Is Wright Right?

“Just call me Tom.”

These were the first words I heard from the highly esteemed New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. I liked him immediately. How could you not, given his proven scholarship coupled with humility delivered with that deep baritone British accented voice?

After several people pointed out to me the similarities of my interpretation of Romans 9 to that of the good Anglican Bishop, I decided it was high time to do some further study.  I had certainly heard of N. T. Wright over the years and have read a quote here or there, but he was not someone in my normal circle of influence.

I ask, as did Trevon Wax (of TGC), “why a Southern Baptist minister like myself would … read books by an Anglican Bishop (who happens to be the main evangelical proponent of a controversial “New Perspective on Paul?”

This so-called “New Perspective” is ironically anything but new. In fact, the whole premise is that in order to understand Paul we have to understand the first century Jewish culture rightly. Wright explains it well in his own response to John Piper’s critique in this clip:

 

For me this has always been basic hermeneutics.  “What it means” never contradicts “what it meant.”

As Dr. Vance Havner put it, “You can’t preach it like it is, if you don’t believe it like it was.”  This is Hermeneutics 101.SCROLL

Trevon Wax, in his own assessment of Wright, states:

“First, I think it goes without saying that we should seek to read with discernment, no matter what book we hold in our hands (or on our Kindle!). A major part of growing in wisdom and knowledge is properly cultivating the discipline of discernment, and one cannot put the gift of discernment to good use unless he or she occasionally reads books from authors with opposing viewpoints.

Second, authors who may be wrong in some ways may be reliable and even helpful in other areas. We can benefit from their works as long as we read carefully.

Take, for example, another Anglican: C.S. Lewis. Lewis was wrong on many things. He believed Jesus was mistaken about the timing of his Second Coming. His view of the atonement is an odd amalgamation of right ideas with wrong details. He was an inclusivist (remember The Last Battle?). And his Anglo-Catholic sensibilities are credited with bringing countless Protestants back to Rome.

For evangelicals, these are big strikes against Lewis. There are more than three strikes, and yet we still consider him part of the team and love to watch him play ball. Why? Because even if Lewis was wrong in some areas, he was gloriously right in others.

The same is true of someone like G.K. Chesterton, the church fathers, or N.T. Wright. I disagree with Wright in a number of places (his definition of God’s righteousness is reductionistic; he wrongly denies the theological category of “imputation”; he affirms penal substitution but fails to emphasize it as much as Scripture does; he reduces “works of the law” to ethnic exclusivity; and he’s an Anglican while I’m a Baptist, which leads to a long list of ecclesiological differences).

I find myself agreeing with much of what Wax states this assessment of Wright; however, given my soteriological differences with Wax (he is an Amyraldian), I do find Wright’s approach to biblical interpretation (and thus many of his conclusions) very helpful in supporting my perspective.

For example, watch this YouTube video clip of Wright’s explanation of the concept of biblical predestination and its relation to Romans 9 and see if it does not sound familiar to those of you who already know my perspective:

Looks like I’ve got some reading to do:

ADDED: I just came upon this jewel from Wright:  “Now at last we see where his sharp-edged, and often controversial, ‘doctrine of election’ in Romans 9 was going. This was never an abstract ‘doctrine of predestination’, attempting to plumb the mysteries of why some people (in general, without reference to Israel) hear and believe the gospel and others do not. Paul never encourages speculation of that sort. Rather, it was a way of saying, very specifically, that the fact of Israel’s election (starting with the choice and call of Abraham) had always been there to deal with the sin of the world; that Israel’s election had always involved Israel being narrowed down, not just to Isaac and then to Jacob, but to a hypoleimma, a ‘remnant’, a ‘seed’; and that this ‘remnant’ itself would be narrowed down to a single point, to the Messiah himself, who would himself be ‘cast away’ so that the world might be redeemed. The point of ‘election’ was not to choose or call a people who would somehow mysteriously escape either the grim entail of Adam’s sin or the results it brought in its train. It was not – as in some low-grade proposals! – about God simply choosing a people to be his close friends. The point was to choose and call a people through whom the sin of humankind, and its results for the whole creation, might be brought to the point where they could at last be defeated, condemned, overcome. Hence the line that runs, in Romans, from 3.24–26 to 8.3–4 and on to 10.3–4, backed up by the summaries in 5.6–11 and 5.12–21. Here is the faithfulness of the Messiah, which discloses, unveils, apocalypticizes, the righteousness of God, God’s covenant faithfulness.”ntbooks

 

Listen to today’s podcast for more on NT Wright and his interactions with John Piper: CLICK HERE

Also listen to the last episode where I read some of NT Wright’s work along with that of the late great Herschel Hobbs: CLICK HERE

20 thoughts on “Is Wright Right?

  1. Underlying Wright’s position is the view that the Reformers got their interpretation of Romans wrong. He thinks those unprofitable works were just the peripherals of Judaism, circumcision, sabbath. The reformers believed it was all human effort to achieve acceptance with God.
    Wright is also uncomfortable with the notion of an appeased God. He advises his listeners to change the lyrics of a well used hymn from ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ to ‘the love of God was crucified’. He pays lip service to the language of penal substitutionary atonement but in reality I think he is uncomfortable with it. That notion of an angry God sits uncomfortably with him.

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    1. I certainly don’t fall in line with everything Wright teaches, which I think would be obvious. However, from what I’ve read and listened to thus far it seems some have taken Wright much further than what he actually has said. For instance, he uses the illustration of four speakers in a new surround sound system to say that Western Christianity has some speakers turn up so loud they are crackling while other speakers are virtually turned off. His point is not to get rid of the speakers that are too loud, but only to turn them down and give the other speakers in the room their proper balance. To me that seems to be calling the church to balance these doctrines rather than to forgo one for another… But again, I admit I’m a novice on Wright and have not read enough to make a full assessment. The point I do like is that he is drawing the church back to hermeneutics of the 1st century by understanding them in their own culture…that is a truth worthy of highlighting.

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  2. Though there may be some polemic benefit to pointing to a theologian “respected” by a large number of professing Christians, who has gotten one biblical issue right, there may also result a possible infection in the less discerning caused from his unbiblical views, from this promotion of him as a supposed biblical “authority”.

    By professing the true gospel, Wright is on the same team! But it seems unwise to promote someone as an authority for a correct biblical position when they consistently bat less than .200 in a number of important sound doctrines. If a person can not read the NT and come away understanding believer’s baptism as a necessary sound doctrine, they may be a brother and have the gift of teaching, but they are not yet qualified to be recognized as an overseer in the body (Titus 1:9). The focus on brilliance and popularity in Christianity have been the cause for much harm to the gospel and sound doctrine through the centuries. I will side with the biblically sound pastor as an authority who never made the history books, then I would with Luther or Calvin any day!

    You don’t need Wright, Brother Leighton, to bolster the contextual reasonableness of your view of Romans 9, except perhaps as a side note – “For what it is worth to some, even Wright sees this view of Romans 9.” It would be better, in my view, to point to fundamental, baptistic theologians that have also recognized your view’s contextual, exegetical support.

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    1. Point well made and well taken. This is why I said I agreed with Wax’s overall assessment of Wright. I like taking the good parts of ones findings and using them as “references” regardless of their other errors. I quote from Spurgeon quite regularly for example bc I know he carries some weight (rightly or wrongly) and plus his way of putting things is typically more eloquent than I could have mustered up.

      All that said, I agree WE don’t need Wright to validate the truth of scripture but my “weaker” brother might benefit from hearing the views of other scholars.

      I say… redeem the wrong in a man by highlighting the benefit of his right and with it bring warning of the mistakes contained lest another falls prey.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Leighton,

      Brian Wagner is an open theist, for most of us here and across every Christian theological tradition, that is considered a false theology, with its positing of a finite God who is in time just like us and ignorant of the future: should we then ignore Wagner on everything else that he says? No. He may be correct on other points. The same goes for anyone, you have to discern what is true and false, keep what is good and true and discard the rest. But again we have to do this with anyone and everyone.
      Wagner made clear in the last thread that he rejects anyone who practices infant baptism as a qualified elder.

      This is a mistake and as one friend of mine put it: makes him a theological bigot (i.e. Baptists alone have it right on baptism so Baptists alone have it right on things and Baptists alone are to be trusted). Theologically, why not put on your white hood and sheets and declare every other Christian group inferior to you, to be attacked, ignored, etc. etc. But while Wagner may have this idiosyncratic view on eldership, again, that does not make him wrong on everything that he says.

      Wagner writes:

      “Though there may be some polemic benefit to pointing to a theologian “respected” by a large number of professing Christians, who has gotten one biblical issue right, there may also result a possible infection in the less discerning caused from his unbiblical views, from this promotion of him as a supposed biblical “authority”.”

      Actually Wright has gotten more than just “one biblical issue right”, he has gotten quite a few things right and is useful on these very things. What Wright does that is particularly helpful with Romans 9-11 is that contrary to what many Calvinists do (e.g. James White) he seriously considers and brings in the first century Jewish background (he does this both in his commentary on Romans and his newest major work on the apostle Paul in the section where he talks about Romans 9-11; note Leighton if you have not checked out that section you should do so as it parallels some of your own observations and conclusions). Leighton you are correct in what you said earlier here: “The point I do like is that he is drawing the church back to hermeneutics of the 1st century by understanding them in their own culture…that is a truth worthy of highlighting.” Exactly.

      “By professing the true gospel, Wright is on the same team! But it seems unwise to promote someone as an authority for a correct biblical position when they consistently bat less than .200 in a number of important sound doctrines.”

      Wagner loves to do this kind of thing, make a positive comment and take it away with a criticism that completely undermines his positive comment. If we went by Wagner’s opinion we should not consider Wright an authority at all. While I disagree with Wright on some things (including baptism) he is one of the better exegetes around: so even when you disagree with him you have to carefully consider what he says.

      “If a person can not read the NT and come away understanding believer’s baptism as a necessary sound doctrine, they may be a brother and have the gift of teaching, but they are not yet qualified to be recognized as an overseer in the body (Titus 1:9).”

      Well there it is again: Wagner’s theological bigotry showing itself loud and clear.

      If Wagner is correct, then every non-Baptist is disqualified from being an elder!!!

      This is a ridiculous position to take, and coming from a New Testament professor it is very sad to hear this being publicly promoted.

      Again, I may disagree with others on baptism but that does not disqualify them from being elders in their local churches. Wagner has also gone on record here at this blog publicly attacking both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches: so he ends up as someone who appears to believe that he alone is correct and everyone else is wrong, i.e., the stance of a theological bigot.

      “The focus on brilliance and popularity in Christianity have been the cause for much harm to the gospel and sound doctrine through the centuries. I will side with the biblically sound pastor as an authority who never made the history books, then I would with Luther or Calvin any day!”

      There is the “us against them” view of Wagner again. I think I would hold that view as well if I held the aberrant teaching of open theism and claimed only Baptists were qualified to be elders. It is Wagner against the world! So he has to attack anyone and everyone who believes differently than he does. And who might that “biblically sound pastor” be? It cannot be anyone who is not a Baptist according to the gospel of Wagner (note he will take any Baptist, no matter how mistaken or uneducated, over “Luther or Calvin any day!”).

      “You don’t need Wright, Brother Leighton, to bolster the contextual reasonableness of your view of Romans 9, except perhaps as a side note – “For what it is worth to some, even Wright sees this view of Romans 9.” It would be better, in my view, to point to fundamental, baptistic theologians that have also recognized your view’s contextual, exegetical support.”

      The theological bigot continues, you don’t need Wright or any other non-Baptist to get things right, just stick with “fundamental baptistic theologians” and you alone will have the truth and get it right. I guess Wagner only studies “fundamental baptistic theologians” to arrive at his conclusions.

      I completely disagree with this approach. The better approach is to consider what the best minds of various traditions (both including Baptists and including non-Baptists, including Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans like Wright, etc. etc. etc. etc.) have suggested and found, while exercising discernment regarding whatever claims or conclusions are being made.
      Is Wright right? Yes on some things not on others. Is he useful to you Leighton, most definitely, especially on Romans 9-11, again in both his commentary on Romans and his major work on Paul).

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    3. Brian, you bring up a good point and this is not the only blog to mention it. It seems that we are caught on the horns of a dilemma? On the one hand we are generally encouraged to read around the topic and get points of view from as many sources as possible. At the same time, if you quote one particular person on a subject there is the danger that ‘others’ may take it that everything from that source is reliable. Personally, I can’t see a way round it. We can’t constantly nanny people and tell them which chapters to read of which books and which authors, can we?

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      1. Thanks barker! Not sure what the dilemma is. It is very important to read the midst influential voices on all sides of an issue. I especially encourage the students I teach to read from the debate series that IVP, Zondervan, and Baker make available.

        It is most important to see what their strongest Scriptural arguments are and how they address their weakest ones. But in the end we must be careful to make our appeal for the “rightness”, authority, and dogmatism of our position to the clarity of the Scriptures on the subject. And we should be intentional in not linking our appeal to the influence and position of an individual scholar, though we can and should express gratitude when they were a source to help us rightly divide the Scriptures on a matter.

        But even in our gratitude we should let our listeners know how we recognize that scholar, e.g. as an unbeliever who needs the Lord, or as a believer, but not qualified to shepherd because of obvious harmful doctrine, or as a qualified elder in the body of Christ with a helpful or divergent view on a disputable matter.

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      2. Andrew,

        “We cant’ constantly nanny people and tell them which chapters to read or which books and which authors, can we?”

        No. So the best thing to do is train your people to have discernment. An illustration that Walter Martin often used, which bears repeating is this one. In the past (not sure if it is true today), the way they trained bank tellers to spot counterfeits is not to teach them every possible counterfeit or deceptive trick that was out there. Rather, they were taught to know real money so well (by handling it to see how it feels, smelling it, carefully observing it, etc.) that when the counterfeit or false came in their presence they would know it was false based upon their knowledge of the truth. Likewise, train your people to have discernment and to know the true so well that when the false comes they will more likely have the discernment to recognize it. We can do our best to do that with our people today in regards to their handling and knowledge of the scripture.

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  3. Wright is a big picture type of theologian, which is what I like about him… So many American Christians are attempting to look at scripture as if Christianity has nothing to do with Judism, and it seems like so many have been taught to read the Bible in a narrow, stilted way, (cherry picking verses) instead of seeing the big picture of God’s long range plan unfolding in all it’s beauty.
    It’s about time I bought Wright’s big book on Paul…

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    1. Wildswander,

      I agree with you on Wright. While I do not agree with everything he proposes, he is one of those scholars that you need to be aware of and you can benefit from much of what he says.

      Regarding buying Wright’s “book”/singular on Paul, actually his latest work on Paul is two large books that are not inexpensive (fortunately for me due to certain connections that I have I got them both at 40% off!). The two books are very good, and there is a large section specifically addressing the Romans 9-11 passage. And much of what he says in that section goes quite nicely with the position that Leighton Flowers is proposing here at this site.

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  4. Leighton,

    The three N.T. Wright sources that I believe will be most helpful to you, as they deal most directly with Romans 9-11 are:

    (1) PAUL AND THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD (part III and part IV, volume two of the series), pp. 1156-1258;

    (2) His book CLIMAX OF THE COVENANT, pp. 231-257, and

    (3) His commentary on ROMANS in The New Interpreters Bible Commentary Series, volume 10, pp. 620-699.

    I believe you will find a lot of material to further bolster your view on Romans 9-11.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Matthew 5:39 (NKJV)….
    But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

    He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

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  6. Brian Wagner’s post is sad to me. The reason is that he says so much that I am in total agreement with and yet he still had to end it by including his major error.

    Wagner writes:

    “It is very important to read the midst influential voices on all sides of an issue. I especially encourage the students I teach to read from the debate series that IVP, Zondervan, and Baker make available.”

    This is good and wise advice: to have students see different perspectives on an issue. The books Wagner alludes to here are very good for this. Another way to get students out of their comfort zone and also learn different perspectives is to have them research a view diametrically opposed to theirs or debate a point from a perspective different than theirs.

    “It is most important to see what their strongest Scriptural arguments are and how they address their weakest ones. But in the end we must be careful to make our appeal for the “rightness”, authority, and dogmatism of our position to the clarity of the Scriptures on the subject. And we should be intentional in not linking our appeal to the influence and position of an individual scholar, though we can and should express gratitude when they were a source to help us rightly divide the Scriptures on a matter.”

    Again, this makes sense and is good advice. Scripture should always be the final and highest authority because scholars no matter how brilliant or knowledgeable being human persons both make mistakes and have biases.

    If only Wagner would have stopped with those comments.

    There would have been nothing to disagree about. But he just had to push his aberrant view (i.e. that only Baptists are qualified to be elders in a local church, meaning that all non-Baptists are disqualified from being elders):

    “But even in our gratitude we should let our listeners know how we recognize that scholar, e.g. as an unbeliever who needs the Lord, or as a believer, but not qualified to shepherd because of obvious harmful doctrine, or as a qualified elder in the body of Christ with a helpful or divergent view on a disputable matter.”

    Yes we should let people know whether a scholar is an unbeliever or a believer (unfortunately just because someone is a scholar and professing to be a Christian does not mean they are genuine believers).

    But then there is the line once again publicly espousing Wagner’s error:

    “or as a believer, but not qualified to shepherd because of obvious harmful doctrine”

    Again Wagner argues that only Baptists are qualified to be elders in a local church. The “obvious harmful doctrine” according to Wagner is infant baptism (as he has made clear now in multiple posts).
    Put another way, all non-Baptists, all who practice infant baptism are automatically excluded from being elders by Wagner’s criterion (only Baptists are qualified to be elders).

    We are specifically talking about N. T. Wright so let’s use him as the example of how Wagner’s criterion would apply. Wright is not a Baptist and believes in infant baptism, therefore no matter what his character is, no matter what his beliefs concerning the essentials of the Christian faith are, according to Wagner he ought to be excluded from being an elder. Wright has functioned as an elder within the Anglican group for many years: according to Wagner this was illegitimate and should not have been allowed as Wright does not hold to believer baptism.

    And Wright is not the only non-Baptist who is excluded from being an elder: it is EVERY NON-BAPTIST. None of them is qualified to be an elder according to Wagner. This includes Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, etc. etc. I suggest that Wagner keep his false view to himself. I do not see how it helps or benefits the discussion here at all.

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  7. Romans 8:29-30 (NKJV)…..
    For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

    Romans 11:1-2 (NKJV)….
    I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham (physical seed, NOT spiritual), of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away HIS PEOPLE whom He FOREKNEW. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel.

    Amos 3:2 (NKJV)….
    Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying “You ONLY have I KNOWN of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”

    Sadly, replacement theology has inundated the church. Even sadder, there are those who reject it who are still infected with it.

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  8. Proverbs 26:12 (NKJV)…..
    Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

    Proverbs 29:11 (NKJV)…..
    A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.

    Proverbs 29:20 (NKJV)….
    Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

    He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

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  9. Brothers, I am in need of some solid fellowship in the North Dallas Area. I am a Non-Calvinist so preferably, not under Calvinistic leadership, but however I do not desire to be in a fellowship that thrives off of making a tirade out of our Brothers that are Calvinistic, so please provide me with a list that are lovers of the truth, but yet are respectable and irenical in their disagreements with the Calvinist. Please assist me in whatever way possible. A list would be greatly appreciated.

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  10. Pastor Flowers writes, “The point I do like is that he is drawing the church back to hermeneutics of the 1st century by understanding them in their own culture…that is a truth worthy of highlighting.”

    Paul tells us that, “All Scripture is… useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    Then Peter tells us, “…prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    Assuming there verses are as straigntforward as I take them to be and other verses do not require that we go in a different direction, the only hermeneutic that is required is God’s hermeneutic. This means that the Scriptures are self-contained and can be read and understood by any person in any time or culture without any greater understanding of the Jews other than as we discover such in the Scriptures.

    Thus, we look to outside resources to help us understand what the Scriptures say and not to add to what the Scriptures say. I understand Wright to be saying that the person who has the greater knowledge of the Jewish society of the 1st century, beyond that which we find in the Scriptures, will be more capable to explain what the Scriptures tell us – it is not enough just to read the Scriptures and derive doctrines based solely on those Scriptures – One must have more information gained form the study of history or religion, for instance, that expands one’s worldview and equips one to understand better the Scriptures.

    I think that is a dangerous road to travel if that is what Wright is arguing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. First century Judaism was offended by what Jesus said. I don’t think one can really understand what He was saying by studying first century Judaism. Even His own disciples did not understand until AFTER the resurrection, and He personally explained the Scriptures to them, on the road to Emmaeus.

    The Jews did not understand their own Law, given through Moses, and thought that not only could they keep it, they had the audacity to add their own laws to it! I have known baptist pastors who do the same thing, by the way! In fact, when one pastor read the admonition that deacons should be “not given to much wine” he exclaimed “well, we can do better than that! If any deacon thinks he can sip a little wine, on the side, I want his resignation on my desk in the morning!” Yeah, a lot of Baptists are no closer to Christianity than first Century Judaism.

    First century Judaism did not understand the Law or the Prophets, and they still interpret both the same way today.

    In order to understand Judaism as God intended, we need to read the Old Testament in the light of the New, and neither through the eyes of unbelievers!

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