Tom Wright is one of the most widely-read theologians of the 21st century, and unlike most academic authors, his prose is both enchanting and erudite, and often highly original. His work has challenged presuppositions across the entire theological spectrum, often correctly. As a result, Wright commands a strong influence both inside and outside evangelicalism. Yet there are troubling aspects to some of Wright’s ideas, particularly his understanding of Paul’s pre-Christian attitude towards the Law and, as a consequence, his doctrine of justification by faith. But Wright’s errors (as I would see them) do not stem from obvious missteps or shoddy exegesis of the biblical texts. His work is careful and consistent, which means that many lay people (and even some scholars) may disagree with his conclusions while agreeing with each of the steps he took to reach those conclusions! It’s often not easy to demonstrate where Wright is wrong.
But that is what Tom Holland attempts to do in The Search for Truth. Where Holland challenges Wright, he does so in two very different ways. Sometimes he questions whether Wright’s fresh thinking goes far enough, and proposes ways in which Wright’s thesis, if pushed further, may support more orthodox interpretations of Paul than Wright and others realise. Yet on other occasions, Holland challenges Wright’s underlying methodology and points out areas where he believes Wright’s very first step has been mis-planted — subtly enough that few readers see it, yet sufficiently enough to lead to significant slipups later down the line.
No-one has attempted such a comprehensive look at Wright’s theological perspective before, and Holland should be commended for his efforts. The Search for Truth is a valuable work that deserves to be widely read by those engaged in New Testament studies. At the same time, it isn’t a book for everyone. Holland never provides a systematic overview of Wright’s theology or methodology, so readers who are not familiar with Wright’s academic work may feel lost, or even wonder why Holland’s sometimes subtle criticisms even matter. That’s a shame, but it shouldn’t take away from Holland’s achievement. Yet it does leave room for what could be an even more valuable book; a popular-level follow-up that would be suitable for lay-readers who are familiar only with Wright’s more popular work.