Today I went to hear N. T. Wright for this lecture series on sacramental theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. (For more info on Wright, see this unofficial N. T. Wright page and this collection of his works.)
I went to see Wright in order to get a glimpse into how his mind works and to see how good he is at answering questions.
Here are a few of my (not very profound) impressions:
- N. T. Wright is a gifted extemporaneous speaker (especially in Q & A).
- Wright has a very likable personality.
- Wright is witty and clever.
- Wright has a refined British accent. I love it. I’ve heard it before on MP3s but never in person. That accent can make the most trivial things seem interesting and intellectual.
- Wright’s presentation style disappointed me, mostly because I strongly dislike being read to in person (though I don’t mind it on MP3). It felt like I was being talked at, not talked to. Since these lectures are going to be published in the seminary’s journal, Wright carefully wrote out the lecture as a journal article and consequently spent several hours reading to us.
- Wright paints with a massive brush. He approached the issue at hand by taking hours to discuss time, space, and matter with reference to realized eschatology and a proper framework for assessing the meaning of the “sacraments.” I brought my GNT, but I didn’t crack it once; exegesis was pretty much non-existent. This is not to say that he can’t do exegesis; rather, I’m saying merely that he didn’t do it, probably assuming that we can go to his books to find that. His time constraints no doubt had something to do with this.
- Wright and I have at least one thing in common: when teaching from a lectern, we both use a laptop (and I think his was a Dell, too). I typically use my laptop when teaching and preaching–though I tend to walk around a lot. Wright stayed behind the lectern the entire time except for the very last bit of Q & A after the second lecture. I was sitting in the middle of the third row from the front, so I could see him only from the neck up. He looked like a talking head.
I have a lot of questions about Wright, and I have not yet read enough by Wright himself for my opinion to be worth much. See Ligon Duncan‘s “The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul” and his interview with Mark Dever: “Justification and the New Perspective.” Cf. two posts by Phil Gons: “New Perspective on Paul” and “Wright on Imputation.”
On our honeymoon in July 2004, I brought along a small pile of books (which I didn’t finish until after we returned home!). I did, however, manage to work through a good chunk of this one:
- Curt D. Daniel. The History and Theology of Calvinism. Springfield, IL: Reformed Bible Church, 2003. 476 pages plus nine appendices.
- This excellent work is bound like a typewritten dissertation and is a compilation of handouts that Daniel used to accompany a series of messages delivered from 1987-1989.
- The 75 lectures are available for free downloading here. (My wife listened to all 75 of them on her MP3 player!)
- Daniel is an expert in Calvinism as evidenced by his Ph.D. dissertation on John Gill, which is some 900 pages long (University of Edinburgh, 1983).
- He divides his work on Calvinism into seventy-four chapters, which are handouts he used for lecturing on the topic.
- My first impression of the book was poor: (1) the format is unpleasant to the eye with tight line-spacing and a font resembling an old typewriter, and (2) Daniel does not formally cite his sources in footnotes.
- My impression changed, however, as I read the book from cover to cover. The first twenty-four chapters (pp. 1-172, 36% of the book) are the most enlightening. It covers the history of Calvinism in an irenic, informative way and includes chapters on Augustine; the Reformation; Calvin; Puritans; Westminster Assembly; Covenant Theology; High Calvinism; Amyraldism; Hyper-Calvinism; Jonathan Edwards’s Calvinism; Princeton Theology; Calvinistic Baptists; and Dutch Calvinism. Each chapter ends with a select bibliography.
- I recently learned from Phil Johnson that this is available for free as a Word doc! (I bought my hard copy for $30.) [Update: It is also available for free as a 574-page PDF!]
I read this article this morning:
- John Piper, “Communing with God in the Things for Which We Contend: How John Owen Killed His Own Sin While Contending for the Truth.” Pages 77-113 in Contending for Our All: Defending Truth and Treasuring Christ in the Lives of Athanasius, John Owen, and J. Gresham Machen. Vol. 4 of The Swans Are Not Silent. Wheaton: Crossway, 2006.
- This is based on Piper’s presentation at the 1994 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors. An edited manuscript and a link to the MP3 are available here.
I found these two quotations particularly convicting and challenging:
- “Packer says that the Puritans differ from evangelicals today because with them, ‘. . . communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.'”
- “One great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the word is that we are prone to preach and write without pressing into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. Over the years words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God’s holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we can speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is a terrible hardening of the spiritual life.”
“Of Church Organization” is another wise and practical mini-series of short essays by Kevin Bauder.
Note: Central Seminary emails these essays every Friday afternoon. You can join the mailing list (as well as access the archives) here.