How Tom Wright Changed My Life

Yesterday (7 February 2020), St. Mary’s College of Divinity at St. Andrews had an event to honor and remember Tom Wright (a.k.a., N.T. Wright) for his tenure at the university. Professor Wright held a distinguished chair in New Testament for nearly a decade (a chair previously held by Richard Bauckham). As Professor Alan Torrance mentioned yesterday evening, he was responsible for millions of pounds being poured into St. Mary’s via student enrollment and grants. He was also instrumental in Logos (the program I study in) starting and being developed at St. Andrews. But I want to point out a few other ways that I have benefitted from his lifetime of scholarship.

When I was a high school student, I first heard the name N.T. Wright when my pastor and worship pastor wanted to take a group from the church to Oklahoma Christian University where he was speaking. The trip ended up being cancelled, and I didn’t get to go. (I would then meet him New Orleans some years later where he signed every book I had by him at the time, and then I would have classes with him some years after that.) Instead, I wouldn’t interact with Wright’s work for another couple years until I picked up the book Simply Christian and then Simply Jesus after that. Again, I wouldn’t interact with his work in any meaningful way until my undergraduate years.

The two primary things I learned from N.T. Wright which I should have known, but never did, were: the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Testament, and the Christian hope of future resurrection. I grew up in Christian communities that never spent much time thinking about how deeply Jewish Jesus was or the four gospel accounts which talk about him or Paul’s letters or any of it. Jesus is Jewish—not formerly or temporarily Jewish. Jesus continues to be Jewish, as does the New Testament. How are we to read the gospel accounts, Acts, Paul’s writings, the letter to the Hebrews, or the letters from Peter or John or Jude if not as profoundly Jewish texts? Yes, they often write to a wider audience—especially Paul’s letters, but they do so from a religious background and history of thought which is profoundly Jewish.

Finally, Tom Wright taught me the Christian hope. I always imagined death to be the end. I don’t mean that I thought we would just die and that there would be nothing. But I did imagine that we would die and go to heaven—some would go to hell—and that everything would just be disembodied and ethereal. However, in reading Wright’s works, I realized that the New Testament teaches something profoundly different. It teaches that God will raise us bodily from the dead in the end and bring heaven to earth. It teaches that if God doesn’t raise us like Jesus, then we ought to be the most pitied because we are wasting our lives. I can’t even recount the experience of reading The Resurrection of the Son of God for the first time. If I could get everyone to wade through its hundreds of pages, I would want every Christian to read it.

In summary, Tom Wright changed my life. His teaching impacted how my professors read the New Testament. In reading his work, I realized how profoundly he impacted my own professors. In reading his work, I realized essential truths of the Christian faith for the first time. In reading his work, I realized the Christian hope, and in reading his work, I realized that the story of Jesus is the climax of the story of Israel. I, like many, am forever indebted to the life and scholarship of N.T. Wright. May God bless him abundantly in his retirement (even if, it’s just “in name only”)!

One Month in Scotland

One month. Thirty days. 720 hours. 43,200 minutes. I have lived in Scotland for a little over four weeks now. I have just finished my third week of lectures. I will turn in my first essay within the next couple weeks. I have attended four churches. I have drank so much tea. What will one month living in the UK do to you?

A quick aside… This is actually my second time to live in the UK for a month. I spent twenty-eight days in June 2019 staying in various places in the UK. However, the experience is quite different this time around, and it has a different feel when you are staying, mostly, in one place with plans for a longer period of time.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to drink tea a lot. I know, I know. I’ve already mentioned the tea, but I don’t think I have yet communicated the amount of tea that you will consume, or at least be offered, throughout the day. To remind my American readers of a story, there was once a group of rebellious (you might even say “revolutionary”) persons who dumped a shipload of tea in Boston Harbor. I can almost imagine the harbor with a tea bag steeping in it as it slowly turns the water black. Well, if you added some cream to that ocean-tea, it may be about the quantity that will be offered or drank by you when you live in the UK.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to hear a lot about Brexit and Boris. Before I move on, this is obviously not a normative experience, but over this first month I’ve my living here, it’s huge. Without going into political details, no one can stop talking about the unexpected roller coaster that has been the last month of UK politics and governance. I’ve overheard world-leading New Testament scholars and theologians, old ladies in cafes, and groups of blokes in pubs discussing these crazy, unprecedented times. I’ll just say that being here right now makes the US political system look rather tame. Perhaps it’s making me optimistic for my home country.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to never know what to do with trash. Once you get around the confusion of talking about “rubbish” instead of “trash” and “bins” instead of “cans”, you still have to navigate what items to throw away and what items to recycle. Personally I really enjoy the option of recycling, but for someone untrained, it can become too difficult when you just want to get rid of a food container.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to always have coins. The first thing to mention is that they have coins for one pound and two pounds instead of notes (like having dollar and two dollar coins instead of paper money). Plus if there is a place where small coins are basically useless, it’s the UK. When you purchase things here, there are no non-advertised sales taxes, so you often have items rounded to nice neat numbers. However, when you don’t have nice round numbers, you get stuck with one cent, two cent, five cent, and ten cent coins which you will rarely use. They will just sit in your backpack, or “rucksack”, and jingle as you walk everywhere. They also sound like toy coins, and that only makes it worse. Jingle, jingle.

Real coins from my backpack. I thankfully spent about ten coins earlier today.

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to forget that cars drive on the right side of the street back home. You will probably be riding a bicycle or walking everywhere, so even if you don’t drive a car, you will get use to riding your bike or looking for cars on the left side of the road. Sadly, a part of you will always doubt it. You will constantly be confused and paranoid. Such is the fate of an American (or German, so says my friend).

If you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to constantly not know where to walk on the sidewalk (“pavement”). If there is one thing that annoys me about living here, it’s that no one is consistent on picking a side of the sidewalk to walk on. People from American don’t know where to walk. People from Germany don’t know where to walk. And worse, people from here don’t know where to walk! There is just a constant mass of confusion any time you have to pass someone going the opposite way as you.

This is a joke. This is actually a crowd from an event I attended, not people on a sidewalk…

This post mainly serves as a joke and will, to some extent, misrepresent some things. So I want to end on this note: if you live in the UK for a month, be prepared to love the people, love the place, and be thankful for the opportunity. If you have ever had such an opportunity, you understand the feeling. If you haven’t, do whatever you can to get a similar experience. It can be transforming to engage a diverse world.

Encounters of Kindness

I grew up like many others reading picture books that wanted to teach us about kindness. I’ve even heard some in the church bemoan these books because it teaches people to be moral without teaching them about Jesus (the ultimate exemplar of virtue/morality), and it teaches them to care more about kindness than conviction. I’m less concerned about those particular issues when it comes to children’s books in public schools and doctors’ waiting rooms. However, I find it funny that with all these books and lessons that I have grown up with how unkind people can still be. It only takes a few minutes scrolling through social media or flipping through channels on television to learn that lesson. But despite this lack of kindness, there is actually so much around us. In this post, I want to share a point made to me about kindness and a couple experiences that I have recently had.

1. Can you do anything for Christ in an un-Christ-like way?

Without much information and perhaps as an act of faith, I trusted the advice of two people I barely knew (I met one in London and the other in Cambridge), and I reached out to a stranger living in St. Andrews. He welcomed me to his home, shared a pot of tea with me, invited me to stay for dinner with his family, and gave me some great advice and encouragement. I don’t want to rush to judgement, but he was possibly one of the wisest people that I have ever met.

While I met with him, he emphasized kindness as an important virtue for Christians to have. (This was unsurprising because of how well he was treating me.) He had just returned to town after teaching a week-long ethics course at a seminary. There he posed this question to his students, “Can you do anything for Christ in an un-Christ-like way?” It’s a question that hits you like a ton of bricks as you realize how un-Christ-like you have been in many situations where you once felt justified. It’s a question that demands only one answer, “No!” The ends do not justify the means. Jesus approached people with love—even his enemies. We are without excuse.

This question has been on my mind ever since.

2. A Cup of Tea, a Kind Concern, and the Power of Love

With this question deeply on my mind, I got sick. It was a week or so after that meeting (this last Saturday), and I woke-up with a sore throat. I was distracted all day with a day trip to Loch Tay, but that evening it returned. Sunday was rough again. Monday was dreadful. I barely made it through class. Tuesday was better, but when I arrived for class in the afternoon, one of the other students had brought me a green tea with ginger and honey from the shop he was studying in before class. (He commented that the person making the drink really wanted to add whisky to it.) It was one thing that he remembered that I wasn’t feeling well; it showed how thoughtful he was. It was an entirely other thing that he was also kind enough to do something for me. He didn’t just pray, which would have been enough, but he went beyond what was hoped, expected, or encouraged of him.

I have also had an instructor take special care to help me intellectually and pastorally with some of the content covered in class. He has taken the time to meet with me to discuss the content covered, and he has stayed after class and during breaks to ask me about the questions that I brought-up during the class time. He has not only been kind enough to meet with me, but he has also taken the initiative to reach out to me. Again, it’s been a time of seeing people be intentionally kind and loving to me.

I can’t think of anything greater, or more meaningful, than experiencing God’s love, and it can be difficult sometimes to have those experiences. But God has chosen to work through the church, through a community of Jesus-people. When we join in fellowship and discipleship with the Jesus-people around us, we can quickly and joyfully find the love of God waiting for us.

Exploring Scotland

On the advice of one of my undergraduate professors who studied in Edinburgh, Scotland (a mere hour and a half train ride from St. Andrews), I joined the university hill walking (i.e., hiking) club. The club takes several trips throughout the school year, and I was able to attend their first trip for the academic year. It was a day trip to Loch Tay with a small trip to the waterfalls in Killin village. I had a great time walking through some Scottish countryside. After we got back that evening, I was able to attend a concert by Satellite Worship at Holy Trinity church in St. Andrews. Enjoy the pictures!

Living in Scotland

I keep waiting for a good time to sit down and summarize my life in Scotland right now. I keep waiting to get through one more event or activity to end my update with, but alas, things keep happening. If I wait any longer, I may just never write about my experiences. So today is my attempt for you to share in the story so far.

This month has been busy and exciting and nerve-wracking and overwhelming—all in the best possible ways. It has only been seventeen days since my last day in the US, so everything I share about my thoughts and feelings should be taken with a thick pinch of salt. However, despite the “new bike smell”, I do have thoughts and feelings about my lot in life. I live alone in a little studio apartment which will only feel smaller once I marry and get a new roommate. I have cooked nearly every meal I’ve had since moving in here, and I’m tired of washing the terrible pan that everything sticks to. I have two coffee cups which are on constant rotation in the washing because of my fondness for two or four cups of tea in the first half of my day. I ride my bike into town most times because it turns a twenty minute walk into a seven minute frenzy.

I fill my day reading, and watching an occasional Netflix show that isn’t available in the US—they have a better variety except for the devastating lack of The West Wing. I found a nice library and a couple other places to study. I have met kind people, wise people, strange people, and smart people. I have met Scotts, Germans, Indians, and far too many Americans. But I have loved it all.

I had plenty of welcome events the last week to attend, but I finally attended my first week of classes on Monday and Tuesday (16 and 17 September). I listened to N.T. Wright saying things that I completely agreed with and others that I completed disagreed with while I sat by his side. I had a couple Scottish lecturers lead riveting discussions on philosophy’s role in theology and the doctrine of Creation. I met a stranger and shared a meal with his family, and I saw a lifetime of wisdom face-to-face. I wrote an article, I read an essay, and I tried to not talk too much in class. I’ve had FaceTime calls, and I’ve had long messages. I’ve made friends and had fun. I’ve watched lectures (including my first Gifford lecture!). I have engaged great scholars, and I’ve let myself dream.

Picture by Vi Bui. Pictured from left to right: myself (Chandler), and Professor Wright. Edited to remove a fellow classmate.

Without diving into too much detail or boring you too much, this has been my first seventeen days.