December 4, 2020

Recommended: N.T. Wright on Extension 720

One of the great graces of life is good conversation and respectful dialogue between neighbors.

The best talk show I have ever heard, which embodies this grace, is Extension 720 on WGN Radio in Chicago. It is hosted by Dr. Milton J. Rosenberg. Milt is a professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, where he has served as the director of the doctoral program in Social and Organizational Psychology. Prior to coming to Chicago, he taught at Yale, Ohio State University and Dartmouth College.

He has been hosting Extension 720 since 1973, and has interviewed thousands of public figures, scholars, authors, and experts on topics  ranging from politics and foreign affairs to financial investment, entertainment, religion, literature, sports, media, medicine, and, always, many special shows that carry a “Chicago” flavor.

Last November, Dr. Rosenberg talked to N.T. Wright on the radio program when the Bishop was in Chicago. The result is a breathtaking interview between two of the best thinkers and conversationalists around. What makes it even more interesting is that Rosenberg is a secular Jewish academic. Yet he expresses profound admiration for Wright’s book, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters, and is able to engage the author in intelligent, stimulating discussion on Jesus and the events of his life, death, and resurrection, the Gospels: their historicity and authorship, the early church, and matters of Christian theology, including justification and eschatology.

This one gets my highest recommendation, and if I could give it an even higher one I would.

Go to THIS PAGE at WGN to listen to the interview or download an audio file of it. Even better, you can go to WGN or iTunes and subscribe to the Extension 720 podcast so that you can join me in enjoying one of our great cultural institutions.


  1. What a brave conversation. Thanks again also CM for your conversation with Steve Brown. Thoroughly enjoyed them both. This has been a graceful, rich week.

  2. Enjoyed the interview, very much.

    N.T. Wright does a wonderful job of answering Mr. Rosenberg’s questions.

  3. David Cornwell says

    This was a very comprehensive interview. It was also centered and focused. Wright knows that the centrality of Christian belief is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and from this, all of the implications. Every nuance of theology is only of relative importance compared to this. We are desperately in need of teaching that will strip away false teaching we hear about heaven and to replace it with teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and the New Heaven and new earth that will take place when Jesus again appears.

    And we as His followers join in the prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This means something for now, not down the road somewhere.

    Wright’s books always open up something new to me. This one was no different.

  4. I just started reading Simply Jesus the other day, definitely need to give this a listen.

  5. I don’t know, on the whole it was a frustrating interview for me.

    Wright clearly wanted to talk about his understanding of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God and how those who follow Jesus are called to engage in a project of “new creation” that began with the resurrection of Jesus and that much of the church’s doctrinal understanding throughout history has been much to influenced by a Greek worldview rather than that of the ancient Hebrews. On the other hand, it seemed to me that Rosenberg was more interested in getting Wright’s take on older controversies like whether the resurrection accounts are to be interpreted more “literally” or not and what happens to seemingly decent non-Christian people after death and what will happen to his father on the day of judgment and what happens to those people who don’t “make the cut” and so on.

    For my part, I would have preferred a discussion that more critically engages Wright’s thesis about his understanding of God’s project of new creation. For example, do the last two thousand years of history evidence that his understanding of God’s project of new creation is anything other than a theological construct (i.e. should we be surprised that the horrors of the 20th century took place so many years after God’s project of new creation had already begun)? What is the relationship between the new Jerusalem and the kingdom of God in the NT, if they are different then how are they different but if they are the same then why does John describe the new Jerusalem as coming down out of heaven from God (Rev 21:2) as opposed to being slowly built up over time by the servants of God on the earth? Etc.

  6. NW,

    Wright does not think the KOG is going to be slowly built up over time by the servants of God on earth, until one day God says “Done!” and Jesus returns. No.

    He deals with the question of why things seem to not be very different over time in “Simply Jesus”, and also in the several talks he has given “on tour” with it. A good, nuanced one is here:


    • Dana,

      I’ve seen at least one of his talks in which he clearly states that the kingdom of God/heaven is about what God is doing through his servants on the earth since Pentecost and that the invisible spiritual realm called heaven is like the CEO’s office in which Jesus has already been enthroned as king, which means that for Wright the classical idea that those who follow Jesus “go to [the kingdom of] heaven when they die” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of heaven is all about. On the other hand, Wright has also clearly stated on multiple occasions that the kingdom of God won’t be “fully consummated” (or some such theological mumbo jumbo) until Jesus comes back to the earth at some point in the future, which begs the question as to how these two different phases of the kingdom of God relate to each other in the first place.

      Anyway, if all this seems too clumsy and confusing that’s probably because it is. In reality it seems that the unstated goal of Wright is to marry the fully realized eschatology of more liberal theologians with the now/not yet eschatology of more conservative theologians. Unfortunately, the theological systems that he’s trying to bring together are not only likely to be incorrect in important respect (not that surprising) but also represent very different approaches to reading the NT, which means that any attempt to bring them together is almost certainly doomed to produce a big clunky mess.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Wright, but I would like to see him challenged along these lines.

  7. NW,
    I don’t believe that Wright is trying to “marry” any two (or more) theological systems. He has gone back “behind” them all to an examination of what was going on in first century Judaism and how Christianity arose out of all that.

    I hope you haven’t limited your reading of Wright to only the Paul material. To really understand him, you have to read the “big books” – the “Christian Origins” series, and probably “Climax of the Covenant” as well, temporarily setting aside whatever presuppositions you have and trying to grasp his definitions of words, just as you would seek to grasp definitions if you wanted to learn a second language.

    I don’t agree with Wright about everything, either, but the issue you cite is definitely not his weak point. He is very careful to nuance his KOG talk and to ground it in C1 Jewish expectations. Just because some of what he advocates has been advocated by “liberals” and “conservatives” doesn’t mean he is trying to “marry” the two. If this is what you believe what he says comes down to, you have not understood him; I would not venture a guess as to why without being able to speak with you at length. All I can say is, Wright’s thought is above and beyond both “liberal” and “conservative” theologies. I hope you continue to explore it.

    A blessed Resurrection Day to you.