Bill Johnson and Tom (N. T.) Wright in Conversation

BillJohnson2NTWright6For some time I’ve been saying (to myself and occasionally to others) that somebody ought to bring into creative conversation the work of Bill Johnson (lead pastor of Bethel, Redding, California) and of N. T. (aka “Tom”) Wright (sometime Bishop of Durham, now Research Professor of New Testament at St Andrew’s University, Scotland). And now I’ve found somebody who is already doing it: Greg Millikan. Not only is Greg embarking on a doctorate on Johnson and Wright, he’s writing the thesis while based at Bethel; talking to key people and contributing to some of the ministry. This will be no easy undertaking. Both are giants. But their towering statures dominate different continents: geographically, socio-economically, ecclesiastically. Their styles of writing are worlds apart. But the similarities of theological perspective are obvious:

  • both stress Jesus’ life as a model for ours.
  • both stress the presence of the kingdom already in Jesus’ life and ministry. 
  • both stress the notion that heaven is a present reality in (a vertical relationship to earth), not just a future reality (in a horizontal relationship to the now). 
  • both stress the possibilities of transformation of this world—of heaven on earth, as opposed to the older view that we must wait for a new heaven and a new earth. 
  • both have a high view of God’s original purposes for humanity and human destiny in Christ. 

Both Bill Johnson and Tom Wright have their detractors and sometimes I hear the same voices speaking in the same tones (even if not with the same words) against each of them. But I am certain that neither is directly indebted to either. So either there is a devilish plot manifest in these two heretics, or we should take the cynical sociologist’s stance and conclude they are both fascinating manifestations of the prevailing Zeitgeist, or, more likely, in their commonalities the Spirit is saying something to the Church. 

There are also substantial differences between them and a direct conversation (at a “Johnson-Wright” international conference, let’s imagine) could enlighten and enrich them both. It could also facilitate a convergence between spheres that are so often separated (academy and pew, the “theologically” literate commentariat and the street, sober-minded “bible Christians” and pragmatic-entrepreneurial revivalists). But of this I am certain: these are two of the most important figures of current Church history. If Reformation 2.0 is upon us then these two are at the very least a Savonarola and a Melanchthon, perhaps even a Luther and a Calvin. A doctoral project on the two of them is a smart move and could serve us all richly.

A convergence between them and their worlds could precipitate a movement not seen since the Oxford fellow John Wesley and the Methodists brought revival to the English speaking world in the 18th century.

Nice one Greg.

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