Wednesday, May 5, 2010

NT Wright v The Gospel (Part 3)

As we saw in part 2 of this series, NT Wright says he believes in Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA). But the PSA that Wright believes in is just like the jesus that the Mormons believe in - a phony, a product of their own imaginations and not found in Scripture. But Wright's gross error on PSA and the Gospel continues to manifest itself in his understanding of the doctrine of imputation:

If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom . . . If we leave the notion of 'righteousness' as a law-court metaphor only, as so many have done in the past, this gives the impression of a legal transaction, a cold piece of business, almost a trick of thought performed by a God who is logical and correct but hardly one we would want to worship (p98 What St Paul Really Said).

What God’s righteousness never becomes, in the Jewish background which Paul is so richly summing up, is an attribute which is passed on to, reckoned to, or imputed to, his people. Nor does Paul treat it in this way. (


For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin (Romans 4:3-8).

John Macarthur has this to say about the importance of getting imputation right:

The cornerstone of justification is the reckoning of righteousness to the believer's account. This is the truth that sets Christian doctrine apart from every form of false religion. We call it "imputed righteousness". Apart from it salvation is utterly impossible (p197 The Gospel According to Jesus).

But the problems don't end here. Wright confuses justification with sanctification, and salvation with eternal rewards:

Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works . . . I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f.; cp. Phil. 2.16f.) I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done – though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Cor. 15.10; Col. 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements? (

The bottom line with all false gospels is works. Justification depends solely on Christ's finished work so that "no man can boast". There are rewards and also varying degrees of punishment dependant on our works. But the Lambs book of Life contains only names with the imputed rightoeusness of Christ. Those who entrust their personal salvation (a subject that Wright has a strong aversion to) solely to Christ's finished work. It is solely by faith as Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches so that "no man can boast". There it is! God wants ALL the glory for His gracious redemptive work in saving sinners fully deserving of eternal condemnation.

In some ways I regret delving into this subject because it should be pretty obvious that Wright is a heretic. Also, he is playing the same game as the emergents of using a term and then redefining it's meaning. Many Pastors in Denmark (where I live) read Wright's ideas indirectly through people like Brian McLaren who have latched onto them. This is why I take such strong exception to Wright. The shadow of NT Wright's teaching looms large in my own backyard - which is what provokes my severe response. What Paul really said is laid out for us in the New Testament. And much of it is avoided by Wright. One would think he's never read the first three chapters of Romans. Anyone can read the New Testament and see that all men are very evil sinners, God punishes sin, future judgment is a very real threat, salvation is a VERY major theme, that God wants all the glory for saving us, that the law condemns us because we cannot keep it, that Christ fulfilled the law by not sinning, that Christ took the punishment in the place of sinners . . . this stuff is so obvious I was able to grasp it the first time I delved into the pages of the Bible. Why does Wright continually deny, ignore, or downplay these issues. "that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life", "the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life" etc. Individual salvation, and how it can take place is a HUGE theme in the New testament.

Wright's denial of imputation is flat out heresy. Secondly, good teachers are explicitly clear on the Gospel whereas Wright is obscure, and confusing. Thirdly, how can he write a book on a basic understanding of Christianity and ignore so many major themes such as the Atonement. People like NT Wright survive in a climate of niceness and civility where being vague entitles them to the benefit of the doubt. I think George W Bush was right when he said "If they're not for us, they're against us". Maybe you don't want to label him a heretic, but in an environment of biblical illiteracy and lack of discernment, you should at least tell people to read something more worthwhile and stay away from the fog.

We are not called to be passive or silent in the face of such opposition to the glorious Gospel.

Coming on Friday- NT Wright v RC Sproul

Go On To NT Wright v RC Sproul
Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1


Cameron Buettel said...

NT Wright thrives in a climate where he is given the benfit of the doubt for his vagueness and amiguity. I cannot think of one faithful minister of the Christian Gospel that is not explicitly clear about the fundamental truths of Christianity. The doctrine of justification would be one of those fundamental truths.

gandalf said...

Hi Cameron,

having read your series about N.T. Wright (and other posts about him as well) I must say that I still think some of your conclusions are at least out of scope maybe misjudging Wright.

Here my arguments for that (maybe I posted some of this earlier but I want to make it as a summary here):

First: Theories about how the atonement works (including PSA with all its content) are not the atonement or belief in the atonement itself. Therefore what Christians must believe in is the atonement of their sins through death and resurrection of Christ whereas ideas on how this works are secondary to this (In C.S: Lewis book Mere Christianity there is a discussion about this issue which I find very convincing).
Notably much of the real discussion about the atonement comes from liberals/progressives who openly dismiss that Christ's death had anything to do with human sins and human redemption (Maybe the name of the German protestant pastor Burkhard Müller is known to you for causing some stir here for saying such things).

Discussions about how this works are probably interesting for theologians but error on how it works does not amount to something you quoted McArthur for (that without imputed righteousness no salvation is possible).

You know probably that Eastern Orthodox christians as one example do not believe (according to their churches doctrine) in PSA, imputation etc. are they all damned?

Second: You repeatedly note that certain concepts and issues are missing in Wright's books or are presented in sketchy or ambiguous manner (individual sin, hell etc.).

Have you read "Surprised by Hope"? I did not find you quoting that in your posts.
In that book I found both explanation for his lack of mentioning certain things in other booke in detail, namely, that he likes to view all things as "big picture" where God wants to redeeem and bring back to right the whole cosmos (with the fate of individuals just being part of it, like in a puzzle consisting of numerous pieces but all belonging to the same story).
However, in the same book he really gives explanations for questions like individual sin (includng an explanation of the word hamartia), final judgment and hell.
You probably will object to his view that hell isn't like a torture chamber in the midst of Gods kingdom and that he very much follows a middle ground between traditional teaching and a view that sees the lost ones simply becoming what they desire/practise (a grumble instead of a grumbling man or woman is an example for this from "The great Divorce") and hence being at some point no longer humans in Gods image. But I think you'll have to admit that he teaches final judgment with two outcomes, completely dismisses universalism and that God really cares for righteousness and is not laissez-faire with sin on an individual level.

Third: I generally think the amount of flame and vitriol in this debate goes beyond its purpose. People on both sides should handle it more in a manner like the one you advised in your post about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, otherwise we would only deserve the laughter of the Spongs, Borgs, Bells and McLarens in this world for our quarreling.

Cameron Buettel said...

Gandalf, check my latest post and keep watching for more to come on this discussion. I welcome your responses under the posts I will be making in this current series (which I have named after you).