world is opened, in which
humans can be rescued from evil, and sin, and
death, and ultimately, the whole creation. So that’s broadly how
it works, though it takes large volumes of
theology to spell all that out and exegesis. Does that– do you
see what I’m saying? AUDIENCE: Yes, thanks. N. T. WRIGHT: Good, thanks. OK, next question. AUDIENCE: This is
picking up a little bit off the woman from Ireland. We live in Silicon
Valley in 2015, which is very different
from the Greco-Roman world of the first century, so
if we take the scriptures as authoritative, how do
we go beyond the scriptures to seek to live wisely in a
very different world today? N. T. WRIGHT: Great question. Yes, we do live in a
very different world, and actually, people in the
third and fourth century lived in a very different
world from that of Jesus because the Jewish
bits of Jesus’ world had more or less gone forever,
with AD 70, when Jerusalem was destroyed, and AD 135, when the
last great Jewish rebellion was put down by the Romans. Everything changed. And actually, as a result,
a lot of early Christians didn’t understand some things
in the New Testament in the way that we can do up to
a point because we’ve got so much better information,
ironically, about early Judaism than they had. And the world has
changed again and again. It changed in the Middle Ages. It changed with the Renaissance. It changed with the
invention of printing. And obviously, what’s
happened in Silicon Valley and elsewhere now is a
communications revolution of at least the same magnitude
as the invention of printing, and probably a different
magnitude entirely as well. However, what you find
in the New Testament is a sketch of
pictures and stories about ultimate new creation,
about the ultimate coming together of heaven
and Earth, and these are not meant as culture-bound
blueprints for what’s going to happen but as
universal narratives, just like some of the best
poems are universal narratives, pointing forwards. And I’ve often said all our
language about the future, whether Jewish or Christian,
is a set of signposts pointing into a fog. They may be true signposts,
but they don’t give you a photographic–
they’re not trying to give you a photographic
reproduction of what you should expect to find. What they are saying is that
there will come a time when heaven and Earth will be joined
together completely forever, and that within that, there
will be a new world, which will be like the present one,
only much more so, much more flourishing, much more real,
so that the world itself, and us in particular–
we are at the present just a shadow of
our future selves. There’s a real you that God
will make you and give you at the end that will
be recognizably you and just like you,
but so much more so. And that’s what
resurrection is all about. So it seems to me that
though the culture’s changed radically, and though
today’s culture here is very different from
what you’d find, say, in many other parts of the
world today, India, or China, or wherever, the vision
of the New Testament is about the whole creation
and heaven and Earth not being miles apart from one
another but kind of overlapping and interlocking, and of that
being finally brought together. Within that, there
is this vision of human flourishing,
which I think does translate cross-culturally. And here’s the point. Most of the Bible
is our back story, and it gives us little hints
as to where we’re going. And as I’ve argued
in one of my books, “Scripture and the
Authority of God,” the Bible is like an
unfinished five-act play with little hints,
little sketches, as to what the last act, what
the last scene, looks like. But most of the
fifth act is missing, and our task, if we
want to be Biblical, is so to know the previous
four acts and the beginning of the fifth one that
we can improvise wisely to get to the fifth one. And that involves a
lot of translating out into different cultural
and historical situations. Does that scratch where
your question was itching? Yeah, good. Thank you. Question halfway back there. Yeah? AUDIENCE: I’m just curious if
I understand you correctly. If wisdom is
personified in Jesus, and if it’s actually the
wise usage of information, does artificial
intelligence ultimately bring together
information and wisdom? And what would the
Bible or spirituality have to say about
artificial intelligence? N. T. WRIGHT: Yeah,
that’s a great question, and I’d like to know
what you think of it– you all, plural– think about
that, because it seems to me artificial intelligence
is likely to stay as good or as bad
as the people who are setting it up artificially. Now, I know that there’s a big
debate as to whether ultimately computers will
take over the world and computers will do
everything that we do and be as smart as us
and smarter and so on. And it’s interesting. There was a novel by the
British novelist David Lodge, who is kind of on the
edge of the Catholic faith, called “Thinks.” This was maybe 10, 15 years ago. And the real subject
to that novel is this question, as to
whether computers can actually replicate every aspect
of human experience. And as the novel– I
won’t do a spoiler for you on how it works out, but what
eventually the characters in the novel discover is
that computers can’t forgive, and they can’t weep. They can’t cry. And though– it’s very profound. I mean, there are probably
other things as well, like love and things. But the computer cannot
forgive, and it cannot weep. And I think Lodge is
saying these are actually things which humans do
and humans need to do, and which are part of what it
means to be genuinely human, and which we– maybe we
just can’t imagine it yet. Maybe somebody here
is inventing a machine that will weep and forgive. But you know what I’m
saying, that yeah, artificial intelligence is
hugely important, no doubt hugely useful. There are many things–
and at every stage of the technological advances
of the last 300 years, people have said, oh, dear,
are we making a Frankenstein, or are we doing a big monster? And I want to say, yeah,
that is often the problem. Some of the greatest historians
of the 20th century– I’m thinking for instance of Herbert
Butterfield in Cambridge– were mightily exercised
after 1945 at the thought that the science and
technology that they had put their trust in,
that they believed in, that they thanked
God for, had been used to make atom bombs,
which were then dropped on two Japanese cities, and
now, a force, as it were, let loose in the world
that nobody knew what– that’s a Frankenstein moment. And how did we get there? In other words, just because
the scientists and techies can, doesn’t mean they should. And hence, the
wisdom to know what to do with the possibilities
that we have in front of us– that’s the difference
between information and wisdom, I think. AUDIENCE: What steps would
you recommend in order to navigate through
all this information in the new creation? N. T. WRIGHT: Wow. Oh goodness. There’s no one-size-fits-all
answer for that. Somebody was asking me at lunch
about particular vocational issues, and vocation
is a fascinating thing. Sooner or later,
if we put ourselves in the way of finding out
what we’re supposed to do, we may well discover. Often, it’s difficult,
dangerous, complicated. We can none of us do
more than a tiny fraction of the things which ought
to be done in the world. That’s why we need one
another in a global community. In New Testament language,
it’s about the body of Christ, that we have different bits and
pieces, all gifted differently, but all aiming at the
same ultimate goal, which is the flourishing of God’s
creation and the enabling of humans to be rescued from
everything that is preventing them from doing
that flourishing, and to rediscover what it
means to be genuinely human. In the Old Testament, this
again and again comes down– think of Psalm 72, where
you have this grand vision of the king who
is going to come, and he’s going to bring
God’s justice to the world. And again and again,
it says the main thing that he’s going to do
is the priority number one, is to look after
the poor, to listen for the cry of the
needy, and to make sure that they get sorted out. Other things will
grow out of that. There are many
other things he has to do, many wonderful things of
culture and beauty and so on, but that’s got to be
at the center of it. So I would say if you’re
wondering how to do this, or you and your friends are
wondering how to do this, there are 1,000
different things which God needs people to
do wisely, but there are certain priorities,
and justice and beauty are pretty central to those. And the danger with
a kind of technology just doing what
it wants to do is that both justice and
beauty can get squeezed out, and you end up having something
which is super efficient, but which actually squelches
genuine humanness over on one side and does
not produce anything other than brutalist
boxes on the other. So some agendas there. AUDIENCE: Chapter
Five of Ephesians– the apostle Paul describes a
relationship between Christ and the church as
a profound mystery. What are your thoughts or
views on this profound mystery? [CHUCKLING] N. T. WRIGHT: Wow. The way Ephesians works is
that in Ephesians Chapter One, Paul says that’s God’s plan was
to sum up everything in heaven and on Earth in the Messiah,
in Jesus the Messiah. That’s Ephesians 1:10. 110 That’s the sense that
the whole of creation, which is sort of bifocal–
heaven and Earth, God’s bit and our bit,
if you like– they were meant for each other. So much of Western cultures
assume that heaven and Earth are radically different. Your country was built
on that principle, on the Epicurean principle of
the total separation of church and state, of everything
that– this is private, that’s public, and so on. That’s simply not the
Judeo Christian vision. I’m sorry to be so rude
about your Constitution, but that’s just how it is. We have our problems
as well because we don’t have a written
constitution, so we’re just
muddled, and that’s the usual British way
of going about things, to muddle on and hope
it’ll all work out. But Ephesians One
says God’s plan is to unite everything in
heaven and Earth in Christ. Ephesians Two says
that by rescuing people from all that was corrupting
their humanness– sin, death, evil, wickedness, whatever–
God has brought together Jew and Gentile into
a single family, which constitutes the temple. That’s the biggest
image you could have as a first-century Jew. The temple is where heaven
and Earth come together. So if Ephesians One and Two
are about heaven and Earth, Jew and Gentile. As a result, Chapter Three,
the principalities and powers take notice because
the Roman Empire, Greek philosophers would
love to find a system, a way of bringing together
everything in creation into one great hall. That’s the imperial dream. And Paul says that through
the church being this people, the manifold wisdom
of God is now made known to the
principalities and powers in the heavenly places. That’s Ephesians 3:10. Therefore, Chapter Four, which
is about unity and holiness within the church,
leads into this vision, as you say, in
Chapter Five, where that unity, which is the
messiah and his people, which is Jew and
Gentile, which is there in the face of the world–
that uniting is then seen also in the uniting of husband
and wife because Paul has Genesis One and Two
in mind all along, so that these different
complementaries, these different unities, are all
pointing in the same direction. And ultimately, the messiah
and his people– that image picks up from the Old Testament
image of God and Israel, with Israel as God’s
bride or God’s wife. And it’s all about covenant. It’s all about faithfulness. And the point of the
covenants and the faithfulness is precisely new
creation, and hence, the fruitfulness of
the man and the woman being to do with the
Genesis One mandate, being fruitful and multiplying. So then, surprise,
surprise, Ephesians Chapter Six is about
spiritual warfare because when heaven and
Earth come together, when Jew and Gentile
come together, when male and female
come together, then there is a sign set
up in the cosmos which says Jesus is Lord, and
that is a sign which is deeply contested and
often deeply unpopular, and people get into
trouble for saying it. So that’s basically both
within Ephesians as a whole and, I would say, hinting within
Biblical theology as a whole. Sorry. Huge question, and a huge
answer, but there we are. AUDIENCE: Yeah, just going
off a couple of the things that that gentleman
over there asked and a couple other
things, I sometimes think when I’m in my vocation
as a follower of Jesus that especially growing up
here, being born and raised in Silicon Valley– and my
father was in this industry, and I’m in this industry, and
my wife works in it, et cetera– that I get the economy of
God confused sometimes. And sometimes, when I’m
at work, I’m given a task. I just want to get your
comment on this thought. I’m given a task that’s
very specific to work on something very specific. But sometimes, I
think the reason I’m there is to serve those
around me, like God did with– or like Christ
did with the woman at the well or those examples,
the woman caught in adultery. Both those stories are
just so intriguing to me, and I just want to get
that thought from you. What would you think about that? When I’m at work, yeah, I’m
supposed to be doing this work, but sometimes I’m conflicted. I feel like I’m really supposed
to be serving those around me. N. T. WRIGHT: Yeah, human life
is deliciously complicated. I mean, humans simply are all
sorts of different related things, and if
you stop and think about music, and food, and love,
and travel, and beauty, and so on, you realize that just
to be an ordinary human is already to be
someone in which all these different enormous
things come together, and often, they knock
sparks off each other. That’s why poetry, and plays,
and music, and theater, and cinema, and so
on are what they are. They’re bringing together of
different aspects of our life and suddenly showing us
that there are connections, and it’s very, very exciting. Now, because we want to get
stuff done for our vocations, for our job to earn a
living, we have to focus. If my task is to dig
ditches, then I’ve just got to get on
and dig this ditch. Now, there may well be also
things going on in my mind. I may be singing
a song to myself. I may be thinking about the
book I was reading in bed last night, whatever it is. And then, if the person
digging the ditch next to me starts singing a different
song, telling a different story, or starts weeping
because of something that’s happened in their
life, then OK, we still have to dig the ditch. That’s got to be done. But we have to
figure out how then to say hey, let’s go and
get a beer at halftime and see what’s going on. And in my experience,
I’ve done some silly jobs where I’ve tried to
combine different things– pastoral responsibilities,
academic responsibilities, teaching, administrative
things– and you just bounce to and fro as best you can. Now, it’s easy for me because
I’m a seven on the Enneagram, and Enneagram sevens
love bouncing to and fro. Some of you will know. So that that’s OK,
but some people find it really difficult
to change gear, and sometimes I found it
difficult to change gear. However, I found
again and again, if one is attuned to where
human need around you is– this relates
to the remembering the poor business– then
interestingly, often, when there is a need
suddenly present to you that maybe you
should be meeting, there will be a way of coming
to that and of doing something– when I was Bishop of
Durham, I would often find that my diary was
absolutely full wall to wall, and then I would get a phone
call saying that, say, one of the clergy– a child had
just been killed in a road accident or something. I’d think, oh, I need
to go and see them. But look, I’ve got–
and then the secretary would say, oh, by
the way, I just had a call that your 3 o’clock
appointment’s just canceled. Right. Get in the car. We’re going to see them. And that happened so
often in the seven years I was doing that job that I
thought that this actually– I’m being looked after here. I need to be there, and
so a space opens up. Now, I’m not saying that
I live a charmed life, because I don’t. I’m not saying I’m always well
organized, because I’m not. I actually need my
wife in the front row to stare at me as though to say
you telling these nice stories about how it works out. You know perfectly
well it doesn’t. [LAUGHTER] I have a lovely cartoon
framed in my room, which is of a bishop and his
wife driving away from church, and the bishop is
saying to his wife, “Have you considered how much
more effective my sermon would have been if you
haven’t yelled, ‘ha!'” [LAUGHTER] So there. AUDIENCE: You
mentioned in Ephesians at the very end, Chapter Six,
about the spiritual battle and the idea of
principalities and powers. And in Silicon Valley
and information and technique and everything,
between information and wisdom, what is the battle in
terms of our relationship to principalities and powers
as it relates to this context? N. T. WRIGHT: That’s
a great question, and I’m not sure that
I’m the right person to answer it because I
don’t live and work here, and I really don’t know. I would guess, however, that
there are enormous forces in economics, in
technology, in America, in the Western world
in general, where you do want to ask the question. We all have to
ask this question. I, as an academic teaching
students and writing books, have to answer the question. Are we actually going to work
to build the Tower of Babel? Is that what we’re doing? An all-human work is always
in danger of arrogance. That’s why when you think
about the problem in the world, don’t just look
at Genesis Three. Look at Genesis 3
through to Genesis 11 because here’s the thing. The human task in the
beginning is about community. It’s about
replenishing the Earth, about doing community,
about family, about land, about getting this
stuff sorted out. After Adam and Eve rebel,
whatever that means, picture language, et cetera,
one of the first things that happened is the first
murder– Cain murdering Abel. But then, when Cain goes
off, what does he do? He builds a city. He still knows that
doing human community is the thing you’re
supposed to do. But what happens to the city–
not his city, but later on– is that the city
becomes arrogant. Let’s build a tower. The top reaches to heaven. And then, we will be it. We will be the people. And God comes down and
spoils it all, of course. And so there’s a sense
that all human projects have the capacity to turn
into the Tower of Babel. And if somebody sees
that going on and says, hey, wait a minute. We’re just doing this because
we want to be powerful. We want to be rich. We want to be arrogant
and rule the world. Then if somebody is
calling time on that, blowing the whistle on that,
that’s a very dangerous place to be because when–
OK, here’s the thing. When humans worship
that which is not God, whether it’s power, or money,
or sex, or whatever it is, humans give to that dark
force, which we loosely label like that, the power
which we ought to have, but which in fact we’re
giving to these forces. We call them forces. We don’t have good language. They didn’t have good language
for it in the ancient world. We don’t in today’s world
because it’s actually not really nameable. And then, these
forces rule over us. And if we get in their
way, they will crush us. But that doesn’t absolve
us from the responsibility of naming the problems
that we’re up against. So I’m not saying that Silicon
Valley is the Tower of Babel. It isn’t. There’s so many good things
that happen as a result of what you guys do. But every human
enterprise, including the one that I work
in, has the capacity to become self-idolatrous,
Babel-like, and we have to name that and
deal with it as best we can, preferably wisely. OK, time for probably
just one more question. I’m sorry. I’m seeing lots of
hands over there. I’m not running away immediately
afterwards, so well, OK. You got it. AUDIENCE: Oh, thank you. Your story– you said about
the background of the gospel and your– N. T. WRIGHT: Hold
the microphone up. AUDIENCE: –your example of the
background story of the gospel, and you talked about
your story of rugby, and that’s such a
great example for us here to realize that
if you don’t understand the culture and the
passion that’s behind that, it’s hard to really
understand it coming from you. But those of us who’ve
experienced it of course can relate better. I’ve been trying to understand
the New Testament more accurately and studying Hebrew
idioms of the first century within Judaism. It’s really unified
the New Testament and connected it to the old. Even better, I’m wondering about
your studies of Hebrew idioms within first century Judaism. Paul uses them
throughout his Epistles. You find it through
the Book of Acts, and it’s clarified a lot for me. I’m wonder about
your studies in that. N. T. WRIGHT: Yeah, this
is a technical question, so let me just give
a brief answer. Every generation in the
church, at its best, has known that you need
to understand the Bible in its original context. Now, of course, you then need
to live it in your own context, and there’s always a
dialogue between those two. I am one of the
lucky ones who’s been able to spend my lifestyle
studying– I was trained as an ancient historian
before I was a theologian, so I love going back
into the first century and trying to make sense
of what’s going on there, and that means the languages,
the texts, et cetera. Particularly– I’ll just
give you one example of that, because then we must stop– the
way that other first century Jews, or the ways that other
first century Jews were reading their scriptures, are
absolutely fascinating and help us to see how
the early Christians then were reading the same scriptures
in the light of what had just happened to Jesus. And there’s all sorts of
overlap and interplay. Take the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls– you
have a lot of scrolls which are simply exegesis of scripture. They take [INAUDIBLE],
one of the other prophets or the psalms, and
they do exegesis, and they apply it
to their own day. And we can see the
early Christians doing the same thing, except
in the light of Jesus. And that’s a fascinating
exercise, which sometimes comes very, very close, so close
that you’d think they’re just looking over each
other’s shoulders, and sometimes it’s
quite different. One of the key things, of
course, being that many, many Jews– not all–
in the first century believed that when God was
going to do what God was going to do for Israel
and the world, it would involve an actual battle,
a real bloodbath, a fight, and that God would lead them
in victory against the pagan hordes. It had happened before in 164
with the Maccabean Revolt, and they hoped it
would happen again. One of the most important
things about the early Christian vision is that because they knew
Jesus, the crucified and risen one, when they talk about the
battle which is going to come, it’s not one which humans will
fight in the ordinary way, hence the sermon on the mount. When God becomes king, he
doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek,
and the mourners, and the brokenhearted, and
the hungry-for-justice people, and the peacemakers. That’s how God’s kingdom
comes on Earth as in heaven. And we still have quite a lot
to do to learn about that stuff. MALE SPEAKER: [INAUDIBLE]. N. T. WRIGHT: I
think we’re done. [APPLAUSE]

31 Replies to “NT Wright: “Simply Good News” | Talks at Google

  1. A random collection of anecdotes and point of view stories from the speaker based on the compendium of fairy tales that is the bible and its psychopath god figure. Another preacher trying to spin another interpretation on the bible to try and make it contemporarily relevant (mentally redact the homophobia, pro-slavery, and misogynistic commands/rules from god in the bible). Surprised and disappointed to see this on Google Talks. Might as well get people in who want to talk about why we should believe in Zeus, Druid Gods, or The Tooth Fairy – same level of credibility.

  2. I must admit, he is pleasant to listen to. Nice speaking voice and somewhat intelligent. Good person to meet at a party for sure. But.
    But since more and more people give up their belief in gods, the world is getting a better place. Religous people have no morality (which does not mean, they can't be morale), they are following their leaders like mindless drones. Sure, you can have partly good leaders like Wright, but also the mass murderers Jones and Mohammed, the child molesting warlord.

  3. He is so funny. Claims that Christians like education, forgets that Eve eating from the tree of knowledge got us all in this shit (according to him).

  4. This guy had absolutely nothing to say. The first question posed to him asked him to address something clear and specific about Ireland "rebelling " against the "Law" by voting for same sex marriage. Did he take the chance to actually deliver some "wisdom"? No he dishonestly started flipping and flopping in an attempt to escape dealing with anything real.

  5. I think it interesting that N.T. Wright was invited to speak at Google. His thoughts, and those of many others, are very important and necessary for a company that includes among its employees a leader that believes that "God does not exist, yet."

  6. RE: "Fairytales" comment — What is that thing called where someone disparges an entire reliious group using facile sterotypes?

  7. Some people in comment section has objection that a Christian is invited at the Google Talk. Now they think they are smarter than Google.

  8. Religious people (or at least the ones who matter on the world stage) are in for secularism, multiculturalism, and diversity. At the core of religion in the west is the separation of church and state.

    But, we are not in for an aggressive anti-faith society. I hope we can learn a lesson from this talk; it's time for religion to do the talking. Freedom of religious expression is not freedom from religious expression.

  9. I am amused at the folk who ridicule NT Wright; tipical youtube laymen tradition, yet no one even attempts to respond or object to the points he made.
    Tipical and sad to resort to ad hominem and not be open to a discussion without insulting the other to make one look intellectual.

    Many object to the evils of religion, but if God doesnt exist, what is evil? what does evil refer to?
    They are just subjective ilusions of human construct, without God man is just beset with delusions of moral grandeur.
    Why should our morality be considered better than that of animal morality?
    Morality becomes an individual prefrence or a colective choice, just as people prefer chocolate over vanilla, as Michael Ruse said: "The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2 + 2 = 5
    Where does the atheist base right and wrong?
    And if there is no base, the argument from evil against God is useless it is like cutting of the branch you are sitting on.

  10. NT Wright consistently demonstrates just how much right wing politicized Christian fundamentalism has set back and damaged the church's credibility in the United States. I'm really glad that Google had him come speak instead of just about any theologian from the North American continent.

  11. "Religious texts were written centuries." mmm – * ago? * before computers? * prior to the birth of all of us in the room? What an incredible scholar – super take on how God planned it right and is dealing with man's free will and making it right again – currently the middle stage.

  12. N.T. Wright is one of the great teachers in Christianity.  For those interested in learning more about the origins of the New Testament, you may want to check out my historical novel, Mark's Passion, which is the story of St. Mark, the Evangelist who first put the Gospel in writing.

  13. This guys talking and writing is like pulling teeth. He over exaggerates every point he tries to make and he's pompous. I can't stand to hear him talk. I get sick

  14. So godless google invites this guy to speak to "seem" inclusive. Just like Zuckerberg invited and met with conservatives to show everyone there was no censoring happening. Yeah, right. Not buying it.

  15. I appreciate the delivery of the Good News to those that are not religious. The religious folks in United States turn off a lot of people with their self righteousness and unyeilding method of NOT representing Christ. The Good News become less good when they get a hold of it and force it down the throats of others. The religious folks in this country believe in controlling others while Christ believed in free will and gave truth to the massess but permit each one to make their own decisions of which he gave clear message that there are consequences to each decision taken. The religious folks seeks to control and force everyone to make them feel secure in their beliefs. They think God called them to police the world and in the mean time as they are so busy trying to mold each soul in their likeness after their image, they forget how to walk in Christ in truth and in love. This teacher is trying to reach those that may not have any religious inclination to consider life in its dynamic presence with God as a desired part of everything they are and do.

  16. Strange the way Wright caricatures the old perspective. Does not Paul tell us that all who do not believe are under the wrath of God. He is simply offering a sanitized gospel.

  17. Someone who looks forward to retire from teaching the Good New to go play Golf????
    Wow as soon as I heard that I'm like ok Next……I'm not listening to that

    ISAIAH 12:2
    2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.

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