Mark D. Roberts

Part 9 of series: Sharing Laity Lodge
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A few days ago we were blessed to host a retreat for pastors and other leaders with N.T. Wright as speaker. Bishop Tom, as he is usually called in casual settings, spoke several times and participated in one long Q & A session. He and his wife, Maggie, are delightful people, the kind of people who are happy to hang out after lunch for a scintillating conversation around the table.
Many of my blog readers will be familiar with N.T. Wright, or Tom Wright as he is known through his popular writings. But some may not know of him, or may have only a vague notion of who he is. So I thought it might be helpful for me to reproduce in writing my oral introduction of Bishop Tom at Laity Lodge. I did not script and read that introduction, so you’re getting more or less what I actually said. At any rate, if you’re not familiar with Bishop Tom, this will help you get to know him. So, with no further ado, here’s my introduction . . . .
It is my privilege to introduce to you someone who needs no introduction. We’ve all come to this retreat because of our high regard for our speaker, who is well known through his prolific writings as well as his seasoned leadership of the church throughout the world. I’m here this weekend as the Senior Director of Laity Lodge, of course. But, in fact, I had registered for this retreat months before I came on staff here. The chance to hear Bishop Tom speak was well worth the trip from Southern California, where I lived until a couple of months ago. (Photo: from the Q & A at Laity Lodge.)
My appreciation for Bishop Tom began in 2000, when I took a three-month sabbatical from my pastoral work at Irvine Presbyterian Church. One of my goals for my sabbatical was to read four giant, classic books: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and N.T. Wright’s, The New Testament and the People of God (535 pp) and also Jesus and the Victory of God (741 pp). Bishop Tom’s books aren’t quite as long as those two great novels, but they do total more than 1200 pages.
Reading all four of those classics during my sabbatical was a wonderful experience. Two of the books were among the greatest novels I had ever read. And the other two, those by Bishop Tom, were among the greatest works of scholarship I had ever read. What made them so exceptional? In a nutshell, they explained Jesus and His ministry in an utterly compelling fashion by examining in detail the cultural, historical, and theological context for Jesus, and then interpreting the text of the Gospels in that context. Along the way, Bishop Tom incisively and graciously decimated the views of many of his academic opponents, especially much of the nonsense that had been popularized by the Jesus Seminar.
This is not to say that the picture of Jesus emerging from Bishop Tom’s writings is the individualistic “savior” so common in Western evangelicalism. Though he believes that Jesus saved us from our sins and opened up for us a bright future after death, Bishop Tom helps us to hear the true message of Jesus, the message of the reign of God come to earth, the message of a salvation that is far more extensive than what we often think, the message that calls a community of disciples to join Jesus in His work of “putting the world to rights.”
Throughout his prolific writings and by his personal example, Bishop Tom challenges us to get back to Scripture, to read more carefully those documents we include within the written Word of God. Sometimes his own study of these documents, always done with close attention to their original context, takes him in new and even discomforting directions. Yet he remains faithful to the text of Scripture, urging us to do the same even if such faithfulness invades our theological comfort zones.
We have with us for these next two days one of the most influential and respected biblical scholars in the world today. If Bishop Tom were simply an academic who holes up in libraries to produce masterpieces of scholarship, he’d have our deep respect and gratitude. But, amazingly enough, he is far more than this. He is Bishop Tom, as he likes to be called, because he is officially the Bishop of Durham, one of the most influential leadership positions in the Church of England. As a pastor he preaches, leads in worship, presides over the sacraments, counsels people, teaches classes, and serves on more church committees than any person should have to do prior to Purgatory. Moreover, he has been willing to take a leading role in helping the Anglican Communion deal with some of the trickiest and most divisive issues it has ever faced.
Bishop Tom is a prolific author, not only as N.T. Wright the scholar, but also as Tom Wright the plain-speaking pastor. By the way, there’s no truth to the rumor that he is able to write so many books because he has some poor soul named Tom Wright chained to a word processor in the dungeon of his castle. N.T. Wright is Tom Wright. The brilliant scholar who stirs up the academy is also the passionate pastor who instructs and inspires ordinary people, most notably through his marvelous series of commentaries for Everyone.
We are thrilled to host Bishop Tom at Laity Lodge, not only because of his excellent scholarship and leadership, but also because we share with him a deep passion for the ministry of the kingdom of God. Just last week several of us were talking with Howard Butt, Jr. about the core vision of Laity Lodge and its network of ministries. Howard, acknowledging the tendency for the word “laity” to be misunderstood, was searching for different language to express the vision Laity Lodge. Finally he said, “Our vision is this: the people of God for the world.” “The people of God for the world,” that’s what Laity Lodge is all about. And, as you may know, that’s what Bishop Tom is all about. In fact, he himself has used this very phrase many times to encapsulate our calling as Christians. The church, according to Bishop Tom, is to be “the people of God for the world.”
We are here as pastors and other Christian leaders to learn more about how we can lead the church in this central calling. That’s why Laity Lodge is here. And that’s why Bishop Tom is here. So, Bishop Tom, we welcome you to this place with gratitude and joy. Thank you for joining us at Laity Lodge for these two days. Please come and help us learn how to lead the church to be the people of God for the world.

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