N.T. Wright on academic vs. ministerial postings

I can identify with this an awful lot – Wright really speaks to my heart on this one. I have the exact same dilemma.

Trevin Wax: Why is it that you have never pursued exclusively an academic post? Why have you chosen to remain so connected to the local church?

N.T. Wright: It’s a good question. When I was at seminary in my early twenties, one of my teachers said to me, “You’re going to have to decide. Either you’re going to be an academic or you’re going to be a pastor. You can’t be both.” I remember thinking, Rats! I want to be both! Why are you telling me I can’t do these two things?And so I have kind of oscillated to and always wanted to do both.

It’s partly that I’m an extrovert and that I like being with people. If you shut me up in a library with nothing else around for weeks on end, I’d go mad! I have to sort of go out… and…

When I’ve had sabbatical time when I’ve really had the whole of sort of three months to organize entirely as I want, I could stay in the library or at the desk all the time, but by the middle of the day, I’ll find myself wandering downtown and going and sitting in a café with a notebook just to get the buzz of some people. So I’m a people person. I like being with people. So I like being a teacher, and so on.

For me, actually, being a bishop in a bishopric where there’s an academic tradition (going back to people like Lightfoot and Westcott and so on) gives me this fascinating, challenging, but open invitation to say, “We want you to be a scholar. We want you to go on doing this. But do it as a bishop!” And looking back to the earlier centuries of the church, most of the great teachers were also bishops and vice versa. It’s only fairly recently that the church has had this great divide.

Of course, that means that there’s lots of stuff that I can’t do. I don’t do much book-reviewing, for instance, which ordinary scholars do quite a bit. I’ve just had to say to myself, I haven’t got time to do that. And I miss that. I should be doing that, but I’m not. So, it’s a choice.

In terms of personality type… I don’t know if you know the Eneogram and that sort of thing, but on the Eneogram, I’m a number 7. One of the images for number 7 is the butterfly – the little creature that hops from plant to plant because it’s so fascinated by this one, and then it’s so excited by that one, and then it really likes that one too. And that’s very much who I am.

From Trevin Wax’s interview with Wright.

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3 Responses

  1. Definitely lots to relate to there. I find myself drawn in more directions than one person could ever accomplish.

    I find it refreshing to hear someone like Wright admit that he has weaknesses and struggles, especially since he seems like such an academic “superstar.”

  2. Yes, and especially the affirmation of hearing him say he can’t do everything – such as in the case of the book reviews.

    I really identify with his butterfly image too – I’ve never taken the Eneogram, but I suspect I’d be one of those too.

    And he does have a point – until comparatively recently in history the great teachers and scholars of the church have generally been monks and priests and bishops. They didn’t see a great conflict between the two, in fact I suspect they would have seen a connection.

  3. […] wrote an interesting post today on NT Wright on academic vs. ministerial postingsHere’s a quick […]

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