N.T. Wright on Heaven, Hell, and Universalism

NT Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, and perhaps the world's leading New Testament Scholar

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has been a great help to my wife Sue and I (she’s the biblical scholar) in developing a much more nuanced understanding of the First Century Jewish world into which most of the NT was addressed.

If you believe that the primary meaning of biblical texts is found in what the original author intended to communicate to his original audience, then understanding the worldviews of first-century Judaism is critical.  While we don’t agree with all of Wright’s theological conclusions, we have come to trust his unparalleled grasp of the first-century mind.

In this short video N.T. Wright explains his viewpoints on hell, human choice, and the allure of universalism.

Wright is much clearer and less inflammatory than recent videos/comments/interviews by Rob Bell (See, Love Wins? post), but I “think” that they are trying to say roughly the same thing. Or, better put, I suspect Rob is using his artistic passion to try to wake up the world to consider a viewpoint that N.T. Wright the careful scholar has sketched out with more subtle precision. At least I hope so. (I just got Rob’s book so I’m still not sure.) I know I am mostly on board with Wright on these issues. At this point I can only hope that Bell is actually as orthodox as he claims.
Your thoughts?

I’ve included a few other brief videos to flesh out some of Wright’s thoughts on heaven, hell, the new heaven and earth, and what he famously calls, “life after life after death” or just “life after the after life.”
Why Is Hell Not Talked About?

What Happens After You Die?

What Does Heaven Look Like?

What Will We Do in Heaven?

15 Replies to “N.T. Wright on Heaven, Hell, and Universalism”

  1. Having now read the book in its entirety, I would agree with what you posted. Bell is simply taking Lewis (Great Divorce and Last Battle) and Wright and putting them into his more poetic language.

    In fact, Bell references a handful of books for extra reading at the end of Love Wins. They include The Great Divorce and Wright's Surprised by Hope.

    The reason that there has been such a hubbub about the book is simple. Notice where most (all?) of the fuss has come? It's been from our neo-Reformed brothers. Bell's book is decidedly Wesleyan, and that comes out within the first few pages.

    This is bound to bother the new Reformed movement because it represents a shot across the bow just when they were hoping that they were to become the sole definers of current Evangelical thought. Bell (and Wright and a few others) have been saying, correctly, that Evangelicalism is a much bigger tent than just that.

    1. E.G. I think you are striking very close to the mark. Much of the bile I've read has been along the Wesleyan/Reformed divide. Well said. _Gary

  2. While reading Bell's book everything he has stated that I resonated with has been themes you have rightly pulled from Wright's work. I appreciate how Rob has taken those themes and made them a bit more focused and nuanced for a less scholarly reader. However, this same style betrays him a bit as he slips between Biblical arguments and philosophical arguments. He isn't writing with great notation or depth so it is hard to know where some of his ideas come from. Some parts of the book feel so close to being right on and others just leave me wondering a bit.

    1. Greg, I agree. I've just started reading, but I too wish he would speak more clearly and in less of a vacuum. I'll keep you posted. -Gary

  3. I have been reading Wright since the 90's when the New Pauline perspective was being argued. He brought real clarity to the issue. Since then he has released some of the most refreshing new looks at Pauline theology. His recent book on Justification was a Tour de force. I have nothing but the highest respect for his carefully thought out and well researched work. IMO, people like him, John Stott, Rowan Williams, and D.G. Dunn are advancing Anglican theology from pedestrian irrelevance to a significant force in modern theology and Christian thought.

  4. Brian, I just wish that Rob would show a little more restraint… could be waiting a long time, huh? -Gary

    1. Hey Gary-
      Thanks for all of the great links to the various articles, reviews and videos. It has helped alot in gathering positions from all-sides. Some, I strongly agree with and others, strongly disagree. I was wondering if you were ever going to blog on what your opinion is of this whole debate.

    2. I wish his critics would show restraint. The gospel coalition guys, in my opinion, have been way over the top. Rob's writing is loose…it's not tight and exacting and where there is room to either give him the benefit of the doubt or not, they have assumed the worst.

      Regardless, I think the central question Rob is seeking to answer is: Is there Christ-centered, biblical hope for people who aren't Christians? It's an important question. His answer is yes. I think it's a good answer. Could it have been articulated more tightly? For sure. But in the end, Rob doesn't deny reality of hell, judgment, the exclusivity of Christ etc.

      I think he wanted to generate conversation…he certainly accomplished that.

      Loving your blog Gary…glad I found it. Good to reconnect, if from a distance.

      1. Thanks, friend. Can't wait to get to New England again and buy you a coffee! Keep up the great work. I love listening in.

  5. "I think that Rob is using his artistic passion to try to wake up the world to consider a viewpoint that N.T. Wright the careful scholar has sketched out with more subtle precision."

    Agreed Gary.

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