alastair.adversaria » N.T. Wright

N.T. Wright Lecture: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

The following are my notes from a lecture delivered this evening, 20th December, by N.T. Wright in the University of St. Andrews. The following provides a general idea of what the good bishop said, but should not be depended upon too much. Doubtless other eyewitnesses will come forward with conflicting accounts…

N.T. Wright, Bishop of DurhamAs someone who gave up studying physics and chemistry more or less as soon as he had the opportunity and devoted little effort to excelling in them when he did study them, Wright finds it odd to find himself in the position of being looked upon to provide an answer to such a question. The question itself is strange: it reminds him of the person who, when asked if he believed in infant baptism, responded in the affirmative, assuring the questioner that he had seen it happen with his own eyes. There are scientists who do believe in the resurrection. In answering the question, Wright wants to explore the fault lines between different ways of knowing, between the forms of knowing advanced by science and by history, and the way of knowing that belongs to faith, hope, and love. These ways of knowing overlap in various ways.

We are often told that over recent centuries we have enjoyed an upward path towards the light of reason—the narrative of the Enlightenment. While Wright has no desire to return to premodern dentistry or sanitation or transport, for example, he feels that the modern narrative is limited. Science has not proved sufficient to provide us with the wholeness of life that we really need.

Plato regarded ‘faith’ as a sort of intermediate form of knowing, a sort of cushioned knowledge, a sense that the terminology retains in much common parlance. We often use the term ‘knowledge’ in a positivistic sense and ‘believe’ in a loose sense, to refer to matters of mere private opinion, where any relation to external reality is somewhat lacking or doubtful. The disciples, however, believed in a resurrection with a real purchase on reality, a resurrection that left mementos behind, whether that was an empty tomb or footprints on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

What does the term ‘believe’ mean in the question that we are answering? What sorts of questions and dimensions of reality are open to the scientific method? What sort of claim should the scientist’s science have on his approach to other areas of his life? Should he be ‘scientific’ about his relationship to his wife, or about his assessment of a piece of music? The question that we are dealing with assumes that this particular issue of the resurrection impinges upon the scientist’s particular area of concern in a manner and to an extent that questions of love and music generally do not. While there are some who have sought to locate the issue of resurrection alongside such issues of love and music, this is not a movement that should make. In the context of the first century world resurrection was very much understood as a public, space-time event.

To put things somewhat simplistically: history deals with the unrepeatable, while science deals with the repeatable. Scientists’ objections to the resurrection often focus on the lack of analogy. However, the disciples did not believe that the resurrection was just one of many analogous events. The whole issue of worldview raises itself at this point. The worldview of the scientist is the context in which such things become believable or not.

What is the resurrection? There were many ancient beliefs about life after death. Ancient paganism contained many beliefs on these matters, but they universally ruled out the possibility of resurrection. Wright has explored this whole area at considerable length in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. The conviction that the dead do not rise is not a product born out of scientific discovery over the past few centuries: any first century person knew this fact. Ancient Judaism believed that God was creator and that he would set his world to rights, which for many was seen to involve bodily resurrection. Christianity belongs on this map. For Christians, resurrection was not a fancy way of talking about life after death, but a way of talking about a form of life after life after death. Christians certainly believed in a form of intermediate period, and might speak of it using terms such as ‘paradise’, but these beliefs are not to be confused with its belief in resurrection.

Beliefs about life after death are generally among the most conservatively held of all beliefs in the context of any given culture. It is in such areas that people tend to revert to the positions that they were taught in childhood. For this reason, any large scale change in the convictions of a society in this area needs to be accounted for. Such a large scale shift in beliefs about life after death is precisely what we see in the case of Christianity. Excepting the later movement of Gnosticism, the early Christian Church manifests several key mutations from traditional approaches to the subject of life after death.

1. In contrast to the Judaism of the day, there was virtually no variation on the issue of the resurrection in the context of early Christianity. Christianity has no trace of an established Sadducean view in its ranks.

2. While many Jewish groups held beliefs about resurrection, it was an issue for speculation and did not lie at the core of its belief system. In the early Church, belief in the resurrection moves from the circumference of belief to its very centre and heart.

3. In contrast to Jewish groups, within which many conceptions of resurrection circulated, from the very beginning the Christian Church held a very clearly defined understanding of resurrection. For instance, the resurrection body was thought of as a transformed—‘spiritual’—body and not just as a resuscitated one.

4. For Christians, the event of ‘resurrection’ has split into two. Outside of Christianity we do not find belief in the resurrection of one man in the middle of history. Such a theological movement is without precedent.

5. The Christian approach to ‘collaborative eschatology’ (Crossan) is also without precedent. Believing that the resurrection inaugurated the eschaton, the early Church believed that it needed to implement this event, in anticipation of the final consummation.

6. Within Christianity we also see a new metaphorical use of the language of resurrection. Within the context of Judaism the language had been employed as a metaphorical way of speaking about return from exile, for instance. In the context of Christianity, this metaphorical usage of ‘resurrection’ is replaced by the use of resurrection metaphors in the context of baptism and holiness.

7. Within Christianity belief in resurrection is connected with Messianic belief in a way that it is not within Judaism. Judaism did not have a place for a Messiah that would die at the hands of the enemies of the people of God and so, naturally, did not have the place for a resurrected Messiah that Christianity did.

Indeed, without the resurrection, how do we account for Messianic belief after Christ’s death? Within other Messianic movements more or less contemporaneous with the Jesus movement, the death of the supposed Messiah tended to lead to a quest for a replacement, often a relative of the supposed Messiah who had died. Within early Christianity there was a perfect candidate for such a position following Jesus’ death—his brother James. James was renowned for his piety and was a leading figure within the early Church, but was never thought of as the Messiah.

Twentieth century revisionist historiography has occasionally suggested that belief in the resurrection arose out of the subjective internal experience of early Christian disciples. A little employment of historical imagination should destroy any plausibility that such a suggestion might initially seem to possess. Anyone offering the suggestion that Jesus was raised from the dead, based purely on an internal experience of a warmed heart or even on the basis of witnessing him in the same room, would have been subjected to ridicule. First century people were well aware, as we are, of cases of dead relatives appearing to their grieving kin following their deaths. At this point we should note the common confusion that exists between the idea of resurrection and the idea of someone dying and going to be with God. The event of the resurrection is one that is not merely a matter of subjective inner feeling, but one that has considerable claim on the external public world. The point of the resurrection is that Jesus is Lord and that death and the tyrants who use its power are defeated.

Why did these mutations occur? Only one explanation truly suffices: the disciples genuinely believed that Jesus had been bodily raised.

As many have observed, the accounts of the resurrection in the gospels do not fit snugly together. There are a number of apparently conflicting details. A recent book, Wittgenstein’s Poker, provides a wonderful example of the surface discrepancies of eye-witness testimony. In a room containing many of the most brilliant minds of the time, Wittgenstein brandished a poker at Karl Popper and then left the room. The eye-witness accounts of this event differ markedly. However, what no one doubts is that something significant happened. The same can be said of the resurrection. Surface discrepancies between narratives is quite to be expected under such circumstances.

There are four important points of commonality to be noted between the resurrection accounts of the gospels:

1. The Scriptures are almost completely silent in the resurrection narratives, in marked contrast to previous stages of the gospel narratives, where quotations from the Scriptures occur with relative frequency. This suggests that the accounts of the resurrection are very early, going back to a very early oral tradition, established before the scriptural basis had been sufficiently explored (as it had been by the time of the later account of 1 Corinthians 15).

2. The presence of women as initial witnesses of the event is not what one would expect to find in the context of the culture of the day. Once again, the account of 1 Corinthians 15 would appear to be the later one here.

3. The portrait of Jesus himself is surprising. Jesus does not, for instance, shine like a star as we might expect him to. There is such an account, but it is found in the transfiguration, not in the resurrection accounts. Jesus’ body appears normal on occasions, but in other contexts it is clear that it has been transformed. For instance, we see the disciples having difficulty in recognizing him on occasions (e.g. John 21:12). This type of account is without precedent. The writers appear to be struggling to find the language appropriate to what they have witnessed and do not appear to be driven by a clear anti-docetic, or other agenda. The body of Christ is equally at home both in heaven and in earth. It also is clearly physical.

4. The resurrection has a very much ‘this-worldly’, present age meaning. Had the stories been written later, they might well have contained references to the future resurrection of all God’s people. As they stand, the accounts include a number of clearly pre-reflective elements.

When dealing with the issue of the relationship between Easter and history we need a two-pronged approach of explanation: (a) the tomb really was empty; (b) the disciples really did encounter Jesus after his death. People were aware of the occurrence of post-mortem appearances in visions in the ancient world. Jesus’ burial was also (a fact often unrecognized) a primary burial, which would have later been followed up by storing his remains in an ossuary. Apart from sightings, the empty tomb would have not been a sufficient argument for the possibility of resurrection; in the absence of an empty tomb, nor would sightings. The only explanation sufficient to support resurrection must involve both of these things. All of the signposts point in the direction of resurrection. Denials of the resurrection often preclude on the basis of worldviews that preclude its possibility from the outset. The event of the resurrection is that which explains the future shape of the early Church.

Here the issue of a form of knowing beyond scientific and historical knowing presents itself. This new way of knowing must involve some sort of overlap with scientific and historical forms of knowing. Wright gives the example of the donation of a magnificent work of art to a college in a university. The college, lacking any place in which to display the work of art, dismantles the current college building and rebuilds it around the donated work of art. All of the things that used to make the college special are retained and, indeed, enhanced by the presence of the work of art. The negative features of the college are removed by the redesign of the college around the work of art. However—and this is the crucial point—there must be some initial reception of the work of art prior to the redesigning and rebuilding of the college around it. It is of such an overlap that we speak of with the bearing that the issue of resurrection has upon the scientist or the historian.

The resurrection poses such a challenge to the scientist or the historian, for it is the utterly characteristic, protological event of the new world that is coming to birth. It is not an absurd event occurring within the system of our own world, but an event that belongs to a new reality. No other explanation of a satisfactory character can explain the empty tomb. Nevertheless, if someone chooses to stay between the Pharaoh of scepticism and the sea of faith, they cannot be pushed any further by the historian.

God has given us minds to think. Despite the fact that the resurrection bursts the bounds of history, it also belongs within history, which is precisely why it is so disturbing and unsettling to us. In seeking to understand the resurrection, we need to situate it within a broader context. The apostle Thomas is a good example to follow here. Thomas starts out looking for a certain form of knowing—“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe”—but ends up transcending this sort of knowing in a greater form of knowing. This is not an anti-historical or anti-scientific belief. There is epistemological weight borne by history. Faith transcends—but includes—historical and scientific conviction.

The faith by which we know, like all other true forms of knowing, is determined by the nature of its object. The fact that faith is determined by the nature of its object corresponds to the methodology adopted by science. In order to know certain things, scientists occasionally have to change their ways of seeing to a way that is more appropriate to the reality with which they are dealing. Changing paradigms involves finding a bigger picture within which to see things. Christian faith involves much the same sort of movement.

If we see an epistemology of faith in the example of Thomas, we see an epistemology of hope expressed in the work of the apostle Paul, a matter that is explored within Wright’s most recent publication, entitled—with apologies to C.S. Lewis—Surprised by Hope. Hope is a way of knowing in which new possibilities are opened up. There is also within Scripture an epistemology of love to be found, perhaps exemplified best by Peter. Wittgenstein once remarked in a profound statement: ‘It is love that believes the resurrection.’ So it was in the case of Peter.

The question of how we know things is related to the new ontology of the resurrection. The resurrection cannot be known properly in terms of our world of death, detachment and betrayal. The knowing of love must have a correlative outside the knower in the external world. This is the knowing that is needed in the world of the resurrection. ‘Objective’ historical epistemology leads us to the questions faced by Thomas, Paul and Peter: are we able and prepared to adopt a knowing of faith, hope and love? All forms of knowing are given by God; all forms of knowing can be situated within the broader setting of knowing established by faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

@ 2:09 am | 32 Comments

Wright’s Theological Starting Point in his Doctrine of Justification

Bishop WrightOne of the main reasons why many of Wright’s critics misunderstand his doctrine of justification can be traced to the fact that the questions that he is answering with his doctrine of justification are slightly different from those which traditional Reformed doctrines of justification are designed to answer.

Reformed doctrines of justification tend to have an anthropological starting point. The big question that the doctrine generally addresses is that of how an individual can get right with a holy God. Wright’s doctrine, on the other hand, takes its starting point with God. He starts with God’s covenant-renewing action in the gospel, rather than with man’s attempt to get right with God. Justification is understood in the context of the question of how God sets men to rights, rather than primarily in the context of the question of how men can get right with God.

When Wright talks about the basis for God’s justifying declaration, he is not providing a direct answer to the question of what we must do to be saved. For Wright, God’s declaration that we are right with Him is not merely delivered on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness extra nos, but includes the work of the Spirit within the believer as part of its basis. Wright believes that God is righteous in justifying because (a) Christ has died for the sins of the world; (b) faith is the appropriate helpless response to the gospel; (c) faith is the true obedience that the Law called for but could never provide; (d) faith, as the first sign of the work of the Spirit, is the sign of a new life that is obedient by nature (‘God’s verdict in the present is righteous, because the basis on which it is made is sufficient grounds for confidence that it will correspond to the righteous verdict of the last day’).

Wright’s doctrine of justification relies heavily on the work of the Holy Spirit in the convert (both in present and final justification). If Wright’s doctrine were designed as a direct answer to the traditional Reformed questions of justification it would probably be dangerously misleading. We would be taught to depend at least in part on the work of the Spirit in ourselves, an incomplete and imperfect righteousness within, rather than on the completed work and person of Christ extra nos. Such a dependence on an incomplete righteousness would produce assurance problems, given the lack of a proper ground for our justification (the need for a perfect righteousness as the basis of our justification is the issue that the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness seeks to deal with). However, Wright’s doctrine is not designed as an answer to the traditional questions that Reformed Christians have tended to use the doctrine of justification to answer. To understand Wright’s doctrine of justification you really have to put the traditional questions to one side, something which most of Wright’s critics haven’t really grasped yet.

When Wright speaks of faith in relation to his doctrine of justification one of the things that should really strike the reader is how passive man is characterized as being. From his treatments of faith in such contexts, one could be led to wonder whether he believes that faith is something that human beings ‘exercise’ at all. For instance, faith is spoken of as the ‘boundary marker’ or ‘badge’ of the true people of God. One does not generally think in terms of ‘exercising’ a badge.

‘Faith’, for Paul, is therefore not a substitute ‘work’ in a moralistic sense. It is not something one does in order to gain admittance into the covenant people. It is the badge that proclaims that one is already a member. [What St Paul Really Said, 132]

Such a statement is bound to confuse the Reformed reader who is used to approaching the doctrine of justification as the doctrine that answers the question of what an individual must do to get right with a holy God. Given Wright’s theological — rather than anthropological — starting point, his doctrine of justification provides at best a confusing answer to the question that Reformed Christians are answering.

As Wright addresses the issue of justification within the context of the question of how God sets humanity and His creation to rights, his doctrine can include things that a doctrine with an anthropological starting point would find it hard to include. If we adopt an anthropological starting point, certain of the distinctions between justification and sanctification are far more important than they are if we begin with a theological starting point. From an anthropological starting point justification speaks of the way in which I can come to be accepted as righteous in God’s sight and sanctification speaks of a more synergistic process, through which I grow in personal righteousness. Viewed from this perspective it is crucial to keep justification and sanctification distinct, as we do not want to say that we are accepted as righteous in God’s sight on the basis of our works. The distinction between justification and sanctification is essential if we are to preserve monergism.

Viewed from Wright’s more theological starting point, justification and what we call sanctification are not so distinct. From a theological starting point sanctification is not really viewed as an essentially synergistic process (although from other perspectives it can legitimately be regarded as such). In Wright’s understanding, God’s declaration of justification has ‘sanctification’ — both present and promised — in view to some extent. However — and this point is absolutely crucial — the sanctification that is in view is God’s action, rather than ours. It is God who gives the badge of faith and the life of the Spirit in the effectual call and it is God who commits Himself to bringing to completion that which He has begun in us. The condition for this justification is something provided by God, rather than by us.

This means that Wright can maintain a far less antithetical relationship between faith and faithfulness in his doctrine of justification. He writes:

Faith and obedience are not antithetical. They belong exactly together. Indeed, very often the word ‘faith’ itself could properly be translated as ‘faithfulness’, which makes the point just as well. Nor, of course, does this then compromise the gospel or justification, smuggling in ‘works’ by a back door. That would only be the case if the realignment I have been arguing for throughout were not grasped. Faith, even in this active sense, is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into God’s family or for staying there once in. It is the God-given badge of membership, neither more not less. [What St Paul Really Said, 160]

All of this should alert the reader to the fact that Wright is not approaching justification as the answer to the question of what one must do to be saved. If someone asked Wright what they must do to be saved, he would clearly direct them to Jesus Christ and away from any dependence upon their own moral efforts. He would call them to trust in God, His Word and His promises, and not to rest their assurance on their own imperfect works. There is no ambiguity on this point. However, this is not the question that Wright believes that the doctrine of justification is intended to answer. Few points could be more important for the proper interpretation of Wright.

Links

Links from the last few days:

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According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.

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An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

***
Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

***
Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
***
Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
***
Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
***
There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
***
Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

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John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
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Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

Links

This morning I finished my last exam of the semester. It is a great relief to have finally completed this year at St. Andrews. It has been considerably less productive than the year before (I suspect that there has been a downward trend in my productivity for over three years now, which is rather depressing) and I look forward to really putting my back into the work for my final year. My results haven’t suffered that much, but I would like to have a bit more to show for my time.

In a few days’ time — possibly after I return to St. Andrews next Tuesday — I hope to start posting the subject of the atonement, a subject which will probably dominate this blog over the summer. However, it has been well over a month since I last posted a links post, and I thought that I would mark my return to regular service with a bumper collection of some of the things that have caught my attention over the last month or so.

Matt Colvin’s Fragmenta blog has always been a personal favourite. Matt has been posting some great material recently. Two posts in particular that I have enjoyed: ‘Baptism for Forgiveness in Acts 2:38′ (an analysis of the grammatical arguments put forward by some to avoid a close relationship between Baptism and forgiveness in that passage) and ‘Examine Yourselves: Testing in Corinth and Crete’ (in which Matt challenges the introspective understanding of ‘examine yourselves’ through a careful examination of the Greek). Both posts give a voice to texts that have all too often fallen prey to theological agendas.

***
I am not sure that I agree with all of Josh S’s propositions, but Proposition 5 (’If your theology makes you uncomfortable with biblical language, your theology needs to change’) is, in my experience, one of the most important principles that I have ever learned. I seem to remember that my father first taught me this principle over several years’ ago.
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Stephen Carlson links to some helpful posts with advice for honing your academic writing. Such honing is long overdue in my case. Perhaps something to devote some time to over the summer.
***
As usual there is a wealth of quality posting on Peter Leithart’s blog. Over the last month Leithart has posted a number of things that may be of interest to NTW fans: ‘Five Points of NT Wright’, ‘Paul and Israel’, ‘Justification and Community’ and a lengthy PDF document: Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.

Leithart also has a number of other helpful posts that address FV debates, including ‘Perichoretic Imagination’, ‘Theological Imagination’, ‘Grace’, ‘Denying the Gospel’ and a guest post by James Jordan, ‘Justification and Glorification’.

There are also a number of other interesting and thought-provoking posts, including ‘Faith and Grace’ (about different ways of conceiving of the relationship between faith and grace, with particular reference to the practice of infant Baptism), ‘Justification and Purity’ (in which he mentions Chris VanLandingham’s recent work and his argument that justification language has to do more with ’state of being’ than with ’status’ — perhaps a challenging case for the application of Josh’s fifth proposition) and ‘Rites Controversy’ (some thoughts on the relationship between traditional Chinese practices and the Christian faith in the 17th and 18th centuries).

***
Mark Goodacre posts on the subject of PhDs in the UK and US (something that is playing on my mind at the moment too). He also links to a Guardian article on recent trouble at Wycliffe Hall.
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Jason Fout posts on the subject of living with questions.
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NTW on Jerry Falwell. There are also a number of new audio lectures linked from the N.T. Wright Page:

Putting the World to Rights
God’s Restorative Program
Godpod 16
Godpod 17

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James White links to a — presumably heavily critical — series on the NPP.
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Mark posts a lengthy grand unifying Lost theory. I must confess to being cheered by recent developments on the show; for a while I was concerned that it may have jumped the shark.
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On Ben Myers blog: ‘Ten Propositions on Being a Minister’ and a plug for Mike Bird’s new book on the NPP (which looks extremely helpful).
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Ben also links to this lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams, something that I really must read when I have the time.
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Bill Kesatie asked me to respond to this post on the subject of sexual abuse of children within churches. Bill suggests that blogging Christians need to be more vocal about this matter. I suggest that the teaching of Ephesians 5:11-12 is important to keep in mind here:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

In our day and age there is virtually no sin so evil that it cannot be spoken of and discussed (almost literally) ad nauseum. There is a sort of unhealthy fascination with perversion that can develop in such a manner, a sort of urge to stoop and sniff the faeces. People who spend a lot of time talking and thinking about sin are in a very dangerous position for this reason. Even though they may condemn the sin in the strongest possible language, there is something about it that arouses their interest.

I am a firm believer in the importance of certain taboos. There are certain things that it is unfitting to talk about. Where sexual abuse of children takes place it is healthy to literally feel sick in the pit of your stomach. Our reaction should be one of deep revulsion. Wherever such sin occurs the Scriptures call us to expose it as a work of darkness. Such an approach of exposing sin has, tragically, not always been followed in Christian contexts. Sin has on occasions been covered up, something which is utterly inexcusable.

The biblical command to expose sin should not, however, be confused with the idea of having a public conversation about such sin. I am shocked by the idea that Christian bloggers should be expected to post condemnations of the sin of child abuse within churches; condemnations are the means by which people who fail to live lives of transparent godliness tend to assert their morality. The fact that we are called upon to condemn such appalling sins suggests that such sins are less than unspeakable and unthinkable to the people of God. Biblically, the Church exposes darkness, not chiefly by condemning it with public statements, but by living as the light of the world.

For this reason, rather than post a condemnation of unspeakable sin, I would prefer to post a challenge for us to be the sort of people for whom such sin truly is unspeakable and unthinkable, for us to be people whose utter rejection of such sin is so completely manifested by the way that we deal with it when it occurs that any further words would merely detract from the fulness of its condemnation.

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Jon Barlow posts on Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens and their current debate. His thoughts on Doug Wilson are very close to my own.
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A couple of weeks ago, Barbara tagged me in the seven things you didn’t know about me meme. Here goes:

1. In my first school play at the age of five I was an angel. Midway through the play the elastic on my trousers broke and the crowd were amused and distracted by my attempts to hide the fact and hold them up. My teacher was not too impressed.

2. I went on strike for a day in primary school, because I was annoyed that the supply teacher was a smoker. The primary school that I attended was a small Church of Ireland school, with four years to each room. My younger brother Jonathan was in the same room as me for a couple of years. As a rather absent-minded kid, he was constantly getting into trouble with the teacher. On one occasion when he was being lectured to (and pyschoanalyzed) by the teacher at the front of the class I felt so strongly that he was being treated unfairly that I wrote a letter of protest and handed it around my classmates. It was intercepted and my mind has long sought to suppress the memories of the resulting experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson on that occasion and, in secondary school I wrote another letter of protest to a teacher, which led to a session in the principal’s office.

3. The first album I ever bought was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. I still enjoy listening to it today, but at the time, I would have probably been better off had I not bought it as it was, to some extent, a means by which I could rebel against my parents.

4. I have never broken a bone, although I have sprained each of my ankles several times. When I injure myself it is usually playing football or riding my bike. The last time it was a badly sprained ankle. The time before, I slipped on dog doo and cracked my forehead on a brick wall. Unfortunately, the manner of my fall was so amusing that, looking up in my dazed state, all I saw were my friends looking down at me and laughing.

5. I have needle phobia. I feel rather annoyed at myself for having such an irrational fear. Whilst I have faced my fear on a number of occasions in having injections or in donating blood, I haven’t been able to shake the fear itself.

6. I started balding at the age of 16. I noticed about 10 years before some other people did. I guess that you don’t see what you don’t expect to see (and some people are not the most observant).

7. Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, a soldier, a pilot, a missionary or a maths teacher. Frankly, I probably had a better idea then than I do now.

If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

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Dr Jim West mentions a forthcoming book by Richard Bauckham, which looks very interesting, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John.
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John H has two great posts with thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: ‘Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt’ and ‘The puzzling mystery of unbelief’. He also has a post, entitled ‘The gospel “under the papacy”‘, which he begins with the remark: ‘One irony of becoming a Lutheran was that it greatly improved my opinion of the Roman Catholic Church.’ Very interesting.
***
Kevin Bywater has a great series of posts on the subject of sinlessness in Second Temple Judaism:

Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (2 - Gathercole’s Wise Words)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (3 - D. Falk on Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (4 - Other Texts)

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Mercersberg Review articles available online.
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Angie Brennan posts the ‘Screwtape E-mails’.
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Some interesting things from lifehacker:

Top ten sites for free books
Learning the finer points of punctuation
Top 10 body hacks

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A very interesting article on the Bible in the global South.
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A new blog: The Reformed News. Looks interesting.
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Finally, some gleanings from Youtube.

I got myself a copy of the Arcade Fire’s most recent album and have been listening to it incessantly over the last month. Here is a performance of the title track:

If you haven’t seen the Potter Pals before, this is a lot of fun (or you may find it incredibly annoying and stupid):

Finally, a powerful speech by Bono:

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

*

What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

*

But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

*

I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

*

There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

*

Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Links

Believe it or not, I really meant it when I said (about a month and a half ago now) that I had no intention of reducing my input on this blog to that of posting long lists of links. I apologize for the continued lack of substantial posting. Hopefully this will change sometime soon. However, I won’t make any promises, as I have not the best track-record of keeping blogging promises. What do you, my reader, think of my link posts? Should I stop them or make them more occasional? Are they worth reading or would you prefer me to do something different with my blogging time? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye online over the last couple of days:

Matt Colvin, whose Lenten reflection was posted on this blog yesterday, posts further thoughts on his blog on the Last Supper and on Gethsemane. He also has posted some posts that are relevant to the interminable FV debates: ‘Dead Orthodoxy’ and ‘Head on a Platter’.

***
The Fearsome Pirate has returned! He kicks off with a post on Lutheranism. Josh, we’ve missed you.
***
Leithart posts on the subject of the consumer revolution and gives us quite a Girardian insight from an eighteenth century writer.
***
On the subject of René Girard, Edward Oakes posts on Girard over on the First Things blog.
***
Macht links to audio from Calvin College’s Faith and Music weekend. It looks interesting: Sylia Keesmaat, Lauren Winner, and a number of other speakers.
***
If any of you are feeling like engaging in some extreme penance, Ben Myers links to a meme that might suit you. He also posts Kim Fabricius’s ‘Ten Propositions on Political Theology’, which Josh and Joel discuss over on the BHT.
***
Stephen at the Thinkery links to a post with a series of accounts of anti-LGBT encounters. Whilst I believe that lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behaviour is sinful, I have long maintained that homophobia is real and ought to be shown up in all of its ugliness by Christians. Some of the stories recounted should give us food for thought.
***
There are few examples of homophobia as extreme as that of the Westboro Baptist Church. The following is the first part of the BBC2 documentary, in which Louis Theroux meets the Phelps:

The other parts of the show are also available on Youtube — part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

***
The audiobook of Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is available for free download from Christian Audio this month [HT: Tim Challies]. Don’t miss out!
***
Why PowerPoint presentations don’t work [HT: David Field]. I feel vindicated: I have long viewed PowerPoint presentations with a mistrust bordering on antipathy.
***

According to recent studies, Britain has 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of all cameras globally.

It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.

Read the whole article here [HT: David Field].

***
Tearfund has a new report on churchgoing in the UK. There is some comment on the report on the BBC website. Graham Weeks posts some figures from the survey here.
***
NTW’s Maundy Thursday sermon.
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The Placebo Diet [HT: The Evangelical Outpost]. I just need to know how to turn this finding in my favour.
***
As usual the Evangelical Outpost has a number of other interesting links, which I thought that I would pass on:

100 aphorisms summarizing Calvin’s Institutes
Some classic insults
34 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe from your Blog (a quick scan confirms my suspicion that I have been guilty of the majority of these at some time or other)
The Internet weighs 2 ounces

***
Some British teachers drop teaching the Holocaust and the Crsuades to avoid offending Muslims and other schools are challenged to change their teaching on the Arab-Israeli conflict by some theologically confused Christians [HT: Tim Challies]
***
A skeptical ex-scientist describes the funding process for peer-reviewed research.
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Some more useful links from lifehacker:

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper
How to make yourself happier within the next hour
Google launches My Maps
Ditto: A useful Windows clipboard extension

***
I am glad that I am not the only person who writes e-mails in this way:

Some of the other Youtube videos that have caught my attention over the last week include: LisaNova does 300!, Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.1 and Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.2.
***
Jeffrey Overstreet asks whether movies are increasing our capacity to see, and whether the narrative of film distracts us too much from the visual dimension [HT: John Barach].
***
And, on the topic of the poetry of cinema, I will conclude this links post with one of my favourite scenes from Spirited Away, which I watched yet again last night. It grows on me every time.

Links

The FV discussion continues on unabated. Matt Colvin has some very good thoughts on the debate here (makes sure that you read the comments). Lane Keister suggests that ego is the main thing standing in the way of FV people repenting of their errors. The huge number of comments that follow his post make interesting reading. Meanwhile, the Presbyteer posts an overheard comment.

***
Mark Goodacre and Dr Jim West continue to discuss the value of Wikipedia.
***
Richard Mouw writes on Calvinism and sewage [HT: Prosthesis].
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Paul Duggan (who really needs to sort out his permalinks) puts forward the following statements for discussion:

1. Some Christians, because of their great faith or piety, are more effective than other Christians in begging God’s favors, say for healing the sick.

2. Since some Christians are of that sort, it is a good idea to ask them, in particular, to pray for you, say, if you are sick.

3. It is ok to think, in the back of your mind, “that man is righteous: his prayer will be partciularly effective for my sickness”

4. Doing so is not blasphemous, nor does it impinge upon the complete salvation we have in Christ.

***
Mererdith Kline’s works online [HT: Ros Clarke].
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R.C. Sproul reviews N.T. Wright’s recent book, Evil and the Justice of God.
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The good bishop is also in the news again, responding to a BBC Radio 4 show with the ‘controversial cleric’ Jeffrey John, who claims that the doctrine of penal substitution “is repulsive as well as nonsensical” and “makes God sound like a psychopath.” The Sunday Telegraph reports:

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about “love and truth”, not “wrath and punishment”. He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could “share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us”.

Church figures have expressed dismay at his comments, which they condemn as a “deliberate perversion of the Bible”. The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of attacking the fundamental message of the Gospel.

“He is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life,” he said.

Bishop Wright criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a provocative argument. “I’m fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week,” he said.

***
From Vern Poythress’s ‘The Church as a Family’, which I had occasion to read a few days ago:

[M]any evangelical churches today are seen primarily as lecture halls or preaching stations. People identify the church with its building, in contrast to the Biblical emphasis that those united to Christ are the real church. Moreover, the building is viewed merely as a place for hearing a sermon or enjoying religious entertainment. Such a view impoverishes our communal life as Christians. Certainly monologue sermons are important, since they are one means of bringing God’s Word to bear on the church. But God intends the church to be much more…

But in too many evangelical churches, people have little experience of the Biblical practice of common family life. There may also be no regard for the necessity of church discipline. The church leaders are nothing more than gifted speakers or counselors (paid ministers), or else managers of church property and/or programs (whether these people are called trustees or elders or deacons). Such “leaders” are just people whose useful gifts have brought them into prominence. In such situations, it is understandable that some people may fail to see why appropriately qualified women may not exercise the key functions they associate with leadership. In fact, Christians will not fully understand the logic leading to male overseers until they come to grips with what the church should really be as God’s household.

***
Steven Harris posts a Palm Sunday confession.
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Byron Smith on the chocolate Jesus controversy.
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The Pirate comments on the erotic character of much contemporary worship:

Let’s point out the obvious: replace the buxom blonde babes with stout matrons in their late 50’s, and the worship experience just plain doesn’t happen. Hire an older fellow that walks with a cane as your worship pastor instead of that handsome, young, energetic Cedarville graduate, and Sunday morning just won’t “work.” That should indicate something is wrong. This kind of “worship” isn’t anything new. Maybe fog machines, synthesizers, and colored lights are new, but sensuality and eroticism in worship aren’t. It’s just that in the olden-tymie days, you had to go to a pagan temple to get that. They [presumably the Church — Al] did a remarkably bad job of incorporating the pagan culture into their worship. A few things changed with the imperialization of the Church, but the damage had already been done. Christian worship was doomed to centuries of reverence, formality, seriousness, regularity, and deliberation until the 20th century brought Aphrodite back to her rightful place as the orchestrator of our worship.

***
Doug Wilson posts 21 questions for a prospective wife. And, if you are reading Dad, I still do not intend to need to use these myself anytime in the foreseeable future…
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John blogs on slinkies.
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Louis Theroux meets the Phelpses.
***
How to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint:

Links


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Links

There are still a number of days available for those who want to guest post over Lent, (the instructions for entries can be found here). If you are interested, please respond as soon as possible. Remember, a contribution doesn’t have to be written reflections. You could post a video, an MP3 of yourself talking or singing a song, or a picture that you have drawn. As long as it is within the guidelines set out within the linked post above, it will be very much appreciated.

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Ben Myers posts the fourth installment of the Thomas Torrance audio lectures and reports a PR disaster for the Christian music industry.
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Gregg Strawbridge and Mark Horne respond to Guy Waters on Covenant Radio [HT: Barbara]
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Leithart reminds us of the sacramental piety of the Wesleys. It is interesting to observe how little press this dimension of the Wesleys’ beliefs and piety can receive. A few years ago I was reading an old book on early Methodism and came across a letter sent by John Wesley in 1745, written to his brother-in-law Westley Hall, a number of years after his evangelical conversion. It served as a reminder of how quickly some of our great evangelical heroes would be anathematized were they here to resist their own airbrushing. The following is an extract from Wesley’s letter:

You think, First, that, we undertake to defend some things, which are not defensible by the Word of God. You instance three: on each of which we will explain ourselves as clearly as we can.

1. ‘That, the validity of our ministry depends on a succession supposed to be from the Apostles, and a commission derived from the Pope of Rome, and his successors or dependents.’

We believe, it would not be right for us to administer, either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops, whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles. And, yet, we allow, these Bishops are the successors of those, who are dependent on the Bishop of Rome. But, we would be glad to know, on what reasons you believe this to be inconsistent with the Word of God.

2. ‘That, there is an outward Priesthood, and consequently an outward Sacrifice, ordained and offered by the Bishop of Rome, and his successors or dependents, in the Church of England, as vicars and vicegerents of Christ.’

We believe there is and always was, in every Christian Church (whether dependent on the Bishop of Rome or not) an outward Priesthood ordained by Jesus Christ, and an outward Sacrifice offered therein, by men authorized to act, as Ambassadors of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God. On what grounds do you believe, that, Christ has abolished that Priesthood or Sacrifice?

3. ‘That, this Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy, which still continues in the Church of England, is of Apostolical Institution, and authorized thereby; though not by the written Word.’

We believe, that, the threefold order of ministers, (which you seem to mean by Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy,) is not only authorized by its Apostolical Institution, but also by the written Word. Yet, we are willing to hear and weigh whatever reasons induce you to believe to the contrary.

My purpose here is not to defend Wesley’s sentiments. Rather, I am suggesting that perhaps evangelical faith need not be as inimical and alien to High Church Christianity as many evangelicals suppose it must.

***
Cynthia Nielsen is blogging on Jean-Luc Marion (Part 1, Part 2)
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Byron Smith (whose blog you should be reading) is interviewed by Guy Davies.
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Leithart asks: ‘Who Defines “Reformed”?’
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A few N.T. Wright articles and blog posts (!!):

Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years
God’s Power Does Not Excuse Human Despoiling
Sex Both Powerful and Potentially Dangerous
Base Criticism on Facts, Not Prejudice

I am not convinced that the blog is Wright’s best medium. Sometimes I wish that he would just cancel all his speaking engagements, popular book projects and the like and just get the big book on Paul finished.
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Whoever suggested this series of adverts deserves a hefty payrise.
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Jack Bauer: Pre-School Teaching Assistant
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A New Pope (first saw this one a few months back, but never got around to linking it)
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The editor of First Things, Joseph Bottum, has won at the Deity level in Civilization III. Kudos! This truly remarkable achievement was mentioned within this superb article on the series of games that have accounted for a disturbing percentage of the waking hours of my existence [HT: Mark Whittinghill of BHT].
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Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals in conversation [HT: The Presbyteer].

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And for any of you who might be concerned, despite recent indications to the contrary, my future input on this blog is not going to be reduced to posting long lists of links and comments on the latest Peter Leithart posts.

More Wright Talks

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Part 1, Part 2

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

Space, Time and Sacraments

Wright’s Calvin College lectures are now online.

NTW Lecture

Wright lectures in Calvin College’s January Series:

Simply Christian

There is also a Christianity Today interview with Wright here.

What would John Calvin Say to the NPP?

John Calvin

As someone who believed medieval Rome taught a piecemeal salvation through a treadmill of sacramental performance, something which he equated in its essence to that of inter-testamental Judaism (aka Pharisaism) as a religion which rung the changes on works-righteousness — seeing both of these as examples of man’s innate tendency to idolatry and self-justification, he would not recognize the New Perspective as doing justice either to the exegesis of Scripture or a diagnosis of man’s real problem. He would regard it as wrongheaded pastorally as well as historically. As one who insisted on double-imputation, he would find the New Perspective’s denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as wholly inadequate to deal with the real problem of fallen (Adamic) man’s relationship to God. As one who made the cross central, he would be perplexed at the inadequate responses of the New Perspective to the question which inquires as to the necessity of the cross or what it actually achieved. Penal substitution through satisfaction were Calvin’s main emphases and a perspective which substitutes ecclesiastical categories (who belongs to the covenant community?) rather than soteriological categories (how can a sinner be made right with God?), and one that answers the former by emphasizing “boundary markers” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he would view as Catholicism redivivus.

So claims Derek Thomas. I would like to think that Calvin would have done a better job of understanding the NPP before he dismissed it.

Election in John’s Gospel

Election is one of the issues that I continually return to. On my computer I have well over one hundred thousand words that I have written on the subject of election at some stage or other (from discussion lists, e-mails, personal notes, unposted blog posts, etc.). Unfortunately there is so much material that I just can’t bring myself to put it all together into some sort of coherent whole. Every once in a while I will just drop some thoughts on the subject, drawing on some of the material that I have amassed on the matter (some of you will have already seen this material at some time or other).

This time my thoughts are on the subject of election in John’s gospel. John’s gospel has a rich seam of ‘prooftexts’ for a view of election that sees God as eternally electing particular individuals and ensuring that they will never apostatize. Over the past few years I have become convinced that a close reading of John’s gospel itself just will not support the theology of election that has been drawn from these prooftexts.

John presents us with a theology in which everyone who genuinely comes to Christ comes because the Father has given that person to Christ. They are given by means of the Father’s sovereign work in drawing the person, not because the Father foresaw the person’s own individual decision. Christ will not turn away or cast out any who are given to Him by the Father.

All of those who have been entrusted to Christ’s care by the Father — head for head — will be raised up on the last day. Christ is the good Shepherd. He lays down His life for the sheep. He will not allow anyone to snatch the sheep from His hands. He will go off in search of the wanderer in order to bring that one back to Himself. Even when the sheep are to be scattered, He will pray for those entrusted to His care that their faith would not fail.

These words teach us that, as long as our lives are in Christ’s hands, we are as safe as we could be. However, these verses are part of a bigger picture in which the Father does not merely give people into the care of His Son but also removes people from the care of His Son. The teaching of John 6:37ff often seems to be held at the expense of the teaching of such passages as John 15:1ff.

John 15:1-2 teaches us that the Father (the vinedresser) takes away from Christ (the vine) branches that consistently fail to bear fruit. Whilst there is good reason to believe that the Father is patient in this process and generally waits for some time before removing a branch, we cannot deny that branches that have been ‘in Christ’ are genuinely removed.

How does this fit in with the teaching of passages such as John 6:37ff.? It is not that difficult to reconcile the teaching of these different passages when we step back from certain assumptions. For example, John’s gospel does not give support to the idea that the Father’s giving of people to Christ is something that takes place in ‘eternity past’. The Father’s giving of people to Christ is an occurrence in human history.

How then do we reconcile the teaching of these different passages? The Father is the One who entrusts people to His Son; the Father is also the One who removes people from His Son’s care. Christ does not lose anyone who has been entrusted to Him by the Father. No one snatches these people from the Son’s hands. It is not the Father’s will that any person He has entrusted to the Son should be lost and the Son does not fail to fulfil this. He guards, preserves and prays for all of those who have been given to Him by the Father. However, the fact that the Father can remove people from Christ’s care should never be forgotten. It is not Christ who removes people from the vine, but the Father, the vinedresser.

This is a robustly ‘ecclesial’ doctrine of election. Those who have been given to Christ by the Father are not the elect from eternity past (presuming, for the sake of argument, that such a group even exists) but those who have been brought into union with Christ in history. Amongst this number there are those who will not persevere in union with Christ and will be removed by the Father. When Christ lays down His life for the sheep He is not laying down His life for the elect from eternity past. Rather, He dies for those who have been given to Him by the Father. This group is the Church, understood as the community of disciples, to which more will be added in the future and others removed.

The group of those that have been given to Christ by the Father is not a static and unchanging number. This is implied in a number of different places. For example, in John 17:20 we see an implied contrast between the ones who have been given to Christ by the Father and those who will believe on Christ through their word (perhaps implying that they are yet to be given to Christ by the Father).

I believe that the Johannine picture of election is far more complex than that which many people hold and many others react to. As Peter Leithart points out, the Johannine picture of election is one in which apostates are just as chosen as anyone else. The Johannine doctrine of election is one in which Judas is just as much one ‘given’ to Jesus by the Father as John himself is (John 17:12).

James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection

James Jordan has argued that the Scriptures teach two resurrections and justifications. The final justification is a justification that includes the person’s works and is only possible once the first justification has taken place. We cannot do any good works until the initial justification has taken place. In support of this notion Jordan cites Numbers 19. In Numbers 19, when a person has become contaminated through contact with a corpse, they go through two stages of purification. They are purified on the third day and on the seventh day their purification is completed with a final purification and baptism (quite possibly the ‘baptism for the dead’ referred to in 1 Corinthians 15; certainly the most likely contender in my estimation).

Most contemporary Christians would believe that such a passage is far too obscure to play any role in our doctrine of justification and that Paul’s theology never could have been informed by such a thing. This is the natural response for Protestants, who have very little time for liturgy. The assumption is that the ‘Bible’ is the only place where God’s revelation of saving truths is to be found. There are a number of problems with this notion. Chief among them is the fact that what we call the ‘Bible’ is a relatively recent creation. The people of God of previous ages encountered the Scriptures in the form of liturgical performance not as we do, by reading words off the pages of our mass-produced, privately-owned Bibles. It should not surprise us that, approaching the Scriptures as they do, most modern Christians make little sense out of it.

Once we appreciate this, we will need to reweight the significance of different parts of the Scriptures. The book of Leviticus, for example, is one of the most important books in the OT canon. Obscure as it may seem to us, the book of Leviticus shaped the daily worship of Israel. You will not really understand books like Romans until you have grasped something of the message of Leviticus.

Numbers 19 is a good example of a text that seems insignificant to us, but would have been many times more significant to an Israelite. In a time of higher mortality, when death was not something that took place away from the context of life in modern hospital wards, people would be far more likely to come into contact with corpses. The Israelite who came in contact with a corpse would have to go through the week long ritual of Numbers 19. Living out such a biblical text for a week’s period of time at a moment that was most probably one of profound personal transition following the death of a friend or relative would likely cause Numbers 19 to leave a far deeper impression on your consciousness than it does for the modern reader of the book of Numbers. One would not regard Numbers 19 as an obscure text.

Numbers 19 presents us with a baptismal resurrection. The person who has become unclean through contact with a corpse is separated from the realm of fellowship with God and is symbolically dead as a consequence of his contact with the dead body. They are only restored to the life of fellowship with God through a baptism.

Jordan insists that the ‘resurrection’ of the third day, whilst analogous to the ‘resurrection’ of the seventh day, is a distinct event. It does not ‘participate’ in the resurrection of the seventh day. The third day justification is not a case of the seventh day justification being brought forward into the present. Nor, for that matter, is the seventh day justification merely a reiteration, recognition or validation of the third day justification.

Jordan argues that Jesus’ original hearers would have heard the background of Numbers 19 when Jesus claimed that He would be raised on the third day. They would not have believed that there was only one resurrection awaiting them in the future (or, if they did, they shouldn’t have). Rather, they would have expected two resurrections, an initial one and a later final and consummative one. The NT teaching of two resurrections in such places as John 5 and Revelation 20 was not, therefore, a theological novelty (whilst Jordan does not believe that the first resurrection in these passages refers to quite the same thing, they can be seen as evidence for his basic point). There is an initial resurrection, followed by a later, final resurrection.

The pattern of two justifications is something that Jordan does not merely see in Numbers 19. One can also see this pattern in the sacrifices of Israel as the tribute/memorial offering, in which human works can be presented to and accepted by God on the basis of the earlier sacrifices. One can see it in Christian worship in the relationship between Baptism, which is initial justification, and the Eucharist, which foreshadows final justification in which our works are taken into account (symbolically presented to God in the bringing forward of the bread and the wine and own offerings in the offertory).

Jordan contrasts his position to that of N.T. Wright, claiming that Wright shares the same error as most Reformed approaches, which presume that justification is one event. Whilst most Reformed approaches see final justification merely as a reiteration of present justification, Wright errs by seeing present justification as being based on the bringing forward of future justification through the work of Christ. As Wright argues, what the Jews had expected to take place at the end of history had taken place in the middle of history in the case of one Person.

I have yet to be convinced that Jordan’s position is as far removed from Wright’s position as he generally presents it to be. Jordan claims that Wright holds to only one justification and that he holds to two, the first apart from works and the second including the person with all of his works. Jordan presents Wright as holding to a position in which God plays games with time, by bringing the future into the present.

I believe that this a misleading way to portray Wright’s position. Wright’s position is rather that the single future event of justification has taken place ahead of time in the case of one Person. There is no monkeying with time here. On the basis of this ‘bringing forward’ of the event of justification we can enjoy a present justification on the basis of faith, the positive verdict corresponding with a later verdict on the last day that will be delivered on the basis of the whole life lived.

The point where Wright might seem to be suggesting that God is tinkering with time is better understood as a claim that the future event is already present in principle — or in embryo — in the case of Jesus Christ and that we participate in an event that awaits us in the future as we are united to Jesus Christ. There is a single event of justification, which has different stages to it. There are not ultimately two separate justifications, but two phases of the one justification. This, it seems to me, is perfectly biblical as well. If justification is to be seen in the event of the resurrection of the dead, then it seems that we have to acknowledge that we are talking about a single event with different stages, not two separate events. Christ is the firstfruits of the event, which for us largely awaits us in the future. This future event is truly anticipated as we are united to Christ in Baptism. I think that Wright is correct to hold that there is ultimately only one justification, with plurality to be found within it. I also believe that his claim that the end of history has taken place in the middle of history is essentially true, provided that we add the proper qualifications and do not presume a meddling with time on God’s part.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Jordan is perfectly right to claim that there are plenty of OT reasons to argue that justification was not regarded as a single event awaiting Israel at one point at the end of history (although I would like to see some evidence from extra-canonical Second Temple Jewish texts that people actually held what Jordan argues is the OT position). A plurality of phases to the one justification was not a surprising development of OT belief in the NT, but was anticipated in many and varied ways in the OT text. Wright is wrong to see a two-stage justification as a teaching peculiar to the NT.

The weight of Wright’s understanding of justification is placed on a single event of justification, which, surprisingly (in the light of Christ’s resurrection), has two separate phases. The weight of common Reformed understandings of justification seems to be placed on a single event of justification that takes place by faith on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ and will be reiterated in the future. Wright disagrees with such a position in its failure to give proper weight to a future justification on the basis of the whole life lived as essential to the single event of justification.

I believe that Wright would take issue with Jordan’s position in other ways. I imagine that he would argue that Jordan detaches the two phases of justification too sharply. Rather than seeing the future justification as already having occurred in principle but yet to be fully realized in our cases, Jordan’s position sometimes seems to present justification in the present as an event to which a future event must be added. It is the idea of future justification as the addition of a new justification separate from the present justification that Wright would take issue with. Future justification for Wright is rather the consummation of the single event that is already present in embryo through the resurrection of Christ. It is a distinct phase of the single event, but the event itself cannot be split into two events.

I believe that both Jordan and Wright have important things to teach us here. I believe that Jordan’s treatment of OT evidence is helpful and can serve to counteract some of the weaknesses of Wright’s position on that front. Jordan’s position is also useful in counteracting the weak view of the final judgment in relation to justification that one finds in many Reformed contexts. Whilst I believe that his stress on two events of justification goes a little too far, the idea of justification having two distinct — albeit closely interrelated — phases is very helpful and can help to balance Wright out a bit.

On the other hand, I think that Wright is correct to teach the unity of justification. Present justification by faith is an accurate anticipation of future justification according to works and is in many senses a bringing forward of the final verdict. Although the fullness of the event of resurrection and justification await us in the future, this will involve conforming to what has already become true of Christ. For that reason, the resurrection of the ’seventh day’ is already anticipated in the resurrection of the ‘third day’. Wright also clearly distinguishes present justification from final justification, even whilst closely interrelating them.

I think that some questions remain for Wright’s position, that could be helped by some of the emphases that one find in Jordan. Wright helpfully sees the future verdict of final justification as being present in the vindication of Christ in His resurrection. Jordan does not like any “already/not yet” approach to understanding redemptive history that would suggest that the future comes into the present in Christ, or anything like that. “Already/not yet” for Jordan is understood in terms of a linear timeline in which the future breaking into the present has little place.

I do not share Jordan’s position on this matter and believe that a purely linear account of redemptive history is insufficient. However, I believe that a linear approach to redemptive history is an essential perspective that must be retained and is too easily neglected. Without denying that the future has in some sense arrived in the present, we can see redemptive history as a continuing progression with stages that have yet to take place.

However, and this point is crucial, redemptive history can truly be viewed, not so much a progression beyond Christ’s resurrection, as a progression into Christ’s resurrection (I am not sure that Wright does justice to this either). This is where the “already/not yet” approach has so much to offer us. History is cyclical as well as linear. History is taken up in the resurrected Christ. What awaits us in the future is a full entry into something that has already taken place. This full entry will involve new redemptive historical events, but there is an important sense in which these events are not events that involve any progression beyond what has already taken place in Christ. It is this point that Jordan fails to do full justice to, whilst presenting us with the oft-forgotten perspective in which redemptive history involves a genuine progression beyond the resurrection.

Jim West on N.T. Wright

Dr. Jim West asks why Wright is so famous and gets so much attention whilst other insightful scholars are overlooked. In a slightly uncharitable (but humorous) assessment, Dr. West comments that Wright “reads, he regurgitates it into the open mouths of the waiting, joyously anticipating flock of hatchlings huddled together in his safe, warm, dry, nest of exegetical certainty, and he makes an awful lot of money doing it.” There is more truth in that characterization of Wright’s followers than some of us would like to admit (even though the characterization of Wright himself seems to me to be trifle unfair). Hopefully most of us read relatively widely in other scholars and do not take Wright on board uncritically.

So why does Wright get so much attention and other thought-provoking scholars so little? I have given some brief thoughts that immediately came to mind in the comments on Dr. West’s post. Does anyone else have any thoughts?

[And on the subject of Wright, I was intending to post my next audio talk yesterday. That didn't quite work out, but I will do it as soon as I can.]

New N.T. Wright Blog

Wright Questions Please!

Over the next week or two I hope to follow up my talk on Wright’s understanding of Jesus with talks on his understanding of Paul. Within those talks I will particularly focus on Wright’s understanding of justification. My aim is to preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright by exploring his theology on its own terms. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary responding to the critics.

I intend to conclude this series of talks with a talk responding to any burning questions that people might have regarding Wright’s work on Jesus and Paul, or even about the man himself. If anyone has such questions please send them to me. If you have encountered a particular criticism of Wright and you are not sure how best to answer it, if there is an aspect of his thought that simply puzzles you, if you want clarification of his position on a particular matter, please leave your question. You can write them in the comments of this post or my audio posts, or send them to my e-mail address. I will try to answer the best questions in my final talk. The best questions will be searching, relevant, helpful and of interest to a number of listeners. Critics of Wright are especially welcome.

In Which Alastair Posts his First Audio…

Rubens - The Descent from the Cross (c.1611)

I have just recorded a talk on the subject of N.T. Wright’s understanding of Jesus. Hopefully I will follow it up with some talk on Paul and Wright’s critics.

I am not particularly pleased with it, but have decided to put it online nonetheless. I am not gifted at speaking and far prefer writing. Here it is. Please e-mail me if there are any problems with it. I haven’t listened to the recording all the way through, nor have I checked that it has uploaded properly (due to the fact that I don’t have access to broadband at present). I would also appreciate feedback and any constructive criticism that people might have.

N.T. Wright — The Real Story

OK, I admit it, I just gave the official story — you know, the one that they want you to believe. If you want to discover the true N.T. Wright, Jon Mackenzie is the man to read.

Wright and Infant Baptism

I have been asked on more than one occasion how Wright can hold to his high view of Baptism. What seems to make his view even less tolerable in many people’s eyes is the fact that he is strongly in favour of the practice of infant Baptism. In conversation with some people yesterday the suggestion was made that one can reject Wright’s position on infant Baptism and infant faith and retain the rest of his thought more or less intact. I am not so sure.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that Wright only mentions the practice of infant Baptism on a couple of occasions in his writings and may not even have given the issue any focused study, I believe that infant Baptism is strongly implied by a number of different aspects of his thought. A denial of infant Baptism will always risk compromising Wright’s theological project on a number of levels. Whilst I am not suggesting that there is nothing that a convinced Baptist could consistently take from Wright’s project — far from it — I am concerned that Wright’s paedobaptist position is seen by many to be an Anglican appendage. It is not; it is closely related to much of what he has said about Jesus and Paul, even if he has not traced these implications himself in his writings. We should always be wary of identifying appendages in the thought of smart theologians. Generally they are just following theological instincts that we have just not become attuned to.

Within this post I want to briefly list some of the ways in which Wright’s theology might be seen to imply the existence of infant faith and the legitimacy of infant Baptism.

1. His definition of faith. Within Wright’s theology one sees an attempt to broaden our definition of faith. The Protestant tradition has all too easily fallen prey to definitions of faith that work in terms of a dichotomy between inner feeling and outer ritual or between sincerity and outward conformity. Modernism has also affected our definition of faith in a number of other ways. Modernism has sharp dichotomies between internal and external, private and public, individual and communal and religious and political. Christian faith comes to be defined as something that is internal, private, individual and religious as opposed to something external, public, communal and political.

Within the context of modernity it is the concept of the autonomous individual, who is the source of his own values and identity, which holds sway. Faith is understood in the light of this. Baptist thought is very modern in its philosophical impulses. The problem is that Paul did not share our dichotomies. As Wright has often observed, Paul’s gospel obliterates our tidy modern political/religious dichotomy.

Wright broadens the definition of faith. He moves beyond the faith as internal disposition versus works as external action approach. He moves our definition of faith more in the direction of faithfulness, loyalty, fealty and allegiance. One’s loyalties are often public, political and external realities. Infants are not immune from loyalties. Infants are born into settings where strong bonds of loyalty exist. Infants are implicated in the loyalties of their parents.

Evangelicals tend to operate in terms of a private heart faith that demands a greater degree of knowledge and rules out infants. However, loyalty is more of a public reality that needs to become integrated with heart loyalty as one matures over time. It seems to me that the first century Christian would have regarded the modern evangelical understanding of faith as very narrow. It does not include outward faithfulness, allegiance in a more political sense, it rules out the faith of infants and the faith of those who have a loyalty to Christ or to the Church with little or any knowledge to back it up (the sort of faith that most Christians prior to the Reformation had). Clearly the later form of faith is far from ideal, the faith of infants immature, and outward faithfulness and a more political allegiance often insufficient, but that does not mean that they are never genuine forms of faith, even of saving faith.

I don’t see why genuine Christian faith need involve a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’. We can relate to people through others and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that God does just that. God regards the children of believers as ‘holy’ (i.e. set apart for divine use, not merely ‘clean’) and the children of unbelievers as ‘unclean’. God is a ‘family friend’, as it were. No infant is neutral.

We can also relate to Christ through His people. Saul persecuted Christ by persecuting His people. In Matthew 25 we see people declared righteous as they show a form of Christian faith by the way that they treat Christ’s people. They relate to Christ in His people, even though they do not know it. I believe that there are many who will be declared righteous on the last day, who knew little about Christ, but were loyal to His Church. The Nicene Creed, one of the basic declarations of Christian faith, has the Church itself as an object of faith, along with the Holy Trinity. Evangelicals, who focus on faith in Christ as distinct from His Church, do not do this enough justice. The infant relates to Christ through its Christian parent, which it relies upon for everything.

I see no reason to presume any knowledge on the part of the Christian infant in order to claim that they have a form of genuine faith. When Paul calls for allegiance to the world’s new Lord, Jesus the Messiah, he is not looking for a faith that is any less of a public reality than that which a new emperor would demand. Only when we have accepted the modernist religion/politics, public/private divide and placed Christian faith firmly on the private religion side of the equation will we have problems with the concept of household Baptism, for example. If the gospel really is as political as Wright is arguing household Baptism is the most natural thing in the world.

The important question that we must ask about infants is the object of their faith. It would be thoroughly inappropriate to baptize a newborn infant whose faith was not in Christ. However, there is no doubt that a child born into a faithful Christian family has genuine Christian faith. This faith may end up proving temporary, but it is still a real form of faith and the infant should not be held back from Baptism.

2. Opposition to gathered church mentality. Wright’s opposition to the gathered church mentality is another issue here. Baptists generally focus on the sort of faith that is mature, visible and obvious. Such faith is to be encouraged, but it is not the only form of faith. The rigorism of Baptist ecclesiology leads to the exclusion of many genuine believers. People like Wright are more prepared to recognize faith where it is found — even when ignorant, immature or compromised — and try to bring it to maturity and purer expression. Rigorism makes the Church into a closed sect, whereas the welcome of Jesus was far wider. In Wright’s mind establishing leaders in the Church that can exercise the authority of Scripture with power is far more important than a rigorism concerning the Church’s membership.

3. Challenging Caesar. Wright holds to a high ecclesiology. He believes that the Church is like the colony of a new empire. Baptists think in terms of a voluntaristic Church. They presume that a ‘voluntaristic’ Church is synonymous with a ‘faithful’ Church. However, Caesar isn’t really challenged by a ‘voluntaristic’ Church. A ‘voluntaristic’ Church is a sect, not a new society.

Oliver O’Donovan, an old friend of Wright, expresses this point very well in criticizing John Howard Yoder:

Finally, does the concept of the church as a voluntary society not commend itself chiefly because it fits late-modern expectations of how civil society will be organized? Is Yoder, in the name of non-conformity, not championing a great conformism, lining the church up with the sports clubs, friendly societies, colleges, symphony subscription-guilds, political parties and so on, just to prove that the church offers late-modern order no serious threat? [The Desire of the Nations, p.223f.]

It seems to me that Wright’s claims about the political character of the Church as a colony of Christ really stand in direct opposition to Baptist ecclesiology. Even the more communitarian understandings of Anabaptism fall short of Wright’s vision. The idea of the Church as a colony has a far thicker sense in Wright’s work than it ever can in the context of a Baptist ecclesiology.

4. Connection between circumcision and Baptism. This is a connection that Wright makes on a number of occasions in his works. Wright has also suggested that this is one of the arguments that he would use to support the practice of infant Baptism. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of faith, but yet it was perfectly appropriate to give it to infants, who were not considered as detached individuals, but as persons implicated in the faith of their parents.

5. Christ’s reconstitution of Israel and humanity. Wright strongly argues that Jesus sought to reconstitute Israel around Himself. The Church is formed through the waters of Baptism. A reconstitution of Israel and a new humanity that excludes infants is a mockery. Wright stresses the ‘peopleness’ of the Church. The Church is an outward and visible family solidarity analogous to Israel. Baptism strips off old solidarities and places us within a new one and changes our sets of allegiances. Baptism forms a new society. We are baptized into one new body. Baptism is like birth into the community of Christ’s faith where we gain a new family; it is not just an expression of our individual faith.

Baptists tend to downplay the significance of Israel in our understanding of the Church. There is a sharp discontinuity between the type of society that Israel was and the type of society that the Church is. Such a sharp discontinuity is very hard to maintain once one has accepted Wright’s reading of Jesus’ ministry. The Church is a reconstitution of Israel around the Messiah, not a different type of society altogether. Baptists can only really speak of the ‘Israelness’ of the Church at a highly metaphorical level.

6. Christ’s Ministry. Following on from the point above, it is worth noticing that Wright points out that miracles occur in the context of faith and also that they are part of the means whereby God reconstitutes His people. Two facts are interesting here: (1) on a number of occasions Jesus heals people on the account of the faith of their parents or masters (e.g. Mark 5:22ff.; Luke 9:38ff.; John 4:47ff.); (2) Children are often the beneficiaries of Christ’s healing (e.g. Mark 7:25ff.). This suggests that the reconstitution of the people of God around Christ is one that includes children and also that they are in some sense included in the faith of their parents.

It is also interesting that Jesus repeatedly speaks of children as the paradigm case of those who receive the kingdom. When we recognize that Jesus was reforming Israel around Himself, His blessing of infants, for example, becomes even more significant (it is worth observing how loaded the concept of blessing is in the gospel; it is no light thing). If we read the gospels through the framework presented by Wright such incidents cannot but be seen as significant.

N.T. Wright: A Biography

N.T. Wright in Action

Nicholas Thomas Wright was born in Morpeth, Northumberland in 1948 and was raised in the context of middle Anglicanism. From before the age of seven or eight he already felt called to go into Christian ministry. Growing up, Wright had an interest in music and sports, interests that he retains to this day. He is a gifted pianist and also plays other instruments, such as the jazz trombone and guitar. Educated at Sedbergh School, then in Yorkshire, he specialized in Classics. As an undergraduate he studied Classics at Exeter College, Oxford. During that period he heard John Wenham give a talk on the need for Christians committed to the authority of Scripture in the world of theological scholarship. Prior to this point Wright had been heading in the direction of parish ministry. After listening to Wenham’s talk, Wright knew that God wanted him to be an academic.

During this period, Wright was very much operating within the context of theologically Reformed Anglican evangelicalism and he speaks of the way in which he regarded any books not published by very conservative evangelical publishers as suspect. Wright was an office-holder in the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union and, together with three others wrote a book that was published by the Banner of Truth Trust with the title The Grace of God in the Gospel, articulating classic five-point Calvinism. Wright recently commented that he was learning about the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility at that time, but that he wouldn’t write the same book again today.

After graduating, Wright went on to train for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. It was around this time that Wright married his wife Maggie. In 1973 he gained a first class honours degree in Theology and in 1975, an M.A. and was ordained as a deacon. In 1976 he was ordained as a priest.

Wright remarks that, when he began his theological studies, he presumed that he needed to read the right books in order to come up with the correct answers. However, as he immersed himself in the biblical text itself he was ‘so gripped with the excitement of exegesis’ that he began to be less concerned about always coming up with the expected ‘sound’ evangelical answers. He began to come to the conviction that his evangelical background was often characterized by sloppy thinking, despite all of its claims to be biblical and that the questions that the Scripture is primarily concerned with are not always the same as those which have preoccupied the evangelical tradition. He writes:

I continue to respect the Reformers, and men like Charles Simeon, of 200 years ago, John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, and whose work in a variety of ways created space for me to do things differently. Where I disagree with them it is because I have done what they told me to: to read Scripture and emerge with a more biblical theology. The evangelical tradition at its best encourages critique from within. It sends us back to the Scripture which stands over against all traditions, our own included.

Concerned that evangelicalism was far too driven by historical debates and party lines rather than by Scripture, Wright became more concerned with arriving at biblical answers than with arriving at traditional evangelical answers. Without turning his back on evangelicalism, Wright came to believe that the evangelical tradition was in need of re-examination in the light of Scripture on a number of issues.

As one reads Wright’s works one will soon recognize that Wright’s chief aim is not that of voicing a traditional evangelical party line. Whilst Wright speaks out strongly against liberalism and against a number of aspects of Roman Catholicism — his book For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed, being a good example of the latter — one also finds that Wright is frequently critical of evangelicalism, claiming that it has failed to do justice to the text of Scripture. One also finds Wright openly advocating as biblical positions that conservative evangelicals have traditionally strongly opposed, such as the ordination of women priests and bishops.

Wright is particularly critical of evangelicalism’s tendency to equate justification by faith with justification by inner personal religion to the exclusion of the Church and the sacraments, and its opposition of inward faith to outward performances. He argues that evangelicalism has all too easily read Paul’s teaching on justification through the lenses provided by existentialism and romanticism. The faith/works opposition becomes a matter of inner feeling over outward ritual, or sincerity over conformity to external rules.

From his earliest writings Wright has made clear that he believes that the tendency of evangelicalism to adopt a merely functional ecclesiology is deeply at odds with the Scriptures, constitutes a betrayal of the teaching of the Reformers and that it has led to misreadings of Paul on a number of issues. For example, Wright has long argued that the Scriptures teach that Baptism genuinely unites us to Christ and grants us a new status in Him. Even though Wright qualifies such statements in various ways, and seeks to maintain the necessity of faith, this still troubles many evangelicals, many of whom are wary of attributing too much to the sacrament. In adopting this position Wright sees himself as struggling to be faithful to Scripture, even when this necessitates swimming against the flow of much traditional evangelical thought on this issue. He is also convinced that evangelical convictions are quite congruent with a robust doctrine of the Church and the sacraments. While Wright strongly resists any suggestion that Baptism converts or automatically grants possession of eternal life, he insists that Baptism is nonetheless an event in which God is at work, delivering people from a realm of bondage and graciously knitting them into a new family, setting them apart with a new role to play in fulfilling God’s purposes for His creation.

Wright has had an interest in ecumenical dialogue for many years. In 1975 he was a delegate at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches. He writes of the experience:—

…if we are to come together as Christians it will not be by watering down everything until there is so little left that we can all agree on it. It will be by all of us learning more and more of Christ, and of the truth about him, so that we can grow closer to each other because we are closer to him.

I have seen this work out in practice. When I was a delegate at the 1975 Assembly of the World Council of Churches I found over and over again that it was when we said what we really meant, expressing ourselves and our viewpoints most clearly, that real fellowship and trust came about — not when we hid the light of truth under a bushel of tolerance. [Small Faith—Great God, p.80]

Wright has long been convinced of the need for ecumenical dialogue and believes that Catholic and Protestant debates have tended to be framed in terms of an unhelpful and ‘simplistic polarization’. The following quote is from a booklet entitled ‘Evangelical Anglican Identity’, written by Wright in 1980.

For the moment we note that the ‘spectrum’ which places Catholics and Protestants at poles apart from one another is potentially misleading: for as soon as we ask ‘what is it that you are attempting to safeguard’, both sides (at any rate, those who know their onions) will reply ‘genuine, biblical, God-centred Christianity’. It is a curious fact, which first came to the notice of many people with the publication of Growing Into Union, that ‘Catholics’ and ‘Protestants’ have each traditionally suspected the other of Pelagianism.

It is therefore imperative to distinguish between the biblical insights of Catholicism and Protestantism and the purely polemical positions which either side has felt obliged to construct, over and above biblical evidence, to safeguard those insights from attack. And, having made that distinction, it is important to bring together the biblical insights of each side with a larger framework that will do justice to each. This enormous task, I believe, is of considerable urgency for the church, though the present essay can do no more than point in a few directions in which the task might be accomplished.

At the same time, we will want to insist that some positions taken up not for polemical but for devotional or dogmatic reasons are simply wrong; examples might include Mariolatry or ‘Benediction’ on the Catholic side and the doctrinaire insistence on the Textus Receptus and the Authorized Version which is becoming common on the Protestant side. In other words, we must work towards a framework of thought within which the strong points of both sides can be included and from which the weak points — symptoms that understanding has been distorted, or has not been complete — can be excluded. It will no longer do to work with the assumption that Protestant principles by themselves — or Catholic ones, for that matter! — will automatically safeguard the gospel. We cannot assume, as some do today, that our problems are an exact ‘action replay’ of the sixteenth century, calling simply for a few modern Luthers to stop the Pope and all his works. On the contrary, to become more ‘Protestant’ may in fact mean becoming more man-centred, not less, as we shall see presently. We must beware too of the non-theological reasons often underlying polemical positions. Rome is often seen by Englishmen as the foreign invader, now happily repulsed but always threatening to return: and Catholics often base their picture of Protestants on American ‘hot-gospellers’ and Ian Paisley.

Our earlier remarks about nature and grace suggest that the church must be marked both by historical continuity and by a readiness to submit to God’s judgment, to admit error, to sit under the Word and learn fresh truth from it. This is, of course, a programme for large-scale ecumenical thought and action: for our present purposes we note that it is also a call for evangelical Anglicans to rethink traditional attitudes about the church, and bring them more into line with the Bible and the Gospel.

Wright frequently presents his theology as a means by which we can move beyond old debates and do justice to the biblical concerns of both parties. Whilst he is quite critical of a number of positions found within Roman Catholicism, he is prepared to enter into appreciative dialogue with Roman Catholics and believes that Protestants have much to gain from such theological engagement. Due to Wright’s ecumenical approach and his willingness to question traditional evangelical positions in the light of Scripture, many of his readings of Paul and the gospels are surprising and fresh and do not fit tidily into any side of traditional debates.

Wright is a very Anglican type of evangelical, believing that a high view of the institutional church is not merely compatible with evangelical convictions, but also the most consistent way of upholding those convictions. Wright is not just an evangelical who happens to be Anglican. He does not sit loose to his Anglicanism. He comments that he ‘wobbled once or twice’ as a student and wondered whether he ought to be elsewhere, but he was soon persuaded that he was in the right place.

In the context of the seventies, the tension between Anglican and nonconformist Reformed evangelicals was becoming quite pronounced. There was a crisis in conservative evangelical identity and Wright situated himself firmly on the Anglican side of the growing divide. On the one side of the divide there were men like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who looked for evangelicals to separate themselves from doctrinally mixed denominations and come together. On the other side there were men like J.I. Packer and John Stott who opposed this movement and believed in the importance of developing a wider fellowship of Christians.

J.I. Packer’s involvement in ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics particularly troubled many nonconformist evangelicals. For Wright and other Anglican evangelicals such ecumenical dialogue was an important element of evangelical mission. These diverging visions for evangelical identity provide an important background for understanding some of the problems that nonconformist evangelicals have with the work of Wright. Both sides of the evangelical divide were concerned that the other was compromising evangelicalism. For many nonconformist evangelicals the ecumenicalism of Packer and others and their refusal to abandon a compromised institutional church was threatening the gospel. For many Anglican evangelicals it was the separationism and low view of the institutional Church among nonconformist evangelicals that was the real threat to the gospel.

These tensions within evangelicalism can be seen in a number of Wright’s works prior to 1980. In his article ‘Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism’, Wright warns of the ‘watery semi-Baptist theology which has been creeping into evangelical Anglicanism over the last decade or two.’ Wright also criticizes the doctrine of separation in this quote from his 1978 book, Small Faith—Great God:

You see [walking by sight] in many people’s attitude to the church. I don’t find in the New Testament any suggestion that the visible church ought to be composed of guaranteed one-hundred-per-cent soundly converted keen Christians. If it had been, half of the epistles would not have been necessary. Yet people are always hankering after a false security, such as you would get from belonging to a church that could be seen to be all right, seen to be ‘sound’…seen? We walk by faith, not by sight. Any attempt to get a purer church, or Christian life, than we have been promised this side of heaven, runs the risk of attempting to base security, assurance of salvation, on something other than the free grace and love of God. [104]

Whilst there were deep differences of vision for evangelical identity between Anglican and nonconformist conservative evangelicals at this time, it should not be presumed that this was always accompanied by personal animosity. Wright speaks warmly of people such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones. On one occasion in the seventies he was asked to review one of volumes of Lloyd-Jones’ Romans sermons. Having read the book, he contacted Lloyd-Jones to inform him that he was writing a review and had some disagreements with him and asked if it would be possible to discuss them with him in person, before he wrote the review. They met and Wright describes Lloyd-Jones as being very gracious in his interaction.

Wright has sought to engage with a wide range of conversation partners, both within and without the Church. Wright sees this broad engagement as part and parcel of the evangelical vocation. The Church must not regard itself as having already arrived, but must bear its witness to Christ in the world in such a way that it is open to learn new things from others, both within and without the Church. Christians must also discover points of contact with the world and develop its Christian witness on such a basis. Wright seeks to find common ground with people from all sorts of backgrounds and seeks constructive dialogue on this basis. The fact that Wright engages with many different audiences and seeks to work on the basis of the common ground that he shares with each can lead many evangelicals to perceive him as fuzzy, non-committal or ambiguous on certain important truths.

Wright has consistently refused to limit his audience to a select few genuine believers within the Church. Consequently much of his work reads very differently from the works of his Reformed and evangelical counterparts. In training for the ministry, Wright was advised to choose between pastoral work and scholarship. He was not prepared to do this. He tries to hold the world of the academy and the world of the Church together, believing that both have suffered from being separated from each other. He sees Christian engagement in scholarship as part and parcel of the Church’s mission to the world.

As Wright’s work addresses a broader audience, he cannot always assume the same shared convictions of his audience that conservative evangelical biblical theology and dogmatic theology do. The type of historical writing that Wright produces should not be confused with the biblical theological writings that many of his conservative readers are more familiar with. This is particularly significant in regard to his work on Jesus. When Wright does not explicitly base his arguments on the authority of Scripture, we should recognize that this is not a luxury that he has as an historian; it is not an indication of weakness of conviction on this issue. For instance, some have read Wright’s treatment of the virgin conception in dialogue with Marcus Borg and have concluded that he is being purposefully evasive, as they did not hear the sort of affirmation that they are accustomed to hearing from the conservative biblical and dogmatic theologians. Wright still believes and openly affirms the truth of the creed, but when writing as an historian he cannot provide the assertions that such people are looking for, nor can he take the absolute authority and reliability of the Scriptures as a methodological presupposition.

This is not unrelated to the different visions that Anglican evangelicals and nonconformist evangelicals have for evangelical identity and mission. Wright is concerned that some Christians so emphasize Christian distinctness that they can no longer communicate in the public square of the wider culture. On the other hand, he is aware of the danger merely submitting to the assumptions of the culture and failing to maintain a critical distance. In seeking to minister both within the context of the wider Church and the context of the academy, Wright addresses audiences that most nonconformist evangelicals have separated themselves from.

We should be aware of the manner in which Wright’s more scholarly work is shaped by this. Things that evangelicals take for granted cannot be taken for granted in the public realm of theological scholarship. For example, many scholars have questioned the degree to which we can rely upon John’s gospel in forming a picture of Jesus. Many academics also doubt the Pauline authorship of books such as Ephesians and the pastoral letters, and these books are generally downplayed to some degree or other when people are exploring Pauline theology.

Wright knows that, if he is going to address the academic world of theological scholarship, he must do so with one arm tied behind his back. Whilst he frequently questions the assumptions that result in the sidelining of books such as John’s Gospel, he feels that he must work within the limitations of the discipline as it currently stands. Consequently, his major work on Jesus primarily rests upon the synoptics and his scholarly work on Paul generally gives greater weight to the testimony of the works that are widely accepted as Pauline. His work also uses a lot of inter-testamental and extra-canonical sources. I think that it is important that we question whether this weighting of sources has led to any distortion in Wright’s portrait of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Perhaps one of the things that will most concern many evangelical readers of Wright is his willingness to accept widespread critical theories in biblical scholarship concerning the dating and authors of such books as Daniel and Isaiah.

From 1975 to 1978 Wright was a Junior Research Fellow and College Tutor in Theology in Merton College, Oxford, later becoming Junior Chaplain and Acting Lecturer in Theology. From 1978 to 1981 he was a Fellow and Chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge and College Tutor in Theology. In 1981 received his doctoral degree for his thesis, entitled ‘The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans’, his thesis supervisor being Professor G.B. Caird.

This period was a very important one for the development of Wright’s view of Paul. By the end of 1980 the heart of his reading of Paul that we will be studying in the next lecture was already present in broad outline. Over the years prior to his doctoral work, Wright had been coming to the conviction that the Apostle Paul’s agenda was quite different from those which motivated many evangelicals in their reading of him.

Wright comments that he first approached Romans 9-11 to address predestinarian controversies, but was soon persuaded that Paul’s concern lay elsewhere. A similar thing happened with Romans 7. Wright came to believe that Paul’s concern was not that of taking sides in a debate about sinless perfection, but that Romans 7 was chiefly about the state of Israel under the Law, or the Torah. As Wright’s work led him to closely examine the argument of Romans he increasingly realized how central the issue of Israel was to the entire work. Wright describes the development of his thought as follows:

I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, “Whew…the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ.” All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin.… What I then found, and believe me I tried very hard to do this, was that I couldn’t make the Calvinist reading of Galatians actually work. I was reading C.E.B. Cranfield on Romans and trying to see how it would work with Galatians, and it simply doesn’t work. Interestingly, Cranfield hasn’t done a commentary on Galatians. It’s very difficult. But I found then, and this was the mid-seventies before E.P. Sanders was published, before there was such a thing as a “new perspective,” that I came out with this reading of Romans 10:3 which is really the fulcrum for me around which everything else moved: “Being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own.”

In other words, what we have here is a covenant status which is for Jews and Jews only. I have a vivid memory of going home that night, sitting up in bed, reading Galatians through in Greek and thinking, “It works. It really works. This whole thing is going to fly.” And then all sorts of things just followed on from that. I mean Sanders was a great boost but he didn’t start this for me and he hasn’t given direction to what I did or was doing. It was more like Sanders was saying, “Actually first-century Judaism never was like what Luther said it was.”

Central to Wright’s doctoral thesis was the concept of the Davidic representative Messiahship. Jesus is the Christ, Israel’s representative king, the Messiah. This theme, explored in detail in works such as The Climax of the Covenant, is a very important one for our reading of Wright. In his thesis Wright presents this Christology as central to his new reading of Romans, a reading in which the question of Israel is at the heart of the whole book and cannot merely be reduced to a marginal concern of chapter 9-11.

In 1981, after he finished his doctorate, Wright went to Canada to teach NT at McGill. He was also involved in the Anglican College in Montreal. Wright speaks of this time as one in which he came to a deeper awareness of the importance of the Eucharist and begun to experience a powerful and fruitful relationship between his devotional life and involvement in the worship of the Church and his academic studies. This is a relationship that Wright has commented on within his works and in various interviews, arguing that he regards his devotion and intellectual study to be inseparable.

Wright’s time in Canada was a significant period of spiritual growth for him. He writes:

During my second year at McGill, I plunged into the deepest depression I’ve ever known. I wrestled in prayer, searched the scriptures, examined my conscience, and fell apart. I told my wife about it one night; the next morning, a letter arrived from a Christian psychotherapist who had felt an inexplicable but irresistible urge to write. I still have that letter. Over the next year I learned more about myself and my emotions than I had thought possible. If today I manage to function as a pastor, it is not least because I know something about pain. I know, too, that healing of memory and imagination is not just wishful thinking.

Six years later, as I prepared to teach a course on Jesus in his historical context, I realized what else had been happening. I combed through my notebooks for all my old jottings. All the most significant insights about Jesus I had ever had, particularly my deepest reflections on the crucifixion, were dated in that period of depression.

During Wright’s time in Canada he was also an observer and participant in ecumenical debates with Roman Catholics and worked on a commentary on the book of Colossians. It was through working on this commentary that Wright underwent what he describes as ‘the most significant change of my theological life’. Prior to that point Wright had claimed that Jesus was Lord of all, but had not applied this to the larger world of creation, culture and politics. From that point onwards Wright paid far more attention to the political dimensions of the gospel message.

Wright had already begun to have doubts about the simplistic divisions between politics and religion established by modernity before he ever got into NT scholarship. His first research project was on the early English Reformer, John Frith, who saw political and theological reformation as going hand in hand (Wright later edited the first full edition of Frith’s works). The politically-charged character of the Christian gospel is a prominent theme in many of Wright’s works. This theme has become even more pronounced in Wright’s works from the late 1990s onwards, through the influence of writers such as Richard Horsley.

In 1986 Wright returned to Oxford, where he was a Lecturer in NT Studies and a Fellow, Tutor and Chaplain of Worcester College. He remained in this position until 1993. In this context Wright was once more able to enjoy a close relationship between study and worship. He was also had pastorally involvement with students from a range of different backgrounds. He also found himself drawing on traditions outside of his own, from the charismatic tradition on one side, to the Orthodox tradition on the other.

At Oxford Wright was able to interact with some of the most profound theological thinkers of our time. He taught on the subject of Jesus alongside Rowan Williams and has a strong friendship with him. He was also able to interact with Oliver O’Donovan, an old friend, who later delivered the sermon on the occasion of Wright’s consecration as Bishop of Durham. It was during Wright’s time in Oxford that The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, which is still his most significant book on Pauline theology to date, at least for another couple of years. Much of the material in the book is the flowering of ideas that had been developing in Wright’s mind since the late seventies.

The Climax of the Covenant was published in 1991. The next year The New Testament and the People of God was published. The New Testament and the People of God is the first volume of a projected six volume series entitled ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’, designed to give a consistent portrait of Christian origins, ‘with particular relation to Jesus, Paul, and the gospels’. Wright’s project is incredibly ambitious. The attempt to present a comprehensive picture is one that is fraught with difficulty and seldom attempted on such a scale. This series is of great importance. To date, the first three volumes have been produced: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God.

In 1994 Wright became Dean of Lichfield, a position which he held until 1999. During this period he wrote a number of devotional and popular works and completed the second volume of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. It was during this time that he wrote What St. Paul Really Said, the book which has particularly sparked off the debate over Wright’s view of justification. Whilst Wright’s position on justification is fundamentally the same in this work as it is in books published back in the early 1980s and as that found within his doctoral thesis, these earlier treatments did not reach as wide an audience.

Towards the end of his time in Lichfield Wright was also involved in the writing of the libretto for an Easter Oratorio, based particularly on the final chapters of John’s Gospel. Wright has often addressed the issue of the Christian imagination in his writings and lectures. Given his lifelong love for music and the arts, it is an issue that is very close to his heart. He argues that the creation of beauty is an essential element of the human vocation and speaks of the power of the arts to communicate the truth of God to our contemporary culture. Wright also regards the imagination as essential to the true interpretation of Scripture. As interpreters of Scripture we are more like actors improvising a final act to an incomplete Shakespearian play than we are detached and objective scientific exegetes. Our imaginations must be rekindled by the rich symbolism of Christian Scripture and liturgy, so that we can produce works of beauty that stand as witnesses to the Great Artist that we serve.

From 2000 to 2003, Wright was the Canon Theologian of Westminster, where he completed his work on the resurrection, The Resurrection of the Son of God and wrote the Romans commentary, within the New Interpreters Bible series. The first few volumes of Wright’s For Everyone series of popular NT commentaries were also released during this period. Wright describes these commentaries as being aimed at the ‘12 year old confirmation candidate’ and the 70 year old within the congregation who has never read a commentary before.

Throughout his scholarly career, Wright has been concerned to relate his theology to the person in the pew and has produced a steady stream of devotional works, popular commentaries and works on discipleship, worship and popular theology. This, coupled with his great gift of communication, has led to his works being read by lay people, clergy and scholars alike.

Wright has written of the need for the Church to always be brought under the authority and judgment of Scripture. He argues that the role of the Church’s appointed leaders is particularly important in this respect. They should be both scholars and teachers of the Scriptures, something that is lost when Church leaders get caught up in administrative tasks. Wright laments the current situation where Scripture is chiefly taught by professional academics, whilst the Church is led by clergy who rely upon secondhand and often deficient understandings of Scripture. He believes that the authority of God exercised in the Church does not primarily consist in legal structures, but that it is ‘a matter of proclaiming the word in the power of the Spirit.’

In July 2003 Wright was consecrated Bishop of Durham, one of the highest positions in the Church of England. Wright continues to write voluminously and give many visiting lectures. He is a member of the Society for New Testament Studies, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research, and the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars. He has often appeared in the media and has devised and presented a number of radio and television programs for the BBC and been consulted for many others. His outspoken opposition to homosexual priests is one thing that has resulted in a lot of publicity in recent years. As Bishop of Durham, he is a member of the House of Lords and has spoken in the House on the subject of moral climate change and freedom of speech.

Convinced that the gospel speaks to the political questions of our day, Wright has long been outspoken on a number of current issues. He received a lot of publicity for his strong criticism of the handling of the Iraq war by Mr. Blair and President Bush, arguing that they did not have the credibility necessary to deal with the problems in Iraq. Wright has also long campaigned for debt-relief for third world countries, devoting much of the final chapter of his book The Myth of the Millennium to promoting the Jubilee 2000 project. He is a strong critic of the ‘dualism’ of Left Behind theology, which he claims leads to a lack of concern for issues such as the environment and the need for social justice.

Wright is concerned that a reaction against the thin and unbiblical gospel of the social gospel movement will lead us to believe that the gospel does not address social issues. He has an active interest in issues of contemporary macroeconomics and globalization and regularly argues that America in particular and the West in general need to be regarded as exercising a form of economic and political ‘imperial’ power, casting America in the position of Caesar relative to the claims of Christ. He is deeply disturbed by what he regards as the confusing of an American way of life and a Christian way of life in the US, believing that it is the duty of the Church to call the powers to account. Wright regards the established position of the Anglican Church as something that facilitates the conversation that needs to take place between Caesar and Christ.

Wright’s political concern is not merely occupied with national and international issues. After a week-long pilgrimage of his new diocese in Durham, Wright spoke of the deep financial difficulties of many of the local farmers and of the problem of widespread unemployment. Many of the parishes in Wright’s diocese are in very deprived areas and, as their bishop, Wright is concerned that local churches be involved as forces for good in their communities. He is excited by many of the projects that churches in his diocese have undertaken to help people with literacy, financial advice and in providing childcare for single parent families.

The position of Bishop of Durham is a demanding one. There are 250 parishes in the diocese and each day is different from the last. Many days he doesn’t finish work until later in the evening. Within this busy schedule Wright has said that he sees his daily time of prayer and Bible study in the morning as his ‘sheet anchor’, claiming that the task of prayer for the diocese is central to the task of any bishop.

Since coming to Durham, Wright has completed a number of other works. He has produced a two volume popular commentary on the book of Romans, a book on the authority of Scripture and a devotional work entitled The Scriptures, the Cross, and the Power of God. He also wrote a book entitled Simply Christian, which is in a similar mould to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Wright has explained the aim of the work as that of describing ‘what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside.’

Throughout his ministry Wright has been supported by his wife Maggie. They have four grown children, two sons and two daughters, and some grandchildren. They live in Auckland Castle in historic Bishop Auckland. Wright lists music, the classical world, golf, hill walking, poetry and pastoral psychology among his leisure interests.

[Edited 11th June 2007]



N.T. Wright Lecture: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

The following are my notes from a lecture delivered this evening, 20th December, by N.T. Wright in the University of St. Andrews. The following provides a general idea of what the good bishop said, but should not be depended upon too much. Doubtless other eyewitnesses will come forward with conflicting accounts…

N.T. Wright, Bishop of DurhamAs someone who gave up studying physics and chemistry more or less as soon as he had the opportunity and devoted little effort to excelling in them when he did study them, Wright finds it odd to find himself in the position of being looked upon to provide an answer to such a question. The question itself is strange: it reminds him of the person who, when asked if he believed in infant baptism, responded in the affirmative, assuring the questioner that he had seen it happen with his own eyes. There are scientists who do believe in the resurrection. In answering the question, Wright wants to explore the fault lines between different ways of knowing, between the forms of knowing advanced by science and by history, and the way of knowing that belongs to faith, hope, and love. These ways of knowing overlap in various ways.

We are often told that over recent centuries we have enjoyed an upward path towards the light of reason—the narrative of the Enlightenment. While Wright has no desire to return to premodern dentistry or sanitation or transport, for example, he feels that the modern narrative is limited. Science has not proved sufficient to provide us with the wholeness of life that we really need.

Plato regarded ‘faith’ as a sort of intermediate form of knowing, a sort of cushioned knowledge, a sense that the terminology retains in much common parlance. We often use the term ‘knowledge’ in a positivistic sense and ‘believe’ in a loose sense, to refer to matters of mere private opinion, where any relation to external reality is somewhat lacking or doubtful. The disciples, however, believed in a resurrection with a real purchase on reality, a resurrection that left mementos behind, whether that was an empty tomb or footprints on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.

What does the term ‘believe’ mean in the question that we are answering? What sorts of questions and dimensions of reality are open to the scientific method? What sort of claim should the scientist’s science have on his approach to other areas of his life? Should he be ‘scientific’ about his relationship to his wife, or about his assessment of a piece of music? The question that we are dealing with assumes that this particular issue of the resurrection impinges upon the scientist’s particular area of concern in a manner and to an extent that questions of love and music generally do not. While there are some who have sought to locate the issue of resurrection alongside such issues of love and music, this is not a movement that should make. In the context of the first century world resurrection was very much understood as a public, space-time event.

To put things somewhat simplistically: history deals with the unrepeatable, while science deals with the repeatable. Scientists’ objections to the resurrection often focus on the lack of analogy. However, the disciples did not believe that the resurrection was just one of many analogous events. The whole issue of worldview raises itself at this point. The worldview of the scientist is the context in which such things become believable or not.

What is the resurrection? There were many ancient beliefs about life after death. Ancient paganism contained many beliefs on these matters, but they universally ruled out the possibility of resurrection. Wright has explored this whole area at considerable length in his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. The conviction that the dead do not rise is not a product born out of scientific discovery over the past few centuries: any first century person knew this fact. Ancient Judaism believed that God was creator and that he would set his world to rights, which for many was seen to involve bodily resurrection. Christianity belongs on this map. For Christians, resurrection was not a fancy way of talking about life after death, but a way of talking about a form of life after life after death. Christians certainly believed in a form of intermediate period, and might speak of it using terms such as ‘paradise’, but these beliefs are not to be confused with its belief in resurrection.

Beliefs about life after death are generally among the most conservatively held of all beliefs in the context of any given culture. It is in such areas that people tend to revert to the positions that they were taught in childhood. For this reason, any large scale change in the convictions of a society in this area needs to be accounted for. Such a large scale shift in beliefs about life after death is precisely what we see in the case of Christianity. Excepting the later movement of Gnosticism, the early Christian Church manifests several key mutations from traditional approaches to the subject of life after death.

1. In contrast to the Judaism of the day, there was virtually no variation on the issue of the resurrection in the context of early Christianity. Christianity has no trace of an established Sadducean view in its ranks.

2. While many Jewish groups held beliefs about resurrection, it was an issue for speculation and did not lie at the core of its belief system. In the early Church, belief in the resurrection moves from the circumference of belief to its very centre and heart.

3. In contrast to Jewish groups, within which many conceptions of resurrection circulated, from the very beginning the Christian Church held a very clearly defined understanding of resurrection. For instance, the resurrection body was thought of as a transformed—‘spiritual’—body and not just as a resuscitated one.

4. For Christians, the event of ‘resurrection’ has split into two. Outside of Christianity we do not find belief in the resurrection of one man in the middle of history. Such a theological movement is without precedent.

5. The Christian approach to ‘collaborative eschatology’ (Crossan) is also without precedent. Believing that the resurrection inaugurated the eschaton, the early Church believed that it needed to implement this event, in anticipation of the final consummation.

6. Within Christianity we also see a new metaphorical use of the language of resurrection. Within the context of Judaism the language had been employed as a metaphorical way of speaking about return from exile, for instance. In the context of Christianity, this metaphorical usage of ‘resurrection’ is replaced by the use of resurrection metaphors in the context of baptism and holiness.

7. Within Christianity belief in resurrection is connected with Messianic belief in a way that it is not within Judaism. Judaism did not have a place for a Messiah that would die at the hands of the enemies of the people of God and so, naturally, did not have the place for a resurrected Messiah that Christianity did.

Indeed, without the resurrection, how do we account for Messianic belief after Christ’s death? Within other Messianic movements more or less contemporaneous with the Jesus movement, the death of the supposed Messiah tended to lead to a quest for a replacement, often a relative of the supposed Messiah who had died. Within early Christianity there was a perfect candidate for such a position following Jesus’ death—his brother James. James was renowned for his piety and was a leading figure within the early Church, but was never thought of as the Messiah.

Twentieth century revisionist historiography has occasionally suggested that belief in the resurrection arose out of the subjective internal experience of early Christian disciples. A little employment of historical imagination should destroy any plausibility that such a suggestion might initially seem to possess. Anyone offering the suggestion that Jesus was raised from the dead, based purely on an internal experience of a warmed heart or even on the basis of witnessing him in the same room, would have been subjected to ridicule. First century people were well aware, as we are, of cases of dead relatives appearing to their grieving kin following their deaths. At this point we should note the common confusion that exists between the idea of resurrection and the idea of someone dying and going to be with God. The event of the resurrection is one that is not merely a matter of subjective inner feeling, but one that has considerable claim on the external public world. The point of the resurrection is that Jesus is Lord and that death and the tyrants who use its power are defeated.

Why did these mutations occur? Only one explanation truly suffices: the disciples genuinely believed that Jesus had been bodily raised.

As many have observed, the accounts of the resurrection in the gospels do not fit snugly together. There are a number of apparently conflicting details. A recent book, Wittgenstein’s Poker, provides a wonderful example of the surface discrepancies of eye-witness testimony. In a room containing many of the most brilliant minds of the time, Wittgenstein brandished a poker at Karl Popper and then left the room. The eye-witness accounts of this event differ markedly. However, what no one doubts is that something significant happened. The same can be said of the resurrection. Surface discrepancies between narratives is quite to be expected under such circumstances.

There are four important points of commonality to be noted between the resurrection accounts of the gospels:

1. The Scriptures are almost completely silent in the resurrection narratives, in marked contrast to previous stages of the gospel narratives, where quotations from the Scriptures occur with relative frequency. This suggests that the accounts of the resurrection are very early, going back to a very early oral tradition, established before the scriptural basis had been sufficiently explored (as it had been by the time of the later account of 1 Corinthians 15).

2. The presence of women as initial witnesses of the event is not what one would expect to find in the context of the culture of the day. Once again, the account of 1 Corinthians 15 would appear to be the later one here.

3. The portrait of Jesus himself is surprising. Jesus does not, for instance, shine like a star as we might expect him to. There is such an account, but it is found in the transfiguration, not in the resurrection accounts. Jesus’ body appears normal on occasions, but in other contexts it is clear that it has been transformed. For instance, we see the disciples having difficulty in recognizing him on occasions (e.g. John 21:12). This type of account is without precedent. The writers appear to be struggling to find the language appropriate to what they have witnessed and do not appear to be driven by a clear anti-docetic, or other agenda. The body of Christ is equally at home both in heaven and in earth. It also is clearly physical.

4. The resurrection has a very much ‘this-worldly’, present age meaning. Had the stories been written later, they might well have contained references to the future resurrection of all God’s people. As they stand, the accounts include a number of clearly pre-reflective elements.

When dealing with the issue of the relationship between Easter and history we need a two-pronged approach of explanation: (a) the tomb really was empty; (b) the disciples really did encounter Jesus after his death. People were aware of the occurrence of post-mortem appearances in visions in the ancient world. Jesus’ burial was also (a fact often unrecognized) a primary burial, which would have later been followed up by storing his remains in an ossuary. Apart from sightings, the empty tomb would have not been a sufficient argument for the possibility of resurrection; in the absence of an empty tomb, nor would sightings. The only explanation sufficient to support resurrection must involve both of these things. All of the signposts point in the direction of resurrection. Denials of the resurrection often preclude on the basis of worldviews that preclude its possibility from the outset. The event of the resurrection is that which explains the future shape of the early Church.

Here the issue of a form of knowing beyond scientific and historical knowing presents itself. This new way of knowing must involve some sort of overlap with scientific and historical forms of knowing. Wright gives the example of the donation of a magnificent work of art to a college in a university. The college, lacking any place in which to display the work of art, dismantles the current college building and rebuilds it around the donated work of art. All of the things that used to make the college special are retained and, indeed, enhanced by the presence of the work of art. The negative features of the college are removed by the redesign of the college around the work of art. However—and this is the crucial point—there must be some initial reception of the work of art prior to the redesigning and rebuilding of the college around it. It is of such an overlap that we speak of with the bearing that the issue of resurrection has upon the scientist or the historian.

The resurrection poses such a challenge to the scientist or the historian, for it is the utterly characteristic, protological event of the new world that is coming to birth. It is not an absurd event occurring within the system of our own world, but an event that belongs to a new reality. No other explanation of a satisfactory character can explain the empty tomb. Nevertheless, if someone chooses to stay between the Pharaoh of scepticism and the sea of faith, they cannot be pushed any further by the historian.

God has given us minds to think. Despite the fact that the resurrection bursts the bounds of history, it also belongs within history, which is precisely why it is so disturbing and unsettling to us. In seeking to understand the resurrection, we need to situate it within a broader context. The apostle Thomas is a good example to follow here. Thomas starts out looking for a certain form of knowing—“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe”—but ends up transcending this sort of knowing in a greater form of knowing. This is not an anti-historical or anti-scientific belief. There is epistemological weight borne by history. Faith transcends—but includes—historical and scientific conviction.

The faith by which we know, like all other true forms of knowing, is determined by the nature of its object. The fact that faith is determined by the nature of its object corresponds to the methodology adopted by science. In order to know certain things, scientists occasionally have to change their ways of seeing to a way that is more appropriate to the reality with which they are dealing. Changing paradigms involves finding a bigger picture within which to see things. Christian faith involves much the same sort of movement.

If we see an epistemology of faith in the example of Thomas, we see an epistemology of hope expressed in the work of the apostle Paul, a matter that is explored within Wright’s most recent publication, entitled—with apologies to C.S. Lewis—Surprised by Hope. Hope is a way of knowing in which new possibilities are opened up. There is also within Scripture an epistemology of love to be found, perhaps exemplified best by Peter. Wittgenstein once remarked in a profound statement: ‘It is love that believes the resurrection.’ So it was in the case of Peter.

The question of how we know things is related to the new ontology of the resurrection. The resurrection cannot be known properly in terms of our world of death, detachment and betrayal. The knowing of love must have a correlative outside the knower in the external world. This is the knowing that is needed in the world of the resurrection. ‘Objective’ historical epistemology leads us to the questions faced by Thomas, Paul and Peter: are we able and prepared to adopt a knowing of faith, hope and love? All forms of knowing are given by God; all forms of knowing can be situated within the broader setting of knowing established by faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Wright’s Theological Starting Point in his Doctrine of Justification

Bishop WrightOne of the main reasons why many of Wright’s critics misunderstand his doctrine of justification can be traced to the fact that the questions that he is answering with his doctrine of justification are slightly different from those which traditional Reformed doctrines of justification are designed to answer.

Reformed doctrines of justification tend to have an anthropological starting point. The big question that the doctrine generally addresses is that of how an individual can get right with a holy God. Wright’s doctrine, on the other hand, takes its starting point with God. He starts with God’s covenant-renewing action in the gospel, rather than with man’s attempt to get right with God. Justification is understood in the context of the question of how God sets men to rights, rather than primarily in the context of the question of how men can get right with God.

When Wright talks about the basis for God’s justifying declaration, he is not providing a direct answer to the question of what we must do to be saved. For Wright, God’s declaration that we are right with Him is not merely delivered on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness extra nos, but includes the work of the Spirit within the believer as part of its basis. Wright believes that God is righteous in justifying because (a) Christ has died for the sins of the world; (b) faith is the appropriate helpless response to the gospel; (c) faith is the true obedience that the Law called for but could never provide; (d) faith, as the first sign of the work of the Spirit, is the sign of a new life that is obedient by nature (‘God’s verdict in the present is righteous, because the basis on which it is made is sufficient grounds for confidence that it will correspond to the righteous verdict of the last day’).

Wright’s doctrine of justification relies heavily on the work of the Holy Spirit in the convert (both in present and final justification). If Wright’s doctrine were designed as a direct answer to the traditional Reformed questions of justification it would probably be dangerously misleading. We would be taught to depend at least in part on the work of the Spirit in ourselves, an incomplete and imperfect righteousness within, rather than on the completed work and person of Christ extra nos. Such a dependence on an incomplete righteousness would produce assurance problems, given the lack of a proper ground for our justification (the need for a perfect righteousness as the basis of our justification is the issue that the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness seeks to deal with). However, Wright’s doctrine is not designed as an answer to the traditional questions that Reformed Christians have tended to use the doctrine of justification to answer. To understand Wright’s doctrine of justification you really have to put the traditional questions to one side, something which most of Wright’s critics haven’t really grasped yet.

When Wright speaks of faith in relation to his doctrine of justification one of the things that should really strike the reader is how passive man is characterized as being. From his treatments of faith in such contexts, one could be led to wonder whether he believes that faith is something that human beings ‘exercise’ at all. For instance, faith is spoken of as the ‘boundary marker’ or ‘badge’ of the true people of God. One does not generally think in terms of ‘exercising’ a badge.

‘Faith’, for Paul, is therefore not a substitute ‘work’ in a moralistic sense. It is not something one does in order to gain admittance into the covenant people. It is the badge that proclaims that one is already a member. [What St Paul Really Said, 132]

Such a statement is bound to confuse the Reformed reader who is used to approaching the doctrine of justification as the doctrine that answers the question of what an individual must do to get right with a holy God. Given Wright’s theological — rather than anthropological — starting point, his doctrine of justification provides at best a confusing answer to the question that Reformed Christians are answering.

As Wright addresses the issue of justification within the context of the question of how God sets humanity and His creation to rights, his doctrine can include things that a doctrine with an anthropological starting point would find it hard to include. If we adopt an anthropological starting point, certain of the distinctions between justification and sanctification are far more important than they are if we begin with a theological starting point. From an anthropological starting point justification speaks of the way in which I can come to be accepted as righteous in God’s sight and sanctification speaks of a more synergistic process, through which I grow in personal righteousness. Viewed from this perspective it is crucial to keep justification and sanctification distinct, as we do not want to say that we are accepted as righteous in God’s sight on the basis of our works. The distinction between justification and sanctification is essential if we are to preserve monergism.

Viewed from Wright’s more theological starting point, justification and what we call sanctification are not so distinct. From a theological starting point sanctification is not really viewed as an essentially synergistic process (although from other perspectives it can legitimately be regarded as such). In Wright’s understanding, God’s declaration of justification has ‘sanctification’ — both present and promised — in view to some extent. However — and this point is absolutely crucial — the sanctification that is in view is God’s action, rather than ours. It is God who gives the badge of faith and the life of the Spirit in the effectual call and it is God who commits Himself to bringing to completion that which He has begun in us. The condition for this justification is something provided by God, rather than by us.

This means that Wright can maintain a far less antithetical relationship between faith and faithfulness in his doctrine of justification. He writes:

Faith and obedience are not antithetical. They belong exactly together. Indeed, very often the word ‘faith’ itself could properly be translated as ‘faithfulness’, which makes the point just as well. Nor, of course, does this then compromise the gospel or justification, smuggling in ‘works’ by a back door. That would only be the case if the realignment I have been arguing for throughout were not grasped. Faith, even in this active sense, is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into God’s family or for staying there once in. It is the God-given badge of membership, neither more not less. [What St Paul Really Said, 160]

All of this should alert the reader to the fact that Wright is not approaching justification as the answer to the question of what one must do to be saved. If someone asked Wright what they must do to be saved, he would clearly direct them to Jesus Christ and away from any dependence upon their own moral efforts. He would call them to trust in God, His Word and His promises, and not to rest their assurance on their own imperfect works. There is no ambiguity on this point. However, this is not the question that Wright believes that the doctrine of justification is intended to answer. Few points could be more important for the proper interpretation of Wright.

Links

Links from the last few days:

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According to Dr Scaer, the most common way people join the Church is that someone invited them. Guess what? If church sucks, people don’t invite others. They don’t think “Man, my friends have got to be here for this!” They think “Well, I might as well keep going here.” So here’s a fun list that can work for all denominations!

Read the Fearsome Pirate’s church growth tips here. He also gives a Lutheran perspective in outlining some of the things that he dislikes about the PCA worship that he has experienced.

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An interesting post from Leithart here. He observes the way in which we are shaped by popular culture, beginning with a series of tests to see how easily we identify with certain popular slogans, characters and advertisements from our culture and then how easily we identify with Christian counterparts to these. I think that I got a near perfect mark on every part except for the advertising slogans, which probably has something to do with living in the UK. However, I admit that the references to popular culture were generally more familiar than the references to the traditional hymns and references from classic literature. I could probably quote near-verbatim the lyrics from a few dozen rock albums, but I probably know no more than a score of psalms by heart. I have a troublingly vast quantity of pointless pop trivia in my head, so Leithart’s post was a good one for me to read.

Leithart argues that the way that Christians often characterize our struggle with the world is deficient. We tend to think primarily in terms of a struggle of ideas. However, the battle is, more often than not, a struggle of desire. As René Girard has argued desire is mimetic, and the world is consistently tempting us to model our desires after its pattern.

This is where the church comes in. If the battle we face in the wider culture were merely a matter of ideas and thoughts, then we might be able to withstand the onslaught of bad ideas on our own. We might be able to fill our minds with good thoughts and ideas through reading and studying, and when a bad idea came up, we’d pounce. If we are cultural beings, whose habits and practices and desires are shaped by the habits and practices and desires of others around us – and we are – then we can’t really stand up to the cultural temptations in isolation, by ourselves. We cannot resist on our own. We need to be part of a resistant community, a resistant community that recognizes the way the world seeks to shape us into its image, and self-consciously resists the world.

And we can’t resist something with nothing. To the world’s desire-shaping, formative practices, Christians need to oppose a different set of desire-shaping practices. We can’t say: I won’t desire what the world wants me to desire. We have to have positive, godly desires in place of the world’s desires. And these desires and habits need to be nurtured, cultivated, shaped and formed in a particular community. The church has a culture, and must be a culture, if it is going to resist the forces that would conform you to worldly culture.

Leithart also has a post on consumerism that I found interesting.

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Following on from his earlier post on Dawkins and Lacan, Macht observes the importance of un-clarity in argument if we are to truly communicate:

Being “unclear” in one’s writing, then, can perhaps be a way to get the reader to NOT translate what they are reading into familiar terms. A writer want the reader to think in ways they’ve never thought before and that may require unfamiliar terms. This will of course require more work on the part of the reader and may lead to misunderstandings, but that might be the price a writer needs to pay in order to get his point across.

This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why misunderstanding so often attends theological discourse. In theology our terms are generally given to us by Scripture. Our overfamiliarity with these terms can lead to misunderstanding when we read people like Barth and Wright, who use familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. It takes quite a conscious effort on our part to overcome the familiarity that we have with the terms and begin to appreciate the ‘otherness’ of the theology of such men, and not merely interpret them on our own terms.

John Milbank has also observed the importance of ‘making strange’: developing new language to replace overfamiliar terms, in order that the peculiarity and distinctive character of the Christian position might become more apparent. This, I suggest, is one argument in favour of those who are wary of a theological discourse that works almost entirely in terms of biblical terminology. Such a discourse is helpful among those who understand the positions being advanced, but it can provide an impediment to those who have not yet grasped them.

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Joel Garver begins to articulate some of his concerns with the recent PCA report on the FV/NPP.
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Paul Helm on biblical versus systematic theology. I believe that the way that we do systematic theology is overdue for a complete overhaul. I don’t believe that biblical theology is the answer to everything, but I would not be sad to witness the demise of the discipline of systematic theology as it is often currently practiced (something that I have commented on in the past). Much systematic theology is ‘timeless’ in a deeply unhealthy fashion. It tends to treat its subject matter as if it were timeless and it also teaches in a manner that abstracts the learner from the time-bound narrative.

Systematic theology often seems to aim to present us with a panoptic perspective on the biblical narrative. We look at the narrative from a great height, from without rather than from within. This ‘timeless’ perspective is very dangerous, I believe. A reform of systematic theology would reject this way of approaching the discipline and would approach its subject matter in a slightly different manner. We study theology from within time, as participants in God’s drama. Neither the subject matter nor the student of theology should be abstracted from time. Rather than dealing with ‘timeless’ truths, we should deal with truths that are ‘constant’ through time.

Peter Leithart has suggested that ideally systematic theology would play a role analogous to the role that a book entitled An Anthropology of Middle Earth would play relative to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Such a book would help the reader to understand the constant features of the narratives. However, its subject matter would never be detached from the narrative nor could it ever be substituted for the narrative itself. The narrative always retains the primacy.

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Michael Bird writes [HT: Chris Tilling] on the importance of the study of NT Theology and Christian Origins. Here is a taster:

…when students (esp. evangelical students) talk about the message of the New Testament, they usually mean Paul. And when they mean Paul, what they mean is Romans and Galatians. Their understanding (or sometimes lack of undestanding) of these two epistles often becomes the centre of not only Paul, but of the entire New Testament. Hebrews, Matthew, Revelation, and Luke-Acts are all forced into a Pauline framework.

How is this corrected? First, Christian Origins shows us the real diversity of the early church. You only have to compare the Johannine literature, Luke-Acts, and Paul to see that the saving significance of Jesus was expressed in different (I did not say contradictory) concepts, categories, and terms. Approaches to the law were diverse and pluriform as Christians struggled (in every sense of the word) to understand how the law-covenant was to be understood and followed in light of the coming Jesus/faith (cf. Gal. 3.23). A study of Christian Origins opens our eyes to the reality and goodness of diversity, so that Christians can learn to differentiate between convictions and commands, and discern between the major and the minor doctrines of Christian belief. I would also add that, despite this theological breadth to the early church, there was still unity within diversity, a unity apparent in the common kerygma of the early church. While there was diversity and complexity in the early church, it was never a free for all, and the desire to discern between true and false expressions of belief were part of the Christian movement from the very beginning. That leads us to New Testament Theology and rather than priviledging Paul to supra-canonical status (and Romans and Galatians and hyper-canonical), we should listen to each corpra on its own terms and to the issues to which they speak. A study of this kind will indicate where the theological (and dare I say) spiritual centre of gravity lies in the New Testament.

The evangelical and Reformed tendency to force the whole of the NT into a Pauline framework is something that is becoming increasingly apparent to me. Over the last few weeks I have been studying the doctrine of atonement, for instance, in the NT. I have been struck by how muted the theme of penal substitution is in much of the extra-Pauline literature (or even, for that matter, in a number of the ’secondary’ Pauline epistles). If our ‘canon within the canon’ consisted of the Johannine literature or of Matthew and James, rather than Romans and Galatians, evangelical and Reformed theology would probably take a radically different form. Recogizing this fact has made me far more sympathetic to a number of traditions whose theology differs sharply from Reformed theology, largely because they operate in terms of a very different ‘canon within the canon’. Paul is only part of the picture and his voice is not necessarily any more important than others within the NT canon.

I suspect that a number of significant theological advances could be made if we were only to put our favourite sections of Romans and Galatians to one side for a while. For instance, we might begin to see the continuing role that the commandments of the Torah performed in shaping the life of the Church. We might begin to have a clearer sense of just how Jewish the thinking of the early Church was. An overemphasis on Paul’s more antithetical and abstract ways of formulating the relationship between the Law and the Gospel can blind us to how Paul and other NT authors generally continue to take the particularities of the Torah as normative for the life of the NT people of God. The way that the Torah operates has changed, but it is still operational in many respects as the Torah of the Spirit and the Torah of liberty.

We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel.

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John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1.
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David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden].
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Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one.
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June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers.
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As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism.
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Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post.
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The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now!
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David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful.
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Ben Witherington on Billy Graham.
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R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism:

With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation.

[HT: Paul Baxter]

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A PCA pastor: “We wouldn’t ordain John Murray”. Sadly, this is only what one should expect when theological factionalism takes holds of a denomination.
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Byron is right: this is a very good parable.
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‘Begging the Question’ [HT: Paul Baxter]
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From the evangelical outpost: How to Draw a Head and Assess your Brain Fitness.
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The cubicle warrior’s guide to office jargon
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The unveiling of the logo for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Seb Coe:

It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world.

Tony Blair:

When people see the new brand, we want them to be inspired to make a positive change in their life.

Tessa Jowell:

This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about - an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

Ken Livingstone:

The new Olympic brand draws on what London has become - the world’s most forward-looking and international city.

And the brand itself:

London 2012

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Finally, some Youtube videos:

The new Microsoft Surface:

Battle at Kruger:

I’m a Marvel … and I’m a DC:

New Skoda Ad:

NTW Letter

Bishop WrightN.T. Wright replies to someone involved in translating Judas and the Gospel of Jesus, who wrote to him, troubled by some of the libellous claims about Wright and his beliefs that he encountered online:

Dear —–

—– has passed on your message to me. I am distressed that you have been so misled about my views. I believe firmly and passionately in scripture, and even more firmly and passionately in Jesus himself. I have no idea where you get the notion that I don’t believe in the virginal conception, which I have never doubted and which I have defended in public, in person and in print several times. I have no idea why you think I deny the credibility of John’s gospel, or for that matter Ephesians and Colossians. Indeed, I have defended all of them. And where do you get the idea that I think that ‘men are being saved by baptism’ (unless, of course, it might be 1 Peter 3.21, of course)? All this is simply wicked and unpleasant libel. Who has made these accusations? Have they read anything I have ever written?

When it comes to Paul, I have spent my life trying to understand his letters in great detail. If you want to disagree with my interpretations, please disagree with what I say, and show where I am getting it wrong, rather than listening to people who tell you that I am saying (for instance) that my belief is some kind of new revelation. Of course it isn’t! I am teaching what Paul is teaching, and I am happily and gladly open to anyone showing me that my understanding of the text is wrong. But please read what I have said, and the reasons I have given for it, before you say things like ‘we don’t need God’s righteousness to stand before righteous God’. Read what I say about the meaning of ‘God’s righteousness’ in Paul. Weigh it with what the whole scripture says — the Psalms and Isaiah and so on as well as Paul himself. Do what the Beroeans did in Acts 17: search the scriptures to see whether these things are so, rather than assume, like the Jews in Thessalonica, that any interpretation of scripture which you haven’t met before must be angrily rejected.

This brings me to ‘heaven’. Yes, in the New Testament of course there is the hope for being ‘with Christ, which is far better’ (Philippians 1.26). But have you not noticed that the New Testament hardly ever talks about ‘going to heaven’, and certainly never as the ultimate destiny of God’s people. The ultimate destiny, as Revelation 21 makes abundantly clear, is the ‘new heavens and new earth’, for which we will need resurrection bodies. Please, please, study what the Bible actually says. When Jesus talks in John 14 of going to prepare a place for us, the word he uses is the Greek word mone, which isn’t a final dwelling place but a temporary place where you stay and are refreshed before continuing on your journey. The point about Jesus being our hope is that he will come again from heaven to change this world, and our bodies, so that the prayer he taught us to pray will come true at last: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven. That is God’s will; that is why Jesus came; that is our final hope. Of course, Christians who die before that time go to be with him in heaven until the time when the whole creation is redeemed (Romans 8.18-27 — have you studied that recently?). That isn’t a ‘symbolic meaning’, and I confess I don’t know why you should think it does.

The problem is, I think, that there are some Christians who have not been taught what the Bible actually teaches about the redemption of the whole creation. The Bible doesn’t say that the creation — including earth — is wicked and that we have to be rescued from it. What is wicked, and what we need rescuing from, is sin, which brings death, which is the denial of the
good creation. When we say the creation is wicked we are colluding with death. Sadly, some Christians seem to think they have to say that.

I am particularly disturbed when you say that I am not much different from the gnostics I am attacking, and that I have no hope for the lost world. Hope for the lost world is precisely what I have in abundance, precisely because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us not so that we could let death have our bodies for ever while our souls go off into a disembodied eternity — that was Plato’s mistake! — but so that we could be redeemed, rescued from sin and from the death it produces.

Dear —–, you have been deceived by what you have found on the internet. Of course I believe in Jesus. He is the centre of my life and, though I am a very imperfect disciple, I adore him and will preach him to my dying day. Of course I believe in his gospel. It is the good news that God so loved the world (not that God so hated the world). Yes, there is always a danger that all of us may distort the gospel, that we can be deceived, that we may need to inspect our hearts. But when you suggest I don’t believe in the whole scripture — well, I’m sorry, but exactly that belief is the rock on which the work of my whole life has been based.

I do hope that you will think again, continue to translate the book, and publish it in due course. But perhaps before you do that you might like to read one or two of my other books on the major subjects you have raised. Particularly The Resurrection of the Son of God, which has already been translated into various languages.

With greetings and good wishes in our Lord Jesus Christ

Tom Wright

N. T. Wright
Bishop of Durham

Links and News, but not in that order

I returned from a few days back in Stoke-on-Trent on Tuesday evening. My time back home was full of activity, but very enjoyable. As there was a wedding on, I had the opportunity to meet a lot more friends than I would have met on another weekend. During the few days back home, I watched Spiderman III for the second time (I far prefer Spiderman II) and Pirates of the Caribbean III (none of the later films in the trilogy have lived up to the original). I helped out at a kid’s club, with preparation for the wedding celebration and had to preach at very short notice (I mainly reworked material that I had written and blogged about recently). I also enjoyed following the cricket when I had a few minutes to spare. The West Indies may not be the strongest opponents, but convincingly winning a Test match does provide welcome relief after the mauling of the latest Ashes series and our failure to make much of an impact at the World Cup.

Over the last few days I have read a number of books. On my way down to Stoke-on-Trent on the train, I finished reading L. Charles Jackson’s Faith of our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed. I had the privilege of meeting Charles a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his book. It is a very helpful introduction to the Christian faith, following the statements of the Nicene Creed. Each chapter is relatively short and followed by some review questions. It would be a useful book for a study class and also provides the sort of clear and straightforward (but not simplistic) introduction to Christian doctrine that might be of use to a thinking teenager (Ralph Smith’s Trinity and Reality is another work that I would recommend for this).

On the train journey back I finished reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. A friend recommended the book to me when it first came out a few years ago, but I have only just got around to reading it (I bought a secondhand copy of the book from my housemate John a few months ago). Martel is a very gifted storyteller and the book is quite engrossing. Whilst I strongly disagree with the underlying message of the book (about the character of faith and its loose relationship with fact), I greatly enjoyed the book and may well revisit it on some occasion in the future.

I have also been reading a number of other works, including Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, which a friend lent to me, in preparation for my visit to Myanmar in September. I am also reading Steve Moyise’s The Old Testament in the New, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Children of Hurin and I have been dipping into the second volume of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology. On the commentary front, I have been using Goldingay’s recent work on Psalms 1-41 and Craig S. Keener’s commentary on John’s Gospel.

At the moment I am reading up on the subject of the atonement. I am particularly enjoying Hans Boersma’s work, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. I am also reading Where Wrath & Mercy Meet: Proclaiming the Atonement Today, edited by Oak Hill’s David Peterson (I am still waiting for my copy of Pierced for Our Transgressions to be delivered), Joel Green and Mark Baker’s Recovering the Scandal of the Cross and revisiting Colin Gunton’s The Actuality of Atonement.

Since returning to St. Andrews I have done very little. I spent much of yesterday playing Half-Life 2 (which I am revisiting after a few years) and reading. Today I expect that I will be a little more productive.

The following are some of the sites, stories, posts and videos that have caught my eye over the last few days.

Matt Colvin has an interesting post on ‘Headcoverings as Visible Eschatology’. Within it he argues that Paul’s teaching on the matter in 1 Corinthians 11 was not culturally determined, but informed by redemptive history.

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James Jordan has posted a series on the Biblical Horizons website: ‘How To Do Reformed Theology Nowadays’. As usual, JBJ has many useful and provocative observations. Here is one extended quotation:

The second problem is that since the academy is separated from the world, it is inevitably a gnostic institution. It is a place of ideas, not of life. For that reason it tends to become a haven for homosexuals (as it was in Greece, as Rosenstock-Huessy again points out in his lectures on Greek Philosophy). But apart from that problem, the separation of the academy from life means that the fundamental issues are seen as intellectual, which they in truth and fact are not. Clearly, conservative theological seminaries are not havens for homosexuals. But when what is protected is ideas and not women, then something is not right. Do academistic theologians protect the Bride of Christ, or do they protect a set of pet notions?

Consider: A man might say that when the Bible says that the waters of the “Red Sea” stood as walls and that the Israelites passed through, this is an exaggeration. What really happened is that a wind dried up an area of the “Swamp of Reeds” and the Israelites passed through. Now, this is a typical gnostic academistic way of approaching the text. The physical aspect of the situation is discounted. What is important is the theological idea of passing between waters. Human beings, for the academic gnostic, are not affected and changed by physical forces sent by God, but are changed by notions and ideas only.

The Bible shows us God changing human beings, bringing Adam forward toward maturity, very often by means of striking physical actions, such as floods, plagues, overwhelming sounds, and also warfare. It’s not just a matter of theology, or of “redemptive history” as a series of notions.

Now, some modern academics have indeed devoted themselves to social and economic history, and have seen that human beings are changed by physical forces that are brought upon them (though without saying that the Triune God brings these things upon them). This outlook, however, has not as yet had much impact on the theological academy.

The fact is that God smacks us around and that’s what changes history. Ideas sometimes smack us around, true enough. But the problem of the academy is that it is (rightly) separated from the world of smackings. From the academistic viewpoint, the actions of God in the Bible, His smacking around of Israel to bring them to maturity, are just not terribly important. What matters are the ideas.

This means the chronology is not important, and the events as described can be questioned. Did God really do those plagues in Egypt, smacking around the human race to bring the race forward in maturity? Maybe not. Maybe the stories in Exodus are “mythic enhancements” of what really happened. It’s the stories that matter, not the events. Maybe the Nile became red with algae, not really turned to blood. The blood idea is to remind us of all the Hebrew babies thrown into the Nile eighty years before.

Think about this. For the academistic, it is the idea that is important. Human beings are changed by ideas. And ideas only. Of course, it should be obvious that turning all the water in Egypt to blood (not just the Nile, Exodus 7:19) is a way of bringing back the murder of the Hebrew infants and of calling up the Avenger of Blood, the Angel of Death, because blood cries for vengeance. They had to dig up new water (Ex. 7:24) because all the old water was dead and bloody. An event like this changes people. The theological ideas are important. But the shock and awe of having all the water of the nation turn to blood is also important. It forces people to change.

***
Josh, the Fearsome Pirate, puts his finger on one of the reasons why I would find it hard to become a Lutheran and reminds me of one of the reasons I so appreciate the Reformed tradition: ‘The Bible & Lutheranism’.
***
Peter Leithart blogs on a subject that has long interested me: the necessity of the Incarnation. The question of the necessity of the Incarnation might strike some as needlessly speculative. However, our answer to this question does have a lot of practical import, not least in our understanding of the relationship between creation and redemption and the manner in which Christ relates to the cosmos. It raises teleological questions very similar to those raised in supra-infra debates, but does so in a far more biblical manner (supra-infra debates that are not grounded in Christology do strike me as unhelpfully speculative).
***
Leithart also blogs on the subject of Pentecost on the First Things blog, one of a number to do so over the last few days. NTW sermons on Ascension and Pentecost have also been posted on the N.T. Wright Page. Joel Garver also blogs on Pentecost here. Over the next few months I will be doing a lot of work on the subject of canonical background for the account of Acts 2 (something that I have blogged about in the past). I will probably blog on the subject in more detail in the future.
***
There have been a number of engagements with popular atheism in the blogosphere recently, particularly by Doug Wilson. Wilson’s recent debates with Christopher Hitchens can be found on the Christianity Today website: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. It is interesting to see how Hitchens consistently seems to fail to get Wilson’s point about warrant for moral obligation. Macht also has a helpful post in which he observes Richard Dawkins’ tendency to lightly dismiss positions (not just Christian ones) without ever taking the trouble to try to understand them first.
***
Joel Garver summarizes the recent PCA report on the NPP/FV and posts a letter raising some questions and concerns on the subject.
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Ben posts an interesting list of recent and forthcoming must read theological books and Kim Fabricius loses all credibility.
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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism argues that FV theology leads Romeward. A recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy argues that Peter Leithart was instrumental in his conversion. The first post prompted a very lively and rather heated discussion in the comments (which I participated in).

Frankly, while I do not agree with such moves and do not find the slippery slope argument — much beloved of FV critics — at all convincing, I am not surprised that a number of people make such moves and credit the FV with moving them some way towards their current ecclesiatical home. Unlike many movements within the Reformed world, the FV is heading in a (small ‘c’) catholic and principled ecumenical direction. The journey to Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is far shorter from a catholic than a sectarian tradition. The FV is not generally given to overblown polemics against every theological tradition that differs from the Reformed and appreciates reading material produced by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox. It can open one’s eyes to the fact that there are actually some pretty fine Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians out there and that, despite a number of failings, they are often far better on certain issues than their Reformed counterparts. Differences remain, but they are put into a far more realistic perspective.

***
John H on what lies beneath debates about Mary. He also raises the issue of the presence of the Eucharist in John’s gospel for discussion.
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The most blogged passages of Scripture [HT: The Evangelical Outpost].
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Christianity Today has its 2007 book awards.
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Encouraging signs from Dennis Hou’s blog.
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Edward Cook watches LOST with Hebrew subtitles.
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Best selling books of all time [HT: Kim Riddlebarger]
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118 ways to save money in college
Learn a new language with a podcast
Learn the 8 essential tie knots

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New music from The New Pornographers [HT: Macht]
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A third of bloggers risk the sack
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Life as a secret Christian convert
***
Global Peace Index Rankings (if you are looking for the US it is down at 96 between Yemen and Iran)
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A wonderful new site where grandmothers share films of some of their favourite recipes.
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Boy kills a ‘monster pig’ [HT: Jon Barlow]
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Some Youtube videos.

George Lucas in Love

Five Hundred Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Pete Doherty queues for an Oasis album. It is sad to see how messed up he has become since then.

Finally, from my fellow St. Andrews Divinity student, Jon Mackenzie, comes ‘The Barthman’s Deck-laration’

Links

This morning I finished my last exam of the semester. It is a great relief to have finally completed this year at St. Andrews. It has been considerably less productive than the year before (I suspect that there has been a downward trend in my productivity for over three years now, which is rather depressing) and I look forward to really putting my back into the work for my final year. My results haven’t suffered that much, but I would like to have a bit more to show for my time.

In a few days’ time — possibly after I return to St. Andrews next Tuesday — I hope to start posting the subject of the atonement, a subject which will probably dominate this blog over the summer. However, it has been well over a month since I last posted a links post, and I thought that I would mark my return to regular service with a bumper collection of some of the things that have caught my attention over the last month or so.

Matt Colvin’s Fragmenta blog has always been a personal favourite. Matt has been posting some great material recently. Two posts in particular that I have enjoyed: ‘Baptism for Forgiveness in Acts 2:38′ (an analysis of the grammatical arguments put forward by some to avoid a close relationship between Baptism and forgiveness in that passage) and ‘Examine Yourselves: Testing in Corinth and Crete’ (in which Matt challenges the introspective understanding of ‘examine yourselves’ through a careful examination of the Greek). Both posts give a voice to texts that have all too often fallen prey to theological agendas.

***
I am not sure that I agree with all of Josh S’s propositions, but Proposition 5 (’If your theology makes you uncomfortable with biblical language, your theology needs to change’) is, in my experience, one of the most important principles that I have ever learned. I seem to remember that my father first taught me this principle over several years’ ago.
***
Stephen Carlson links to some helpful posts with advice for honing your academic writing. Such honing is long overdue in my case. Perhaps something to devote some time to over the summer.
***
As usual there is a wealth of quality posting on Peter Leithart’s blog. Over the last month Leithart has posted a number of things that may be of interest to NTW fans: ‘Five Points of NT Wright’, ‘Paul and Israel’, ‘Justification and Community’ and a lengthy PDF document: Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel.

Leithart also has a number of other helpful posts that address FV debates, including ‘Perichoretic Imagination’, ‘Theological Imagination’, ‘Grace’, ‘Denying the Gospel’ and a guest post by James Jordan, ‘Justification and Glorification’.

There are also a number of other interesting and thought-provoking posts, including ‘Faith and Grace’ (about different ways of conceiving of the relationship between faith and grace, with particular reference to the practice of infant Baptism), ‘Justification and Purity’ (in which he mentions Chris VanLandingham’s recent work and his argument that justification language has to do more with ’state of being’ than with ’status’ — perhaps a challenging case for the application of Josh’s fifth proposition) and ‘Rites Controversy’ (some thoughts on the relationship between traditional Chinese practices and the Christian faith in the 17th and 18th centuries).

***
Mark Goodacre posts on the subject of PhDs in the UK and US (something that is playing on my mind at the moment too). He also links to a Guardian article on recent trouble at Wycliffe Hall.
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Jason Fout posts on the subject of living with questions.
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NTW on Jerry Falwell. There are also a number of new audio lectures linked from the N.T. Wright Page:

Putting the World to Rights
God’s Restorative Program
Godpod 16
Godpod 17

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James White links to a — presumably heavily critical — series on the NPP.
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Mark posts a lengthy grand unifying Lost theory. I must confess to being cheered by recent developments on the show; for a while I was concerned that it may have jumped the shark.
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On Ben Myers blog: ‘Ten Propositions on Being a Minister’ and a plug for Mike Bird’s new book on the NPP (which looks extremely helpful).
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Ben also links to this lecture by Archbishop Rowan Williams, something that I really must read when I have the time.
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Bill Kesatie asked me to respond to this post on the subject of sexual abuse of children within churches. Bill suggests that blogging Christians need to be more vocal about this matter. I suggest that the teaching of Ephesians 5:11-12 is important to keep in mind here:

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

In our day and age there is virtually no sin so evil that it cannot be spoken of and discussed (almost literally) ad nauseum. There is a sort of unhealthy fascination with perversion that can develop in such a manner, a sort of urge to stoop and sniff the faeces. People who spend a lot of time talking and thinking about sin are in a very dangerous position for this reason. Even though they may condemn the sin in the strongest possible language, there is something about it that arouses their interest.

I am a firm believer in the importance of certain taboos. There are certain things that it is unfitting to talk about. Where sexual abuse of children takes place it is healthy to literally feel sick in the pit of your stomach. Our reaction should be one of deep revulsion. Wherever such sin occurs the Scriptures call us to expose it as a work of darkness. Such an approach of exposing sin has, tragically, not always been followed in Christian contexts. Sin has on occasions been covered up, something which is utterly inexcusable.

The biblical command to expose sin should not, however, be confused with the idea of having a public conversation about such sin. I am shocked by the idea that Christian bloggers should be expected to post condemnations of the sin of child abuse within churches; condemnations are the means by which people who fail to live lives of transparent godliness tend to assert their morality. The fact that we are called upon to condemn such appalling sins suggests that such sins are less than unspeakable and unthinkable to the people of God. Biblically, the Church exposes darkness, not chiefly by condemning it with public statements, but by living as the light of the world.

For this reason, rather than post a condemnation of unspeakable sin, I would prefer to post a challenge for us to be the sort of people for whom such sin truly is unspeakable and unthinkable, for us to be people whose utter rejection of such sin is so completely manifested by the way that we deal with it when it occurs that any further words would merely detract from the fulness of its condemnation.

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Jon Barlow posts on Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchens and their current debate. His thoughts on Doug Wilson are very close to my own.
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A couple of weeks ago, Barbara tagged me in the seven things you didn’t know about me meme. Here goes:

1. In my first school play at the age of five I was an angel. Midway through the play the elastic on my trousers broke and the crowd were amused and distracted by my attempts to hide the fact and hold them up. My teacher was not too impressed.

2. I went on strike for a day in primary school, because I was annoyed that the supply teacher was a smoker. The primary school that I attended was a small Church of Ireland school, with four years to each room. My younger brother Jonathan was in the same room as me for a couple of years. As a rather absent-minded kid, he was constantly getting into trouble with the teacher. On one occasion when he was being lectured to (and pyschoanalyzed) by the teacher at the front of the class I felt so strongly that he was being treated unfairly that I wrote a letter of protest and handed it around my classmates. It was intercepted and my mind has long sought to suppress the memories of the resulting experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson on that occasion and, in secondary school I wrote another letter of protest to a teacher, which led to a session in the principal’s office.

3. The first album I ever bought was (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis. I still enjoy listening to it today, but at the time, I would have probably been better off had I not bought it as it was, to some extent, a means by which I could rebel against my parents.

4. I have never broken a bone, although I have sprained each of my ankles several times. When I injure myself it is usually playing football or riding my bike. The last time it was a badly sprained ankle. The time before, I slipped on dog doo and cracked my forehead on a brick wall. Unfortunately, the manner of my fall was so amusing that, looking up in my dazed state, all I saw were my friends looking down at me and laughing.

5. I have needle phobia. I feel rather annoyed at myself for having such an irrational fear. Whilst I have faced my fear on a number of occasions in having injections or in donating blood, I haven’t been able to shake the fear itself.

6. I started balding at the age of 16. I noticed about 10 years before some other people did. I guess that you don’t see what you don’t expect to see (and some people are not the most observant).

7. Growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, a soldier, a pilot, a missionary or a maths teacher. Frankly, I probably had a better idea then than I do now.

If you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

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Dr Jim West mentions a forthcoming book by Richard Bauckham, which looks very interesting, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John.
***
John H has two great posts with thoughts from Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh: ‘Surging, hopeful, joyful doubt’ and ‘The puzzling mystery of unbelief’. He also has a post, entitled ‘The gospel “under the papacy”‘, which he begins with the remark: ‘One irony of becoming a Lutheran was that it greatly improved my opinion of the Roman Catholic Church.’ Very interesting.
***
Kevin Bywater has a great series of posts on the subject of sinlessness in Second Temple Judaism:

Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (2 - Gathercole’s Wise Words)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (3 - D. Falk on Prayer of Manasseh)
Second Temple Judaism and Sinlessness (4 - Other Texts)

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Mercersberg Review articles available online.
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Angie Brennan posts the ‘Screwtape E-mails’.
***
Some interesting things from lifehacker:

Top ten sites for free books
Learning the finer points of punctuation
Top 10 body hacks

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A very interesting article on the Bible in the global South.
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A new blog: The Reformed News. Looks interesting.
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Finally, some gleanings from Youtube.

I got myself a copy of the Arcade Fire’s most recent album and have been listening to it incessantly over the last month. Here is a performance of the title track:

If you haven’t seen the Potter Pals before, this is a lot of fun (or you may find it incredibly annoying and stupid):

Finally, a powerful speech by Bono:

NTW on Penal Substitution Debates

The following is a brief intermission in my month-long hiatus…

N.T. Wright has just written an article that brilliantly captures many of my feelings about current evangelical debates about penal substitution, which is currently causing all sorts of splits and disagreements in evangelical circles in the UK. He also addresses critics of the doctrine and clarifies where he stands in relation to the work of Steve Chalke, for example.

There are few things that frustrate me more than evangelical debates about penal substitution. I am convinced, with Wright, that, whilst they capture something of the Scriptural teaching of the atonement, most evangelical penal substitution accounts are woefully sub-biblical. All too often they consist of some decontextualized prooftexts loosely strung together by a rather abstract theological theory and fall far short of the rich and multifaceted story that the Scriptures present us with. Although I am persuaded of the truth of penal substitution, I usually feel that such theories are not a whole lot better than many of the accounts given by those who deny penal substitution altogether. I have also come to realize that evangelical rhetoric often merely masks a lack of receptive engagement with Scripture. It may seem strange to some, but I am increasingly coming to the conviction that, if receptivity to the Scriptures is what I am looking for, I might be better off reading some good Roman Catholics as, somewhat ironically, they are often less invested in the perfect truth of their tradition than many evangelicals are.

The following are some quotes from Wright’s article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.

And I was put in mind of a characteristically gentle remark of Henry Chadwick, in his introductory lectures on doctrine which I attended my first year in Oxford. After carefully discussing all the various theories of atonement, Dr Chadwick allowed that there were of course some problems with the idea of penal substitution. But he said, ‘until something like this has been said, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the full story has not yet been told.’ For myself, I prefer to go with Henry Chadwick, and James Denney – and Wesley and Watts, and Cranmer and Hooker, and Athanasius and Augustine and Aquinas – and Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John – and, I believe Jesus himself. To throw away the reality because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting out the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God. There is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are in Christ, because on the cross God condemned sin in the flesh of the Son who, as the expression of his own self-giving love, had been sent for that very purpose. ‘He did not spare his very own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ That’s what Good Friday was, and is, all about.

*

What then do I mean by saying that Pierced for Our Transgressions is deeply unbiblical? Just this: it abstracts certain elements from what the Bible actually says, elements which are undoubtedly there and which undoubtedly matter, but then places them within a different framework, which admittedly has a lot in common with the biblical one, but which, when treated as though it were the biblical one, becomes systematically misleading. An illustration I have often used may make the point. When a child is faced with a follow-the-dots puzzle, she may grasp the first general idea – that the point is to draw a pencil line joining the dots together and so making a picture – without grasping the second – that the point is to draw the lines according to the sequence of the numbers that go with each dot. If you ignore the actual order of the numbers, you can still join up all the dots, but you may well end up drawing, shall we say, a donkey instead of an elephant. Or you may get part of the elephant, but you may get the trunk muddled up with the front legs. Or whatever. Even so, it is possible to join up all the dots of biblical doctrines, to go down a list of key dogmas and tick all the boxes, but still to join them up with a narrative which may well overlap with the one the Bible tells in some ways but which emphatically does not in other ways. And that is, visibly and demonstrably, what has happened in Pierced for Our Transgressions, at both large and small scale.

*

But the biggest, and most worrying, unbiblical feature of Pierced for Our Transgressions is the outright refusal to have anything seriously to do with the gospels. This is a massive problem, which I believe to be cognate with all kinds of other difficulties within today’s church, not least within today’s evangelicalism. There is no space here to open up this question more than a very little. Let me just tell it as I see it on reading this new book.

I was startled, to begin with, at the fact that the foundational chapter, entitled ‘Searching the Scriptures: The Biblical Foundations of Penal Substitution’, has precisely six pages on the Gospel of Mark, a good bit of which consists of lengthy biblical quotations, and four on John. And that’s it for the gospels. I don’t disagree with most of those ten pages, but it is truly astonishing that a book like this, claiming to offer a fairly full-dress and biblically-rooted doctrine of the meaning of the cross, would not only omit Matthew and Luke, and truncate Mark and John so thoroughly (sifting them for prooftexts, alas), but would ignore entirely the massive and central question of Jesus’ own attitude to his own forthcoming death, on the one hand, and the way in which the stories the evangelists tell are themselves large-scale interpretations of the cross, on the other. One would not know, from this account, that there was anything to all this other than Mark 10.45 (‘the Son of Man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many’) and a few other key texts, such as the ‘cup’ which Jesus prayed might pass, but which he eventually drank.

*

I am forced to conclude that there is a substantial swathe of contemporary evangelicalism which actually doesn’t know what the gospels themselves are there for, and would rather elevate ‘Paul’ (inverted commas, because it is their reading of Paul, rather than the real thing, that they elevate) and treat Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as mere repositories of Jesus’ stories from which certain doctrinal and theological nuggets may be collected. And this, sadly, chimes in with other impressions I have received from elsewhere within the same theological stable – with, for instance, the suggestion that since Paul’s epistles give us ‘the gospel’ while ‘the Gospels’ simply give us stories about Jesus, we shouldn’t make the reading of the latter into the key moment in the first half of the Communion Serice. (In case anyone should rub their eyes in disbelief, I have actually heard this seriously argued more than once in the last year or two.)

*

There are large issues here of theological method and biblical content, all interacting with other large issues of contemporary hermeneutics: would I be totally wrong, for instance, to see some of the horrified reaction to Steve Chalke, and to some of the ‘Emerging Church’ reappropriation of the gospels, as a reaction, not so much against what is said about the atonement, but against the idea, which is powerfully present in the gospels, that God’s kingdom is coming, with Jesus, ‘on earth as in heaven’, and that if this is so we must rethink several cherished assumptions within the western tradition as a whole? Might it not be the case that the marginalisation of the four gospels as serious theological documents within Western Christianity, not least modern evangelicalism, is a fear that if we took them seriously we might have to admit that Jesus of Nazareth has a claim on our political life as well as our spiritual life and ‘eternal destiny’? And might there not be a fear, among those who are most shrill in their propagation of certain types of ‘penal substitution’, that there might be other types of the same doctrine which would integrate rather closely with the sense that on the cross God passed sentence on all the human powers and authorities that put Jesus there? John 18 and 19 as a whole (and not only in individual words and phrases), and 1 Corinthians 2 and Colossians 2 as wholes, have an enormous amount to say about the biblical meaning of the cross which you would never, ever guess from reading Pierced for Our Transgressions and other works like it.

*

Sadly, the debate I have reviewed – with the honourable and brief exception of Robert Jenson’s article which began this whole train of thought – shows every sign of the postmodern malaise of a failure to think, to read texts, to do business with what people actually write and say rather than (as is so much easier!) with the political labelling and dismissal of people on the basis of either flimsy evidence or ‘guilt by association’. We live in difficult times and it would be good to find evidence of people on all sides of all questions taking the attitude of the Beroeans in Acts 17, who ‘searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so’, instead of ‘knowing’ in advance what scripture is going to say, ought to say, could not possibly say, or must really have said (if only the authors hadn’t made it so obscure!).

As I have already suggested, read the whole article for yourself.

Links

Believe it or not, I really meant it when I said (about a month and a half ago now) that I had no intention of reducing my input on this blog to that of posting long lists of links. I apologize for the continued lack of substantial posting. Hopefully this will change sometime soon. However, I won’t make any promises, as I have not the best track-record of keeping blogging promises. What do you, my reader, think of my link posts? Should I stop them or make them more occasional? Are they worth reading or would you prefer me to do something different with my blogging time? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

The following are some of the things that have caught my eye online over the last couple of days:

Matt Colvin, whose Lenten reflection was posted on this blog yesterday, posts further thoughts on his blog on the Last Supper and on Gethsemane. He also has posted some posts that are relevant to the interminable FV debates: ‘Dead Orthodoxy’ and ‘Head on a Platter’.

***
The Fearsome Pirate has returned! He kicks off with a post on Lutheranism. Josh, we’ve missed you.
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Leithart posts on the subject of the consumer revolution and gives us quite a Girardian insight from an eighteenth century writer.
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On the subject of René Girard, Edward Oakes posts on Girard over on the First Things blog.
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Macht links to audio from Calvin College’s Faith and Music weekend. It looks interesting: Sylia Keesmaat, Lauren Winner, and a number of other speakers.
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If any of you are feeling like engaging in some extreme penance, Ben Myers links to a meme that might suit you. He also posts Kim Fabricius’s ‘Ten Propositions on Political Theology’, which Josh and Joel discuss over on the BHT.
***
Stephen at the Thinkery links to a post with a series of accounts of anti-LGBT encounters. Whilst I believe that lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender behaviour is sinful, I have long maintained that homophobia is real and ought to be shown up in all of its ugliness by Christians. Some of the stories recounted should give us food for thought.
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There are few examples of homophobia as extreme as that of the Westboro Baptist Church. The following is the first part of the BBC2 documentary, in which Louis Theroux meets the Phelps:

The other parts of the show are also available on Youtube — part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

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The audiobook of Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is available for free download from Christian Audio this month [HT: Tim Challies]. Don’t miss out!
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Why PowerPoint presentations don’t work [HT: David Field]. I feel vindicated: I have long viewed PowerPoint presentations with a mistrust bordering on antipathy.
***

According to recent studies, Britain has 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of all cameras globally.

It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily.

Read the whole article here [HT: David Field].

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Tearfund has a new report on churchgoing in the UK. There is some comment on the report on the BBC website. Graham Weeks posts some figures from the survey here.
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NTW’s Maundy Thursday sermon.
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The Placebo Diet [HT: The Evangelical Outpost]. I just need to know how to turn this finding in my favour.
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As usual the Evangelical Outpost has a number of other interesting links, which I thought that I would pass on:

100 aphorisms summarizing Calvin’s Institutes
Some classic insults
34 Reasons Why People Unsubscribe from your Blog (a quick scan confirms my suspicion that I have been guilty of the majority of these at some time or other)
The Internet weighs 2 ounces

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Some British teachers drop teaching the Holocaust and the Crsuades to avoid offending Muslims and other schools are challenged to change their teaching on the Arab-Israeli conflict by some theologically confused Christians [HT: Tim Challies]
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A skeptical ex-scientist describes the funding process for peer-reviewed research.
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Some more useful links from lifehacker:

How to Read a Scientific Research Paper
How to make yourself happier within the next hour
Google launches My Maps
Ditto: A useful Windows clipboard extension

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I am glad that I am not the only person who writes e-mails in this way:

Some of the other Youtube videos that have caught my attention over the last week include: LisaNova does 300!, Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.1 and Sand Castle Explosions Backwards v.2.
***
Jeffrey Overstreet asks whether movies are increasing our capacity to see, and whether the narrative of film distracts us too much from the visual dimension [HT: John Barach].
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And, on the topic of the poetry of cinema, I will conclude this links post with one of my favourite scenes from Spirited Away, which I watched yet again last night. It grows on me every time.

Links

The FV discussion continues on unabated. Matt Colvin has some very good thoughts on the debate here (makes sure that you read the comments). Lane Keister suggests that ego is the main thing standing in the way of FV people repenting of their errors. The huge number of comments that follow his post make interesting reading. Meanwhile, the Presbyteer posts an overheard comment.

***
Mark Goodacre and Dr Jim West continue to discuss the value of Wikipedia.
***
Richard Mouw writes on Calvinism and sewage [HT: Prosthesis].
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Paul Duggan (who really needs to sort out his permalinks) puts forward the following statements for discussion:

1. Some Christians, because of their great faith or piety, are more effective than other Christians in begging God’s favors, say for healing the sick.

2. Since some Christians are of that sort, it is a good idea to ask them, in particular, to pray for you, say, if you are sick.

3. It is ok to think, in the back of your mind, “that man is righteous: his prayer will be partciularly effective for my sickness”

4. Doing so is not blasphemous, nor does it impinge upon the complete salvation we have in Christ.

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Mererdith Kline’s works online [HT: Ros Clarke].
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R.C. Sproul reviews N.T. Wright’s recent book, Evil and the Justice of God.
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The good bishop is also in the news again, responding to a BBC Radio 4 show with the ‘controversial cleric’ Jeffrey John, who claims that the doctrine of penal substitution “is repulsive as well as nonsensical” and “makes God sound like a psychopath.” The Sunday Telegraph reports:

Mr John argues that too many Christians go through their lives failing to realise that God is about “love and truth”, not “wrath and punishment”. He offers an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Christ was crucified so he could “share in the worst of grief and suffering that life can throw at us”.

Church figures have expressed dismay at his comments, which they condemn as a “deliberate perversion of the Bible”. The Rt Rev Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, accused Mr John of attacking the fundamental message of the Gospel.

“He is denying the way in which we understand Christ’s sacrifice. It is right to stress that he is a God of love but he is ignoring that this means he must also be angry at everything that distorts human life,” he said.

Bishop Wright criticised the BBC for allowing such a prominent slot to be given to such a provocative argument. “I’m fed up with the BBC for choosing to give privilege to these unfortunate views in Holy Week,” he said.

***
From Vern Poythress’s ‘The Church as a Family’, which I had occasion to read a few days ago:

[M]any evangelical churches today are seen primarily as lecture halls or preaching stations. People identify the church with its building, in contrast to the Biblical emphasis that those united to Christ are the real church. Moreover, the building is viewed merely as a place for hearing a sermon or enjoying religious entertainment. Such a view impoverishes our communal life as Christians. Certainly monologue sermons are important, since they are one means of bringing God’s Word to bear on the church. But God intends the church to be much more…

But in too many evangelical churches, people have little experience of the Biblical practice of common family life. There may also be no regard for the necessity of church discipline. The church leaders are nothing more than gifted speakers or counselors (paid ministers), or else managers of church property and/or programs (whether these people are called trustees or elders or deacons). Such “leaders” are just people whose useful gifts have brought them into prominence. In such situations, it is understandable that some people may fail to see why appropriately qualified women may not exercise the key functions they associate with leadership. In fact, Christians will not fully understand the logic leading to male overseers until they come to grips with what the church should really be as God’s household.

***
Steven Harris posts a Palm Sunday confession.
***
Byron Smith on the chocolate Jesus controversy.
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The Pirate comments on the erotic character of much contemporary worship:

Let’s point out the obvious: replace the buxom blonde babes with stout matrons in their late 50’s, and the worship experience just plain doesn’t happen. Hire an older fellow that walks with a cane as your worship pastor instead of that handsome, young, energetic Cedarville graduate, and Sunday morning just won’t “work.” That should indicate something is wrong. This kind of “worship” isn’t anything new. Maybe fog machines, synthesizers, and colored lights are new, but sensuality and eroticism in worship aren’t. It’s just that in the olden-tymie days, you had to go to a pagan temple to get that. They [presumably the Church — Al] did a remarkably bad job of incorporating the pagan culture into their worship. A few things changed with the imperialization of the Church, but the damage had already been done. Christian worship was doomed to centuries of reverence, formality, seriousness, regularity, and deliberation until the 20th century brought Aphrodite back to her rightful place as the orchestrator of our worship.

***
Doug Wilson posts 21 questions for a prospective wife. And, if you are reading Dad, I still do not intend to need to use these myself anytime in the foreseeable future…
***
John blogs on slinkies.
***
Louis Theroux meets the Phelpses.
***
How to paint the Mona Lisa with MS Paint:

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There are still a number of days available for those who want to guest post over Lent, (the instructions for entries can be found here). If you are interested, please respond as soon as possible. Remember, a contribution doesn’t have to be written reflections. You could post a video, an MP3 of yourself talking or singing a song, or a picture that you have drawn. As long as it is within the guidelines set out within the linked post above, it will be very much appreciated.

***
Ben Myers posts the fourth installment of the Thomas Torrance audio lectures and reports a PR disaster for the Christian music industry.
***
Gregg Strawbridge and Mark Horne respond to Guy Waters on Covenant Radio [HT: Barbara]
***
Leithart reminds us of the sacramental piety of the Wesleys. It is interesting to observe how little press this dimension of the Wesleys’ beliefs and piety can receive. A few years ago I was reading an old book on early Methodism and came across a letter sent by John Wesley in 1745, written to his brother-in-law Westley Hall, a number of years after his evangelical conversion. It served as a reminder of how quickly some of our great evangelical heroes would be anathematized were they here to resist their own airbrushing. The following is an extract from Wesley’s letter:

You think, First, that, we undertake to defend some things, which are not defensible by the Word of God. You instance three: on each of which we will explain ourselves as clearly as we can.

1. ‘That, the validity of our ministry depends on a succession supposed to be from the Apostles, and a commission derived from the Pope of Rome, and his successors or dependents.’

We believe, it would not be right for us to administer, either Baptism or the Lord’s Supper, unless we had a commission so to do from those Bishops, whom we apprehend to be in a succession from the Apostles. And, yet, we allow, these Bishops are the successors of those, who are dependent on the Bishop of Rome. But, we would be glad to know, on what reasons you believe this to be inconsistent with the Word of God.

2. ‘That, there is an outward Priesthood, and consequently an outward Sacrifice, ordained and offered by the Bishop of Rome, and his successors or dependents, in the Church of England, as vicars and vicegerents of Christ.’

We believe there is and always was, in every Christian Church (whether dependent on the Bishop of Rome or not) an outward Priesthood ordained by Jesus Christ, and an outward Sacrifice offered therein, by men authorized to act, as Ambassadors of Christ, and Stewards of the mysteries of God. On what grounds do you believe, that, Christ has abolished that Priesthood or Sacrifice?

3. ‘That, this Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy, which still continues in the Church of England, is of Apostolical Institution, and authorized thereby; though not by the written Word.’

We believe, that, the threefold order of ministers, (which you seem to mean by Papal Hierarchy and Prelacy,) is not only authorized by its Apostolical Institution, but also by the written Word. Yet, we are willing to hear and weigh whatever reasons induce you to believe to the contrary.

My purpose here is not to defend Wesley’s sentiments. Rather, I am suggesting that perhaps evangelical faith need not be as inimical and alien to High Church Christianity as many evangelicals suppose it must.

***
Cynthia Nielsen is blogging on Jean-Luc Marion (Part 1, Part 2)
***
Byron Smith (whose blog you should be reading) is interviewed by Guy Davies.
***
Leithart asks: ‘Who Defines “Reformed”?’
***
A few N.T. Wright articles and blog posts (!!):

Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years
God’s Power Does Not Excuse Human Despoiling
Sex Both Powerful and Potentially Dangerous
Base Criticism on Facts, Not Prejudice

I am not convinced that the blog is Wright’s best medium. Sometimes I wish that he would just cancel all his speaking engagements, popular book projects and the like and just get the big book on Paul finished.
***
Whoever suggested this series of adverts deserves a hefty payrise.
***
Jack Bauer: Pre-School Teaching Assistant
***
A New Pope (first saw this one a few months back, but never got around to linking it)
***
The editor of First Things, Joseph Bottum, has won at the Deity level in Civilization III. Kudos! This truly remarkable achievement was mentioned within this superb article on the series of games that have accounted for a disturbing percentage of the waking hours of my existence [HT: Mark Whittinghill of BHT].
***
Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals in conversation [HT: The Presbyteer].

***

And for any of you who might be concerned, despite recent indications to the contrary, my future input on this blog is not going to be reduced to posting long lists of links and comments on the latest Peter Leithart posts.

More Wright Talks

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Part 1, Part 2

Anti-Wright Bullshit

There are a few things that make me really angry. People who throw around accusations and insinuations of heresy without bothering to get their facts straight first or without seeking to read those they criticize carefully and charitably rank very highly on this list. This particular quote from Dr. Fesko has been making the rounds of the blogosphere (see here, here and here):—

On core issues, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, Wright stumbles about. He defines the Holy Spirit in the following manner: ‘In Genesis 1.2, the spirit is God’s presence and power within creation, without God being identified with creation’ 1:169). Here Wright avoids pantheism (the idea that God is the creation), but leans toward modalism (the idea that God merely takes on different forms, rather than being three distinct persons). … While one cannot be sure what Wright’s personal views are on the Trinity, his statements reveal no concept of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Given this absence, one suspects that Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnessess would have no problem with his definitions and descriptions of the Holy Spirit.

I have long ago ceased to be surprised at the bullshit that many Reformed writers spout on Wright and the FV. This is the sort of bullshit that you should expect from theologians who want to retain an appearance of competence, but lack the charity, honesty, commitment to the truth or self-discipline to make sure that they study very carefully before they open their mouths. The sheer quantity of bullshit that the present debates have produced is, it seems to me, very good proof that they are at least as much about power and maintaining the status quo as they are about substantial theological issues. There are theologians attempting to save face. Such accusations and insinuations are thrown out with ease and one will seldom if ever see them taken back or repented of. Nor will you see such accusations and insinuations really substantiated. The truth-value of such statements is not really important, precisely because they are attempts at bullshitting.

Sometimes it is good to call a spade a spade.

Space, Time and Sacraments

Wright’s Calvin College lectures are now online.

NTW Lecture

Wright lectures in Calvin College’s January Series:

Simply Christian

There is also a Christianity Today interview with Wright here.

What would John Calvin Say to the NPP?

John Calvin

As someone who believed medieval Rome taught a piecemeal salvation through a treadmill of sacramental performance, something which he equated in its essence to that of inter-testamental Judaism (aka Pharisaism) as a religion which rung the changes on works-righteousness — seeing both of these as examples of man’s innate tendency to idolatry and self-justification, he would not recognize the New Perspective as doing justice either to the exegesis of Scripture or a diagnosis of man’s real problem. He would regard it as wrongheaded pastorally as well as historically. As one who insisted on double-imputation, he would find the New Perspective’s denial of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as wholly inadequate to deal with the real problem of fallen (Adamic) man’s relationship to God. As one who made the cross central, he would be perplexed at the inadequate responses of the New Perspective to the question which inquires as to the necessity of the cross or what it actually achieved. Penal substitution through satisfaction were Calvin’s main emphases and a perspective which substitutes ecclesiastical categories (who belongs to the covenant community?) rather than soteriological categories (how can a sinner be made right with God?), and one that answers the former by emphasizing “boundary markers” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he would view as Catholicism redivivus.

So claims Derek Thomas. I would like to think that Calvin would have done a better job of understanding the NPP before he dismissed it.

Election in John’s Gospel

Election is one of the issues that I continually return to. On my computer I have well over one hundred thousand words that I have written on the subject of election at some stage or other (from discussion lists, e-mails, personal notes, unposted blog posts, etc.). Unfortunately there is so much material that I just can’t bring myself to put it all together into some sort of coherent whole. Every once in a while I will just drop some thoughts on the subject, drawing on some of the material that I have amassed on the matter (some of you will have already seen this material at some time or other).

This time my thoughts are on the subject of election in John’s gospel. John’s gospel has a rich seam of ‘prooftexts’ for a view of election that sees God as eternally electing particular individuals and ensuring that they will never apostatize. Over the past few years I have become convinced that a close reading of John’s gospel itself just will not support the theology of election that has been drawn from these prooftexts.

John presents us with a theology in which everyone who genuinely comes to Christ comes because the Father has given that person to Christ. They are given by means of the Father’s sovereign work in drawing the person, not because the Father foresaw the person’s own individual decision. Christ will not turn away or cast out any who are given to Him by the Father.

All of those who have been entrusted to Christ’s care by the Father — head for head — will be raised up on the last day. Christ is the good Shepherd. He lays down His life for the sheep. He will not allow anyone to snatch the sheep from His hands. He will go off in search of the wanderer in order to bring that one back to Himself. Even when the sheep are to be scattered, He will pray for those entrusted to His care that their faith would not fail.

These words teach us that, as long as our lives are in Christ’s hands, we are as safe as we could be. However, these verses are part of a bigger picture in which the Father does not merely give people into the care of His Son but also removes people from the care of His Son. The teaching of John 6:37ff often seems to be held at the expense of the teaching of such passages as John 15:1ff.

John 15:1-2 teaches us that the Father (the vinedresser) takes away from Christ (the vine) branches that consistently fail to bear fruit. Whilst there is good reason to believe that the Father is patient in this process and generally waits for some time before removing a branch, we cannot deny that branches that have been ‘in Christ’ are genuinely removed.

How does this fit in with the teaching of passages such as John 6:37ff.? It is not that difficult to reconcile the teaching of these different passages when we step back from certain assumptions. For example, John’s gospel does not give support to the idea that the Father’s giving of people to Christ is something that takes place in ‘eternity past’. The Father’s giving of people to Christ is an occurrence in human history.

How then do we reconcile the teaching of these different passages? The Father is the One who entrusts people to His Son; the Father is also the One who removes people from His Son’s care. Christ does not lose anyone who has been entrusted to Him by the Father. No one snatches these people from the Son’s hands. It is not the Father’s will that any person He has entrusted to the Son should be lost and the Son does not fail to fulfil this. He guards, preserves and prays for all of those who have been given to Him by the Father. However, the fact that the Father can remove people from Christ’s care should never be forgotten. It is not Christ who removes people from the vine, but the Father, the vinedresser.

This is a robustly ‘ecclesial’ doctrine of election. Those who have been given to Christ by the Father are not the elect from eternity past (presuming, for the sake of argument, that such a group even exists) but those who have been brought into union with Christ in history. Amongst this number there are those who will not persevere in union with Christ and will be removed by the Father. When Christ lays down His life for the sheep He is not laying down His life for the elect from eternity past. Rather, He dies for those who have been given to Him by the Father. This group is the Church, understood as the community of disciples, to which more will be added in the future and others removed.

The group of those that have been given to Christ by the Father is not a static and unchanging number. This is implied in a number of different places. For example, in John 17:20 we see an implied contrast between the ones who have been given to Christ by the Father and those who will believe on Christ through their word (perhaps implying that they are yet to be given to Christ by the Father).

I believe that the Johannine picture of election is far more complex than that which many people hold and many others react to. As Peter Leithart points out, the Johannine picture of election is one in which apostates are just as chosen as anyone else. The Johannine doctrine of election is one in which Judas is just as much one ‘given’ to Jesus by the Father as John himself is (John 17:12).

James Jordan, N.T. Wright, and Double Resurrection

James Jordan has argued that the Scriptures teach two resurrections and justifications. The final justification is a justification that includes the person’s works and is only possible once the first justification has taken place. We cannot do any good works until the initial justification has taken place. In support of this notion Jordan cites Numbers 19. In Numbers 19, when a person has become contaminated through contact with a corpse, they go through two stages of purification. They are purified on the third day and on the seventh day their purification is completed with a final purification and baptism (quite possibly the ‘baptism for the dead’ referred to in 1 Corinthians 15; certainly the most likely contender in my estimation).

Most contemporary Christians would believe that such a passage is far too obscure to play any role in our doctrine of justification and that Paul’s theology never could have been informed by such a thing. This is the natural response for Protestants, who have very little time for liturgy. The assumption is that the ‘Bible’ is the only place where God’s revelation of saving truths is to be found. There are a number of problems with this notion. Chief among them is the fact that what we call the ‘Bible’ is a relatively recent creation. The people of God of previous ages encountered the Scriptures in the form of liturgical performance not as we do, by reading words off the pages of our mass-produced, privately-owned Bibles. It should not surprise us that, approaching the Scriptures as they do, most modern Christians make little sense out of it.

Once we appreciate this, we will need to reweight the significance of different parts of the Scriptures. The book of Leviticus, for example, is one of the most important books in the OT canon. Obscure as it may seem to us, the book of Leviticus shaped the daily worship of Israel. You will not really understand books like Romans until you have grasped something of the message of Leviticus.

Numbers 19 is a good example of a text that seems insignificant to us, but would have been many times more significant to an Israelite. In a time of higher mortality, when death was not something that took place away from the context of life in modern hospital wards, people would be far more likely to come into contact with corpses. The Israelite who came in contact with a corpse would have to go through the week long ritual of Numbers 19. Living out such a biblical text for a week’s period of time at a moment that was most probably one of profound personal transition following the death of a friend or relative would likely cause Numbers 19 to leave a far deeper impression on your consciousness than it does for the modern reader of the book of Numbers. One would not regard Numbers 19 as an obscure text.

Numbers 19 presents us with a baptismal resurrection. The person who has become unclean through contact with a corpse is separated from the realm of fellowship with God and is symbolically dead as a consequence of his contact with the dead body. They are only restored to the life of fellowship with God through a baptism.

Jordan insists that the ‘resurrection’ of the third day, whilst analogous to the ‘resurrection’ of the seventh day, is a distinct event. It does not ‘participate’ in the resurrection of the seventh day. The third day justification is not a case of the seventh day justification being brought forward into the present. Nor, for that matter, is the seventh day justification merely a reiteration, recognition or validation of the third day justification.

Jordan argues that Jesus’ original hearers would have heard the background of Numbers 19 when Jesus claimed that He would be raised on the third day. They would not have believed that there was only one resurrection awaiting them in the future (or, if they did, they shouldn’t have). Rather, they would have expected two resurrections, an initial one and a later final and consummative one. The NT teaching of two resurrections in such places as John 5 and Revelation 20 was not, therefore, a theological novelty (whilst Jordan does not believe that the first resurrection in these passages refers to quite the same thing, they can be seen as evidence for his basic point). There is an initial resurrection, followed by a later, final resurrection.

The pattern of two justifications is something that Jordan does not merely see in Numbers 19. One can also see this pattern in the sacrifices of Israel as the tribute/memorial offering, in which human works can be presented to and accepted by God on the basis of the earlier sacrifices. One can see it in Christian worship in the relationship between Baptism, which is initial justification, and the Eucharist, which foreshadows final justification in which our works are taken into account (symbolically presented to God in the bringing forward of the bread and the wine and own offerings in the offertory).

Jordan contrasts his position to that of N.T. Wright, claiming that Wright shares the same error as most Reformed approaches, which presume that justification is one event. Whilst most Reformed approaches see final justification merely as a reiteration of present justification, Wright errs by seeing present justification as being based on the bringing forward of future justification through the work of Christ. As Wright argues, what the Jews had expected to take place at the end of history had taken place in the middle of history in the case of one Person.

I have yet to be convinced that Jordan’s position is as far removed from Wright’s position as he generally presents it to be. Jordan claims that Wright holds to only one justification and that he holds to two, the first apart from works and the second including the person with all of his works. Jordan presents Wright as holding to a position in which God plays games with time, by bringing the future into the present.

I believe that this a misleading way to portray Wright’s position. Wright’s position is rather that the single future event of justification has taken place ahead of time in the case of one Person. There is no monkeying with time here. On the basis of this ‘bringing forward’ of the event of justification we can enjoy a present justification on the basis of faith, the positive verdict corresponding with a later verdict on the last day that will be delivered on the basis of the whole life lived.

The point where Wright might seem to be suggesting that God is tinkering with time is better understood as a claim that the future event is already present in principle — or in embryo — in the case of Jesus Christ and that we participate in an event that awaits us in the future as we are united to Jesus Christ. There is a single event of justification, which has different stages to it. There are not ultimately two separate justifications, but two phases of the one justification. This, it seems to me, is perfectly biblical as well. If justification is to be seen in the event of the resurrection of the dead, then it seems that we have to acknowledge that we are talking about a single event with different stages, not two separate events. Christ is the firstfruits of the event, which for us largely awaits us in the future. This future event is truly anticipated as we are united to Christ in Baptism. I think that Wright is correct to hold that there is ultimately only one justification, with plurality to be found within it. I also believe that his claim that the end of history has taken place in the middle of history is essentially true, provided that we add the proper qualifications and do not presume a meddling with time on God’s part.

On the other hand, it seems to me that Jordan is perfectly right to claim that there are plenty of OT reasons to argue that justification was not regarded as a single event awaiting Israel at one point at the end of history (although I would like to see some evidence from extra-canonical Second Temple Jewish texts that people actually held what Jordan argues is the OT position). A plurality of phases to the one justification was not a surprising development of OT belief in the NT, but was anticipated in many and varied ways in the OT text. Wright is wrong to see a two-stage justification as a teaching peculiar to the NT.

The weight of Wright’s understanding of justification is placed on a single event of justification, which, surprisingly (in the light of Christ’s resurrection), has two separate phases. The weight of common Reformed understandings of justification seems to be placed on a single event of justification that takes place by faith on the basis of the death and resurrection of Christ and will be reiterated in the future. Wright disagrees with such a position in its failure to give proper weight to a future justification on the basis of the whole life lived as essential to the single event of justification.

I believe that Wright would take issue with Jordan’s position in other ways. I imagine that he would argue that Jordan detaches the two phases of justification too sharply. Rather than seeing the future justification as already having occurred in principle but yet to be fully realized in our cases, Jordan’s position sometimes seems to present justification in the present as an event to which a future event must be added. It is the idea of future justification as the addition of a new justification separate from the present justification that Wright would take issue with. Future justification for Wright is rather the consummation of the single event that is already present in embryo through the resurrection of Christ. It is a distinct phase of the single event, but the event itself cannot be split into two events.

I believe that both Jordan and Wright have important things to teach us here. I believe that Jordan’s treatment of OT evidence is helpful and can serve to counteract some of the weaknesses of Wright’s position on that front. Jordan’s position is also useful in counteracting the weak view of the final judgment in relation to justification that one finds in many Reformed contexts. Whilst I believe that his stress on two events of justification goes a little too far, the idea of justification having two distinct — albeit closely interrelated — phases is very helpful and can help to balance Wright out a bit.

On the other hand, I think that Wright is correct to teach the unity of justification. Present justification by faith is an accurate anticipation of future justification according to works and is in many senses a bringing forward of the final verdict. Although the fullness of the event of resurrection and justification await us in the future, this will involve conforming to what has already become true of Christ. For that reason, the resurrection of the ’seventh day’ is already anticipated in the resurrection of the ‘third day’. Wright also clearly distinguishes present justification from final justification, even whilst closely interrelating them.

I think that some questions remain for Wright’s position, that could be helped by some of the emphases that one find in Jordan. Wright helpfully sees the future verdict of final justification as being present in the vindication of Christ in His resurrection. Jordan does not like any “already/not yet” approach to understanding redemptive history that would suggest that the future comes into the present in Christ, or anything like that. “Already/not yet” for Jordan is understood in terms of a linear timeline in which the future breaking into the present has little place.

I do not share Jordan’s position on this matter and believe that a purely linear account of redemptive history is insufficient. However, I believe that a linear approach to redemptive history is an essential perspective that must be retained and is too easily neglected. Without denying that the future has in some sense arrived in the present, we can see redemptive history as a continuing progression with stages that have yet to take place.

However, and this point is crucial, redemptive history can truly be viewed, not so much a progression beyond Christ’s resurrection, as a progression into Christ’s resurrection (I am not sure that Wright does justice to this either). This is where the “already/not yet” approach has so much to offer us. History is cyclical as well as linear. History is taken up in the resurrected Christ. What awaits us in the future is a full entry into something that has already taken place. This full entry will involve new redemptive historical events, but there is an important sense in which these events are not events that involve any progression beyond what has already taken place in Christ. It is this point that Jordan fails to do full justice to, whilst presenting us with the oft-forgotten perspective in which redemptive history involves a genuine progression beyond the resurrection.

Jim West on N.T. Wright

Dr. Jim West asks why Wright is so famous and gets so much attention whilst other insightful scholars are overlooked. In a slightly uncharitable (but humorous) assessment, Dr. West comments that Wright “reads, he regurgitates it into the open mouths of the waiting, joyously anticipating flock of hatchlings huddled together in his safe, warm, dry, nest of exegetical certainty, and he makes an awful lot of money doing it.” There is more truth in that characterization of Wright’s followers than some of us would like to admit (even though the characterization of Wright himself seems to me to be trifle unfair). Hopefully most of us read relatively widely in other scholars and do not take Wright on board uncritically.

So why does Wright get so much attention and other thought-provoking scholars so little? I have given some brief thoughts that immediately came to mind in the comments on Dr. West’s post. Does anyone else have any thoughts?

[And on the subject of Wright, I was intending to post my next audio talk yesterday. That didn't quite work out, but I will do it as soon as I can.]

New N.T. Wright Blog

ntwrites.com

Wright Questions Please!

Over the next week or two I hope to follow up my talk on Wright’s understanding of Jesus with talks on his understanding of Paul. Within those talks I will particularly focus on Wright’s understanding of justification. My aim is to preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright by exploring his theology on its own terms. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary responding to the critics.

I intend to conclude this series of talks with a talk responding to any burning questions that people might have regarding Wright’s work on Jesus and Paul, or even about the man himself. If anyone has such questions please send them to me. If you have encountered a particular criticism of Wright and you are not sure how best to answer it, if there is an aspect of his thought that simply puzzles you, if you want clarification of his position on a particular matter, please leave your question. You can write them in the comments of this post or my audio posts, or send them to my e-mail address. I will try to answer the best questions in my final talk. The best questions will be searching, relevant, helpful and of interest to a number of listeners. Critics of Wright are especially welcome.

In Which Alastair Posts his First Audio…

Rubens - The Descent from the Cross (c.1611)

I have just recorded a talk on the subject of N.T. Wright’s understanding of Jesus. Hopefully I will follow it up with some talk on Paul and Wright’s critics.

I am not particularly pleased with it, but have decided to put it online nonetheless. I am not gifted at speaking and far prefer writing. Here it is. Please e-mail me if there are any problems with it. I haven’t listened to the recording all the way through, nor have I checked that it has uploaded properly (due to the fact that I don’t have access to broadband at present). I would also appreciate feedback and any constructive criticism that people might have.

N.T. Wright — The Real Story

OK, I admit it, I just gave the official story — you know, the one that they want you to believe. If you want to discover the true N.T. Wright, Jon Mackenzie is the man to read.

Wright and Infant Baptism

I have been asked on more than one occasion how Wright can hold to his high view of Baptism. What seems to make his view even less tolerable in many people’s eyes is the fact that he is strongly in favour of the practice of infant Baptism. In conversation with some people yesterday the suggestion was made that one can reject Wright’s position on infant Baptism and infant faith and retain the rest of his thought more or less intact. I am not so sure.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that Wright only mentions the practice of infant Baptism on a couple of occasions in his writings and may not even have given the issue any focused study, I believe that infant Baptism is strongly implied by a number of different aspects of his thought. A denial of infant Baptism will always risk compromising Wright’s theological project on a number of levels. Whilst I am not suggesting that there is nothing that a convinced Baptist could consistently take from Wright’s project — far from it — I am concerned that Wright’s paedobaptist position is seen by many to be an Anglican appendage. It is not; it is closely related to much of what he has said about Jesus and Paul, even if he has not traced these implications himself in his writings. We should always be wary of identifying appendages in the thought of smart theologians. Generally they are just following theological instincts that we have just not become attuned to.

Within this post I want to briefly list some of the ways in which Wright’s theology might be seen to imply the existence of infant faith and the legitimacy of infant Baptism.

1. His definition of faith. Within Wright’s theology one sees an attempt to broaden our definition of faith. The Protestant tradition has all too easily fallen prey to definitions of faith that work in terms of a dichotomy between inner feeling and outer ritual or between sincerity and outward conformity. Modernism has also affected our definition of faith in a number of other ways. Modernism has sharp dichotomies between internal and external, private and public, individual and communal and religious and political. Christian faith comes to be defined as something that is internal, private, individual and religious as opposed to something external, public, communal and political.

Within the context of modernity it is the concept of the autonomous individual, who is the source of his own values and identity, which holds sway. Faith is understood in the light of this. Baptist thought is very modern in its philosophical impulses. The problem is that Paul did not share our dichotomies. As Wright has often observed, Paul’s gospel obliterates our tidy modern political/religious dichotomy.

Wright broadens the definition of faith. He moves beyond the faith as internal disposition versus works as external action approach. He moves our definition of faith more in the direction of faithfulness, loyalty, fealty and allegiance. One’s loyalties are often public, political and external realities. Infants are not immune from loyalties. Infants are born into settings where strong bonds of loyalty exist. Infants are implicated in the loyalties of their parents.

Evangelicals tend to operate in terms of a private heart faith that demands a greater degree of knowledge and rules out infants. However, loyalty is more of a public reality that needs to become integrated with heart loyalty as one matures over time. It seems to me that the first century Christian would have regarded the modern evangelical understanding of faith as very narrow. It does not include outward faithfulness, allegiance in a more political sense, it rules out the faith of infants and the faith of those who have a loyalty to Christ or to the Church with little or any knowledge to back it up (the sort of faith that most Christians prior to the Reformation had). Clearly the later form of faith is far from ideal, the faith of infants immature, and outward faithfulness and a more political allegiance often insufficient, but that does not mean that they are never genuine forms of faith, even of saving faith.

I don’t see why genuine Christian faith need involve a ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’. We can relate to people through others and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that God does just that. God regards the children of believers as ‘holy’ (i.e. set apart for divine use, not merely ‘clean’) and the children of unbelievers as ‘unclean’. God is a ‘family friend’, as it were. No infant is neutral.

We can also relate to Christ through His people. Saul persecuted Christ by persecuting His people. In Matthew 25 we see people declared righteous as they show a form of Christian faith by the way that they treat Christ’s people. They relate to Christ in His people, even though they do not know it. I believe that there are many who will be declared righteous on the last day, who knew little about Christ, but were loyal to His Church. The Nicene Creed, one of the basic declarations of Christian faith, has the Church itself as an object of faith, along with the Holy Trinity. Evangelicals, who focus on faith in Christ as distinct from His Church, do not do this enough justice. The infant relates to Christ through its Christian parent, which it relies upon for everything.

I see no reason to presume any knowledge on the part of the Christian infant in order to claim that they have a form of genuine faith. When Paul calls for allegiance to the world’s new Lord, Jesus the Messiah, he is not looking for a faith that is any less of a public reality than that which a new emperor would demand. Only when we have accepted the modernist religion/politics, public/private divide and placed Christian faith firmly on the private religion side of the equation will we have problems with the concept of household Baptism, for example. If the gospel really is as political as Wright is arguing household Baptism is the most natural thing in the world.

The important question that we must ask about infants is the object of their faith. It would be thoroughly inappropriate to baptize a newborn infant whose faith was not in Christ. However, there is no doubt that a child born into a faithful Christian family has genuine Christian faith. This faith may end up proving temporary, but it is still a real form of faith and the infant should not be held back from Baptism.

2. Opposition to gathered church mentality. Wright’s opposition to the gathered church mentality is another issue here. Baptists generally focus on the sort of faith that is mature, visible and obvious. Such faith is to be encouraged, but it is not the only form of faith. The rigorism of Baptist ecclesiology leads to the exclusion of many genuine believers. People like Wright are more prepared to recognize faith where it is found — even when ignorant, immature or compromised — and try to bring it to maturity and purer expression. Rigorism makes the Church into a closed sect, whereas the welcome of Jesus was far wider. In Wright’s mind establishing leaders in the Church that can exercise the authority of Scripture with power is far more important than a rigorism concerning the Church’s membership.

3. Challenging Caesar. Wright holds to a high ecclesiology. He believes that the Church is like the colony of a new empire. Baptists think in terms of a voluntaristic Church. They presume that a ‘voluntaristic’ Church is synonymous with a ‘faithful’ Church. However, Caesar isn’t really challenged by a ‘voluntaristic’ Church. A ‘voluntaristic’ Church is a sect, not a new society.

Oliver O’Donovan, an old friend of Wright, expresses this point very well in criticizing John Howard Yoder:

Finally, does the concept of the church as a voluntary society not commend itself chiefly because it fits late-modern expectations of how civil society will be organized? Is Yoder, in the name of non-conformity, not championing a great conformism, lining the church up with the sports clubs, friendly societies, colleges, symphony subscription-guilds, political parties and so on, just to prove that the church offers late-modern order no serious threat? [The Desire of the Nations, p.223f.]

It seems to me that Wright’s claims about the political character of the Church as a colony of Christ really stand in direct opposition to Baptist ecclesiology. Even the more communitarian understandings of Anabaptism fall short of Wright’s vision. The idea of the Church as a colony has a far thicker sense in Wright’s work than it ever can in the context of a Baptist ecclesiology.

4. Connection between circumcision and Baptism. This is a connection that Wright makes on a number of occasions in his works. Wright has also suggested that this is one of the arguments that he would use to support the practice of infant Baptism. Circumcision was a seal of the righteousness of faith, but yet it was perfectly appropriate to give it to infants, who were not considered as detached individuals, but as persons implicated in the faith of their parents.

5. Christ’s reconstitution of Israel and humanity. Wright strongly argues that Jesus sought to reconstitute Israel around Himself. The Church is formed through the waters of Baptism. A reconstitution of Israel and a new humanity that excludes infants is a mockery. Wright stresses the ‘peopleness’ of the Church. The Church is an outward and visible family solidarity analogous to Israel. Baptism strips off old solidarities and places us within a new one and changes our sets of allegiances. Baptism forms a new society. We are baptized into one new body. Baptism is like birth into the community of Christ’s faith where we gain a new family; it is not just an expression of our individual faith.

Baptists tend to downplay the significance of Israel in our understanding of the Church. There is a sharp discontinuity between the type of society that Israel was and the type of society that the Church is. Such a sharp discontinuity is very hard to maintain once one has accepted Wright’s reading of Jesus’ ministry. The Church is a reconstitution of Israel around the Messiah, not a different type of society altogether. Baptists can only really speak of the ‘Israelness’ of the Church at a highly metaphorical level.

6. Christ’s Ministry. Following on from the point above, it is worth noticing that Wright points out that miracles occur in the context of faith and also that they are part of the means whereby God reconstitutes His people. Two facts are interesting here: (1) on a number of occasions Jesus heals people on the account of the faith of their parents or masters (e.g. Mark 5:22ff.; Luke 9:38ff.; John 4:47ff.); (2) Children are often the beneficiaries of Christ’s healing (e.g. Mark 7:25ff.). This suggests that the reconstitution of the people of God around Christ is one that includes children and also that they are in some sense included in the faith of their parents.

It is also interesting that Jesus repeatedly speaks of children as the paradigm case of those who receive the kingdom. When we recognize that Jesus was reforming Israel around Himself, His blessing of infants, for example, becomes even more significant (it is worth observing how loaded the concept of blessing is in the gospel; it is no light thing). If we read the gospels through the framework presented by Wright such incidents cannot but be seen as significant.

N.T. Wright: A Biography

N.T. Wright in Action

Nicholas Thomas Wright was born in Morpeth, Northumberland in 1948 and was raised in the context of middle Anglicanism. From before the age of seven or eight he already felt called to go into Christian ministry. Growing up, Wright had an interest in music and sports, interests that he retains to this day. He is a gifted pianist and also plays other instruments, such as the jazz trombone and guitar. Educated at Sedbergh School, then in Yorkshire, he specialized in Classics. As an undergraduate he studied Classics at Exeter College, Oxford. During that period he heard John Wenham give a talk on the need for Christians committed to the authority of Scripture in the world of theological scholarship. Prior to this point Wright had been heading in the direction of parish ministry. After listening to Wenham’s talk, Wright knew that God wanted him to be an academic.

During this period, Wright was very much operating within the context of theologically Reformed Anglican evangelicalism and he speaks of the way in which he regarded any books not published by very conservative evangelical publishers as suspect. Wright was an office-holder in the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union and, together with three others wrote a book that was published by the Banner of Truth Trust with the title The Grace of God in the Gospel, articulating classic five-point Calvinism. Wright recently commented that he was learning about the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility at that time, but that he wouldn’t write the same book again today.

After graduating, Wright went on to train for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. It was around this time that Wright married his wife Maggie. In 1973 he gained a first class honours degree in Theology and in 1975, an M.A. and was ordained as a deacon. In 1976 he was ordained as a priest.

Wright remarks that, when he began his theological studies, he presumed that he needed to read the right books in order to come up with the correct answers. However, as he immersed himself in the biblical text itself he was ‘so gripped with the excitement of exegesis’ that he began to be less concerned about always coming up with the expected ‘sound’ evangelical answers. He began to come to the conviction that his evangelical background was often characterized by sloppy thinking, despite all of its claims to be biblical and that the questions that the Scripture is primarily concerned with are not always the same as those which have preoccupied the evangelical tradition. He writes:

I continue to respect the Reformers, and men like Charles Simeon, of 200 years ago, John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, and whose work in a variety of ways created space for me to do things differently. Where I disagree with them it is because I have done what they told me to: to read Scripture and emerge with a more biblical theology. The evangelical tradition at its best encourages critique from within. It sends us back to the Scripture which stands over against all traditions, our own included.

Concerned that evangelicalism was far too driven by historical debates and party lines rather than by Scripture, Wright became more concerned with arriving at biblical answers than with arriving at traditional evangelical answers. Without turning his back on evangelicalism, Wright came to believe that the evangelical tradition was in need of re-examination in the light of Scripture on a number of issues.

As one reads Wright’s works one will soon recognize that Wright’s chief aim is not that of voicing a traditional evangelical party line. Whilst Wright speaks out strongly against liberalism and against a number of aspects of Roman Catholicism — his book For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed, being a good example of the latter — one also finds that Wright is frequently critical of evangelicalism, claiming that it has failed to do justice to the text of Scripture. One also finds Wright openly advocating as biblical positions that conservative evangelicals have traditionally strongly opposed, such as the ordination of women priests and bishops.

Wright is particularly critical of evangelicalism’s tendency to equate justification by faith with justification by inner personal religion to the exclusion of the Church and the sacraments, and its opposition of inward faith to outward performances. He argues that evangelicalism has all too easily read Paul’s teaching on justification through the lenses provided by existentialism and romanticism. The faith/works opposition becomes a matter of inner feeling over outward ritual, or sincerity over conformity to external rules.

From his earliest writings Wright has made clear that he believes that the tendency of evangelicalism to adopt a merely functional ecclesiology is deeply at odds with the Scriptures, constitutes a betrayal of the teaching of the Reformers and that it has led to misreadings of Paul on a number of issues. For example, Wright has long argued that the Scriptures teach that Baptism genuinely unites us to Christ and grants us a new status in Him. Even though Wright qualifies such statements in various ways, and seeks to maintain the necessity of faith, this still troubles many evangelicals, many of whom are wary of attributing too much to the sacrament. In adopting this position Wright sees himself as struggling to be faithful to Scripture, even when this necessitates swimming against the flow of much traditional evangelical thought on this issue. He is also convinced that evangelical convictions are quite congruent with a robust doctrine of the Church and the sacraments. While Wright strongly resists any suggestion that Baptism converts or automatically grants possession of eternal life, he insists that Baptism is nonetheless an event in which God is at work, delivering people from a realm of bondage and graciously knitting them into a new family, setting them apart with a new role to play in fulfilling God’s purposes for His creation.

Wright has had an interest in ecumenical dialogue for many years. In 1975 he was a delegate at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches. He writes of the experience:—

…if we are to come together as Christians it will not be by watering down everything until there is so little left that we can all agree on it. It will be by all of us learning more and more of Christ, and of the truth about him, so that we can grow closer to each other because we are closer to him.

I have seen this work out in practice. When I was a delegate at the 1975 Assembly of the World Council of Churches I found over and over again that it was when we said what we really meant, expressing ourselves and our viewpoints most clearly, that real fellowship and trust came about — not when we hid the light of truth under a bushel of tolerance. [Small Faith—Great God, p.80]

Wright has long been convinced of the need for ecumenical dialogue and believes that Catholic and Protestant debates have tended to be framed in terms of an unhelpful and ‘simplistic polarization’. The following quote is from a booklet entitled ‘Evangelical Anglican Identity’, written by Wright in 1980.

For the moment we note that the ‘spectrum’ which places Catholics and Protestants at poles apart from one another is potentially misleading: for as soon as we ask ‘what is it that you are attempting to safeguard’, both sides (at any rate, those who know their onions) will reply ‘genuine, biblical, God-centred Christianity’. It is a curious fact, which first came to the notice of many people with the publication of Growing Into Union, that ‘Catholics’ and ‘Protestants’ have each traditionally suspected the other of Pelagianism.

It is therefore imperative to distinguish between the biblical insights of Catholicism and Protestantism and the purely polemical positions which either side has felt obliged to construct, over and above biblical evidence, to safeguard those insights from attack. And, having made that distinction, it is important to bring together the biblical insights of each side with a larger framework that will do justice to each. This enormous task, I believe, is of considerable urgency for the church, though the present essay can do no more than point in a few directions in which the task might be accomplished.

At the same time, we will want to insist that some positions taken up not for polemical but for devotional or dogmatic reasons are simply wrong; examples might include Mariolatry or ‘Benediction’ on the Catholic side and the doctrinaire insistence on the Textus Receptus and the Authorized Version which is becoming common on the Protestant side. In other words, we must work towards a framework of thought within which the strong points of both sides can be included and from which the weak points — symptoms that understanding has been distorted, or has not been complete — can be excluded. It will no longer do to work with the assumption that Protestant principles by themselves — or Catholic ones, for that matter! — will automatically safeguard the gospel. We cannot assume, as some do today, that our problems are an exact ‘action replay’ of the sixteenth century, calling simply for a few modern Luthers to stop the Pope and all his works. On the contrary, to become more ‘Protestant’ may in fact mean becoming more man-centred, not less, as we shall see presently. We must beware too of the non-theological reasons often underlying polemical positions. Rome is often seen by Englishmen as the foreign invader, now happily repulsed but always threatening to return: and Catholics often base their picture of Protestants on American ‘hot-gospellers’ and Ian Paisley.

Our earlier remarks about nature and grace suggest that the church must be marked both by historical continuity and by a readiness to submit to God’s judgment, to admit error, to sit under the Word and learn fresh truth from it. This is, of course, a programme for large-scale ecumenical thought and action: for our present purposes we note that it is also a call for evangelical Anglicans to rethink traditional attitudes about the church, and bring them more into line with the Bible and the Gospel.

Wright frequently presents his theology as a means by which we can move beyond old debates and do justice to the biblical concerns of both parties. Whilst he is quite critical of a number of positions found within Roman Catholicism, he is prepared to enter into appreciative dialogue with Roman Catholics and believes that Protestants have much to gain from such theological engagement. Due to Wright’s ecumenical approach and his willingness to question traditional evangelical positions in the light of Scripture, many of his readings of Paul and the gospels are surprising and fresh and do not fit tidily into any side of traditional debates.

Wright is a very Anglican type of evangelical, believing that a high view of the institutional church is not merely compatible with evangelical convictions, but also the most consistent way of upholding those convictions. Wright is not just an evangelical who happens to be Anglican. He does not sit loose to his Anglicanism. He comments that he ‘wobbled once or twice’ as a student and wondered whether he ought to be elsewhere, but he was soon persuaded that he was in the right place.

In the context of the seventies, the tension between Anglican and nonconformist Reformed evangelicals was becoming quite pronounced. There was a crisis in conservative evangelical identity and Wright situated himself firmly on the Anglican side of the growing divide. On the one side of the divide there were men like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who looked for evangelicals to separate themselves from doctrinally mixed denominations and come together. On the other side there were men like J.I. Packer and John Stott who opposed this movement and believed in the importance of developing a wider fellowship of Christians.

J.I. Packer’s involvement in ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics particularly troubled many nonconformist evangelicals. For Wright and other Anglican evangelicals such ecumenical dialogue was an important element of evangelical mission. These diverging visions for evangelical identity provide an important background for understanding some of the problems that nonconformist evangelicals have with the work of Wright. Both sides of the evangelical divide were concerned that the other was compromising evangelicalism. For many nonconformist evangelicals the ecumenicalism of Packer and others and their refusal to abandon a compromised institutional church was threatening the gospel. For many Anglican evangelicals it was the separationism and low view of the institutional Church among nonconformist evangelicals that was the real threat to the gospel.

These tensions within evangelicalism can be seen in a number of Wright’s works prior to 1980. In his article ‘Justification: The Biblical Basis and its Relevance for Contemporary Evangelicalism’, Wright warns of the ‘watery semi-Baptist theology which has been creeping into evangelical Anglicanism over the last decade or two.’ Wright also criticizes the doctrine of separation in this quote from his 1978 book, Small Faith—Great God:

You see [walking by sight] in many people’s attitude to the church. I don’t find in the New Testament any suggestion that the visible church ought to be composed of guaranteed one-hundred-per-cent soundly converted keen Christians. If it had been, half of the epistles would not have been necessary. Yet people are always hankering after a false security, such as you would get from belonging to a church that could be seen to be all right, seen to be ‘sound’…seen? We walk by faith, not by sight. Any attempt to get a purer church, or Christian life, than we have been promised this side of heaven, runs the risk of attempting to base security, assurance of salvation, on something other than the free grace and love of God. [104]

Whilst there were deep differences of vision for evangelical identity between Anglican and nonconformist conservative evangelicals at this time, it should not be presumed that this was always accompanied by personal animosity. Wright speaks warmly of people such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones. On one occasion in the seventies he was asked to review one of volumes of Lloyd-Jones’ Romans sermons. Having read the book, he contacted Lloyd-Jones to inform him that he was writing a review and had some disagreements with him and asked if it would be possible to discuss them with him in person, before he wrote the review. They met and Wright describes Lloyd-Jones as being very gracious in his interaction.

Wright has sought to engage with a wide range of conversation partners, both within and without the Church. Wright sees this broad engagement as part and parcel of the evangelical vocation. The Church must not regard itself as having already arrived, but must bear its witness to Christ in the world in such a way that it is open to learn new things from others, both within and without the Church. Christians must also discover points of contact with the world and develop its Christian witness on such a basis. Wright seeks to find common ground with people from all sorts of backgrounds and seeks constructive dialogue on this basis. The fact that Wright engages with many different audiences and seeks to work on the basis of the common ground that he shares with each can lead many evangelicals to perceive him as fuzzy, non-committal or ambiguous on certain important truths.

Wright has consistently refused to limit his audience to a select few genuine believers within the Church. Consequently much of his work reads very differently from the works of his Reformed and evangelical counterparts. In training for the ministry, Wright was advised to choose between pastoral work and scholarship. He was not prepared to do this. He tries to hold the world of the academy and the world of the Church together, believing that both have suffered from being separated from each other. He sees Christian engagement in scholarship as part and parcel of the Church’s mission to the world.

As Wright’s work addresses a broader audience, he cannot always assume the same shared convictions of his audience that conservative evangelical biblical theology and dogmatic theology do. The type of historical writing that Wright produces should not be confused with the biblical theological writings that many of his conservative readers are more familiar with. This is particularly significant in regard to his work on Jesus. When Wright does not explicitly base his arguments on the authority of Scripture, we should recognize that this is not a luxury that he has as an historian; it is not an indication of weakness of conviction on this issue. For instance, some have read Wright’s treatment of the virgin conception in dialogue with Marcus Borg and have concluded that he is being purposefully evasive, as they did not hear the sort of affirmation that they are accustomed to hearing from the conservative biblical and dogmatic theologians. Wright still believes and openly affirms the truth of the creed, but when writing as an historian he cannot provide the assertions that such people are looking for, nor can he take the absolute authority and reliability of the Scriptures as a methodological presupposition.

This is not unrelated to the different visions that Anglican evangelicals and nonconformist evangelicals have for evangelical identity and mission. Wright is concerned that some Christians so emphasize Christian distinctness that they can no longer communicate in the public square of the wider culture. On the other hand, he is aware of the danger merely submitting to the assumptions of the culture and failing to maintain a critical distance. In seeking to minister both within the context of the wider Church and the context of the academy, Wright addresses audiences that most nonconformist evangelicals have separated themselves from.

We should be aware of the manner in which Wright’s more scholarly work is shaped by this. Things that evangelicals take for granted cannot be taken for granted in the public realm of theological scholarship. For example, many scholars have questioned the degree to which we can rely upon John’s gospel in forming a picture of Jesus. Many academics also doubt the Pauline authorship of books such as Ephesians and the pastoral letters, and these books are generally downplayed to some degree or other when people are exploring Pauline theology.

Wright knows that, if he is going to address the academic world of theological scholarship, he must do so with one arm tied behind his back. Whilst he frequently questions the assumptions that result in the sidelining of books such as John’s Gospel, he feels that he must work within the limitations of the discipline as it currently stands. Consequently, his major work on Jesus primarily rests upon the synoptics and his scholarly work on Paul generally gives greater weight to the testimony of the works that are widely accepted as Pauline. His work also uses a lot of inter-testamental and extra-canonical sources. I think that it is important that we question whether this weighting of sources has led to any distortion in Wright’s portrait of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Perhaps one of the things that will most concern many evangelical readers of Wright is his willingness to accept widespread critical theories in biblical scholarship concerning the dating and authors of such books as Daniel and Isaiah.

From 1975 to 1978 Wright was a Junior Research Fellow and College Tutor in Theology in Merton College, Oxford, later becoming Junior Chaplain and Acting Lecturer in Theology. From 1978 to 1981 he was a Fellow and Chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge and College Tutor in Theology. In 1981 received his doctoral degree for his thesis, entitled ‘The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans’, his thesis supervisor being Professor G.B. Caird.

This period was a very important one for the development of Wright’s view of Paul. By the end of 1980 the heart of his reading of Paul that we will be studying in the next lecture was already present in broad outline. Over the years prior to his doctoral work, Wright had been coming to the conviction that the Apostle Paul’s agenda was quite different from those which motivated many evangelicals in their reading of him.

Wright comments that he first approached Romans 9-11 to address predestinarian controversies, but was soon persuaded that Paul’s concern lay elsewhere. A similar thing happened with Romans 7. Wright came to believe that Paul’s concern was not that of taking sides in a debate about sinless perfection, but that Romans 7 was chiefly about the state of Israel under the Law, or the Torah. As Wright’s work led him to closely examine the argument of Romans he increasingly realized how central the issue of Israel was to the entire work. Wright describes the development of his thought as follows:

I grew up as a somewhat typical middle-Anglican with a strong dash of evangelicalism, or put the other way around, I grew up in a Lutheran evangelicalism which left me with a strong antithesis between law and grace. I found this all profoundly unsatisfying until I met Calvin and Calvinism. I began to think, “Whew…the law is a good thing. It is holy and just and good. It is right and it has been fulfilled, not abrogated, in Christ.” All of that is right. So, if you are faced with a choice between Luther and Calvin, you simply have to choose Calvin.… What I then found, and believe me I tried very hard to do this, was that I couldn’t make the Calvinist reading of Galatians actually work. I was reading C.E.B. Cranfield on Romans and trying to see how it would work with Galatians, and it simply doesn’t work. Interestingly, Cranfield hasn’t done a commentary on Galatians. It’s very difficult. But I found then, and this was the mid-seventies before E.P. Sanders was published, before there was such a thing as a “new perspective,” that I came out with this reading of Romans 10:3 which is really the fulcrum for me around which everything else moved: “Being ignorant of the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own.”

In other words, what we have here is a covenant status which is for Jews and Jews only. I have a vivid memory of going home that night, sitting up in bed, reading Galatians through in Greek and thinking, “It works. It really works. This whole thing is going to fly.” And then all sorts of things just followed on from that. I mean Sanders was a great boost but he didn’t start this for me and he hasn’t given direction to what I did or was doing. It was more like Sanders was saying, “Actually first-century Judaism never was like what Luther said it was.”

Central to Wright’s doctoral thesis was the concept of the Davidic representative Messiahship. Jesus is the Christ, Israel’s representative king, the Messiah. This theme, explored in detail in works such as The Climax of the Covenant, is a very important one for our reading of Wright. In his thesis Wright presents this Christology as central to his new reading of Romans, a reading in which the question of Israel is at the heart of the whole book and cannot merely be reduced to a marginal concern of chapter 9-11.

In 1981, after he finished his doctorate, Wright went to Canada to teach NT at McGill. He was also involved in the Anglican College in Montreal. Wright speaks of this time as one in which he came to a deeper awareness of the importance of the Eucharist and begun to experience a powerful and fruitful relationship between his devotional life and involvement in the worship of the Church and his academic studies. This is a relationship that Wright has commented on within his works and in various interviews, arguing that he regards his devotion and intellectual study to be inseparable.

Wright’s time in Canada was a significant period of spiritual growth for him. He writes:

During my second year at McGill, I plunged into the deepest depression I’ve ever known. I wrestled in prayer, searched the scriptures, examined my conscience, and fell apart. I told my wife about it one night; the next morning, a letter arrived from a Christian psychotherapist who had felt an inexplicable but irresistible urge to write. I still have that letter. Over the next year I learned more about myself and my emotions than I had thought possible. If today I manage to function as a pastor, it is not least because I know something about pain. I know, too, that healing of memory and imagination is not just wishful thinking.

Six years later, as I prepared to teach a course on Jesus in his historical context, I realized what else had been happening. I combed through my notebooks for all my old jottings. All the most significant insights about Jesus I had ever had, particularly my deepest reflections on the crucifixion, were dated in that period of depression.

During Wright’s time in Canada he was also an observer and participant in ecumenical debates with Roman Catholics and worked on a commentary on the book of Colossians. It was through working on this commentary that Wright underwent what he describes as ‘the most significant change of my theological life’. Prior to that point Wright had claimed that Jesus was Lord of all, but had not applied this to the larger world of creation, culture and politics. From that point onwards Wright paid far more attention to the political dimensions of the gospel message.

Wright had already begun to have doubts about the simplistic divisions between politics and religion established by modernity before he ever got into NT scholarship. His first research project was on the early English Reformer, John Frith, who saw political and theological reformation as going hand in hand (Wright later edited the first full edition of Frith’s works). The politically-charged character of the Christian gospel is a prominent theme in many of Wright’s works. This theme has become even more pronounced in Wright’s works from the late 1990s onwards, through the influence of writers such as Richard Horsley.

In 1986 Wright returned to Oxford, where he was a Lecturer in NT Studies and a Fellow, Tutor and Chaplain of Worcester College. He remained in this position until 1993. In this context Wright was once more able to enjoy a close relationship between study and worship. He was also had pastorally involvement with students from a range of different backgrounds. He also found himself drawing on traditions outside of his own, from the charismatic tradition on one side, to the Orthodox tradition on the other.

At Oxford Wright was able to interact with some of the most profound theological thinkers of our time. He taught on the subject of Jesus alongside Rowan Williams and has a strong friendship with him. He was also able to interact with Oliver O’Donovan, an old friend, who later delivered the sermon on the occasion of Wright’s consecration as Bishop of Durham. It was during Wright’s time in Oxford that The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, which is still his most significant book on Pauline theology to date, at least for another couple of years. Much of the material in the book is the flowering of ideas that had been developing in Wright’s mind since the late seventies.

The Climax of the Covenant was published in 1991. The next year The New Testament and the People of God was published. The New Testament and the People of God is the first volume of a projected six volume series entitled ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God’, designed to give a consistent portrait of Christian origins, ‘with particular relation to Jesus, Paul, and the gospels’. Wright’s project is incredibly ambitious. The attempt to present a comprehensive picture is one that is fraught with difficulty and seldom attempted on such a scale. This series is of great importance. To date, the first three volumes have been produced: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God.

In 1994 Wright became Dean of Lichfield, a position which he held until 1999. During this period he wrote a number of devotional and popular works and completed the second volume of the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. It was during this time that he wrote What St. Paul Really Said, the book which has particularly sparked off the debate over Wright’s view of justification. Whilst Wright’s position on justification is fundamentally the same in this work as it is in books published back in the early 1980s and as that found within his doctoral thesis, these earlier treatments did not reach as wide an audience.

Towards the end of his time in Lichfield Wright was also involved in the writing of the libretto for an Easter Oratorio, based particularly on the final chapters of John’s Gospel. Wright has often addressed the issue of the Christian imagination in his writings and lectures. Given his lifelong love for music and the arts, it is an issue that is very close to his heart. He argues that the creation of beauty is an essential element of the human vocation and speaks of the power of the arts to communicate the truth of God to our contemporary culture. Wright also regards the imagination as essential to the true interpretation of Scripture. As interpreters of Scripture we are more like actors improvising a final act to an incomplete Shakespearian play than we are detached and objective scientific exegetes. Our imaginations must be rekindled by the rich symbolism of Christian Scripture and liturgy, so that we can produce works of beauty that stand as witnesses to the Great Artist that we serve.

From 2000 to 2003, Wright was the Canon Theologian of Westminster, where he completed his work on the resurrection, The Resurrection of the Son of God and wrote the Romans commentary, within the New Interpreters Bible series. The first few volumes of Wright’s For Everyone series of popular NT commentaries were also released during this period. Wright describes these commentaries as being aimed at the ‘12 year old confirmation candidate’ and the 70 year old within the congregation who has never read a commentary before.

Throughout his scholarly career, Wright has been concerned to relate his theology to the person in the pew and has produced a steady stream of devotional works, popular commentaries and works on discipleship, worship and popular theology. This, coupled with his great gift of communication, has led to his works being read by lay people, clergy and scholars alike.

Wright has written of the need for the Church to always be brought under the authority and judgment of Scripture. He argues that the role of the Church’s appointed leaders is particularly important in this respect. They should be both scholars and teachers of the Scriptures, something that is lost when Church leaders get caught up in administrative tasks. Wright laments the current situation where Scripture is chiefly taught by professional academics, whilst the Church is led by clergy who rely upon secondhand and often deficient understandings of Scripture. He believes that the authority of God exercised in the Church does not primarily consist in legal structures, but that it is ‘a matter of proclaiming the word in the power of the Spirit.’

In July 2003 Wright was consecrated Bishop of Durham, one of the highest positions in the Church of England. Wright continues to write voluminously and give many visiting lectures. He is a member of the Society for New Testament Studies, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research, and the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars. He has often appeared in the media and has devised and presented a number of radio and television programs for the BBC and been consulted for many others. His outspoken opposition to homosexual priests is one thing that has resulted in a lot of publicity in recent years. As Bishop of Durham, he is a member of the House of Lords and has spoken in the House on the subject of moral climate change and freedom of speech.

Convinced that the gospel speaks to the political questions of our day, Wright has long been outspoken on a number of current issues. He received a lot of publicity for his strong criticism of the handling of the Iraq war by Mr. Blair and President Bush, arguing that they did not have the credibility necessary to deal with the problems in Iraq. Wright has also long campaigned for debt-relief for third world countries, devoting much of the final chapter of his book The Myth of the Millennium to promoting the Jubilee 2000 project. He is a strong critic of the ‘dualism’ of Left Behind theology, which he claims leads to a lack of concern for issues such as the environment and the need for social justice.

Wright is concerned that a reaction against the thin and unbiblical gospel of the social gospel movement will lead us to believe that the gospel does not address social issues. He has an active interest in issues of contemporary macroeconomics and globalization and regularly argues that America in particular and the West in general need to be regarded as exercising a form of economic and political ‘imperial’ power, casting America in the position of Caesar relative to the claims of Christ. He is deeply disturbed by what he regards as the confusing of an American way of life and a Christian way of life in the US, believing that it is the duty of the Church to call the powers to account. Wright regards the established position of the Anglican Church as something that facilitates the conversation that needs to take place between Caesar and Christ.

Wright’s political concern is not merely occupied with national and international issues. After a week-long pilgrimage of his new diocese in Durham, Wright spoke of the deep financial difficulties of many of the local farmers and of the problem of widespread unemployment. Many of the parishes in Wright’s diocese are in very deprived areas and, as their bishop, Wright is concerned that local churches be involved as forces for good in their communities. He is excited by many of the projects that churches in his diocese have undertaken to help people with literacy, financial advice and in providing childcare for single parent families.

The position of Bishop of Durham is a demanding one. There are 250 parishes in the diocese and each day is different from the last. Many days he doesn’t finish work until later in the evening. Within this busy schedule Wright has said that he sees his daily time of prayer and Bible study in the morning as his ‘sheet anchor’, claiming that the task of prayer for the diocese is central to the task of any bishop.

Since coming to Durham, Wright has completed a number of other works. He has produced a two volume popular commentary on the book of Romans, a book on the authority of Scripture and a devotional work entitled The Scriptures, the Cross, and the Power of God. He also wrote a book entitled Simply Christian, which is in a similar mould to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Wright has explained the aim of the work as that of describing ‘what Christianity is all about, both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside.’

Throughout his ministry Wright has been supported by his wife Maggie. They have four grown children, two sons and two daughters, and some grandchildren. They live in Auckland Castle in historic Bishop Auckland. Wright lists music, the classical world, golf, hill walking, poetry and pastoral psychology among his leisure interests.

[Edited 11th June 2007]