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N T Wright on Comedy Central – The Last Anglican Straight Man?

Posted by NT Wrong on June 21, 2008

On Thursday 19 June, 2008, Bishop N T Wright was interviewed by Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. The subject was the Bishop’s latest book, Surprised by Hope, and the topic of Heaven.

N T Wright was playing the straight man to Colbert. This is an unusual role for a bishop to assume in the Anglican Church these days, unless he’s Nigerian. But N T Wright played the role well, and even slipped in a fine gag about the possible title of Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming book.

Here’s a transcript of what they said, for the sole purpose of religious education:

Stephen Colbert: “Our guest tonight wants Christians to rethink Heaven. I say they still have harps, but now with whammy-bars. Please welcome Bishop NT Wright. Bishop, thank you so much for joining us. Now, you are a bishop in the Anglican Church, correct.”

N T Wright: “Right.”

Stephen Colbert: “Great. Well welcome.”

N T Wright: “Thank you.”

Stephen Colbert: “Now, I’m a Roman Catholic – no hard feelings about the whole Henry thing. Ok?”

N T Wright: “Absolutely.”

Stephen Colbert: “Let’s not try to make this, you know … let’s not settle any scores.”

N T Wright: “No, we actually have an annual golf match of Anglicans and Catholics, and I’m sorry to say that they won the first two. But we shared the one last week, so we’re getting on alright.”

Stephen Colbert: “Ok, great, well, that’s a good ecumenical step.”

N T Wright: “We played for a dogma a hole.”

Stephen Colbert: “A dogma a hole?”

N T Wright: “Mmmm – go figure.”

Stephen Colbert: “That’s very nice. Now you talk a lot about a dogma, a really quite ancient dogma, in your book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I love the name Surprised by Hope – I believe that will be the title of Hillary Clinton’s next book, also.”

N T Wright: “I thought that was going to be ‘Hoping for a Surprise’.”

Stephen Colbert: “Well, these days, when I feel hope, I’m kind of surprised.”

N T Wright: “Well, absolutely. But the whole point about this is that most Christians have this vague idea of going to Heaven as something that …”

Stephen Colbert: “No, mine’s very specific, you get a harp, and I’ll have a mint julep, and I’ll ask Ronald Reagan questions.”

N T Wright: “Right, and you’ll be sitting like that guy in the Far Side cartoon, saying, ‘Gee, I wish I’d brought a magazine, because it’s so boring’? I mean that’s the image a lot of people have of it, but the point in the New Testament is that there’s this big surprise that Heaven is just Phase 1, and then there’s a further thing, further down the track, which is what the Bible calls New Heavens and New Earth.”

Stephen Colbert: “The New Jerusalem.”

N T Wright: “Well, the New Jerusalem, but at the end of the Bible, The New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to Earth, so that Heaven and Earth get joined and made over.

Stephen Colbert: “And we’re made over too, right. We have physical perfection along with our spiritual perfection.”

N T Wright: “The resurrection is what you get in order to inhabit this new world. But that’s only Surprise Number 1. Surprise Number 2 …”

Stephen Colbert: “What’s behind door number 2? Ha!”

N T Wright: “Well, it’s a good question. Behind door number 2, in the last chunk of the book, is that, if God is going to do that, to the whole creation at the end of time, and if that began with Jesus, then we now get to share in doing bits that are going to turn into the New Creation. In other words, stuff like, feeding the hungry, and looking after the poor, and particularly things like ….”

Stephen Colbert: “But at the coming resurrection, Jesus is going to take care of all of that. He comes on a cloud of glory, judges the living and the dead, ok, and then [claps hands twice] everything’s better. Right? He made everything in six days, he can clean up what we got here in, like, an afternoon.”

N T Wright: “Now, I don’t know if you have kids, but …”

Stephen Colbert: “I have three kids, yeah.”

N T Wright: “Well I have four, and two grandkids …”

Stephen Colbert: “It’s not a contest, ok!”

N T Wright: “Oh really, I thought it was. Never mind.”

Stephen Colbert: “Ok, yeah … I should have said, ‘… That I know of’ ”

N T Wright: “ha ha ha. Was that yours or mine?”

Stephen Colbert: “Right.”

N T Wright: “If you say to your kids, by the end of the weekend, this will be alright, so they can go and play, if there’s stuff they need to do, they need to do it now. But the point is, seriously, the beginning surprise is the resurrection of Jesus, and there’s a great many Christians who have …”

Stephen Colbert: “That surprised a lot of people, especially the Romans!”

N T Wright: “Absolutely, and the early Christians themselves. They weren’t expecting it at the time. It took them by surprise.”

Stephen Colbert: “He told ’em, though.”

N T Wright: “Yeah, he told them, but they didn’t get it. It says, ‘They didn’t get it’ and it …”

Stephen Colbert: “What’s the surprise here? Hasn’t this long been the message of the Church. Isn’t this a medieval doctrine?”

N T Wright: “It’s not medieval, in fact the middle ages was when it started to go wrong. If you go back to the very early church, yes, resurrection was the standard doctrine. I’m not saying anything radically new that wasn’t in the New Testament in the early church. In the middle ages there’s a lot of stuff comes from the Greek philosophers, people like Plato, which says that actually you can have a soul, and the soul ends up going off, and so you don’t need a body anymore.”

Stephen Colbert: “So what happens, then? I’m all for finding out what happens to me after I die – because I’d love to make some plans. But what happens then? According to your reading – and is this your reading, or is this ‘Anglican theology’?”

N T Wright: “The great thing about Anglicans is that we have no theology of our own. If something is true, the Anglicans believe it. That’s the theory anyway, it would be nice if it worked that way.”

Stephen Colbert: “That’s what I say.”

N T Wright: “No, you chaps have this stuff that you look up in these big books all the time. But the point is this, in the New Testament …”

Stephen Colbert: “You’re talking to the wrong chap.”

N T Wright: “I didn’t know you used the word chap … In the New Testament you have this wonderful picture, which is lost off for many Christians today, of God bringing everything together in this recreation, and the point about that recreation is we can do recreation here-and-now, because it’s already begun with Jesus. And I talk a lot in the book …”

Stephen Colbert: “That sounds a little slippery. I’m sorry, you got a little slippery on me there. You’re saying everything’s recreated, ok? The Earth is recreated. Everything who every lived on it is recreated. Won’t it be crowded?”

N T Wright: “Well, it could be.”

Stephen Colbert: “Will the New Earth be bigger than the last one, or will we all be slimmer?”

N T Wright: “Ok – two little facts. Well, I could do with being a bit slimmer, and I’m sure it doesn’t apply to you, but, actually, every human being who’s ever lived on the face of the earth could just about stand together on the Isle of Man, which is a little offshore island off the English coast.”

Stephen Colbert: “And that’s what Heaven will be?”

N T Wright: “No. Fortunately, no. And you’re still doing what most people do, which is using the word ‘Heaven’ for the final stage. What I say is: think about life after life after death. Heaven, ok, where people go after death, but then there is a further stage. We’re talking about a two-stage post-mortem reality.”

Stephen Colbert: “I tell you what, this is the sort of thing that really can’t be argued out in this lifetime. I’ll see you in the afterlife, and we’ll settle it there.”

N T Wright: “Well, that would be nice. Yes, good.”

Stephen Colbert: “Bishop Wright, thank you so much for joining us.”

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7 Responses to “N T Wright on Comedy Central – The Last Anglican Straight Man?”

  1. steph said

    Both sink lower than ever… It sounds painfully scripted (and unfunny). I don’t know about the “last Anglican straight man” – not in a pink shirt and jewellery. I can hear him singing “I’ve got the whole world! Coming out of my ear – the whole world! Coming out of my ear”

  2. ntwrong said

    Wright’s systematization of quite disparate eschtological texts reminds me quite a bit of Darby, Hal Lindsay and the Tim La Haye crowd. He’s trying to tie together some texts which talk about complete cosmic conflagration with texts that talk about renewal, and to slot them into his own artificial ‘dispensational’ scheme of 1) Heaven and 2) New Heaven. He’s also trying to tie together texts which talk about different conceptions of the afterlife and slot them into his own artificial scheme of 1)Life after death, and 2) Life after life after death. It’s Darby all over again.

  3. Steven Carr said

    I wonder if Colbert asked Wright about the 10 mile march Wright took part on to raise awareness of the carbon footprint of each person.

    Wright flies all around the world to raise awareness of these things.

  4. steph said

    A little bit from here, another from there and loads of wild imagination? Who is Darby?

  5. ntwrong said

    J N Darby, Plymouth Brethren. He’s not only responsible for dispensationalism, but via Woodrow Wilson, Lord Balfour and Nev Chamberlain, he’s responsible for the State of Israel, a land without a people for a people without a land.

  6. steph said

    What a revoltingly appropriate combination then:-)

  7. ‘“Well, the New Jerusalem, but at the end of the Bible, The New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to Earth…’

    Wow, a whole city of bricks and mortar up there in heaven, to come down to be planted on the earth.

    And Wright knows this bizarre fantasy is true, and is going to happen, because it says so in a old book, written by a religious lunatic who thought he saw Jesus.

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