Friday, 10 April 2009

Inward Looking Soteriologies and N.T Wright

I am reading NTW's latest book on justification in parallel with Fesko's majestic tome. His writing style is sensational, no doubt about it. The delightful ease with which you pour through his pages kind of hooks you into his arguments before he's even made them. He possesses a remarkable ability to politely make his critics look really stupid. On page 9 he states:

I am not, in other words, simply appealing to my critics to allow my peculiar interpretations of St Paul some house room, or at least permission to inhabit a kennel in the back yard where my barks and yaps may not be such a nuisance. I am suggesting that the theology of St Paul, the whole theology of St Paul rather than the truncated and self-centred readings which have become endemic in Western thought, the towering and majestic theology of St Paul which, when you even glimpse it, dazzles you like the morning sun rising over the sea, is urgently needed as the church faces the tasks of mission in tomorrow's dangerous world, and is not well served by the inward-looking soteriologies that tangle themselves up in a web of detached texts and secondary theories...

At first read you might think, ouch! Inward looking soteriolgies, secondary theories, ooh that hurts. Maybe us Reformed guys need to listen to our critics and take some bad medicine. But think about it, we've heard this kind of thing before have we not? i.e. "There's a dying world out there. Let's kick our petty doctrinal naval gazing to the kerb and focus on evangelism."

Liberals have been doing that kind of thing for years in an effort to shut up conservatives regarding 'offensive' doctrines. Yes there is a dying world, but does that mean we should all get together and approach the dying with a band aid and a cup of tepid water instead of a few going out with a life-support machine and the strong wine of the gospel?

While I have massive respect for NTW, I simply cannot understand why he seems to punch those who should be his friends and puts his arm round those he should punch. For instance, he'll endorse a Steve Chalke book while battering the good guys at Oakhill for publishing a concerned response. And, worryingly, he'll happily have Brian McLaren or Rob Bell endorse his latest book. Eh? Maybe a bit more doctrinal/soteriological naval gazing is required on his part if he's happy to have these dudes on his cover. It's kind of like asking Jeffrey Dahmer to endorse your fine cookery book, because after all, food connoisseurs of all types need to get together and help fine cuisine endure the credit crunch.


JohnGreenview said...

I've read NTW's new book on justification. Like Nicky I have to agree he is always a scintillating writer. Again, like Nicky, I agree he is far too hard on his reformed opponents while being soft on some who seem to me by their interpretation of Wright to actually misrepresent him.

He tends to set up straw men, accusing his opponents of interpretative ignorance or naivety that they don't display. He often writes as if he were a pioneer of the views he expresses. This is hardly so. I have read most previously in different commentaries - interestingly early Brethren commentaries by the likes of W Kelly.

Exegetically I often find myself agreeing with him though not always. Three points trouble me.

One, he seems at points to privilege what seems to me to be the lesser point (Jew/Gentile unity, ecclesiology) as opposed to the major point (salvation through faith not works, soteriology).

Two, I don't believe he bottoms out that the law is intrinsically a system of works. he conflates Abrahamic promise and Siniatic works, refusing to see law-keeping as essentially legalistic. 'This do and live' is too relativised by Wright for my liking for Paul it is absolute.

Three, I am not yet convinced on the interpretative translation 'the faithfulness of Christ'.

On the other hand I think his handling of imputed righteousness is absolutely right and ironically think his understanding of the dynamics of Christ's faithfulness is right even if not some of the texts he employs to support him. I'm afraid reformed ideas of the imputation of christ's active righteousness leave a lot to be desired exegetically.

JohnGreenview said...


I should have included that I think Wright is far too limiting in his insistence that God's righteopusness is his covenant faithfulness. Of course, God's righteousness includes his covenant faithfulness ie God is righteous when he is faithful to his covenant promises. Indeed at some points in Romans this aspect of his righteousness is what is defended. However, God's righteousness is much greater than his faithfulness to his covenant. It is his faithfulness to every obligation that is properly his as God. Wright's definition is too narrow.