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Why Our Vocations Matter

N.T. Wright's God in the Dock: What Place Now for Christian Faith in Public Life? (C.S. Lewis Lecture, Dublin, Ireland, October 21, 2011)
Why Our Vocations Matter

This speech, given last fall at the invitation of The Evangelical Alliance Ireland, presents the reader with Tom Wright at his popular best. Most of Wright’s less technical writings are sermonic, and intended for the Christian, specifically churchly, audience. This talk differs in that it assumes no particular listenership (except the obvious: the Irish) and therefore is beneficial for both believers and unbelievers. Longer than articles recommended in this space normally are, nevertheless taking the time to read the twelve pages or so rewards the effort abundantly.

Wright’s announced topic is the place of the Christian faith in public life, largely in the West today, though much of what he says would apply anywhere in the world. After a brief introduction setting his remarks in the context of the recent resurgence of atheism in the public conversation, his talk subdivides roughly into three parts. Firstly, he recounts the story of the rise to prominence of “a set of beliefs about the world which we can loosely call secular modernism.” He rightly characterizes this view as the dominant one in the West today. Secondly, he describes the typical Christian response to this meta-narrative, and largely agrees with it. But, he says, “the story which the Christian respondents have been telling has, by and large, not really addressed – so far as I am aware – the deeper question of whether there is therefore any place for Christian faith in public life.” The rest of his speech sets out his understanding of what that place is.

Though one probably will disagree with points along the way, Wright lays a solid case for the changing of the world by the work of the King through His servants in the world. The basis for his case lies primarily in the role of Jesus and His teachings, particularly those of the Kingdom, but he is wide ranging in showing the Kingdom agenda of Jesus to be there throughout the Scripture. Of special note, I thought, is his interpretation of the Beatitudes as “Jesus’ agenda for kingdom-people. They are not simply about how to behave so that God will do something nice to you. They are about the fact that Jesus wants to rule the world through you, but for that to happen you’ll have to become people of this kind.”

A rich and thought-provoking tool for discussion of the Kingdom purposes of work in the world, Wright’s speech ought to be read and re-read.

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