theologians on television :: irony and testimony

Here is an interview of N.T. Wright on the Colbert Report. The good bishop manages to get a remarkable amount of content out, while simultaneously trying not to sound “too serious.” It’s both heartening and intriguing to watch someone speaking of the gospel in “public” space. Welcome to pop-culture’s gauntlet for serious theological thought. We’ll listen to whatever can be uttered full speed between the ironic and irreverent interruptions of the interlocuter. Colbert never breaks out of his character and therefore appears more “solid” on camera. Nonetheless, in an effort to maintain the humorous distance of irony, he doesn’t remain for long in any substantial position; Colbert’s TV persona is not serious enough to either pray or believe.

Wright is trying to communicate something very important, and makes a valiant effort (in his shoes, I’m sure I’d melt down completely), but the language about “two stages” of salvation probably isn’t all that helpful an improvement on the common-sense conception of “heaven.” Eschatology in six minutes or less—anyone up for the challenge?

H/T flying.farther

4 Replies to “theologians on television :: irony and testimony”

  1. I watched this a couple of days ago and was a bit disappointed by Wright’s attempts at humor. Bad idea. One can’t outfunny Colbert on his own show. I think Wright did a good job given the circumstances, and I agree with your words on pop-culture’s gauntlet for serious theological thought. I have walked away from many a conversation thinking, “Ok, so if you can’t understand it in 60 seconds then it isn’t worth understanding? Sheesh.” For better or worse this often prevents me from engaging with others in meaningful discourse – it just doesn’t seem to be worth it half the time.

  2. Perhaps I should add that (in theological dialogue) I am often reminded of my immaturity as a young Christian – I wasn’t ready to listen to anybody who presented a different point of view other than my own. Not that I have reached maturity in this yet, but many a time I find myself talking with someone and I recognize the same tendencies in them that I see in my former self. This sadly leads me to write many conversations off as useless instead of calling the other person out on their immaturity.

  3. Yeah, I’m not sure what I would do if I were invited for such an appearance. Seems like a great piece of cheese, pretty obviously set into a mousetrap. Wright is smart enough to know ahead of time that he’s not going to able to communicate a lot of content, and he’s responsible enough that I’m sure he wanted to do more than joke around. It looked to me like he was trying to communicate as much as he possibly could about the content of his book, without being written off as totally boring. A few jokes here and there are necessary. His attempt at witty banter comes off as nervous even where it is funny; but I think its because he is more concerned with making the most of an opportunity to offer Christian witness in a venue that doesn’t see much of it—Bishop Wright’s face and voice made it into a lot of living rooms that don’t hear a whole lot of prayer.

    What struck me as I watched it was that Wright, precisely because of his nerves, appears as a real person where Colbert is only a character, one marked by ceaseless ironic deferral.

  4. I had a somewhat different take on the interview. I felt that Wright was quick witted and generally on the ball, in a shoot from the hip venue. I even thought Wright caught Colbert off a couple of times with his quick responses.

    The only type of interview that will work on that show is the type that Wright engaged in. The people that attempt to have a serious conversation about their book or an issue, just get railroaded by Colbert’s machine-gun like satire (which is usually quite humorous).

    For what it was, I thought Wright did a stand up job. You have to commend the guy for going into that atmosphere and actually getting the essence of his message across.

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