N.T. Wright On The Colbert Report – Why Sound Bytes of Sound Theology Is Just A Cacophony

Posted on June 20, 2008


There’s lots of buzz about N.T. Wright’s appearance on The Colbert Report. I’ll look forward to reading the responses. Thus far, there’s very little content in the blogosphere (as of June 20, 2008).

I was disappointed, and I’d like to share why below.

As someone who appreciates both N.T. Wright and Stephen Colbert for their individual contributions to society and the church, this interview left me puzzled, disappointed, and concerned. While the interview wasn’t “bad,” it just wasn’t “good,” in the way that both of them are, and have been.

1. I MAY BE SKEWED BY MY PERSONAL AFFECTIONS FOR BOTH. When something so serious, core, and essential to faith and to life as the resurrection is platformed in a 6 minute satirical bit, there may be something going on in my psyche that will always be disappointed with what is communicated. Also, given that I do appreciate Colbert’s ability to “cut through the crap” of a lot of rhetoric on other kinds of dogma, he was unable to do that with this particular subject (both topic and person) with the same effect. Perhaps that was because it was too well-thought out, too well-done and/or too well-grounded. So, in my mind, both were compromised, and neither was able to shine in the way that they normally do.

2. CONTEXT AND MEDIUM IS MEANING. THE SHORT CONTEXT COULD LEAVE A VIEWER MORE CONFUSED AND PERPLEXED. When Tom Cruise’s video released on Scientology, it is easy to see why we can label that kind of thinking “crazy.” But what we must also take into account, is that anything out of context, or anything through a particular medium is open to picking up imaginative meanings, (such as “he’s crazy”) that was not original to the author. Those perceptions could be of the person or the idea that is being purported. Such is the case with Oprah’s new spiritual segment with Eckhart Tolley’s “A New Earth,” and countless other examples. All that to say, all good ideas, and especially good theology takes time and context to flesh out. N.T. Wright’s 332 page work on this kind of platform, through this kind of medium, could leave some thinking he’s crazy (“what’s all this talk about a ‘two-stage’ post-mortem existence?” etc.). Back to #1, that’s difficult for me, as I hope more would leave curious, intrigued, and spurred on to read more.

2b. THIS IS WHY SOUND BYTES OF SOUND THEOLOGY END UP BEING A CACOPHONY. It’s not that the sound bytes are bad. Neither is it that sound theology cannot be summed up in clear and concise compact statements (doctrines, or terms). It is simply that formats such as these open themselves up to more voices of opinion and meaning, rather than opening themselves up to questions from people who desire to listen, and learn more. Cynical? Perhaps. I’m hoping this is just observational.

Overall, however, I’m hopeful that the “Colbert bump” works for Wright’s book. And, as I have written elsewhere, this is another example of faith and culture crossing paths and linking arms to help influence the public psyche. And, it’s just fun to see these worlds intermingle.

For more on N.T. Wright’s book Surprised By Hope, you can check out my reviews 1, 2, and 3.

Posted in: Culture, Religion