Book Reviews

Book Review: “Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright” edited by James M. Scott

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright seeks to explore N.T. Wright’s thesis about the notion of continuing exile being a controlling belief for the theology of second-temple Judaism and, by extension, early Christianity. The essays come from a variety of perspectives and are led with one by N.T. Wright himself introducing his thesis. Essay topics range from analysis of the Hebrew word(s) for “Exile” to seeing the Exile as positive rather than negative or providing a sacramental interpretation of Exile.

Any collection of essays will have highs and lows. I felt this collection was fairly even in high quality essays. Across the board, it delivered on interesting topics (even if it was not always clear why the topic is important–more on that below). Highlights for me were the inclusion of Walter Brueggemann- a phenomenally interesting OT scholar, a rather deep essay on the terminology on restoration and exile in the New Testament and LXX (Septuagint), and Robert Kugler’s “nuance” of N.T. Wright’s thesis which made it more clear what Wright was saying and highlighted some of his thesis’ importance. The book bears reading and re-reading as one considers specific theological questions about Exile–surely a pervasive theme in biblical theology–and restoration.

I was surprised, however, by how even-toned even the detractors of Wright’s thesis were in this collection. Wright’s discussion of Justification has  caused serious controversy–and often shed more heat than light in some circles–and his discussion of Exile has seemed to me just as contentious. Yet the negative essays included here only touched on the areas of disagreement. Though essays like Jörn Kiefer’s “Not All Gloom and Doom” strike at the heart of Wright’s thesis by, in this case, undercutting the sheer horror of exile to the authors of the Bible, few seem to critically engage Wright on a truly broad level.

Indeed, if there’s any serious shortcoming in the book, it is that at no point is the importance of the debate truly outlined and expanded upon. Indeed, readers may be forgiven for wondering, at times, what is so contentious about some of these points–and why they matter. At one point, as I read about the positive interpretations of Exile in Judaism, I wondered- “So what?” If Wright is right, then Exile is a pervasive theme and key to understanding the entire Bible. That seems like a big deal. But most of the essays here seem to make it sound like minutiae. Having read the book, and a few chapters twice, I am left wondering about the big picture and what, exactly, is at stake in some of it.

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright is an interesting collection of valuable essays. Though it doesn’t always highlight the practical importance of its topic, it does engage with some heady subjects of interpretation on many levels that readers interested in this debate would surely benefit from. As I’ve often found to be the case, though, I was left at times wondering why Wright is found to be so contentious, and

The Good 

+Variety of perspectives offered
+Wide swath of engagement with Wright

The Bad

-Doesn’t explain enough of why the debate is important

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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