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‘Lent For Everyone: Mark: Year B’ by Tom Wright

Some books of theology manage to fit hermeneutics, exegesis, praxis and soteriology all into one sentence. Very impressive.  Others make suitable texts for Children’s Church. But this is the Goldilocks of theological works, pitched at  just the right level of brow for the vast majority of the reading public.

As multi-layered as an onion, Professor N T Wright‘s new book on Mark draws you in at once with its matter-of-fact, chatty, deceptively simple prose.  Each ‘chapter’ covers one day between Ash Wednesday and Easter Saturday. Using the prescribed lectionary for the day, Professor Wright focuses on a few verses and offers us his translation, and his exegesis. If, like me, you prefer a more traditional version of the bible, I suggest you begin by reading the passage in that version before plunging into the Wright text. Like all the best teachers, he makes some of the expected points about each passage, so that you are to some extent lulled into thinking you are keeping up well (if not actually ahead of him), but he then slips in an explanation, a twist or a new perspective, which sends you back to the beginning of the chapter to start again. I do not mean to suggest that the text is difficult, far from it, but there is a good deal more meat on the bones that you might anticipate at first glance.

Consciously or unconsciously, Professor Wright echoes the style of Mark’s gospel itself. Alec McCowan memorably did a one-man show in which he simply spoke Mark’s gospel, having first learnt it by heart. Here he describes how he became gripped by the text. Although he did ‘not regard himself as a religious man’,

Certainly, when I was working on St Mark and performing St Mark, there were signs. On several occasions, when I least expected it and when I most needed it, there would be a sign.   I became aware that the sun, the moon, or even the glow from a burning candle, assumed a new significance.  Whenever I needed it, I was blessed; and blessed specifically with light and warmth.

Reading Morna Hooker’s book on Mark (as our house group did for the last Year B Lent), I was thrilled to learn that some scholars think that Mark finished his gospel at 16.8, as it were mid-stream. To me, that fits beautifully with the idea that Mark was writing all the time with dramatic effect in mind. Ending by begging the question of what happens next, he leads us straight on to Acts. Now, this was probably not deliberate (and Professor Wright, though he agrees that Mark’s words probably end at 16.8, does not think that this was his intended conclusion.) Nevertheless:

It reads like a shocking new beginning – which of course is what Mark intends. The story is not over. In fact, it’s just starting: the new story…the new way of living, a new way of being human, has been launched upon the world, a way that people thought impossible then and think impossible still today, but a way that has caught up millions and transformed their lives beyond recognition. (p.174)

If you are looking for a wise godfather to hold you by the hand as you find or continue your journey of transformation, I can recommend no one more sincerely than Professor N T Wright, or Tom, as he may let you call him.

He ends on Easter Saturday with a prayer:

Lord Jesus, King and Master; overcome our fears with your love, and our doubts with your life, so that we may take that love and life to the ends of the world.



Lent for Everyone: Mark: Year B by Tom Wright, published January 2012 by SPCK Publishing, 144 pages, £6.99 ISBN 9780281062225 The illustration is taken from the SPCK website. The quotation is from Double Bill by Alec McCowan, first published by Elm Tree Books in 1980.

What the publisher says about the book:

The third in the massively successful Lent for Everyone series focuses on the Gospel of Mark, taking the reader through the designated Lectionary readings for every day of Lent and Easter. The New Testament passages are Tom Wright’s own lively and accessible translations from The New Testament for Everyone (SPCK, 2011)Each extract is followed by a freshly written reflection and a prayer that will encourage readers to ponder the relevance of Mark’s Gospel for their own lives. Lent for Everyone: Mark,Year B is an ideal study companion that will help to make Lent a period of rich discovery and growth for both individuals and groups.


The Big Read, Big Bible Project, is now in its third year, having begun with Luke and then moved on to Matthew. The idea is for as many people as possible to share the same text, which they can either then meditate on alone or, preferably, discuss in an online or offline house group. Lay Anglicana will be hosting an online house group to discuss the texts in our discussion forum, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Do please join us!
Here Professor Wright explains The Big Read and welcomes all participants:

17 comments on this post:

Erika Baker said...

I loved Morna Hooker, she’s SO inspiring!
But I do struggle with Tom Wright. I used to really admire him but I’m getting more and more radical in my old age. If someone clearly doesn’t live what he preaches, what price his theology?
What he says about gay people and how he has undermined Rowan at times so publicly, I just can’t see that any of that deserves any respect at all.
Am I being unfair? Can we admire parts of what someone says about God even if we believe that, overall, he’s missed the point?

Lay Anglicana said...

Glad you share my rave reaction to Morna Hooker. She came and lectured on Mark at a church in Andover one cold evening, but she really got us all fired up!
I know what you mean about Tom Wright. I have dipped into his lighter theology over the years and almost always found it helpful and thought-provoking. However, his views on women bishops & LGBT people in church are directly opposed to mine. I don’t know the answer to your last question – will you join us for Lent and see what you think?

11 January 2012 16:46
11 January 2012 16:02
UKViewer said...

Oh Dear. I’ve got Tom Wright’s Mark for Everyone, not the Lent Book. Amazon here I come 🙁

Still, you can never have enough books.

House group forming?

Lay Anglicana said...

Thanks for taking time out, E. I am hoping it will be you, me (?Joyce), Charlie Farns-Barns – and just possibly now Erika? I am hoping the blog post might encourage a few more who are not already part of an offline house group.

11 January 2012 16:48
11 January 2012 16:27
Pam Smith said...

I agree with Erika I’m afraid – and also TW has said some very disparaging (and even insulting) things about people who work online which hasn’t really swayed me in his favour.

It’s always good to get together and study things though!

Lay Anglicana said...

Like Erika – and you? – I find this quite an interesting and difficult moral question. I realised he was pro-Covenant (and probably anti-gay) since it tends to come up in conversation around the Covenant. And yet what he has to say on Mark and other parts of the Bible is interesting and helpful. I came to the conclusion that I should read it because it was interesting, and because of the shared experience of The Big Read. But would you read Bible commentary by Hitler or Pol Pot? – probably not.

Pam Smith said...

I would read a commentary by anyone if I thought it would add something to my knowledge!

I attended an event at CODEC in Durham a couple of years ago where TW was a keynote speaker and he really did have an enormous suspicion of online Christian groups, labelling us all ‘gnostic’ because the experience of being online is detached from our physical selves. I thought that was simplistic and not very well thought through it felt as if he didn’t feel he had to justify such an opinion or try to see the counter arguments to what he was saying and address them.

He also made some rather inflammatory and (some would say) ill informed comments about blogging and social media which annoyed people largely because he admitted that he doesn’t engage with either of those things himself!

As one commentator pointed out

“Tom Wright admits he doesn’t use social media, doesn’t know how to use it, and this somehow qualifies him to speak about the social and relational ramifications of social media? (He does admit to being an avid texter and emailer though; so is he socially isolated?)”

Lay Anglicana said...

Very interesting – and thank-you for the link. Not just inflammatory but scatological!

12 January 2012 10:40
Revsimmy said...

Well I guess we all have our blind spots. I believe that John Bell holds similar views on social media. Perhaps someone should really suggest to NTW that he reads Shane Hipps’ “Flickering Pixels” or, even better, John Dyer’s “From the Garden to the City” (both available in “real” paper versions) before he talks about this again. After all, Socrates held that writing was socially harmful.

That said, I guess it is up to all of us to follow St. Paul’s advice to “test everything, hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil.” Just because I disagree with someone on one or two issues doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them on others. And just occasionally I might change my mind – and sometimes the other person does.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you Revsimmy for these words of wisdom. And thank-you for the recommendations of Shane Hipps and John Dyer…amazon is going to do well out of us today!

12 January 2012 14:51
12 January 2012 12:27
12 January 2012 09:30
12 January 2012 08:59
12 January 2012 08:37
skylarking said...

I’m not sure the Stalin/Pol Pot comparison is helpful.

Having views directly opposed to ones own does not make people morally reprehensible. This is the very trap that so much fundamentalism gets into: people who cross the rubicon (gays, women, inerrancy) are ‘the enemy’ and not worth countenencing.

Lay Anglicana said...

Yee…sss. I wasn’t really comparing Professor Wright with the ‘hate figures’ of our time. I was, perhaps clumsily, trying to see what happened to the argument if it was reduced to the absurd. If you agree that you would feel uneasy reading bible commentary by Hitler, then you accept Erika’s point in principle. It then remains to consider, like on old fashioned weighing scales, where you would slide the marker to in order to reach the point at which you regard anything said by that person as dubious. (A similar example is the old story about George Bernard Shaw establishing that the woman on his right at dinner would sleep with a man for a million pounds. When he then asked her whether she would sleep with someone for ten shillings, the woman exploded: ‘What do you take me for? A common prostitute?’ Shaw replied. ‘Well we have established that. I am now trying to settle the price’)

skylarking said...

I always attributed that one to Groucho, but GBS sounds far more likely…

The problem I have with that as a Reductio ad Absurdum is that it mixes orthodoxy and orthopraxis. I may not agree with NTW on homosexual practise (that’s him quaking in his boots), but I have no evidence to suggest he is homophobic or anti-gay.

As a some time religious journalist, the most intolerant interviewee I ever dealt with held all the “right” views on women, gays, interfaith dialogue etc. He just villified anyone who happened to disagree with him. It is he I would have qualms about reading now, long before I boycotted others of a more conservative hue.

Lay Anglicana said...

What I most cherish about the Church of England is its tolerance of the practices and beliefs of other Anglicans. It is this vilifying of anyone who happens to disagree which has lead to the Covenant. So we do agree, I think, on our conclusions. I do not know whether Professor Wright is ‘anti-gay’ in my shorthand. However, I can probably dig up again if you need me to the podcast I heard before writing this piece. He says (and I have no reason to doubt his sincerity) that he is a supporter of women bishops. However, the unity of the Anglican Communion is also important to him, more important than the appointment of women bishops if that will upset some Provinces. So in practice he would vote against women bishops.

I see Archbishop Cranmer has a piece today based on Voltaire’s ‘I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. My sentiments entirely!

12 January 2012 15:35
12 January 2012 15:09
12 January 2012 14:46
12 January 2012 13:23
Erika Baker said...

I don’t really mind what views people have – you can hold almost any view with integrity. But I do mind how they express them. And Tom Wright has been very sneering and superior about things he doesn’t agree with.
It’s the respect I’m missing.
Now, if someone spends his life developing theology about the Love of God in Christ – how can he then miss something as fundamental as not rubbishing those you disagree with, not undermining people, not publicly dismissing them, not elevating yourself above folk you believe to be less intelligent than you are?

To me, there’s such a discrepancy between words and actions there that I just cannot get over.

And I may be particularly sensitive because with the lgbt issue he’s not talking about an abstract theological problem he just happens to have a different opinion about but he’s talking about me. He’s ridiculing my life without knowing me. He’s calling me immoral without ever having had a single conversation with me. And I have no right of reply, no means of showing him that he might be wrong. You have no idea how helpless and angry that sometimes makes me. In a conversations on Alan’s blog the other day he pointed out that not all of general society was ok with the gay issue either. But for me the difference is that in society I disagree with equals. In the church I disagree with ignoramusses like Tom Wright who set themselves up as my moral and actual superiors.

A man who’s steeped in the theology of Love but who doesn’t get that simply has no credibility for me.

But – yes, I’d love to share your Lent group!

13 January 2012 08:14
Erika Baker said...

I keep thinking around this…. the other problem I have is that if I know that someone can be so shockingly, comprehensively wrong about a major theological issue – how can I be sure about his authority in other cases?
Doesn’t it cast a shadow over everything else he write so confidently?

14 January 2012 19:18

[…] So what went well with our online house group, that is to say the discussion in the Lay Anglicana forum of Mark’s gospel, using Tom Wright’s Lent for Everyone? […]

05 April 2012 06:31

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