The Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, today announced that he would be leaving his post on 31 August in order to return to academia. After nearly seven years in post he is to become Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Is he right to go at this point?
According to the press notice, Tom said, ‘This has been the hardest decision of my life. It has been an indescribable privilege to be Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Durham, to work with a superb team of colleagues, to take part in the work of God’s kingdom here in the north-east, and to represent the region and its churches in the House of Lords and in General Synod. I have loved the people, the place, the heritage and the work. But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop. I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear.’
This is one of those announcements that makes you miserable and cheers you up in the same moment. He will be badly missed as a diocesan bishop and member of the General Synod and House of Lords – but he will now be able to produce more books, do more lecturing and broadcasting and continue to educate the rest of us whose brains aren’t big enough.
Tom published the superb The New Testament and the People of God in 1992, followed it up in 1996 with Jesus and the Victory of God, did a minor (800 page) diversion into The Resurrection of the Son of God in 2003… but has been promising another three volumes ever since. Given the nature of these first three books (of an intended five-part series which grew to six planned volumes), the Church needs the next three. Of course, since being Bishop of Durham, Tom has managed to write what seems like a book every week, numerous articles and papers, lecture around the world and pop up on the telly alot. His output and capacity for creative work is nothing short of remarkable.
It is perhaps sad that it is too difficult to combine being a diocesan bishop with academic work – he is not the first academic bishop to find the tension too great – but his choice means both a loss and a gain for the wider church. It is perhaps also evidence of the load carried by diocesan bishops in an increasingly demanding world and church – just consider the amount of legislation that now has to be embraced by the Church…
Tom will go with my prayers and gratitude. And a plea to get the remaining books written so I and others can continue to learn, be stimulated, encouraged and challenged.