Friday, April 30, 2010

NT Wright v The Gospel (Part 1)

I recently posted about NT Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, who is revered in many circles for his defense of the resurrection. However, there are major problems with Wright's understanding of the cross itself, and I was very critical of Wright when I posted on him.

Unfortunately, that answer just won't do for those who suffer from paralysis by analysis. I was heavily criticized by an apologist recently for passing sentence on NT Wright without reading some of his books in entirity. That is a bad argument in itself because it is only necessary to prove someone is not a heretic. You only need to get the Gospel wrong in one point to be anathema as Paul points out to the church at Galatia (Galatians 1:8-9). Furthermore I suppose I could ask my critics to read all of my relevant blog posts before passing judgment. Michael Horton even laid it out very plainly in an earlier post. However, for the sake of further clarity on a man who furthers his theological career by being vague and hazy about fundamental Christian truths, I will delve somewhat deeper in this series on NT Wright.

When I immerse myself in excellent works such as "The Gospel According to Jesus", "Desiring God", "The Holiness of God", "Pierced For Our Transgressions", "In My Place Condemned He Stood", "9 Marks of a Healthy Church", "Christless Christianity", "The God Who Justifies", "Justification and Regeneration", "The Trellis and the Vine", and Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology it becomes very obvious that some things are very wrong with NT Wright. I refuse to spend money buying one of Wright's books, and find him incredibly boring, and unable to give a clear answer to many simple questions (unlike the abovementioned books which are unmistakable crystal clear concerning soteriology). I have read good sized chunks of "What St Paul Really Said", "Simply Christian", and "Justified". I have also read Wright's online responses to both John Piper's "The Future Of Justification" and the book "Pierced for Our Transgressions". I have studied Phil Johnson's lectures at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 2004 concerning Wright and the "new perspective", as well as reviews at the 9 Marks website, and discussed the issue extensively face to face with both Phil Johnson and Todd Friel. All of this wasn't necessary anyway, as a plain reading of Wrtight's understanding of imputation (or lack thereof) and works based maintenance of salvation is stuff worthy of Pauls Galatian rebuke. It's really not that hard. In fact, I would even contend that Wright's confusing waffling on the question of homosexuality verifies either a low view of Scipture, cowardice, or incompetence.

How NT Wright Became The First Person In 2000 Years Of Church History To Figure Out What The Apostle Paul Really Said!

Reading Wright was not only exceedingly boring, it actually revealed where many of the emergents get their ideas from. He seems to be their "Yoda". Constant themes prevail in his writing. Sin on a corporate level but rarely on an individual level. Kingdom this, kingdom that, kingdom here (I remember Jesus saying that if His Kingdom were of this world then his servants would fight). Blurred lines between this world and eternity. Nothing of God's wrath against sinners who are law breakers, nothing of depravity, nothing of hell, complete failure to understand the function of the Mosaic law, all of which lead up to the gross distortion of penal substitution and the historic understanding of imputation. It is a telling sign that Wright's understanding of justification has influenced numerous evangelicals to do the unthinkable and "come home to Rome". In fact Wright has an amazing knack of missing what a plain reading of Scripture reveals. He denies the major problem in Galatians was that they were adding works to the Gospel or teaching works rightoeusness:

the tradition of Pauline interpretation has manufactured a false Paul by manufacturing a false Judaism for him to oppose (The Paul of History p78).

It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. As an exegete determined to listen to scripture rather than abstract my favourite bits from it I cannot ignore this. The only notice that most mainstream theology has taken of this context is to assume that the Jews were guilty of the kind of works-righteousness of which theologians from Augustine to Calvin and beyond have criticised their opponents; and, though Sanders’s account of Judaism needs a lot more nuancing, I regard the New Perspective’s challenge to this point as more or less established. What I miss entirely in the Old Perspective, but find so powerfully in some modern Pauline scholarship, is Paul’s sense of an underlying narrative, the story of God and Israel, God and Abraham, God and the covenant people, and the way in which that story came to its climax, as he says, ‘when the time had fully come’ with the coming of Jesus the Messiah. How all this works out is still very controversial within the New Perspective. But at these points, for good exegetical and historical reasons, I find myself saying Here I Stand (

Here I stand???? What Romans and Galatians was he reading? The reformed understanding is the plain reading.

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; (Romans 9:31-32)

But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:11-21)

One can only speculate as to why or how they (new perspective on Paul folks) would arrive at their conclusion. Possibly an attempt to avoid potential anti-semitism objections??? Everything unravels around this as seen by Wright's failure to recognize the law as a schoolmaster - I cannot find him writing on it anywhere. This is backed up by the critique of Wright's book "Simply Christian" over at the 9 Marks website:

In his zeal to avoid the "Old Perspective on Paul," Wright has missed a full, rich discussion of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. The pale "exhausted the powers of evil" is too vague, and seems untrue, because Wright also avoids strong discussion of personal evil as exposed by the Law of God. The omission of talk about personal sin, repentance and Judgment Day necessarily follows from the previous discussion. If the Law is not meant to stand as a judge over our personal behavior, then our sin remains as indistinct and vague as the "powers of evil" Wright speaks so much of. Scripture is not so vague: everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).

This is not a case of seeing the forest but not seeing the trees. Wright continually sees neither the trees nor the forest. Wright continually drags out oblique revelations from reading through his rabbinical filter but misses so much obvious fundamental truth. "Simply Christian" misses the mark on many other levels and is disgraceful. It is a bad joke when Wright tries to summarize Christianity in a book and ignores issues as big as Christ's deity, the Atonement, personal sin, judgment, and God's wrath (at least in a specific personal sense).

To be continued on Monday where we'll look at NT Wright's view on Penal Substitutionary Atonement and his endoresement of the controversial book "The Lost Message of Jesus".

Go On To Part 2


Anonymous said...

I came across your blog while googling. Your quite narrow in your your argument against Wright and it comes off as same old reformed rhetoric. In truth you sound a wee bit insecure!

Anonymous said...

"It is a bad joke when Wright tries to summarize Christianity in a book and ignores issues as big as Christ's deity, the Atonement, personal sin, judgment, and God's wrath"

Apparently you haven't read any of Wright's 1000 page tomes on these very subjects. It's a bad joke to critique someone on the basis of a few excerpts of what's been written. I admit I'm not settled on Wright's interpretation, I've read all of Justification and am making my way into Piper's book on the topic. We shouldn't dismiss his viewpoint based on "Reformed Theology," a valid argument from Wright. We should struggle with God's word and a complete understanding of its depth. Some of his argument draws from Calvin in opposition to Luther on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Is there anymore information you can give on this subject. It answers a lot of my questions but there is still more info I need. I will drop you an email if I can find it. Never mind I will just use the contact form. Hopefully you can help me further.

- Robson

Anonymous said...

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