Friday, December 09, 2005

N. T. Wright: still undoing the Reformation... and the Gospel

Arguably, scholar/theologian N. T. Wright joins Pat Robertson as yet another unpaid bill of the professing Christian church -- albeit of a starkly different sort (h-t Justin Taylor).

None other than the prestigious Wall Street Journal features a glowing article about Wright by John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture. Wilson doesn't engage the issues -- and certainly not the Scriptures -- so much as point at Wright's contentions, and burble about how "exciting" he finds the prospect of undoing the Gospel, hosing away all the blood shed by Rome to suppress Gospel preaching, and effectively reversing the Reformation.

At least Wilson does mention some of the leading critics, John Piper and Ligon Duncan ( links to many resources and critiques here). But I find his tone distressing, the upshot distressing, the whole thing distressing.

Here is Bishop and Dr. N. T. Wright, a man who in effect denies that the Gospel is about how sinners can be "justified [forensically declared righteous] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:24-25a) -- and he's still highly-regarded as a Christian scholar. (Is it true that J. I. Packer has publicly praised him? Email me, I'll edit or update.)

Oh, sticklebats -- it's even worse than that. Wilson calls Wright "(t)he most influential biblical scholar in American evangelical circles." I'm getting dizzy here. What does "evangelical" mean, anymore? Etymologically, mustn't it at least indicate someone who believes in the Evangel, the Gospel? But if I'm understanding Wright (and this article) correctly, Wright denies the Gospel. How, then, is he an "evangelical," let alone "the most influential biblical scholar in American evangelical circles"?

I struggle to think of an analogy. Is there any doctrine that it sacrosanct among professing Christians anymore?

Suppose (God forbid) John Piper, R. C. Sproul, or John MacArthur were to write a book expressing doubts about the deity of Christ. Well, that's a bad analogy, because admirers of those brothers do so precisely because they regard Biblical truth highly. Response would be overwhelming, thunderous, univocal.

But what if Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels, or Pat Robertson were to write such a book? How would their defenders respond?

OK, I'm depressing myself, and that on (A) a Friday, on which (B) I'm looking forward to seeing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I'll stop.


Celebrate Recovery said...

I'm listening to Wright's "Romans in a Week". I don't come away feeling he is denying justification. I come away believing he is saying that the Reformation isn't the only thing what Romans is about.

Andrew said...

please read nt wright - you are so far off base. you sound very silly.

DJP said...

I have noticed that Wright is like Roman Catholicism and Mormonism, in that anyone who offers a criticism is invariably told that he is ignorant.

Wyatt Roberts said...

At the risk of being called a Roman Catholic or Mormon (which actually might not be that bad of a insult next to being labeled a Calvidispiebaptogelical) I must say it's very difficult to take you seriously.

Your characterization of Wilson as "burbling about how 'exciting' he finds the prospect of undoing the Gospel" is grossly unfair. (Now that I think about it, though, I guess it does make sense that you prefer to characterize him, rather than quote him, since nothing in his article even remotely approaches the attitude you attibute to him.)

Do you really, truly, deep down in that Calvidispiebaptogelical heart of yours believe -- are you really suggesting -- that N.T. Wright's view on justification is comparable to denying the diety of Christ?

If you really believe that, then all I have to say is that's one whacked out theology you've yourself, Dan.

DJP said...

Yep, just checked, and "burbling" is a fine word.

And yes, I certainly do rank getting the Gospel right up there with getting Christ right. Paul did (Galatians 1:6-9). I'm quite happy to share the apostle's "whacked out" theology, if that's how you view it.

Wyatt Roberts said...

No, no.

I didn't say *Paul's* theology was wacked out. I said *your* theology was wacked out if you actually believe N.T. Wright's view on justification is comparable to denying the diety of Christ.

What, precisely, is your problem with N.T. Wright?

DJP said...

I don't dance much with commenters, Wyatt.

Re-read the article I wrote, and all the comments up to your last. Your first two paragraphs are off-base, and your third is answered.

Fin said...

This might offer some clarity:

He does not deny that the "Gospel is about how sinners can be "justified [forensically declared righteous] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" - especially not in the article you site.

He doesn't refute the notion of justification by faith alone. What he does is look very closely at the definitions of the words like "gospel" and "justification" and "salvation."

You raise great questions: "What does "evangelical" mean, anymore? Etymologically, mustn't it at least indicate someone who believes in the Evangel, the Gospel?" Yes, "gospel" is from the Greek word we get "evangelize" from, but what did that mean to its original hearers?

It doesn't mean any less than what it does now, but it began as a term loaded with political and cultural context.

Anyhow, you may or may not agree with Wright, but a listen to the interview should clear up some misconceptions about his viewpoint.

Milnik said...

You really need to read at least 1 N.T. Wright book, and be rebuked of your madness.
- The Metaphysician

David said...

I can imagine that your must be ringing your hands once again now that "Surprise by Hope" has hit the shelves. But I could not agree more completely with your critics. You have missed the point on so many fronts. Why don't you actually read him?

DJP said...

I don't ever ring my hands, "David," though sometimes I ring bells with my hands.

Odd you should fault me for not reading the voluminous Wright, in criticism of a small, bite-sized post you show no signs of having managed to read or understand yourself.

Ditto Milnik.

With the exception of Fin and Celebrate Recovery, this meta seems to attract a lot of lazy arrogance.

dale said...

no offense, DJP, but perhaps the lazy arrogance of your article is what is attracting those comments...

Wright is simply one of many scholars (who passionately loves Christ the Lord, by the way) who dares to think that God is not in the business of removing human beings from planet earth. The Gospel is not about me, it's about Christ; and maybe a li'l bit of His Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

DJP said...

< shrug > Starry-eyed fanboys shooting wildly doesn't much offend me. It does amuse me that such a brief and narrow-scoped article twists so many panties, though.

But when I see Wright (for instance) on a mocker's show like the Colbert Report, joking cozily with this unbeliever about Roman Catholics, and golfing for a dogma a hole... it really doesn't make me feel I missed the mark.

Think MacArthur would have handled it that way? Sproul? Piper? Duncan? Dever? Any actual Gospel-loving, evangelizing evangelical?

Jason said...

Disclaimer: I am a starry-eyed fan of N.T. Wright and my panties are twisted :)

I thought Wright's appearance on the Colbert show was interesting. I hadn't heard of Colbert until recently and I saw his show when making fun of Hinduism. During that segment Colbert did claim to worship Jesus, although the context was in a joke.

Anyhow, Colbert's interview with Wright began with Colbert immediately claiming to be Roman Catholic and stating "no hard feelings about the Henry thing..." Colbert is referring to historical context that involves particularly the relationship between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. As a leader in the Anglican church, Wright is in a uniqe position to comment on this (unlike the "evangelical" people you mentioned as far as I know. Sidebar: I've already commented on the misuse of the term "evangelical" as a label for those who really have it right, as opposed to the historical meaning of those who share good news of something that has happened, and particularly in Christianity, namely the ressurection which has innaugurated the Kingdom of God in a new way).

As far as ecuminism between Anglicans and Roman Catholics (which we "evangelicals" are not involved in), or for that matter broader ecuminism (which we "evangelicals" are involved in), Wright has often emphasized its importance. In fact, without getting too detailed, he has emphasized its importance in Pauline texts such as Galatians more than "evangelicals" I've heard. (Paul's teaching on Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians is the bedrock of ecuminism.) As far as Roman Catholic dogma, Wright has stated that the sacrements should be shared between them, has affirmed their benevolance and (I think) "common good" practices, affirmed certain early views of purgatory, denied later more common ones, while stating certain doctrine about Mary has no Biblical merit, etc.

So, I'm curious - and these are not rhetorical questions: How should the leaders of these Christian sects work together to overcome significant differences while working to achieve unity? How should they comment on these in the public forum where schisms in the church are detrimental? How would the people you mentioned even be qualified to comment on the particular disjuncture between Anglicans and Roman Catholics? And on general ecuminism, what do you (not speculation about those you are a fan of) answer differently? Should a Christian point out the dogmas that are wrong? Do you think on such a show people would actually listen to a completely serious response, or should such things not even be discussed in a context of "mocking," sarcasm or humor? Is it possible to communicate things related to the Kingdom of God in such an environment, and if so, how do you do it? Do you think Wright's explanation of resurrection, Christian hope and eschatology - in other words his message - are true? Do you think they are helpful to be talked about in places of mockers such as the Colbert show?

DJP said...

Well, Jason, in spite of any stars and twists, you've written some really thoughtful observations and worthwhile, pondersome questions, and I thank you for it. I'll have to think about it. May single out your comment for a post by itself.

Thanks again.

Generation said...

How about you read his book and actually have a clear view of your accusations.... I love Calvin and the reformers. It's his damn followers that drive me nuts (implying you)

DJP said...

How many would I have to read before I could say that the Biblical doctrine of justification is true, and perversions of it aren't?

I assume that you have somewhere heaped praise on men like Ligon Duncan, D. A. Carson, and John Piper (all Calvinists) for trudging through all of Wright, and then saying the same things I'm saying? Could you give a link to where you praise them and the many others like them? Thanks!