'Extraordinary' new book by NT Wright, Mike Bird launched at Ridley

Academics come together for in-depth look at early church and the books of the New Testament

By Stephen Cauchi

March 31 2020 

A new book by esteemed British scholar Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright and Ridley College academic the Revd Dr Mike Bird was launched at Ridley College last month.

The 992-page history, The New Testament in its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature and Theology of the First Christians, takes an in-depth look at the early Church and the books of the New Testament.

Dr Bird, who is academic dean and lecturer in theology at Ridley, told the launch he was honoured to work with a scholar of the stature of Bishop Wright.

“Working with Tom was very humbling simply because he is the biblical studies superstar. It’s a bit like being asked to sing a duet with Beyoncé,” he said.

“It was great to work very closely with Tom, who is very gracious. It was quite intimidating … he certainly has a level of brilliance that is very humbling but it’s also mesmerising to watch.”

Dr Bird said, for example, that he heard Bishop Wright give a “brilliant, off-the-cuff” explanation of Second Temple Judaism. “He was operating on a different scale”.

Bishop Wright has written over 70 books, including The Resurrection of the Son of God and Paul and the Faithfulness of God. His work, such as his views on the Apostle Paul, has stirred controversy. He has also held a number of academic titles and is currently a senior research fellow at Oxford University. 

Dr Bird said that Bishop Wright “gets a lot of flak and criticism from a wide variety of people but he also has a very wide appeal among a great variety of people.”

When Bishop Wright visited Melbourne several years ago, people from a wide range of denominations attended his events, including members of the Uniting, Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and Hillsong churches.

“He just has this appeal that really transcends denominations and differences,” Dr Bird said.

The Principal of Ridley College, the Revd Dr Brian Rosner, told the launch that the book was “incredibly comprehensive” but despite that, “quite concise”.

“It’s hard to put down, I find,” he said. “It’s extraordinary that the book somehow distils so much of a New Testament scholar, Tom Wright, in a way that’s readable and memorable.”

Dr Rosner praised Dr Bird as a prolific author and a world-class scholar whose style of writing was “short and punchy”. As well, the book was lavishly illustrated with figures, maps, tables, text grids and timelines.

Dr Rosner said the book was for “everyone”, including academics and non-academics.

“If you’ve got a theology degree already, it’s a great revision. If you haven’t got a theology degree, it’s a great taster.

“What I recommend is just read the background chapters as you see fit and then read through the New Testament using the chapters on the New Testament books as introductions.

“I think it’ll give you a very rich reading.”

Dr Bird, who said the book had been “10 years in the making”, first suggested the idea of the book to the publisher SPCK. “I said … you should get someone to work with Tom Wright and gradually work through his lifetime’s work and produce a New Testament introduction.

“When I said this, the editor’s eyes lit up with a whole world of possibilities.”

The publisher Zondervan later got involved, he said, with the result that two DVDs, a workbook and an instructor’s guide were also included.

DVD footage of Bishop Wright was played at the launch, which was held on 2 March.