Thinking Out Loud

June 1, 2013

The Book N. T. Wright Didn’t Write

Breaking BeatifulEvery once in awhile a story comes along that leaves you wondering how things could progress to a given level without somebody noticing something; as in how could a book be offered for sale for several weeks before the named author steps in and says he never wrote the book in question? Or something like that; sit back, this is complicated…

Christian wholesale book distributors are listing a new title, Breaking Beautiful: The Promise of Truth in a Fractured World by N. T. Wright (with Tim Suttle) as a July 1st release from either Beacon Hill Press or House Studios (depending which distributor) in both student workbook editions (at $12.99 US) and a leader edition (at $39.99) containing six videos (an inclusion lost in the annotation with both distributors).

But Christianity Today is reporting that N. T. Wright is more or less denying any association with it even though the book is a supplement to a video curriculum that does in fact contain him speaking. The original videos where filmed by The Work of the People, the organization responsible for the Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream DVD with Shane Claiborne which we reviewed here, and the Awakening of Hope DVD with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove which we also reviewed here. The Work of the People then sold the project to House Studios.

An Australian blogger, Micahel Bird is quoted — from a blog post now removed — as having this interaction with N. T. Wright

“He was mystified when I mentioned the book to him since he’s never heard of it before, nor does he recollect ever meeting a chap called Tim Suttle,” wrote Bird (in a post he has since taken down). “Hmm. Very strange indeed. The immediate word that comes to mind is ‘forgery.’ “

Left: Wright; Right, Suttle

Left: Wright; Right: Suttle

Tim Suttle, on the other hand delves into much greater detail in his regular Monday Morning Confessional series:

Months ago I was asked to write six chapters to accompany a video series – a work for hire thing. The House Studio packages these great small group resources consisting of a set of video talks by a well known scholar and a short chapter written by some unknown author interacting with the video, some of the theological issues at stake, and discussion questions for the group. They have produced several – Stanley Hauerwas, Walter Brueggemann, Shane Claiborne – all of which I highly recommend. They do a couple of things well, including printing the transcript of the video before the chapter, which seems to allow better discussion. Plus, if you only buy the book, you still get the transcripts of the talks (I’m guessing most groups buy 5-6 books and only one DVD). This is my second project for this series, the first is Public Jesus. The videos are mine for that one.

The videos for which I was asked to write were of N.T. Wright. They were produced by Travis Reed at The Work of the People, who sold the rights to the House. It was all done contractually and legally. N.T. Wright signed a contract with The House Studio authorizing the use of the video and the production of the associated materials that I wrote. For my part, it was a work for hire project – 2 grand for six chapters… roughly $14.25 an hour. I wasn’t set to get any of the royalties from the project – those were slated to go to Wright and Reed. The House has done everything legally and above board.

These series are not big sellers, and I doubt very much if The House makes any money on them – especially Breaking Beautiful because it was so expensive. The packages are meant to entice people who would typically not read something by Hauerwas, Brueggemann, or N.T. Wright, to get some exposure to these important thinkers. Video based curriculum help folks who aren’t tempted to read theology to get caught up in theological discussion. They are solid gold in my parish and serve the church well.

I woke up to an email this morning from Tom Wright saying he had only found out about the project from a friend, stating that he had not given permission for it… ugh. Meanwhile a pretty snarky blog post about and subsequent Facebook posts came out from a Pauline Scholar saying the whole project is a scam.

Nevertheless, on the internet today I’m being called a forger…

…I want to clarify that I have had no control over how this project was marketed. I think “N.T. Wright with Tim Suttle” does not reflect what really happened. In fact the moment I saw the cover I said so publicly. Two months ago I made sure to post something to mitigate any sense that I was somehow collaborating with N.T. Wright – you can see it here….

…I was really excited about a writing project that I put my heart and soul into doing. I thought it represented some of my best pastoral writing. Now it’s being completely slammed, and I’m being treated like a joke, and the whole thing may fall through…

continue reading here

For its part, House Studios has not made any statement about the project. Amazon has pulled the page the listing the title, though you can see it in this cached page.

…In a world where video content abounds, more and more publishers are releasing re-packaging material that was formerly limited to the media pages of local churches or uploads to YouTube. While it’s great that we have access to so much great teaching, it also shows how an individual author’s awareness of such projects can be very limited. It’s also easy for authors to do interviews not realizing where the material is going to surface.

On the other hand, it would be shame if Tim Suttle’s work on this project never gets seen because of litigation. To end, from the publisher’s or distributor’s marketing as posted at Ingram (a large wholesale distributor) here’s a description of what we’d be missing from N. T. Wright, or someone who looks a lot like him:

We exist in a time of growing tension: science and religion, poverty and excess, globalization and isolation. But when that tension gives way and we sense eventually it must which way will the world break?

Breaking Beautiful is book about God’s long-term restoration project for mankind. Celebrated theologian N.T. Wright partners with Tim Suttle to discuss how Christ, as the fulfillment of God’s promise, has become the source by which we perform truth in the world. The truth of the kingdom is neither brutal nor sentimental, Wright says, rather it’s a reality that takes into account the brokenness of the present while calling forth the beauty of the future.

The arc of history is bending favorably; and that truth is changing everything about the way we live.


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