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Candidate for Cantuar: N T or Tom Wright?


Professor N T Wright, or Tom Wright,  is so well-known to all likely readers of this post that I hesitate to write at all, but it would be unfair not to subject him to the same sort of summary that I have offered for other potential candidates, so here goes. I was rather surprised to find that Tom Wright has a LinkedIn profile. He is still listed as Bishop of Durham, and only has one connection. This is rather the point – Bishop Tom has no need of a LinkedIn page, he is already a household name.

Bishop Tom was born in Morpeth, Northumberland and educated at Sedbergh, established in 1525. He read classics at Exeter College, Oxford, followed by a theology degree from Exeter University. In addition to his Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford,  he  has also been awarded multitudinous other honorary doctoral degrees.



As the entry in Crockford’s makes clear, he is essentially a theologian and does not appear to have had any experience as a priest at parish level. His seven years at Durham, however, would have given him oversight of all the parishes in the diocese.

* +WRIGHT, The Rt Revd Prof Nicholas Thomas. b 48. Ex Coll Ox BA71 MA75 DPhil81 DD00. Wycliffe Hall Ox BA73. d75 p 76 c 03. Fell Mert Coll Ox 75-78; Chapl 76-78; Chapl and Fell Down Coll Cam 78-81; Asst Prof NT Studies McGill Univ Montreal 81-86; Chapl and Fell Worc Coll Ox and Univ Lect Th 86-93; Dean Lich 93-99; Can Th Cov Cathl 92-99; Lector Theologiae and Can Westmr Abbey 00-03; Bp Dur 03-10; Chair NT and Early Christianity St Andr Univ from 10.

He was  Bishop of Durham from 2003 until 2010, when he left to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews.



He has an astonishing 69 books currently in print, according to his Amazon pages. Lay Anglicana reviewed his 2012 book on Mark, released in time to be studied for Lent around the globe, under the leadership of the Big Bible Project; Lay Anglicana also ran an ‘online house group‘ to discuss a page every day of the text.

There is no doubt that he is an excellent communicator – his ease of manner and attractive speaking voice make him a pleasure to listen to, even when one does not necessarily agree with what he is saying.

He publishes under two names: ‘Professor N T Wright’ when he is writing for grown-up theologians, and the matier ‘Tom Wright’ when he is writing what I call ‘Goldilocks theology’, works which are neither too difficult nor too easy, but just [w]right.  This habit of writing different sorts of work under different names is of course quite common in the publishing world (Ruth Rendell, for example, also writes as Barbara Vine) and there may be good reasons for doing it, particularly in fiction, but for works of theology it makes me a little uneasy, I know not why.




Bishop Tom’s theological views would require a post of their own, running to several thousand words. He is well-represented on YouTube, if you would like to explore further and the Wikipedia entry combined with his fan website should provide a good introduction to his beliefs, if you have time to spare.
If you don’t have time to spare, I recommend the page on Thinking Anglicans summarising his interview in 2010 by the Church of Ireland Gazette:

“Bishop Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham and now a Research Professor at the University of St Andrews, has said that the Church of England should not proceed to the consecration of women as Bishops if the move were to create a large division.

He said: “my own position is quite clear on this, that I have supported women Bishops in print and in person. I’ve spoken in Synod in favour of going that route, but I don’t think it’s something that ought to be done at the cost of a major division in the Church.”

Bishop Wright warned that if the Church of England were not able to resolve the matter “a ‘quick fix’ resolution” would be “a recipe for long-term disaster”…

And asked about the Anglican Covenant, he said this:

Asked if he thought the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant, aimed at keeping the global Communion together, would become a reality, Bishop Wright said: “I think so, because I don’t think really there’s any alternative.” He said the Communion could not afford to have “the kind of unstructured mess that we’ve had”.


It seems clear that Bishop Tom abhors ‘unstructured mess’.
He has already made it clear what he thinks should happen next to Cantuar, in an ‘appreciation’ in Fulcrum of Archbishop Rowan’s term of office (my bolding):

A new Archbishop must be allowed to lead. Yes, there are deep divisions. Part of the next Archbishop’s task will be to discern and clarify the difference between the things that really do divide and the things that people believe will do so but which need not. But, at the same time, there are problems of structure and organization that slow things down and soak up energy, problems that can and should be fixed so that the church and its leaders can be released for their mission, and to tackle properly the problems we face.

Who, after all, is running the Church of England? We have Lambeth Palace, the House of Bishops, General Synod, the Archbishops’ Council, the Anglican Communion Office, and (don’t get me started) the Church Commissioners. How does it all work? In an episcopal church, the bishops should be the leaders. Rowan hasn’t bothered much about structures, but with six hands grabbing at the steering wheel someone now needs to take charge. I wouldn’t bet on the Crown Nominations Commission proposing someone with the right combination of spirituality, wisdom and strategic thinking, plus boundless, multi-tasking energy. But that’s what I shall be praying for.


Leap in the dark assessment

An authoritarian autocrat in a cuddly teddy-bear’s clothing?

17 comments on this post:

Jim Beyer said...

If the church needed to choose a theologian ion chief or historian in chief, I suppose he would be a candidate to support. As is, what the church needs, is first a working primate who really spends most of his time on the Church in England, and second a person who understands the communion as a community, not a denomination. He simply is not that man.


10 September 2012 18:24
Wendy Dackson said...

After ++Rowan, someone with a more evangelical leaning is probably what is going to happen, which I think makes +Tom a contender. But are they going to want someone who has an even MORE academic cv?

10 September 2012 18:59
Ivor Stolliday said...

His time, or lack of it, in Durham, and the strange manner of his going, would lead one to have doubts – as you know. Not a credible candidate for ABC in my view.

Lay Anglicana said...

I share your view, and am glad that I am not alone in it.

10 September 2012 20:01
10 September 2012 19:49
UKViewer said...

While I respect Bishop Tom’s credentials, I don’t believe him to be a viable candidate for ABC.

He voluntarily relinquished his senior post in favour of a return to Academia. I feel that this is his comfort zone and while he might like the travel and connectedness of being part of the Anglican Communion, I don’t know that he’d be in his comfort zone doing all of the rest.

If he were selected I believe that it will be a mistake that we will live to regret.

10 September 2012 21:10
Lay Anglicana said...

I am tempted to say what I said to Ivor – I share your view and am glad I am not alone in it!
Of course, we may be doing him an injustice – there is nothing to say he is actually seeking the job, though I thought the piece in Fulcrum did suggest that he could see himself in the role.

10 September 2012 22:34
Tom said...

Curious at your implication that an autocratic ABC would be a bad thing, especially in light of Rowans declaration that a presidential figure is precisely what is needed.

We need someone with vision and the willingness to make the difficult decisions previous ABCs have been un-willing/able to make. Tom Wright would be ideal.

JCF said...

Bishop Wright, is that you?


I know non-CofEers have any say in the titular (!) leader of the whole AC . . . but, to Tom Wright for ABC, this (Yank) Episcopalian sez “Hell NO!”

Lay Anglicana said...

I would be amazed if the good professor were appointed, don’t worry.

11 September 2012 07:03
Chris Fewings said...

I don’t think I have any say in it, either, JCF, here in an English pew!

11 September 2012 08:02
11 September 2012 04:05
Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you for commenting, Tom. ‘De gustibus non est disputandum’, I think, on whether you wish to be led by an Archbisop N T /Tom Wright or not – it is a matter of personal preference.

But I do dispute the idea that an autocratic ABC would be a good thing. Since Magna Carta, this country has not been an autocracy, but a parliamentary democracy, and the Church of England, as the Church of the State, needs to reflect that polity. That is the theoretical objection. And the practical objection is that I do not know of any institution in the 21st century in Britain which is successfully run as an autocracy. The Covenant is an excellent example of autocracy not working in the Church of England – the clergy and laity will simply revolt, even if the bishops fall into line (turkeys, Christmas).

That is not to say that there are no leaders who are sufficiently charismatic that the people will actively want to follow them – if we are very lucky, the Crown Nominations Commission will identify someone with this kind of leadership ability. Let us pray.

11 September 2012 07:02
11 September 2012 00:07
Chris Fewings said...

I like the video. Instructive.

Lay Anglicana said...

Yes, I thought it was a good one, from the many that there are to choose from. The thing is, although I do not like the fact that Professor Wright takes it as read that he is unassailably right on every point, he does have charm when speaking.

11 September 2012 10:12
11 September 2012 09:23
MisterDavid said...

Wright is an excellent writer, theologian, communicator and plenty of other things, but I think we all in our bones know that his calling is not to the episcopate, but to the ivory tower and the lecture theatre. So he should be free to get on with that.

Additional thought: I think it’s very healthy that the CofE has always had a few figures, like Wright, who are highly influential outside of Anglicanism (contemporary examples include Nicky Gumbel, Alister McGrath, Matt Redman, John Polkinghorne, Mike Pilavachi). To some degree, I think this is what Wright should be doing: being a blessing to the wider Church, rather than being limited to the CofE institution.

Lay Anglicana said...

I think you make a very good point, Mister David, it would be best all round if Professor Wright were to stick to what he is best at doing, and indeed he is one of a very few who are known outside Anglicanism. It is just that I sense that he is itching to get his hands on that steering wheel!

12 September 2012 14:06
12 September 2012 13:15
Chris Hansen said...

I gather from people who trained with him and who know him that he is somewhat dismissive of women who work for and with him, perhaps stopping just short of sexism. In addition, Durham was left in an unholy administrative mess. He is an academic, not a leader. I hope that he retires covered with laurels from St. Andrews.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for this, Chris. He seems to be slipping in the league tables, so perhaps other share your view? 🙂

18 September 2012 23:19
18 September 2012 23:03

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