alastair.adversaria » Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?

Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?

As one who appreciates N.T. Wright’s works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see this as arrogance on my part. Can I really believe that I understand what Wright is saying better than theologians like Don Carson, Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters? Surely these people aren’t stupid and they know what they are saying when they critique Wright.

Having read and listened to the above-mentioned theologians (and many others besides) I am pretty certain that they seriously misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in a number of key areas. I have studied Wright’s theology in depth and so I don’t feel that I am unjustified in making such a judgment. I have read all of Wright’s major works at least once, most of them three, four or more times. I have read almost all of his more popular works at least once and all of the essays that he has contributed to various volumes that I have been able to lay my hands on. I have read almost all of his Internet articles. I have listened to over 70 hours’ worth of his lectures. I have read his unpublished doctoral thesis. I have read many of his critics and I have participated in lengthy e-mail and Internet debates on various aspects of his theology.

The issue here is not disagreement. It is quite possible to disagree with someone, Wright included, without misrepresenting or misunderstanding them. Whilst there are certainly areas where Wright’s critics have understood him and fairly represent him and choose to differ from him, I believe that there are many areas where the import of Wright’s theology has been badly misconstrued by his Reformed critics.

This is all the more tragic as a theologian with as sweeping a picture as Wright is badly in need of good critics to counterbalance certain elements of his thought. Good critical debate could lead to the various parties arriving at a more qualified and balanced position. In the current debate we tend to just have polarization.

So why has Wright been so consistently misunderstood and misrepresented by his Reformed critics? I think that the explanation can be boiled down to the following contributing factors. Whilst none of these explanations could be said to apply in every instance, I do think that, taken together, they can cover most of the cases that I have encountered. It should also be observed that (as someone remarked to me in way of criticism) the following can generally be categorized as worldview problems, sin or incompetence. I think that this is a fair assessment, but I stand by the following nonetheless.

1) Laziness. It takes a lot of effort to read Wright carefully and seek to understand him on his own terms, effort that many Reformed critics apparently don’t want to take. The idea that we ought to devote weeks of painstaking study to the work of someone we have been told is a heretic might be considered by many to be a waste of time.

Wright has written dozens of books and yet one will consistently see Reformed critics honing in on a couple of statements in a popular book when he has explained his views on the subject in question with far more clarity, nuance and detail in more weighty works. Once you read the more scholarly volumes, the ambiguous statements in the popular works begin to make more sense.

Indeed, the fact that some of Wright’s more popular critics repeat the same misrepresentations and focus on the same couple of quotes in the vast corpus of Wright’s works as some well known Reformed critiques makes me suspect that some have not even bothered to read one of Wright’s books from start to finish at all.

2) Impatience. Understanding Wright is not easy. It takes a long time before you will have anywhere near enough knowledge of the character of his position to be able to intelligently make up your mind about him. Most people don’t have the requisite patience. They expect to be able to grasp Wright after skim-reading What St Paul Really Said. Wright is a gifted communicator, but like most serious theologians, understanding him on his own terms takes a lot of work.

3) Presumption of heresy. We are frequently told that Wright is a great threat to the Reformed faith. Consequently, we come to our reading of Wright looking for the heresy that we expect to find there. If you approach any author in such a fashion you should not be surprised if you find what you are looking for. There are dozens of ambiguous statements in Wright’s works that are quite susceptible to uncharitable constructions. Giving Wright the benefit of the doubt in many of these instances, one will find that the ambiguity is elsewhere cleared up and that a negative construction need not be placed on the statement in question.

The fact that many who approach Wright are already convinced of his heterodoxy and are merely seeking proof has resulted in numerous misreadings and misrepresentations.

4) A sense of urgency. Given the heat of the debate concerning the theology of N.T. Wright in Reformed circles at the moment it is exceedingly difficult to approach Wright’s work with an open mind. One is pressed to either side with or oppose Wright from the outside. This sense of urgency has resulted in many Reformed readers of Wright having made up their minds about them before they have ever studied him carefully. The possibility of anyone keeping an open mind about Wright for long enough to come to a truly informed judgment is increasingly unlikely in Reformed circles.

Wider scholarship is a different matter. The debate is cooler there and I would strongly recommend engagement with what some of Wright’s more scholarly critics have to say about him.

5) Arrogance. Appreciation of Wright in Reformed circles has been dismissed (by leading critics such as Duncan) as a fad for the theologically naïve, former theonomists, those who are ignorant of much of the Reformed theological tradition, etc. I feel that many such critiques arise from a theological arrogance that is dismissive of anything that is not recycling the texts that Reformed people have been reading for centuries.

Furthermore, the idea that an Anglican bishop might score points against the Reformed tradition hurts Reformed theological pride (which is quite widespread, in my experience). What have the heirs of Westminster to learn from a son of Canterbury? Openness to learn positive lessons from other traditions is not the greatest virtue of the Reformed churches. Many Reformed people continue to approach Anglican thinkers with suspicion and a historical chip on their shoulder.

6) Theological romanticism. The idea that the acme of theological achievement was reached in 17th century Reformed confessionalism leads many people to reject the idea that the major Reformed confessions were products of their own time that may be revealed to have serious weaknesses. I think that many Reformed people are scared by the notion that God might have new lessons to teach His Church. God might even lead us beyond Protestantism and the Reformed faith to something even more glorious.

For those for whom Protestantism and the Reformed faith have become ends in themselves and the theological zeniths to which God will lead his people this is a very uncomfortable truth to swallow. It would involve uprooting them from their theological comfort zone and would also alert them to the fact that many other traditions (even more liberal ones) have proved far more willing to make progress than they have. They would find themselves in the position of the older brother once the prodigal had returned.

7) Peer pressure. The mimetic character of human action makes it increasingly hard for Reformed people to defend Wright against criticisms once the first stones have been thrown at him. People who do so risk losing friends, positions, credibility, etc. Even charitable and calm engagement with Wright might raise concerns of compromise in some circles. The mob is baying and it takes a stout heart to stand for the truth and refuse to put the worst construction on Wright’s theology.

There is a tendency for human society to degenerate into finding its unity in shared enemies. This is a particular danger in Reformed circles at the moment. One proves that one is on the right side by attacking N.T. Wright. Even though many of the criticisms levelled at Wright as a result of this may be legitimate, they are made for quite the wrong reasons. One of the things that has particularly irritated me about these debates is the degree of hair-splitting that many have employed in their critiques of Wright. The sense is given that one has the duty to disagree with Wright to the greatest degree that one possibly can and distance yourself from him by the largest margin, lest you become scapegoat too. If you can’t bring yourself to throw the big rocks, check pebbles. The important thing is that you join in the stoning.

Naming names, I think that Doug Wilson is a perfect example of this tendency. When Wilson’s orthodoxy is under attack and he finds himself associated with Wright, he feels the need to prove that he is on the right side by criticizing Wright. However, he is aware that Wright is generally innocent of the charges that many have levelled against him in Reformed circles. Consequently, he must split some hairs and find as many ways in which he can disagree with Wright as possible, just so that he can join in the scapegoating. As one who has an appreciation for much of Wilson’s work, I find this very sad.

8) Attempts to maintain ecclesiastical power and the status quo. I think that many people know that the effects of a widespread acceptance of Wright’s thought in Reformed circles would open up deep-rooted faultlines in Reformed circles and lead to a big shake-up of the present order. It is not surprising that people who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo do not want Wright to gain a fair hearing and seek to poison people against him.

Admitting the validity of many of Wright’s points would also threaten Reformed identity, which is in too many circles one deeply affected with ecclesiastical parochialism. The idea that the Reformed tradition needs to get into the habit of listening to voices outside its walls is one that many Reformed people find hard to accept. The Reformed world is small and there are people who like being big fish in a small pond. They want to build the walls of the Reformed churches as high as possible to prevent the pond from becoming part of the large lake of the wider Christian Church, knowing that they would then occupy far less favourable a position within the theological foodchain.

9) A lack of charity. Reformed people love battling for the truth. Many Reformed people just love battling, period, and the idea of battling for such a noble cause as the truth appeals to them. Charity in Reformed theological debate is not easy to come by. The idea of calmly working out differences in a grown up conversation is alien to many Reformed people. The gospel is always at stake. The idea of theological diversity in Reformed churches is one that scares many people. This lack of charity is particularly evident when the views under discussion did not originate within the Reformed camp. There is a sensed need to keep the tradition hermetically sealed from others to avoid contagion. Cross-pollination does not fit nicely into the plans of many to create a pure Reformed breed of theology.

10) Paradigm problems. Many of Wright’s Reformed critics are systematically incapable of understanding him. Their minds have been formed by very narrow (though voluminous in quantity) reading and the ruts of their mental pathways are deep. Understanding Wright demands that they develop new ways of thinking. For the person who has largely limited his reading to theologians within a narrow tradition this becomes increasingly harder to do. Ironically, the more such people read, the harder it becomes.

Furthermore, many Reformed people think like moderns and cannot understand premodern and postmodern ways of thinking, which can work quite differently. They cannot understand the persuasive power of, for example, patristic exegesis, of medieval theology, or of N.T. Wright, because their minds are so bound to modern habits of thought. Such people translate Wright and others into their own categories of thought and badly caricature them in the process.

11) Stupidity. A few of Wright’s critics in Reformed circles are just in over their own heads. They are not theologically gifted or well read enough to give the sort of theological engagement that a thinker like Wright demands.

The above list may seem uncharitable to some. Perhaps in some respects it is less charitable than it could be. However, I find it increasingly harder to put a charitable construction on the actions and writings of many of Wright’s Reformed critics.

I just hope that one day the debate will cool down enough for genuine progress to be made. Wright’s theology is not, I believe, the final interpretation of Paul. He is not without his problems. Wright needs to be corrected, qualified and counterbalanced in many different respects. We should feel keenly the lack of careful and balanced critics and not take it as a cause for pride, nor should we dismiss those who oppose Wright. We need voices to question Wright, but we need them to question Wright for the right reasons. Perhaps it is time for us to pray for God to raise up such people.

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[...] Alastair has some excellent thoughts on why many Reformed folks do not get NTW:  http://alastair.adversaria.co.uk/?p=309 [...]

A fantastic post, for which you will be savaged by the Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy.

Two additions:

1) Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of lalrger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

2) Anti-COE/RCC bias. In other words, there’s no badge of membership :-) quite like overall disgust at all things catholic and/or CofE. Puritans don’t do well with Bishops.

Your assessment will be called arrogant, but it is on target. Bravo.

[...] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. :) Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. [...]

[...] Alastair at Adversaria has written a detailed, important and comprehensive post on Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics? It’s a monster of good post that you must read if you are interested in Bishop Wright’s contribution to theology and the judgement of many in the reformed community that Wright is a heretic on many different doctrines. [...]

Alastair,

Wow, this is one of the best things I have read on the Internet in sometime. It is articulate, measured and accurate.

While it may not be “charitable” it is not mean spirited which is more than can be said for most of the nonsense written about Wright. I don’t know how you could charitably speak the truth in this situation.

I applaud your courage.

God Bless,

Rod

I disagree. The post is quite charitable. What is lacking is not charity but congeniality, which under present circumstances is simply not in high demand.

[...] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. :) Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. [...]

Excellent post Al, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you’ve written.

I appreciate your comments, actually, though I deeply disagree with some of them. I agree fully that many in the Reformed camp think that they can understand NTW reading just WSPRS. That would be a big mistake. It seems to me that the bulk of what NTW is trying to say is to be found in the COQG series and in _Romans_, even though none of these works have any systematic treatment of justification. I’m sure that that is part of the reason that WSPRS gets so much attention: it does have a reasonably thorough treatment of what NTW believes about justification.

Having focused first on what we agree on, I must now move on to disagreement. our first five reasons are, I hope, not meant to be applied to Lig Duncan and Guy waters. Neither can be called in the least lazy, as it is evident that they have read widely and thoroughly in NTW’s works. Especially number 5 is really irrelevant, even it is true. Why would Lig’s arrogance mean that he misunderstands NTW, if he is arrogant (which, as I know him personally, can vouch is simply not the case: he is in fact one of the most humble men I know: I’ve met Waters as well, and ditto). Or are you intending that Duncan and Waters fit with all of these reasons?

Theological romanticism? You do realize that we in the PCA (for instance) take *vows* stating that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture, and that we will defend that system of doctrine. The PCA further argues that the WCF is fully in line with the ancient creeds of the church. So defense of the WCF simply cannot be equated with romanticism. It is simply our oath.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see number 7 at all. Doug wilson, for instance, is not afraid of differing from everyone else in the world. He is not afraid to put his neck out for people to hack at. He is no hero of mine. But Wilson attacks general evangelicalism with absolute glee. He gets plenty of flack for that, but doesn’t change his mind based on that.

Number 8 seems to dismiss purity of doctrine as a concern of the church. What you think of as our trying to preserve the status quo is what we think of as preserving pure doctrine. And we are listening, thank you very much, to NTW. I have listened to him for years. I too have read all his major works, and find much that is profitable there, though thinking him outside the bounds of the WCF, especially on justification. You are using a label that none of us who disagree with NTW on justification would use for ourselves. The shoe does not fit.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin? We have made respect and charity of discourse an idol in our society. That is why I won’t touch the P&P Together document with a 10′ pole. I believe quite firmly in not misrepresenting someone’s position. I take rather great lengths to avoid doing so. But battle does not equal misunderstanding. Calvin and Luther fought tooth and nail for what I believe was the truth. Surely you must see that battle does equal misrepresentation.

As for number 10, I disagree completely. The Reformers themselves were absolutely *saturated* with the patristic scholars. I read patristics all the time, as do most of my best friends in the PCA. That is plain and simply false that we cannot understand premodern ways of thinking. If there are some who do not understand premodern ways of thinking, it is because of the Enlightenment, ***NOT*** because of the Reformation.

As to postmodernism, I (for instance) went to a very postmodern school. I listened for three years to their absolute drivel about there being no absolute truth, and all that. Rubbish. They can’t even think straight, or they woud have recognized that the statement “there is no such thing as absolute truth” kills itself, since it must be absolutely true in order to work! And I’m sorry, but logic is biblical, not modern.

As to 11, which critics are you thinking of? It will not do to put away some of NTW’s best critics such as Waters and Richard Phillips, just because some *others* do not understand Wright. You cannot tar and feather some by tarring and feathering others. And I believe that it is quite healthy to be questioning whether or not NTW is even on the right page with regard to Paul. I see quite enough of what you’re talking about on the side that defends NTW! I’ve dealt with it ad nauseum first hand. People will not even answer my scholarly arguments. Instead, they will fasten on the tiniest detail in what I say, and object to that, rather than the substance of my critique. Sometimes it drives me nearly batty. I see that a paradigm straight-jacket has been imposed on fans of NTW, and anything that disagrees with that is attacked with just as much vehemence as NTW’s critics. With most of these critiques of yours, I could turn them around and level them at NTW’s supporters, most of whom *will not* read the Reformers themselves, and the great treatises on justification, such as those by John Owen, James Buchanan, Anthony Burgess, and William Pemble. I’m sorry, but many of NTW’s supporters lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers. I have in fact experienced from NTW’s supporters *everything* you are talking about.

Good heavens, man, what’s in the water over there? I got through about point #4 and I realized something: I could mimic almost all of these diagnoses to describe what it’s been like to get some postmodern thought (philosophical) a fair hearing. Of course, there is the high probability that I am a very poor communicator and ambassador. I fear that some of Wright’s “fans” might also suffer from this weakness.

Oh, and sorry. Another BHT voice here to ensure that some of those who would benefit from the soul-searching your post encourages will instead dismiss it. I hope I’m wrong about that. Live long and prosper, Al.

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.” Links?

Michael (comment 2),

Your additions are helpful. I get the impression that the first one in particular is an important factor in D.A. Carson’s approach to Wright. Listen to 19:30 to 22:00 of this lecture, for a sense of what I mean by this claim.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin?

I’ve no choice but to conclude that Calvin and Luther were the personification of “charity”.

#8 is a slam-dunk.

To Matthew I give this link for why it is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that NPP advocates themselves have read the Reformers.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nppdebate/message/426

For evidence of his followers, I don’t know if you are a member of Wrightsaid, but if you are, then go back in the archives to the discussions I had with Wright supporters. Look for my early posts, and the responses it got. Pretty solid evidence. Loads of people in that debate were lambasting the Reformers without quoting them at all in many cases, or extremely rarely in other cases.

In response to Kent, why is charity to be made an idol in this debate? There are those of us who think (based on careful reading, I might add) that central issues are at stake regarding justification. Misrepresentation is bad. But I have been misrepresented. So have Richard Phillips, Lig Duncan, and many others who critique NTW. Why are all the scholastic boo-boos on one side of this thing? Why is it *only* the critics of NTW that are uncharitable? This is definitely a case of the splinter/log thing that Jesus was talking about.

Even the apostle John, the so-called “apostle of love,” when Cerinthus the heretic walked into the bath, ran out, saying that they should not be under the same roof as the heretic, God save us, etc. When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it. I will fight with scholarly weapons, knowing my enemy thoroughly. I can attest that I read NTW with an open mind, in the sense that I was willing to read him to see what he said about himself. I did not base any of my opinions on what other people said, since, when I was reading him, I wasn’t involved in *any* of the conversations. I have come to my own conclusions. and number 8 is the farthest thing from a slam-dunk. It is only a slam-dunk to those who are predisposed to see it as such in the PCA and other such denoms.

To Al, are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

[...] Alastair Roberts reflects on Tom Wright and the misrepresentations of his work within the Reformed community. As a former Anglican, it’s hard for me to understand why Wright is perceived to be such a threat, particularly on the topic of justification. Anglicanism embraces a diversity of positions on justification and has even reached agreement. albeit unofficially, with the Catholic Church: Salvation and the Church. Hence the exegetical studies of Wright are received by Anglicans (at least most of them) without too much anxiety. [...]

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.”

Wright himself has been ewtremly (and naively) harsh on Luther, while admitting at the same time he has not read the German reformer for 20 years.

Anyway, it was great to read another of those posts where pro-NPP/NTW convince themselves their opponents are just lazy/traditionalist/anti-intellectual etc, etc. Not exactly new, but so far it has prevented much honest debate and reconsideration of NTW’s views, so you should continue this way.

I hear the sound of cymbals clashing…

Trackback Pontifications

Lane, I appreciate the response and I cannot remember whether or not I was a member of Wrightsaid that early so I might have to check the archives. I wonder if we are not communicating clearly? When I read your comment what I understood was that there are Wright supporters who are unashamed reformer bashers. People who take quotes from the reformers and tear them apart. When I read the post that you linked, I didn’t read anything remotely like that at all. It appeared to me that the reformers weren’t invited to the “conversation” about Paul’s language on justification like when you mentioned Sander’s book contains only one referece to Luther. Could it be that Luther’s works don’t have much to say about Palestinian Judaism instead of that these guys haven’t read Luther? I really don’t see that as a big deal but maybe I’m being obtuse.

Let me ask a more clear question: To lambaste the Reformers — does this mean openly criticize the reformers and their works or does it mean that one doesn’t seek the opinion of the reformers in research and publication?

Thanks for the clarifying question, Matthew. What I mean is that NPP advocates often make these blanket statements about what the Reformation teaches (NTW’s classic is proto-Pelagianism as something against which the Reformers argued, whereas Paul is not reacting against that in 2TJ: it was semi-Pelagianism, which makes a huge difference in terms of the language being used), without quoting any of the Reformers. So my post on that debate page (which you are welcome to join, btw) went to show that the NPP advocates do not quote the Reformers, when it is manifestly the Reformational understanding of Paul that they are attacking. Carl Trueman makes this point crystal clear here:

http://www.crcchico.com/covenant/trueman.html

Dunn’s response was not in the least convincing as to Trueman’s main point, which was that Dunn didn’t quote Luther, while saying that Luther was wrong.

So, while NPP advocates spend all their time researching Paul and 2TJ literature, they forget to learn what their opponents (the Reformers) actually teach. See the excellent comment by Jean-Martin above. So I am not talking about quotations from the Reformers which are misinterpreted, since such quotations do not exist in the extant writings of the NPP advocates.

Luther has plenty to say about Jews (most of it highly non-complimentary). the problem here is that the NPP says that the Reformation read Paul wrong. This goes all the way back to Stendahl’s article, which says that Paul didn’t have this introspective inward-looking struggle that Luther had. But if you are going to say that the Reformation was wrong, then it had better be the real Reformation that you are rejecting.

Same old, same old. Go back some years and read what Barth’s supporters were saying about his critics. There’s nothing new under the sun!

Thanks for the clarification, Lane. I’ll politely decline the invitation to the debate page, though. You guys are clearly more advanced than I am and what little I could contribute would probably be just a whole lot of questions.

On the contrary, we have a hard time getting people to talk at all. While it is true that there are some decent scholars on that debate group, in order to keep the discussions going, we need more people who have questions. So join up! Though I understand if you still wish to decline.

Lane,

Let me begin by making clear that I do not believe that only Wright’s critics have these problems. None of us are immune and, as you point out, I think that it is fair to say that many of Wright’s supporters have caricatured the teaching of the Reformation. I believe that Wright himself has done this on a number of occasions and I have posted on the subject in the past.

It should be recognized that, in many situations, the caricatures arise from involvement in and subsequent reactions against traditions that had ended up caricaturing themselves. Wright was in Reformed circles for a number of years. However, he reacted against the Reformed tradition. I get the impression that he found it hidebound, introverted and narrow (from this interview, among other places).

In fairness, I think that many of us can relate to the experience that Wright recounts. When you have been brought up to believe that the Reformed faith is generally a completed edifice and trained to believe that you must read a particular set of Puritan writers (for example) to get the right answers it should not be surprising if you react against this when you start to find that the Bible opens up ‘new horizons’ that were obscured in these authors. Wright cut his theological teeth on Banner of Truth books like Berkhof’s systematic theology, a theology which he later came to regard as ‘sterile’ (NTPG, 132, fn16). Wright’s increasing conviction that God had more truth to break out of His Word was at odds with a theological milieu whose primarily focus was defending traditional positions and that was reluctant to move beyond the theology and language of the seventeenth century.

I can easily relate to Wright’s experience. The only reason that I can still appreciate the Reformed faith is through my exposure to Reformed theologians who are prepared to think new thoughts and have not idealized past theological generations. I am not at all unacquainted with the works of the Puritans (my father has republished dozens of Puritan works and has countless Puritan books in his library, so I have grown up around the Puritans) and have studied Calvin in detail. However, whilst I retain an appreciation for many of their theological concerns and pastoral insight, I confess that I find them less and less helpful in understanding Scripture.

I have no intention of identifying the exact factors underlying each individual critic’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Wright. However, I believe that some of the first five factors are present in Duncan and Waters, who both seriously misrepresent Wright in my estimation. I think that theological arrogance (which is not always accompanied by personal arrogance, at least not in my experience) is a factor here. It is quite present in Duncan and Carson in particular. They dismiss Wright too quickly because they are not open enough to admitting that the Reformed tradition might actually have gotten it wrong in certain areas.

The dismissive and superior tone is maintained even when it is obvious that Wright and the NPP have scored points against the tradition. For example, how many of the leading Reformed critics of Wright would defend the understanding of the Judaizers that one finds in the Reformers? Reading the critics, one will soon realize that they appreciate that they cannot go back to a pre-Sanders world. Nevertheless, the rhetoric all too often suggests that the Reformers are thoroughly vindicated and whatever is new in the NPP is to be rejected.

A greater humility of tone would go a long way. If they were willing to admit that, yes, the Reformers did often read debates with the Roman Catholics into the text and misread Paul to a degree as a result, a claim that we are not justified in denying the presence of a form of merit theology altogether would receive a better hearing. As it is, it is hard not to get the impression of a tradition that suffers from theological self-righteousness and an inability or unwillingness to admit its own errors and sins. An openness to learn from gifted theologians in other traditions and to admit the shortcomings of our own can really help to oil the wheels of debate.

As regards your disagreement with my claims regarding theological romanticism, there is an important difference between upholding the system of doctrine of Westminster and believing that it cannot be surpassed by a richer and fuller expression of the Christian faith. There is a difference between acknowledging and seeking to preserve the theological achievements of our forefathers and a refusal to move beyond them.

My comments regarding Doug Wilson are based around some of the posts in his series ‘N.T. Wrights and Wrongs’. Start reading them from the bottom up. A significant number of them sink to a level of nit-picking that is quite ridiculous. One must ask the reason for such things. I stand by my earlier interpretation as the best that I have encountered so far. It was interesting noticing the reaction in the blogosphere when Wilson started posting on Wright last year. Those who had studied Wright and appreciated him were irritated with the hairsplitting, hypercritical approach that Wilson was adopted. However, there was a noticeable thawing of attitudes to Wilson within other parts of the blogosphere. The differences that Wilson claimed that he had with Wright were petty, but it was the fact that he made so much of them that people appreciated.

Regarding number 8, I certainly believe that purity of doctrine ought to be a concern of the church. However, purity of doctrine is not the same thing as maintenance of the status quo. The status quo is all too often the greatest enemy of purity of doctrine. It is the ‘good’ that would hold us back from the ‘better’.

Orthodoxy is always an unfinished task, continually calling the Church to move beyond its present understanding to something deeper and richer. The problem is that Reformed people all too often think of purity of doctrine as something that we already have and occasionally need to recover, rather than as something that we must continually strive for, correcting the weaknesses of previous ages and being aware of the presence of weaknesses in our own understanding. I am well aware of the rhetoric of semper Reformanda, but all too often it rings hollow in the contemporary climate.

I firmly believe that the elevation of the Westminster Confession now stands in the way of the movement towards pure doctrine that it once advanced. It is like an old shoe that is forced on a foot that is too big. The mindset that purity of doctrine will merely entail the repristination of seventeenth (or sixteenth) century doctrine, and have no significant movements beyond the position of our forefathers, is widespread.

Number 9. Battle does not equal misrepresentation. That is a strange reading of my point. Battle, however, is often a factor underlying misrepresentation. For example, Barth was seriously misrepresented by Van Til largely because Van Til adopted such an antithetical approach towards Barth. Antithetical thinking is extremely important. We should be prepared to make enemies. I have made these points at length in the past.

The problem comes when the antithesis is misplaced. Reformed people are far too accustomed to thinking antithetically, when they could be thinking ‘perspectivally’, for example. Frame’s ‘Machen’s Warrior Children’ article is important evidence here. The problem comes when every issue becomes a matter of either/or and all or nothing. I have no problem synthesizing the concerns of Wright with those of the Reformers. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

So what about Luther and Calvin? I do not think that they are good examples to follow in this area. They were men and, like all men, they had feet of clay. Whilst there were occasions when they were perfectly right to fight for the truth, there were other occasions when it is a shame that the irenical spirit of Reformers such as Bucer was not more widespread.

As regards number 10, I don’t agree with you. Study of the patristics has not been the Reformed churches’ forte since the Reformation, although you are certainly right to point out that the early Reformers read a lot of them. What you do see in the Reformers is a movement away from premodern ways of thinking. Whilst they read the patristics, the Reformed churches became increasingly dismissive of patristic exegesis, for example, and manifested an incipient modernism in many areas of its thought.

I don’t want this to become a debate about postmodernism, but from what you describe it does not appear that you have much of a grasp of what postmodernist scholars really say. What you are speaking of may well be just pop postmodernism or modern relativism. Incidentally, the idea that there is no absolute truth is not as easily refuted as you expect. It is a second-order statement about first-order statements. Your refutation relies on equivocation. The claim being made is more subtle than you seem to recognize.

I am not going to say which critics I am thinking of in number 11. I will just say that I am not referring to any of the big name critics, but to the many critics that further distort the already distorted picture of Wright found in the writings of the more scholarly critics.

I don’t believe that Waters and Phillips are remotely deserving of being regarded as some of Wright’s best critics. Having read both of them (and listened to Guy Waters lecture) I believe that both of them badly misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in various areas. I am far from alone in this conviction.

Let me reiterate that this has nothing to do with questioning Wright. You haven’t read my post very carefully if that is the idea that you end up with. I have no problem with people questioning whether Wright is ‘on the right page with regard to Paul’. What I do have a problem with is his being misrepresented in the process.

Lane, I have been a participant in or witness of many of the debates in which you have engaged with those in favour of Wright. The impression that I have been left with is that you are more concerned with attacking those who appreciate Wright than dialoguing with them. It was not without reason that you were removed from the Wrightsaid list a while back. We are quite happy to answer questions about Wright, but we are not interested in just being continually attacked by someone who manifests deep misunderstandings of Wright and seems determined to believe the worst.

As regards your ‘scholarly arguments’, there was engagement with them on many occasions on the Wrightsaid list. The big problem was your tone. You justified this by referring to the tone of Calvin and Luther. As I have pointed out above, I believe that Calvin and Luther are not good examples to follow in this area.

I agree that some of Wright’s supporters will not read the Reformers themselves. In the case of many of them, I don’t see why they should be expected to. Many of the people that you engaged with on the Wrightsaid list, for example, were not from the Reformed tradition. Some of Wright’s supporters have made false statements about the Reformers and this is, of course, quite unjustified. As I pointed out at the beginning of this comment, I am not denying that many of these factors (and other ones besides) play in the way in which some of Wright’s supporters (and Wright himself at times) treat the Reformers. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that the heat level of the rhetoric has generally been raised by the critics of Wright, rather than his supporters.

The big difference between those who appreciate Wright and Wright’s opponents is that few if any of the appreciators of Wright are trying to drive people who hold traditional Reformed positions out of church office. The charges of heresy are almost all coming from one side.

Lane,

You ask:

…are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

No. Read me more carefully and you will see that I am not saying that each and every factor that I identify applies to every individual critic.

Maybe, I’m lazy, stupid or impatient, but this post is too long. I suggest shortening it.

You would, wouldn’t you Peter! :)

As I see it, the two main points of difference between us lie firstly in the area of progressivism. There are those who say that theology is always progressing, and sometimes they say it without qualification. Then there are those who say that only those areas which are not essential are open to progressing. This is probably where I would put myself. After all, do we hold to the creeds, or do we not? The problem here is that progression is actually often regression. This is what I see with NTW’s doctrine of justification. When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them? What if, thinking that we have progressed beyond the level of these writers in some areas, we have actually regressed in other areas? I think Muller’s four volume set on the Post-Reformed Dogmatics is really revealing here. You seem to allow for a great deal more latitude in progression than I would. There are certain things that have been hammered out in the fires of great controversies. Justification is one of those, and should not be touched. My forebears in the Reformed faith fought and died for those truths. I will not dishonor their memory by refusing to step up to the plate when they are attacked.

Let’s set the record straight about the Wrightsaid group. First of all, the whole discussion got started with the post by Jason Fry, which was unbelievably condescending to views which I hold. He even used the word “sickening.” I took exception to that. Then Mark Horne lit into me with condescending rhetoric as well (for which he later apologized, by the way, and Jason and I made up as well: hence your statement that I am unwilling to dialogue is quite simply false). Just read those first couple of rounds, and you will see that this is true. As I have said before, I deeply appreciate many of the things that Wright has said, especially in RSG, which I think is a masterpiece, and beyond a doubt his best work, notwithstanding a very few quibbles that I have with it.

A further misunderstanding that you obviously have of me is that my tone was a problem. I get heated when I argue, but that is a far cry in my own mind from being overbearing. I think that this statement of mine is more than justified by looking at John Shakespeare’s defense of me. Rance Darity didn’t have any problems crossing swords with me, and getting heated, though it wasn’t personal.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I do not have “deep misunderstandings of Wright.” Kindly give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I know what I am talking about: I am giving you that benefit. “Seems determined to think the worst” is also wide of the mark here: I think that NTW is wrong when it comes to justification. That doesn’t mean I think he’s wrong in every other area of theology. You seem to forget that I was the only person on that group arguing for my position, with about ten to twenty people arguing against me. When one’s arguments (not me personally) are being attacked by that many people, then I don’t really have time to go through all the ways in which I agree with that person. I have to go straight to the nub of the issue.

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric? How do you think that comes across to one of my persuaion who knows enough to know that he just slammed my entire tradition? We’re supposed to sit quietly and let him do that?

Furthermore, those discussion evinced a majority of speaking on my part that had to do with substance, not with rhetoric. I deny utterly any claims to the contrary. I was concerned to argue the points at issue. I won’t deny that I got heated at times, when I saw stupid arguments, or personal slams against myself, saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those are irritating comments, I must admit. And I am not necessarily proud of everything I said on that group, either. But there was certainly provocation.

About postmodernism. One cannot resort to “second-level” statements in order to save the statement. In order for it to be a second-level statement, would it not then have to allow for exceptions? If the statement is making an absolute claim, then it is a ridiculous statement. Furthermore, what I have been talking about is rife in the scholarly world, not just in popular relativism. My entire school, full of Ph.D’s were saying this, and reading Derrida and others associated with it in the process. Again, please pay me the compliment of assuming that I know what I am talking about. We can disagree, but let’s not imply that the other person is ignorant.

With regard to the antitheses, I believe that they are not misplaced. John Shakespeare agrees with me here, as does Rance Darity, guys who have read deeply into NTW’s works. NTW is not compatible with Reformed theology. You can’t look at chapter 11 of the WCF, for instance, then look at NTW, and say that they can be made to fit each other.

You can say all you want to about Waters and Phillips, but there are many of us who believe that they have in fact understood Wright very well. Besides, what virtue can there be in a theology that some of the brightest minds in the PCA can’t seem to understand? Is NTW really that difficult to understand? If he is, then I would suggest that he is not really a good scholar. My definition of a good scholar is someone who can take the most difficult concepts, and make them understandable to a Joe on the street. If he can’t do that, but has to resort to category twisting, and redefinitions of words, and jargon, then maybe he isn’t such a great scholar, no matter how much he has read. Much reading does not a scholar make, as I have to constantly remind myself.

I heartily agree with you, by the way, on the tone of many people in the Reformed world. It saddens me that so many people are arrogant. You will probably think that I am arrogant. I hope I am not, but am rather arguing issues, rather than tooting my own horn. I have struggled all my life with my tone of voice. I come across sometimes as arrogant when I’m sure that I am not. It is just that I am so certain during those times of what I believe. It is, though, one of the severest limitations on the medium of typed words as opposed to being in person. Tone is often assumed to be something that it is not.

But let’s suppose that the Reformed world is completely stuck up arrogant. That still has *nothing* to do with whether or not the Reformed world is right when it criticizes NTW. And that’s the real issue, as I see it. Are you sure that you are not attributing to arrogance what is really confidence that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong?

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Oh wait, now I see. You meant the first of imonk’s two factors, not the first factor in your post. I gotcha.

Lane, you wrote:

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Re-read my comment. I was referring to Michael Spencer’s additions (in the second comment after the post) to the factors that I listed. His first addition read:

1. Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of larger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

It was this that I was referring to in the case of Carson. This fact can be borne out if you listen to the section of the lecture that I linked to.

I corrected myself, if you look at the comment right before yours.

Lance,

At the risk of you thinking that I am condescending, I think you are missing a couple of related points.

The problem with the “intellectual arrogance” that Alastair is talking about is that it doesn’t allow a person to reevaluate what he believes. Many modern Reformed people assume that theology reached its perfection during the Reformation. The obvious corollary is that anything new is wrong.

You even said as much regarding justification. Just because you limit what you think the Reformers got perfectly right doesn’t mean that you are free from this “intellectual arrogance.” It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught.

If what they taught is true, it is true because it is true. It is not true because they said it.

Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history.

You said that people died for doctrinal truth. People also died in England over the “English Reformation.” Does that make their cause righteous? For that matter Joseph Smith died for his “faith.”

You said, “When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it.”

This strikes me as odd. Is it not the essentials of Christianity that we should be committed to? Apparently to you Reformed faith is equivalent to true Christianity. This is “intellectual arrogance.”

You said, “When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them?”

Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right?

Isaac Newton was a brilliant man. His contribution to the field of physics was enormous. But Einstein gave us an even more accurate description of how the world works.

The world works the same way that it did in the time of Newton, but a high school student has a better understanding of how it works than he did.

Was Newton wrong? No he was just limited in his information and tools. Most of what he said is still true. It is just true in a different way than he realized.

Why should it be any different when it comes to understanding God? Or the Bible? Even though the canon is closed, we have much more (and better) information than the Reformers had.

Lane,

Sorry. I typed your name wrong.

Rod

Lane,

Please forgive me if I respond to your points quickly. I don’t have the time to get embroiled in a lengthy debate.

I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways.

I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more.

I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. It is for this reason that I believe that it deserves especial attention.

I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.

In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.

You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).

Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology. When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing.

On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient.

Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.

It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.

Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.

I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.

As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.

Rod, thanks for your input here.

I would disagree that just because I think the Reformation is right means that I cannot be re-evaluating what the Reformers said. I evaluate all the time. Just because I think they’re right about most things doesn’t mean I think they’re right about all things. I disagree with Calvin, my personal hero, on occasion.

BOQ It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught. EOQ

And I’m doing that how? You extended my comment *way* beyond its scope. I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification. I think the Reformers are right on justification, and I think that the NPP is wrong. How does that make me intellectually arrogant? If anything, I am being humble (irony of the statement notwithstanding), since I am thinking that I am not better than my forebears necessarily, and I should not abandon without good cause what my forebears have taught. I don’t see good cause to abandon the Reformation on justification. NTW has not convinced me.

I think that the WCF could be better, especially wrt the Holy Spirit (a more personal approach would seem to be required). But I *do not* believe what the WCF says simply because it was they who said it. I believe what the WCF says because I believe that that is what Scripture says.

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance. Then I should just throw out my vows, shouldn’t I? I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

BOQ Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right? EOQ

Of course I realize that. I read modern theology, too, you know. But saying that the Reformers got everything perfectly right is precisely *not* what I am claiming. I am claiming that they were perfectly right on justification. Do not extend my statements to make them say something they didn’t.

We have better manuscript evidence. But we don’t have better brains. We don’t necessarily have worse brains either. But we have a limitation that the Reformers did not have: the fragmentation of knowledge. We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal. Computers will not make up for this, though they can lessen the problem.

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

BOQ Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history. EOQ

Refined is one thing: wholesale repudiation is quite another. Nothing is off limits to inquiry. But that is not what you are implying. You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church. If that is true, then why not question the Christological formulations of the early church? Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church. We have more information, but not more knowledge. Some of them knew the apostles first-hand. I am not chronologically snobbish. But NTW is. Just look at what he quotes. There are the early church fathers, no medieval theology, and no Reformation theology quoted in his works. The early church and the moderns is all he quotes. Now that is chronologically snobbish. I try to read commentators (for instance) from every age of the church, not just modern, and not just reformed. I read liberal and conservative. I read scholarly and not-so-scholarly (I own and regularly use over 900 commentaries). Who is really chronologically snobbish here?

BOQ
I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways. EOQ

This I could live with, as long as it is understood that the church has nailed down an awful lot of essential things to the Christian faith.

BOQ
I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. EOQ

If we could stand on their shoulders, we could see quite a ways. But hardly anyone that I know of is even looking at them, let alone standing on them.

BOQ
I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. EOQ

I agree. But justification is not one of them.

BOQ
I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. EOQ

Reversion? Who is reversioning? People such as myself would say that we are standing on their shoulders, not modifying the shoulder.

BOQ
Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more. EOQ

I agree to an extent. The problem is that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past, if we aren’t reading the writers of the past, which NTW is not doing.

BOQ
I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). EOQ

I equally as firmly believe that NTW has denied the Reformation understanding of justification.

BOQ
Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. EOQ

Imputation is at the very heart of justification. Read Buchanan on this. Without it, justification falls to the ground, and the church along with it, as Luther would say. I would root imputation in union with Christ as Gaffin does (he was my teacher). But NTW would not say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has anything to do with Christ’s being obedient to the law and earning our salvation. He only has these vague statements about “what’s Christ’s is ours.” That is not nearly good enough. There has to be holiness in standing before an infinitely holy God. Therein lies our need to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. NTW systematically does violence to the NT in those passages that the Reformers have exegeted as having to do with imputation. He says that they don’t mean what the Reformation has said they mean.

BOQ
In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. EOQ

But we know what happens with compromise, don’t we? It pleases no one. How can NTW and others of the NPP approach Rome on this (which hasn’t moved for centuries, since they have by no means repudiated Trent), without leaving the Reformation?

BOQ
I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). EOQ

Likewise.

BOQ
What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. EOQ

Jesus got rather polemical too, you know. Calling Pharisees “white-washed tombs” isn’t the most complimentary thing one could say. Polemics are not bad in and of themselves.

BOQ
Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. EOQ

Excuse me? What accusations?

BOQ
That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.EOQ

See my comment on Jesus Christ above.

BOQ
In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. EOQ

I didn’t say that you were presuming. I was saying that you are wrong to say that I don’t understand NTW. I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

BOQ
If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.EOQ

I didn’t usually begin discussions with questions for the very simple reason that I had already read NTW! I did ask some questions about what others were saying. But if I limit my conversation to questions, then my critiques would never have seen the light of day.

BOQ
You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).EOQ

I’m glad to see you say that. But if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

BOQ
Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. EOQ

Thank you.

BOQ
That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. EOQ

We must all wear kid gloves when discussing absolutely vital things of the Christian faith? You need to re-read those posts of mine. If you were to put a more charitable read on them, you would discover that I was arguing far more often about substance than about rhetoric. No one ever did answer my argument about 4QMMT, by the way.

BOQ
As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology.EOQ

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

BOQ
When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing. EOQ

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

BOQ
On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient. EOQ

This is merely a restatement of your position. It adds nothing. I have argued that it makes a categorical statement. As such, it must be subject to its own claim.

BOQ
Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.EOQ

But Doug Green is *no* expert on the Reformation, either. He doesn’t read systematics at all, by his own admission. He is not qualified to be the spokesperson on the relationship between NTW and the Reformation. I should know. I had him as a professor. He was a great professor of OT, don’t get me wrong. I learned an enormous amount from him. But he is wrong about NTW and his relationship to the Reformed faith.

BOQ
It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. EOQ

You would say this!

BOQ
It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. EOQ

I couldn’t agree with you more. Part of this is in reaction to the vociferousness of NTW’s critics, of course.

BOQ
I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. EOQ

I also agree here. But I would go a bit further to say that Wright’s own theology could not fit within the theology of the WCF, not just the language.

BOQ
However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.EOQ

I myself have done so. But not on justification.

BOQ
Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. EOQ

The WCF may be revised some day, who knows? But the substance of the wCF is correct. Why the need to go on to something new and better all the time? This betrays a restless attitude towards God’s truth. We have the canon, and it is closed. We are not going to get more revelation from God until Christ comes back. God’s Word doesn’t change, even if culture does. Therefore, the church needs to find new ways to appropriate *old truths* to new situations.

BOQ
This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. EOQ

I like this, except for the word “progression.” Some slight modifications perhaps. But nothing wholesale is necessary.

BOQ
Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.EOQ

This statement does not make sense to me. You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

BOQ
I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. EOQ

I disagree quite strongly with this estimation of terminology. NTW has said this, but has not proved it. I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

BOQ
Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.EOQ

But that is just the point: NTW is *not* returning to more biblical terminology. Hence, he is redefining terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.EOQ

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm. But your suggestion is what I would argue is *precisely* what I am doing! I want to see if these things be so. I am a Berean.

Lane,

You said,

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

Quality comments by Rod and Al regarding progression. Progression by its very definition means to move forward. I think that progressing in the area of theology means to better understand God. It’s not snobbery to seek a better understanding of Jesus, Paul, God, or the Bible. This is always reforming. We may have insights due to our unique place in history that our parents generation never had. That’s not to say we are above them as they had insights that we don’t. I think this is, very simply, what Wright is trying to do: come to the Bible honestly and try to discover its true meaning. How can you say that certain areas of the Theology are not to be touched? On the contrary we should wrapping our hands around all areas and testing and reforming our beliefs whether they were “hammered out” as you say in the 2nd, 4th, 16th, 17th, or 21st centuries. Let’s not check any doctrines off the list as “perfectly right” when there are quality arguments made by quality people out there with different views. Where the arguments (within Christian theology) are easily defeated such as Mary as a coredemptrix or something to that effect, let’s call our belief perfectly right in that area. Tell me that you think Wright is probably wrong or even that it is a high probability that he is wrong. But don’t tell me there isn’t a decent, if small, chance he is right, based on the quality of his argument.

Thanks,

Sorry that I goofed up with the blockquote tag. I hope you can make sense out of what I wrote.

OK. Let me try this again.

Lane,

You said,

I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification.

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance.

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal.

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church.

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church.

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

You said,

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm.

This is a perfect expression of intellectual arrogance. “I examined this once, and I decided that this is the way it is. From now on I take it as an article of faith.”

[...] Alastair’s post nails it. [...]

Can you point us to where someone has outlined how (as opposed to why) the “Reformed Critics of NTW” have misrepresented and misunderstood him? Such an outline might go something like: Reformed Critic Mr. So-n-so says that NTW teaches ‘X,’ and to that effect quotes the following passage. However, it turns out NTW teaches no such thing as ‘X’ but rather teaches ‘Y’ and when we consider the quoted passage in light of this other passage, this becomes clearer.
…you know, something like that.
You hint that such a thing could be done, and I’d like to see some of it somewhere. Where can I find it?

I echo Baus’ comment - it’d be great to see something really clear on where & how NTW is misrepresented, as well as why these are misrepresentations.
Seems to me the nub of the issue is here, not in much of the above debate: we’re all lazy, we all think we’re right, etc… we’re all sinners, aren’t we?
I read Al’s original post hoping it would be what Baus & I are asking for. Perhaps Al could write another post substituting ‘how’ for ‘why’ in this title (and removing the ‘?’). It might be a big ask, but it seems muh more useful than this one - meaning no offence, and not to deny the usefulness of the above discussion.

Baus and Andrew,

There are a number of such responses. Here are a representative few:

1. My response to Ligon Duncan. This is an older and somewhat uneven post; I would like to believe that I could significantly improve upon it if I rewrote it now. It also does not address some of Duncan’s most serious charges against Wright (charges that also distort Wright beyond recognition) that can be found in this article.

2. Tim Gallant responds to Guy Waters.

3. Daniel Kirk responds to Douglas Kelly.

4. Joel Garver examines some Reformed concerns with Wright and points to reasons why many of them are unjustified. A more careful reading of Wright would lead us to a more charitable assessment of his position, even if we end up disagreeing with him.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that critics of Wright such as Waters, Duncan and Carson have broken the ninth commandment and make wild allegations, many of which are demonstrably false. Frankly, I have decided not to continue to write responses to such critics, because I don’t believe that their most serious criticisms are actually worthy of engagement. I continue to listen to them and read them, but if I had to respond to all of their misrepresentations I would be wasting my time.

I doubt that they are really interested in listening anyway. The fact that many of the gross misrepresentations persist even though they have been responded to on a number of occasions makes me believe that writing responses is a waste of time. Let them believe what they want to believe.

That said, within the next month I have been asked to give a day conference on the subject of Wright’s theology. One of my talks will deal with the substance of the debates surrounding him and the focus will be on how, rather than why, Wright is misunderstood. Perhaps I will post an altered version of my notes for that talk up here.

Al, you should definitely post your notes for your upcoming conference talks. And find a way to podcast …

To Rod, if you are going to label an entire denomination as arrogant (by its formulation of oath), then we really don’t have a lot to say to each other. Your definition of arrogance would fit NTW far better than the PCA. He has said that he came to his conclusions about Paul and the Law, and that he’s never going back. That’s pretty arrogant, don’t you think? He goes against centuries of church interpretation, and he is the eschatological exegete in his own mind. Your definition of arrogance backfires pretty severely. I see the PCA oath as acknowledging our forebears in the faith as giants of the faith, not some mind-numbing commitment to a human document. I have never said that it closes down discussion. But I have come to the conclusion (***after*** all my reading!!!!!!!) that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong on justification. I have already admitted that I don’t think the WCF is perfect. Therefore, I am not arrogant. You have way too broad a definition of arrogance, Rod. I simply cannot go there.

What about the entire paradigm of progress? Is that not in itself arrogant? I am not saying that progress is necessarily bad. There certainly ahs been progress in textual criticism. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very helpful, and shed additional light on things. But even these things didn’t alter fundamental Biblical truths once for all delivered by God. Sure, there are always more passages that could become clear. But I make a distinction between essentials of the Christian faith and non-essentials. The church has hammered out the essentials. That’s done. The creeds tell us where orthodoxy lies. But don’t tell me the PCA is arrogant and NTW isn’t.

And Rod, to say that there is only a difference in degree between saying that the WCF is right on justification and that it is right on everything is ridiculous. You’re forcing a Procrustean bed on my claims, and I won’t allow it. The WCF is right on justification, and to my knowledge, on just about everything else that it says. But it is a fallible document. I am not using it in this discussion of NTW as a fundamental presupposition that is used to force out a priori all disagreement. NTW is not Presbyterian! As a matter of fact, I was reading NTW at the same time as (and actually mostly before) my ordination examination of the wCF. So I *couldn’t* have been using the WCF as a Procrustean bed for NTW’s theology. And Rod, since you don’t know me, you shouldn’t even be talking about my methods and my journey towards my conclusions.

Al, thanks for those pointers - v helpful. If you do get a chance to either stick your notes up, or (even better) make MP3s available to download, I for one would be very interested both in your overview of NTW’s theology & summary of where and how he is being misunderstood.

Gaines and Andrew,

Yes, I will try to post something. In all likelihood my notes will be far more extensive than my talks, so I will probably post my expanded thoughts here.

You all seem to be following this debate closer than I am. We live in an age where communicating is easy, and we have the advantage (over, e.g., Arminius) that Wright is actually alive and breathing. As I said, I don’t follow the debate closely — but about what percentage of those who have written against Wright have also engaged him in conversation over his beliefs? Where can I read something from, for example, J. Ligon Duncan or Guy Waters that contains a description of their conversations with Wright directly in verbal or written dialog? I’m very interested in reading about their interaction with him.

Thanks you so much for helping me out!

What a brilliant article. Yes, some of the Reformed are just stupid…that makes me laugh… HA!

Doug,

To my knowledge neither Duncan nor Waters have personally engaged with Wright, even though there have been opportunities for them to do so (AAPC 2005 being a good example). Both Duncan and Waters seem to have been quite reluctant to take the opportunities to interact with the targets of their critiques, whether of the FV or NPP. Some FV proponents went so far as to contact Waters offering to help to clarify their views, but the offers were not taken up.

Carson has known Wright personally for decades, since they were in university. I get the impression (though it is only an impression) that Carson’s relationship with Wright has soured quite a bit over the years and there is a sense of betrayal to be felt (listen to 19:30-22:00 of this lecture for an idea of what I am referring to).

As ever Al, not too keen on the idea that NTW is ‘misunderstood’. I understand what you mean by it; people are sloppy in understanding Wright. But it makes things very subjective because you can always claim that anyone who doesn’t appreciate NTW is misunderstanding him and this is just epistemological bullying. Few have the opportunity to read the complete works of NT and thus much “honing” must be done. I dislike this epistemological hierarchy which becomes set up: the more you know of NTW’s work, the more you understand it. That’s not the right way to approach the text…

if the NPP is rejecting an imaginary Reformation, then the NPP isn’t rejecting the real reformation at all, and everyone should be able to get along. Right?

Jon,

I don’t think that that is true. Whilst some people might identify all lack of appreciation for Wright with misunderstanding (I don’t know who), I don’t believe that I do. There are points in Wright’s critics when it is clear that they understand him and yet decide to disagree with him. I am more than happy to admit that.

I know the difference between misunderstanding and lack of appreciation. What I am referring to here is not some mere ’subjective’ judgment. There are demonstrable and serious misrepresentations in the critiques given to us by men such as Carson, Waters and Duncan. This has been pointed to by many people. Wright himself has responded to some of Carson’s.

In addition I don’t believe that it is necessary to read all of Wright in order to understand him. Nor do I hold to some hierarchy in this respect. I know people who have only read a few of Wright’s books who understand him better on certain points than someone like Lane, who claims to have read most of what Wright has written.

What I do believe is that it is necessary to study Wright carefully, sympathetically and in considerable depth before you have the right to put yourself forward as an authority on his thought. The standard required of someone who wants to condemn him as a gospel-denying heretic should be, if anything, considerably higher.

Sloppy readings of Wright:

One critic wrote a lengthy web article ’showing’ that Wright ‘denied imputation’. The article stressed how important it was to only consider the righteousness that we have by imputation.

What the article would have done better to say was that Wright seems to deny that a status of moral merit, OTHER THAN FORGIVEN SIN, is necessary for a declaration of righteousness in justifcation.

Imputed active obedience solves a problem that Wright denies exists. Critics of Wright focus on the lack of ‘imputation’ in Wright’s model, but fail to notice that Wright thinks everything we need for justification was accomplished on the cross.

Paul,

I am not sure that I completely agree with your reading of Wright on this point. Wright teaches that we share in the Messiah’s faithfulness by faith, which seems to be saying something more. He also argues that all that the Messiah has is ours. Christ does not merely clear all of our debits; He gives us a new credit balance. Christ does not merely wipe the slate clean; He brings in new creation.

But do we need a new creation for justification? I can accept that wright puts received moral uprightness PRIOR to justifiation in the call or in regeneration. But he seems to say (see the fake interview from Kunalians) that ‘justification’ needs only an objective dealing with sin (atonement).

Wright says that all that stuff happens, but it isn’t part of his account of justification.

Paul,

Sorry, I misread you, although I still don’t think that I entirely agree. Wright teaches that the atonement makes justification possible — as you said he does not believe that the transfer of moral merit is also required. The idea that righteousness equals perfect obedience to the Law is not present in Wright. Righteousness is right relationship with God and can exist even when sins have been committed, provided that those sins have been atoned for. There is no need for the imputation of active obedience (which is not to say that we merely have our debts cancelled). However, I don’t believe that that means that he teaches that forgiveness of sins is all that justification consists of.

The justification that Jesus Himself received, for example, was not a forgiveness of sins but a vindication, which is something more. We don’t just have Christ dying for our sins; He is also raised for our justification. For Wright this justification is not merely about the forgiveness of sins, but about membership in the family promised to Abraham.

Lane,

In response to your earlier comments.

I agree that the Church has nailed down many essential things to the Christian faith. However, I believe that there is a lot more latitude for rethinking than you seem to. In general what the Church has nailed down are boundaries, guarding against certain erroneous positions. We theologize within those boundaries. There are many orthodox ways of understanding the Trinity and many orthodox ways of understanding justification. In passing, I also believe that we should be very careful that we don’t give the Reformed tradition the same weight as the catholic tradition of the Church.

One thing that you realize when you start reading the early Reformed is that there was a lot of diversity in their understanding of issues such of justification and a huge diversity in their reading of Romans. Musculus advocates paedocommunion. Bullinger holds an understanding of election that many would see as FV or worse today. He also has interesting views about the Law and covenant. In Bucer, to take another example, one will find a number of interesting diversions from certain popular readings of Romans and Galatians (for example the reading of expressions such as ‘the righteousness of God’ and the ‘works of the Law’). Such examples could be multiplied.

I believe that we can learn a lot from studying the Reformers. However, I believe that in many respects, particularly exegetically, they have less and less to teach us. They have done an awful lot to bring us to the place that we are, but they have been surpassed in many areas by those who followed after them. It is like reading Newton after Einstein. One does not denigrate Newton by claiming that he has been surpassed; one simply recognizes that all of our limited formulations can be improved upon. Wright will be surpassed by many in the future and has been surpassed by some already. Wright himself has admitted that a significant percentage of what he has put forward is probably wrong, but he does not know which part. This, incidentally, exposes the unfairness of your claims about Wright’s view of his importance as a theologian.

You claim that the Reformation and Puritan view of justification cannot be improved upon. I beg to differ. For starters there are dozens of Protestant and Reformed views of justification. There has been significant diversity on such issues in all periods of the Reformed churches’ history. I believe that a number of the doctrines of justification that the Reformers and the Puritans put forward are inadequate in various respects.

I believe that careful analysis of their work will make clear that it was their concern to rule out certain understandings of the doctrine as impermissible. This becomes clearer when one appreciates the wide range of understandings of justification that were present in early Protestantism, some of which closely resemble Catholic views (Peter Leithart has done quite a bit of study on this). One begins to recognize what exactly it is about certain Roman Catholic views that the Reformers are objecting to. As the diversity of views of justification begins to diminish somewhat one notices that the early Reformers’ formulations fall foul of many of the new distinctions. The Reformers’ successors largely presume that the root concerns demand the distinctions, but this is not necessarily the case.

I believe that there are ways of thinking about justification that do justice to the root concerns of the Reformers, whilst clearly departing from traditional Reformed formulations and I believe that Wright has provided us with some ways of moving towards such positions. For example, the doctrine of imputation is important to the Reformers because it guards against the error of basing our justification upon an impersonal infused righteousness. However, I don’t believe that it is the only way of guarding against such an error. I believe that the concerns that underlie the Reformed doctrine of justification are to be retained, but I also believe that most of the traditional formulations can easily be improved upon.

I find your claim that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past a bit unfair. Wright may not read as many of your favourite dead theologians as you think he should do, but much of this has to do with the fact that he operates in a very different milieu from the one that you do. Many thinking Christians just don’t find the Puritans as helpful as you do. Given the fact that he is an Anglican you should not be surprised if Wright doesn’t give that much attention to your pet theologians as you would like him to. Perhaps he reads Anglicans instead. Besides, I would like to see your proof that Wright isn’t reading the writers of the past.

Wright hardly cuts himself off from the voices of Church history. It just seems to me that he reads different ones and also that he interacts with certain traditional positions by interacting by leading modern advocates of those positions. Besides, no one is claiming that historical theology is Wright’s forte. Learning the lessons of the past is not primarily something that we do individually, but something that we do in dialogue with others within the body of Christ. Frankly, I believe that Wright would be wasting his time if he focused on reading the Reformers’ commentaries. I am pleased when he focuses on his area of gifting. I am disappointed when he makes unhelpful pronouncements on issues outside of the area of his expertise, such as contemporary politics and historical theology.

Another important point that you must appreciate is that there are plenty of people who enjoy Wright who do listen firsthand to the voices of the past. There is no one man movement here. People critically appropriate Wright and relate his thought to the previous thinking that has occurred within their tradition. There are people who have studied the Puritans and Reformed history who actually find Wright very helpful in progressing their thinking.

On the issue of imputation, I really, truly and honestly fail to see what all the fuss is about. Wright’s view gives us everything that imputation gives us. What is wrong with the position put forward in a statement like this? What does it take from us that the doctrine of imputation gives us?—

The first of these [the status of being ‘in Christ’] is particularly important, and is the theme of verse 9, which sums up a good deal that he says at more length in Romans and Galatians. Paul draws out the contrast, the same contrast he’s been talking about throughout the passage, between those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant people because they possess, and try to keep, the Jewish law, the Torah, and those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant family because of what the Messiah has done. In 2:8 he described the Messiah’s achievement as his ‘obedience, even unto death’; here he describes it as his ‘faithfulness’; but the two mean substantially the same thing. And the way we share in ‘the Messiah’s faithfulness’ is by our ‘faith’. Our belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world, and our loyalty to him, are the sign and badge that we have a credit balance consisting simply of him, over against all the debits we could ever have from anywhere else. This is Paul’s famous doctrine of ‘justification by faith’, which continues to be a comfort and a challenge to millions around the world.

I believe that the concerns that underlie the doctrine of imputation are important. However, I don’t believe that imputation is necessary in order to preserve them. It seems to me that Wright gives us a possible alternative.

In the quote above Wright clearly teaches that we share in the ‘Messiah’s faithfulness’, which he identifies as Christ’s obedience unto death. What is it that you think that Wright is missing? I think that the fuss over imputation is one of the silliest things about the whole present debate. Wright certainly rejects the terminology, but retains the key elements of the substance.

On the issue of polemics, there is a time and a place. We should all be prepared to employ polemics on the right occasion. However, the example of Jesus does not give a carte blanche to polemicists. I am certainly not alone in believing that you employed polemics in quite the wrong place. As I have pointed out before, there was a reason that you got thrown off the Wrightsaid list, a place where many contradictory points of view have been able to co-exist in dialogue.

You write:—

I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

I don’t really think that IQ is the issue here. I know many smart people who don’t get and seemingly can’t get Wright, no matter how hard they try. As I pointed out in my post, a sharp mind that has brought a particular way of thinking to a high degree of consistency is often less able to understand a new position than someone who has never developed such a depth of consistency in their thinking. Some people who have high IQs have deep, but narrow minds, that are increasingly unable to entertain new ways of thinking that run against the grain of their habitual ways of thinking. Reading comprehension is one thing, reading comprehension across sharply differing paradigms is another. Often highly intelligent people are also unimaginative people, which can make it hard for them to comprehend radically different ways of thinking. I also believe that we do have significant differences in our reading of Wright (imputation being a case in point).

You ask:

…if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

I don’t take Wright’s word for everything that he says. Most of Wright’s readers do have the power of independent thought and a significant number of them have read the Reformers in depth for themselves. They can arrive at their own assessment of the accuracy of Wright’s statements. I have read a lot of Calvin and I think that some of what Wright claims is unfair when applied to Calvin. However, I believe that a number of Wright’s claims are true. Calvin does, for example, often tend to read the discussions with the Roman Catholics into the text.

You write:

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

Because we claim to be Christians.

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

It might be worthwhile to try a different tone for a while and see what happens. You are speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ, people for whom our Lord died. You tone often gives the impression that you love polemics more than you love your neighbour, that you want to win the argument more than you want to win your brother.

On Wright’s compatibility with the WCF, I believe that Wright is compatible with what I regard as the root concerns of the WCF’s doctrine of justification. I do not believe that those root concerns necessitate the position that Westminster gives us though.

I believe that the desire to move forward to new formulations of the truth is not a sign of a ‘restless attitude towards God’s truth’. Quite the opposite. The desire to move forward can be an indication that our desire is fixed on God’s Truth and we are not going to content ourselves with something less. All of our theological formulations are merely signposts that point beyond themselves. They are witnesses to the Truth and seek to reflect that Truth as best they can. However, as our hearts are drawn towards the Truth, we will start to develop a restless attitude towards our theological formulations insofar as they arrest our movement towards the Truth at a particular point. Our formulations can always reflect God’s Truth more accurately.

You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

Yes and no. There is both similarity and difference. We must do justice to both and not overemphasize one to the neglect of the other. One could argue that Wright’s doctrine of justification could be accommodated to the Westminster Confession to a large extent, just as Wright is willing to accommodate himself to the language of the 39 Articles on justification. I am pretty sure that, if Wright were operating within a confessionally Reformed context, he would be prepared to accommodate himself to traditional language on imputation, whilst making clear that he thought that Paul speaks about things differently.

I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

Sorry, I’m far from persuaded.

Thanks Al,
I appreciate your concise argumentation both online and in person. I also find it helpful when you do discuss these issues in a positive way rather than in the usual negative evangelical mistrusting approach. Hope your summer has been good so far. Looking forwards to uni again?

Thanks Jon,

Yes, I am looking forward to returning to uni. I am not enjoying my present work very much, although that should change in a few days’ time. However, in other respects the summer has gone very well.

As regards more positive approaches, I confess that I prefer them too. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to express my frustration and I blog about it. As I have been reading Waters on the FV and relistening to lectures from Wright and his critics while I have been working, I have a lot of frustration at the moment. On such occasions I often put things in a way that I would not in my calmer moments, even though I would not disagree with the points that I have made above. In retrospect I do regret a number of my past posts and regret that I did not put things in a more balanced manner in the post above. It was written quickly and posted without as much thought as I could have given.

Unfortunately posts that are more negative in tone seem to draw the greatest response (as the number of comments above proves) and often people from different parties seem to understand and employ them in a manner quite alien to my intentions. Some from other traditions use it to dismiss Reformed scholarship. Some Wright supporters use it to mock Wright’s critics. A number of those critical of Wright totally misread it as well (this post being a good example). I see the situation that I describe in my post as incredibly tragic and believe that it shows a venerable theological tradition in a very poor light.

Al, I’m not going to answer everything you said, because I’ve answered it already, and I would just be repeating myself. But I will say one or two things.

Firstly, regarding imputation. I am absolutely dumbfounded and rather disappointed that you think the debate over imputation is silly. That has *always* been the heart of the Reformers’ doctrine of justification. The entire OT has the shape of needing to obey the law to live. Christ obeyed the law, and we live. It’s as simple as that. His obedience to the law is what is credited to our account. NTW will not say that, and did not say that in your quotation. NTW would argue that obeying the law is not and has never been the way to perfect righteousness for anyone. He would quote the sacrificial system as evidence for this (which is a non-sequitur).

For evidence that imputation is absolutely irrevocably central to justification in the minds of the Reformers, go to the following places: Calvin’s Inst. 2.7.2, especially Turretin’s Institutes 2.646-656, Bavinck’s RD 3.102, Owen’s works, vol 5, pp 223-240, Hodge, volume 3, pp 144-150, Dabney, ST, pp 328-331, Pelikan’s Christian Tradition, volume 4, pp 149-151, Witsius, ECBGM, I, pp 402-403, Reymond’s ST, pp. 745-747, James P. Boyce’s Abstracts, pp 396-398, Berkhof, pp 523-524, Buchanan’s work on Justification, pp 314-339, Cunningham’s Historical Theology, vol 2, pp 45-56, Pemble’s Justificaion of a Sinner, pp 69-134, Murray, RAA, pp 123-124, Ursinus’s Commentary, pp 326-328, Murray’s works, volume 2, pp. 213-215, Packer, in New Bible Dictionary, pg 639, and just look at the title in Bunyan’s works, volume 1, pp 300-330, Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin for a conclusive argument on Romans 5, Strong’s ST, pg 862, Haldane on Romans, pg 177, Edwards, BT works, vol 1, pp 622-654, especially pp. 628, 635-636, WCF chapter 11, Heidelberg Catechism, question 60. Now I suggest that you *seriously* revise your statement after reading these relatively short quotations. I have been at pains to make sure that most of them are only a few pages. I have referenced 16th-20th century works, Puritan and Continental, Presbyterian and Independent, even Baptist.

Secondly, about being gracious: you did not answer my challenge. NTW lambastes the Reformational understanding of justification. He uses highly inflammatory language. You claim that we should be gracious because we are Christians. what about him? Of course, we should be gracious to our brothers. But if we are gracious to wolves, we will wind up with fat, contented wolves and no sheep. You seem to completely forget Jesus’ own harshest of harsh words to the Pharisees! Did that portion of Scripture simply drop out of the canon? See Douglas Wilson’s great book _The Serrated Edge_ for a great exegetical defense of what I’m talking about. *Graciousness does not equal Christianity.*

Lane,

When I claimed that I thought that the debate over imputation was silly, I was not claiming that the concerns underlying the doctrine of imputation are silly. Far from it. What I was claiming was that the claims that Wright is the great enemy of imputation are silly and have little basis.

I will acknowledge that Wright does not hold to the imputation of Christ’s ‘active obedience’ as classically understood, but this can hardly be called heresy. The Westminster Confession (11.1) does not even teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and deliberately leaves the question open as a number of the divines themselves denied it.

Wright does believe that the death of Christ for our sins is the necessary condition for our being declared righteous and he believes that in union with Christ we share His justified status. So I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

In fact, one could even argue that Wright holds to a form of the imputation of active obedience as well. God does not merely pardon our sins and accept us as righteous; God views us as the true humanity in Christ. Christ lived as the true Adam and in Him we are regarded by God as those who have fulfilled His pattern for humanity.

Of course, Wright sees the Law playing a very different role in his account to the one that it plays in classic Reformed theology. I readily acknowledge this, but still don’t see why this is such a big issue. In Wright’s account of the Law it is, in some sense the pattern for true humanity, a pattern that is fulfilled by and in Christ, so his view isn’t even as far removed as it might originally appear.

I really don’t believe that Wright lambasts the Reformational understanding of justification. Some have put forward strange readings of statements in WSPRS, suggesting that Wright presents the Reformed doctrine as if it were a fart joke (the reference being to Wright’s statement that righteousness is not some sort of substance or gas that can be passed over from the judge to the defendent). I just don’t have time or patience to respond to such readings. Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). However, I do not believe could fairly be said to ‘lambast’ the Reformed doctrine of imputation. It should also be remembered that many of the positions that he dialogues with are popular evangelical misconceptions rather than traditional Reformed doctrine. Wright’s language simply is not that inflammatory to those who are prepared to listen carefully. To be honest, I am surprised at how graciously he has responded to people who have grossly misrepresented him with evangelicalism.

I am quite aware of the attitude that Jesus had to the Pharisees and the attitude that Paul had to Peter, and so on. However, there is a time and a place and I don’t think that you are careful enough in this area. It is easy to shoot first and ask questions later. Even supposing that Wright is a heretic, many of us have many differences with him and don’t appreciate when it is presumed that we hold all of his views and can be personally attacked as if we held them ourselves. If you can’t clearly identify your target and throw straight you shouldn’t be playing with serrated edges.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric?

For the record, Lane, Wright did not name the book, his publisher did. Wright doesn’t even like the name (just as he doesn’t like the title of his recent book, The Last Word). As I said in my previous comment, if you can’t get your facts right, we would all appreciate if you would keep the serrated edge sheathed.

Al, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to me, and a model of how to deal with controversy on the Internet (and that I need as many such models as I can get is undoubtable!). I greatly appreciate your theological work and the provocative ways you approach many old issues, shedding fresh light on them.

I look forward to hopefully meeting you next year when, by the grace of God, I actually do get to come to Edinburgh and begin my graduate studies.

You were probably listening to my debate with Daniel Kirk on this about Chad Van Dixhorn’s work on the WCF. Suffice it to say that Chad does *not* ultimately take the direction on WCF 11.1 (as explained by LC 70) that Daniel Kirk does. They listen to the first part of what he says without listening to the rest. Ultimately, Chad believes that question 70 (which most assuredly does teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience) should be allowed to influence our reading of chapter 11. The Westminster standards *do* teach the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer.

With regard to the serrated edge, I have spent four or five years deeply researching NTW’s work before I said a word about it. So I did in fact ask questions first, and then started my shooting. I am not a rash person, as you seem to think. I am a scholar who reads widely.

WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

I trust that I have never said that you hold to all of NTW’s ideas. I have never said it. So don’t attribute to me what I didn’t say. It doesn’t look good when you accuse me of doing that.

And I am not attacking people, but ideas.

With regard to the title of NTW’s book, I have two things to say. First, I didn’t know that the publisher had entitled it. So I see your point up to a point. But two, NTW could have refused to have it published under that title. He is responsible for how he comes across. He can’t push that responsibility over on to a publisher, and neither can you.

BOQ
Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). EOQ

And this is precisely where all the quotes I gave earlier, which you conveniently forgot to mention or interact with, would disagree with NTW. If someone doesn’t hold to imputation in the Reformation sense, as given in all those quotations, then he has justification wrong. One can’t just try to get around critics, as NTW tries all the time, by stating something that sounds the same, but isn’t. This is why you misunderstand NTW’s position vis-a-vis the Reformation. It is not I who misunderstands NTW, but you.

At least you admit that NTW does not agree with the transfer of accounts. I read him that way too. And refusing to acknowledge that language, especially in Romans 4, is what makes NTW wrong on this, and incompatible with Reformed theology.

Further, you are guilty of a non-sequitur when you say that it cannot be a matter of transfer of accounts, but can only be a matter of being seen in His vindication. Read the Edwards treatise, especially, and you will see that it is not either/or there. We are give by imputation the righteousness of Christ’s law-keeping precisely because we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection by faith. We become married to Him, and as His spouse, have a legal right to everything that belongs to Christ, all His merits. So we are seen and united to Christ in His vindication, and in the process have His merits transferred to our account. Why can’t it be both, pray?

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Lane, you write:
WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

Well, I think there could be other ways of approaching the obedience of Christ. Especially in light of the text: Rom.3:21 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law..” Before dismissing Wright, I would encourage you to look at how obedience to the Father “apart from the law” may have primacy and may answer your concerns. I would encourage you to read Rich Lusk’s response to OPC report on this point before jumping to conclusions. It may be helpful. Here it is:
http://www.trinity-pres.net/essays/opc-justification-reply-2.pdf

Wow! You certainly got a lot of comments on this one. I found your post very interesting. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about N.T. Wright, except that my Reformed Pastor really likes his commentaries. These days, while I am reading blogs, I find very little comment about what N.T. Wright actually says but a whole lot concerning his worth as a theologian. Some seem to love him unconditionally; some seem to hate him unconditionally.

You’ve piqued my interest.

Thanks,
Renee

To Troy, are you assuming that Romans 3:21 refers the “without the law” to Christ’s obedience and righteousness? Most Reformed authors would refer that “without the law” to our way of appropriating Christ’s righteousness. This demonstrated as being in accord with the context by verses 27-28.

Lane:

Imputation is irrevocably central to the reformed formulation of Justification because the reformed formulation stipulates that you need the merit of lawkeeping to be justified.

Wright doesn’t stipulate that, so he doesnt need the merit of lawkeeping for justification. I suppose that’s why some people say Wright is soft on sin, though he isn’t.

What Al is saying though is that there are OTHER parts of wrights theology that carry the loads that you want justification and imputation to bear. I suspect there are those aspects, though I’ll admit its not clear to me, though I’m working on it. More later

Lane,

I would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology.

Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification.

For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology.

As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false.

As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position.

As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.

There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132)

Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language.

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these.

Just in case any of you are wanting any more discussion of this issue (!!), there is further discussion of this post taking place on the Derek Webb board.

BOQI would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

BOQ
It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. EOQ

I have read him, and he does not cover the same bases.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

BOQ
You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. EOQ

Look, NTW can say whatever he wants. He is not Presbyterian. He is not bound to the Westminster standards. But that is not the issue. My problem is with people who say that he isn’t saying anything really different from Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy. He is. And therefore, those who profess to hold to Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy may not hold to NTW’s beliefs on justification.

BOQ
For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology. EOQ

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible. You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level. Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

BOQ
I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false. EOQ

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically. I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

BOQ
As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position. EOQ

To claim that NTW doesn’t hold to imputation has nothing to do with whether I engaged his position or not. That is wholly irrelevant to that precise logical question. You may claim that I didn’t engage his position correctly. But you are simply wrong to claim that I am not engaging him at all when I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation. When I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation, I mean that he doesn’t hold to the Reformed doctrine of it, which even you must admit. What I have tried to argue (through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so) is simply that the Reformed view of imputation is part of an irreducible complexity (to borrow a phrase from Michael Behe) with regard to justification. I have also tried the tack of practical holiness: we must needs have a *perfect* righteousness to stand before the infinitely holy God. This is proved by the fact that the OT Israelites needed a Mediator. They couldn’t stand in God’s presence directly. Not even Moses could look directly at God, since he was a sinner. Isaiah’s call narrative is another case in point. In justification, a court-room decision *in God’s presence* is made. We must have a perfect righteousness in order to be acquitted, otherwise God is not just. That is why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness, since we cannot procure a perfect righteousness for ourselves. This can only happen by imputation. It is not enough to have our sins forgiven. As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness. That is not the point of the passage, since the proof-text is brought in to prove imputation, not any direction in reverse. If anything, we would have to say that in Romans 4, Forgiveness is part of imputation, if we wanted to subsume one to the other. No, rather, they are the flip side of the same coin. NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness. The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

BOQ
The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. EOQ

This is true, but so is the other.

BOQ
This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.EOQ

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

BOQ
There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. EOQ

This is simply not imputation. In imputation something new and different happens. It is not the declaration of what is already the case. The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification. I know this from personal correspondence with him, and many talks with him on the phone. I think you picked the wrong theologian to throw at me. What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ. I am no more claiming a separate discrete structure for imputation than Gaffin does. My position is identical with Gaffin. But Gaffin does not support Wright here. Because Gaffin supports the traditional Reformed understanding of imputation. Gaffin is merely at pains to locate imputation and justification within the realm of union with Christ. He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that. Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. Gaffin would argue that imputation does involve any kind of legal fiction. As would I. But Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

BOQ
Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132) EOQ

BOQ
Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language. EOQ

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

(me)
But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

BOQ
Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. EOQ

I was not actually claiming that that was my sole ground of belief. It was perhaps poorly worded. What I was saying is that belief that Jesus is God is necessary (though not sufficient) for this understanding of imputation in justification.

BOQ
I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these. EOQ

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy? I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

“And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem.”

I wonder if Lane’s prolixity on internet forumns in indicative of a mental aberration. I wonder if Lane’s prolixity is an indication he’s neclecting his pastoral duties. I’m not claiming he has these problems, I’m just wondering out loud about them.

Listen to yourself sometime Lane.

Or listen to an excellent series of talks from Marion Clark on speaking the truth in love. They were very convicting to me. Clark would probably say I’m ill advised to make these kinds of sarcastic responses, but I’m trying a serrated clarkian approach

Lane,

Let’s assume that you are 100% right in everything you say. It is obvious that you are not persuading anyone. Your arguments, even your “best arguments,” are simply alienating people. From a practical perspective, it might be time to let it go–or to preach to the choir of those who have sworn their allegiance to the WCF.

Rod

Lane,

This is going to have to be my final response to your comments. I stand by my earlier claims that you have misunderstood Wright. You have not presented me with any convincing reason to change my mind on this assessment (and I am listening to what you have to say). You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. Once that has taken place there is the exceedingly difficult task of translating his theological proposal into the language game of the WCF. The problem is that some of Wright’s proposals cannot be expressed in the theological vocabulary that Westminster offers us. It is that act of translation that has been short-circuited in your approach. Only after this has been done can we establish whether Wright’s position is out of bounds or not.

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

You misunderstand me. To study someone’s theology from the inside does not necessity any sort of willingness to accept its truth. Rather, it is an act of the imagination whereby the reader tries looking at the world through a different set of eyes. To understand Wright’s theology you need to have an appreciation of the way that Wright’s own mind works. Why does Wright find his position persuasive? Why does he find his earlier ‘Banner of Truth’-type Reformed position unpersuasive? The person who truly understands Wright should be able to represent the reasoning underlying his position in a manner that Wright himself would acknowledge to be his own.

This is not merely a mastery of the way that Wright uses his terms; it is an imaginative sharing of his theological vision. One tries to look at the world through Wright’s eyes, even if one believes that Wright’s eyesight is distorted. This is a ‘sympathetic’ reading inasmuch as it is an attempt to imaginatively share the feelings and vision of another. It need not be a ‘sympathetic’ reading in the sense that would imply that this vision is one that you believe to be right or one that you would be willing to share.

I believe that we won’t truly understand any position (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) until we give it the first type of sympathetic reading. Whilst I do not believe that a sympathetic reading is sufficient for the true understanding of a position (we need a critical reading as well), I do believe that it is necessary. I believe that Hinduism is a false religion and I would not bring an open mind to my study of it. However, I would seek to give a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

As I said before, you have not given Wright a sympathetic reading, nor have you made a genuine attempt to translate his claims into language that can be processed by the WCF. Consequently, I believe that your judgment concerning his theology is ill-founded (even were it right). The cause of your misunderstanding is not, I believe, a lack of intelligence. Rather, I believe that it is more likely a failure of theological imagination or the unjustifiable unwillingness to grant Wright a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

That is not true. I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

You have made far too facile a translation of Wright’s theology into Reformed categories here. The translation is far, far more complex — if it is possible at all. The Law for Reformed theology is generally understood more in terms of a supra-historical universal standard that is applied to history at some later stage. The Law tends to be understood as the obedience that God requires. For Wright the Law is something quite different. It is a particular thing, given to a particular nation at a particular moment in history. For Wright the Law is also narrative and, significantly, covenant. The Law is the charter of Israel’s existence.

If you understand Wright’s view of the Law you should recognize that to ask him about the three uses of the Law is much like a Chinese man talking to you in his language and expecting you to understand him. This does not mean that there is no way that something similar to the three uses of the Law couldn’t be asserted in Wright’s language. It is just to say that you are expecting Wright to speak a foreign language that is now only spoken in very isolated pockets of the Christian Church. This is not fair.

I actually believe that there are ways in which Wright could affirm something similar to the three uses of the Law in terms of his theology. The Law certainly has a pedagogical purpose in Wright’s theology. On one important level it is the blueprint for authentic human existence and in God’s redemptive-historical purposes it also puts a spotlight on human sin. The Law bears witness to Christ in typology and prophecy, leading the people of God to Him by revealing the problem and witnessing to the solution. The Law is also fulfilled in the faithful life of the Christian. These do not exactly correspond to the traditional understanding of the role of the Law, but we must remember that there is equivocation here in our use of the terminology of Law.

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible.

The differences between Wright and the confession are certainly not on the level of wording alone. It is misleading to say that it is. Many of the concepts and categories of thought that Wright works in terms of are not found in the confession. However — and this point is crucial — the concepts that one finds in Wright’s theology, whilst different from those of the confession are not for that reason necessarily contrary to the key concepts of the confession. They accomplish the same end through differing means. Wright’s affirmations can also be accommodated to the alien language of the confession in various respects, through an act of careful translation.

You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level.

The difference is not one of mere wording. The difference is like any difference between languages. The word for ‘dog’ in different languages does not always denote and connote exactly the same things, although there will be significant overlap. You cannot usually use the word for ‘dog’ in a foreign language in exactly the same way as one uses the word in English. Translation is a task that involves careful accommodation and negotiation and a degree of meaning will always be lost in the process. However, linguistic and conceptual differences need not entail radical substantial differences.

In the end I think that, in substance, Wright’s theology is quite Reformed in many respects. I also believe that, once one has appropriated his linguistic and conceptual tools, one will appreciate that they grant one a far greater grasp of the substance of Paul’s theology than Reformed theology has done so far. He does not deny the substance that has been previously recognized but gives us ways to get a purchase on substance that we had not truly grasped before.

Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. As regards union with Christ, Wright distinguishes this from justification. What he argues is that union with Christ is the basis on which God reckons righteousness to us. Union with Christ is not identified as the reckoning righteous, but as that which provides the basis. I don’t see the great difference here.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

I was trying to give a possible explanation. I know for a fact that Wright is not the only theologian to have had his book titled against his wishes. At a recent SBL conference that one of my lecturers in St. Andrews attended he said that Wright gave reasons why he disliked the title that the publishers had given to the US edition of his recent book on Scripture. Bart Ehrman, who was speaking in the same session as Wright, said the same thing about his book Misquoting Jesus.

Whether making a fuss would have made a difference is beyond my knowledge. Wright does not seem to be the person to make such a fuss. The impression that I get is that the choice of the title is not always under the writer’s control. Perhaps Wright didn’t fight to rename his book because he didn’t expect to be taken to task for it by cantankerous and uncharitable people and thought that he would prefer to retain good relations with his publisher than have his own way on this issue. The fact of the matter is that you have made an embarrassingly big deal out of an assumption that you have failed to demonstrate.

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically.

This is, as usual, a very uncharitable reading. I am sure that Wright is just saying that he has made up his mind on some important central issues in his reading of Paul and no longer holds them in question. I am sure that all of us have done this to some extent. There are certain questions that I have settled in my mind and don’t plan to return to. I have carefully weighed the various sides of the arguments and come to a conclusion. This does not mind that I think that I have arrived theologically. I have come to be persuaded that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity and am never going to go back on that. Does that imply an arrogant feeling of having arrived on my part? Wright has made clear that he does not believe that every detail of his picture is correct, but he is not going to change the basic sketch.

I get the impression that if Wright had expressed an openness to totally rethink his position, critics would claim that he was the type who would never have the courage to make up his mind, the type of person who was always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

Maybe you need to spend some more time thinking about it. It is not hard to reconcile the two statements. The idea that Wright regards himself as the ‘eschatological exegete’ is bizarre in the extreme.

…through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so…

Well, I have read at least a dozen of the sources that you listed in the past and was not going to go through them again. Besides, whilst it is reasonable to expect me to be familiar with Reformed understandings of justification if I claim that Wright is compatible with the Reformed tradition, it is totally unreasonable to expect anyone to read 100+ pages of text in order to answer your comment.

I am acquainted with the position of the Reformers and their successors. However, my claim is still that you are failing to treat Wright on his own terms. Reading the Reformers is not going to settle anything. You must have the careful sympathetic reading before the critical reading can take place. Furthermore, there is the task of translation, which you haven’t really undertaken.

Your further comments neglect the fact that imputation of active obedience is far from the consensus of the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition is not as monolithic on the issues of justification and imputation as you suggest. Dabney and Hodge disagree, Calvin and many of his successors disagree, there were differing views among the Westminster divines, etc.

As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness.

Wright doesn’t deny that justification involves forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness in Romans 4. God forgives our sins and reckons us righteous because in Christ we are righteous. I don’t believe that Wright does subsume imputation into forgiveness.

NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness.

I don’t think that that is true. Wright does not see the declaration of righteousness as being based upon the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. However, he does hold that in Christ we possess everything that is Christ’s, including the glory that the Father gave to Him as a result of His faithful fulfilling of His vocation.

Wright argues that God includes us in the verdict of righteous that He made at Christ’s resurrection. If we are included in Christ’s vindication then we are counted as if we lived the righteous life that gave rise to that vindication. Consequently, one can argue that Wright believes in a form of the doctrine of the imputation of active obedience as a part of his doctrine of justification. The difference between his view and the common understanding is that the imputation is logically subsequent or contemporaneous with our participation in Christ’s verdict for Wright, whilst it is logically prior for the more common understanding.

The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

Wright believes that we share the verdict that is cast over Christ as a result of His faithful life (which he would not speak of as ‘earning’ righteousness, as if righteousness were some sort of brownie points). The verdict that is ours is one that involves us being regarded in Christ as those who are the true humanity and members of the Israel that has fulfilled its vocation. He also believes that Christ bears both our sins and our sinful nature (he is strong on this point). We are accepted as sons as God reckons us in Christ and we are guaranteed eternal life in Him. It seems to me that Wright can be seen to cover the same bases if we read him carefully and think through his position on its own terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

I was not misquoting you; you are misunderstanding me. I know full well what you are and were saying. My point is that the marriage analogy that you gave is a good way to illustrate the fact that no transfer from one account to another is necessary for imputation to take place. If we are transferred into Christ’s body all that is His becomes our, with no transfer between accounts at all; we have a shared account. Participation rather than extrinsic transfer is a more healthy and biblical way of thinking.

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

No, I don’t think that it is the only way. The imputation of our sins (or debts to keep with the analogy) to Christ takes place when Christ comes to share the account of rebellious humanity at the cross and pays off the debt completely. There is no transfer of funds. Christ unites Himself to sinful humanity in His coming and exhausts their debt in His death.

The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification.

I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this.

What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ.

So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?

He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that.

Is Wright denying this?

Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. …Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

Gaffin is saying that our vital relationship with Christ makes Christ’s righteousness ours, along with all of His other blessings. Our being reckoned righteousness rests on Christ’s own ‘resurrection-approved righteousness’ which is ours by virtue of the union. Gaffin points out that it is reckoned ours because it is ours (“The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established”). It was in precisely this sense that I meant that imputation does not change anything. It is merely a reckoning of what is in fact the case by virtue of the union established.

Gaffin may believe that it is not technically inappropriate to speak of the event of our being united with Christ as an imputation that changes things (in the sense that I have used the word) and thus as an act of transfer, but this would merely be a debate about terminology. In substance he is saying the same thing as Wright here. He may have gone back on the position since, but in this quote Gaffin is not teaching anything opposed to what Wright himself teaches.

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

There is no contradiction. What Wright is saying is that the common view of imputation is incompatible with what he claims to be the biblical way that righteousness language works. He brings forward ridiculous examples that no one would hold to in order to illustrate this incompatibility.

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy?

Yes. I have.

I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

What I was objecting to was the number of assumptions that you were reading in. Wright does not share these assumptions. To even suggest that those beliefs are not shared because he compromises some foundational truth of Christianity that he strongly claims to hold is terribly premature, to say the least. There are far more immediate explanations that one needs to test before one resorts to putting one of the worst possible constructions on his statements.

In conclusion, Lane, I have extended you the courtesy of responding to your comments in detail. I have listened to what you have to say and have been unpersuaded. I do not have the time, energy or will to continue this dialogue any further at the moment, so this is my final comment. Thank you for your time and effort. I hope that God will bless you in your continued studies. I sincerely hope that you will come to an accurate assessment of Wright. If he is a heretic then I trust that you will be able to recognize that and carefully identify and warn us of his errors. If he is not, I trust that you will be given the courage to clear up confusion and exonerate him of false charges.

[...] The commenting continues beneath the Wright post. I have just written one of the longest comments I have ever written in my life. [...]

Indeed, you have been courteous in replying to my long-winded cantankerous comments. For that I thank you. We aren’t convincing each other of a single thing, and so I also will not continue beyond this last comment. And it will be quite selective.

BOQ
You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. EOQ

What you fail to appreciate is that I already Wright before I had any oath or binding committment to the Westminster Standards. In fact, I was not very familiar with them before I read most of Wright’s works. And so, i was actually able to do the very thing you seem to think I haven’t done: read him on his own terms. The problem here is that you cannot enter into my mind to find out the path that took me from there to rejecting *some* of his theology. But I deny utterly that I haven’t given him a fair reading. I view that claim as utterly absurd, and you are in no position to read my mind to say whether I have given him a fair reading or not. For you, the evidence consists completely in whether I come to the same conclusions as you have! I think that that would be the only way to convince you that I had given him a fair reading. So we are at an impasse there. I might add that Gaffin himself, in private communication, has said that he uniformly appreciated my posts on the debate page regarding NTW’s theology. Apparently, he agrees with my critiques. Gaffin is quite the scholar, and quite the gentleman, and that is why many have thought that he was too easy on NTW, especially in the Auburn Avenue lectures. Many people have thought that they teach basically the same things, as you also seem to think. His newest book will forever disabuse you of that notion, I trust.

BOQ
I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously. EOQ

As I have said before, I really don’t think that this is possible, since the only way to convince you that I understood NTW would be to come to your conclusions.

BOQ
So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?
EOQ

That is certainly not what Gaffin is saying. He would never equate union with imputation. He would say that union is the basis on which imputation can take place. It is what prevents the transfer from being a legal fiction. But it is not equal to imputation.

BOQ
Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. EOQ

He says that, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he is consistently applying it. It shows his inconsistency in the very formula that he gives that justification is matter not so much of soteriology, as of ecclesiology. How is that not playing one off against the other?

BOQ
I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this. EOQ

And I know for a fact that Gaffin himself would disagree with you. That’s all for me. I’m done. It has been extremely interesting and in many ways enlightening as well. Debate is something I love. I wish people were not so afraid of it. These comments about tone are off, for the most part. The Jewish rabbis themselves would call other rabbis empty-heads, even their best friends, right in the middle of debate. It has been in that spirit in which I have wished to debate. I have never meant anything as a personal attack, and if you, or anyone else have gotten that impression, then I apologize. I have always meant to attack ideas. Intention is often better than performance, however. Peace.

wow … long discussion. O.O now that we know we won’t be settling these issues, lets all just go anglican! ^^/ … imho, reformed circles in general have a fatal problem with understanding teh vitatlity of teh church–teh sacraments, teh liturgy, teh prayers …. btw, nice post!

Some of my earlier comments had problems with double blockquotes. Consequently it looks as if some of Lane’s words are mine. Whilst whose words are whose should generally be relatively obvious, I hope that this hasn’t caused any confusion. I have adjusted my last comment to try to address this problem, but am aware that it might have affected other earlier comments, which I have not checked.

Berek,

I quite understand where you are coming from on this one, although I have no intention to go Anglican just yet. It seems to me that it might just be a case of exchanging one set of fatal problems for another.

[...] For example: the minute you become a Calvinist or Lutheran you begin to spot heresy everywhere, because it is easy to find believers Doing Something, even yourself. This pernicious bug is so common it pops up not only in explicit thought but even in the way phrases are turned. The Christian side of the internet features many long, complicated arguments over whether such and such a person is a works person or not. It’s all quite nuanced. There are Christians who spend their lives at it. There are categories within categories. I’m not sure if I’m a semi-palagian or a semi-semi-pelagian. I can’t figure out why it matters, though, since whatever God wants to happen to me is what will happen. [...]

An excellent post. I’m not sure I follow all the theological fine points that you get into with your commenters; some of that is way over my head. But I’m sure that N. T. Wright does not deserve what he is getting from his Reformed critics.

I was hoping for a post with more substance. It seems your “reasons” are really just empty ad hominems. If you’re interested, I discussed your article here.

Nate,

I have responded in the comments of your post.

An astute theologian, such as Mr. Wright ought to write, and to speak, so as to be understood with a reasonable application of effort.
My only other problem with Mr. Wright is that I shouldn’t have to drop the price of a small house on all his books and lectures in order to be able find out that he isn’t a heretic.

Ray,

I actually don’t believe that Wright is all that hard to understand, though I can understand why some find him confusing. Wright only becomes hard to understand for those who try to interpret him within an alien theological framework. The difficulty is that many of Wright’s Reformed critics seem to find it incredibly hard to think outside of traditional Reformed categories. There are plenty of lay people in pews who seem to be able to get a better grasp on what Wright is saying than leading Reformed critics like Ligon Duncan.

The difficulties of understanding are paradigm difficulties. One could compare it to a Dutch speaker who continually picks up on the errors of those who speak other dialects, regional languages and other related languages such as Flemish, Brabantic, Zeelandic or Afrikaans and fails to realize that these dialects and languages need to be understood, to a significant degree, on their own terms.

Once it is appreciated that the grammar and vocabulary of Wright’s system works differently and that these need to be understood on their own terms, understanding him really isn’t that hard. However, lingering difficulties may exist as the close relationship between the language that the critic is more accustomed to and the language of Wright’s theology may occasionally mislead him into treating Wright’s language as if it were the same.

Wright’s critics are the grammaticians of Reformed language. They police the way in which the Reformed language should and should not be used. They often seek to standardize Reformed usage and eliminate some unhelpful dialects that persist. There are good reasons why such people find it especially hard to understand what Wright is saying.

I believe that Wright is generally one of the clearest writers I have ever read. He is acknowledged by almost everyone to be an incredibly gifted communicator, so it would surprise me if his thought was that hard to understand for the person who went about it the right way.

Wright goes wrong when he disagrees with Jesus and Paul on their perspicuous and far more expert assessment of STJ plus the clear treatment in the Gospels of the way in which the various Judaic schools used the Taanach. Jesus even gives us a critique on Jewish systematics to show that they had travelled in a diametrical direction from that of revealed Scripture. Paul did not build his theology on STJ. He built it, as the New Testament clearly testifies, on the revelation of Christ through the Older Testment in conformity with Jesus own method of revealing himself in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus and in the declaration “Moses spoke of me”.

Tim,

Wright claims to be representing the analysis of Jesus and Paul in his treatment of 2TJ. Wright shows how Jesus and Paul were deeply critical of the theology of many of their contemporaries (the Pharisees and Judaizers in particular), arguing that these parties missed the point of the Law and distracted attention away from the things that really mattered, leading people dangerously astray. Their almost talismanic use of the Torah is exposed for what it is and the primacy of faith is stressed against them as the thing that God is really looking for.

Wright does not see Paul’s theology as having been built on general theologies in 2TJ. Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.

I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.

“Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.” Perhaps in Wright’s understanding, but not in Paul’s. Paul, following Jesus, along with James, and John soundly condemn all STJ. If, indeed, the Old Covenant was abolished, so much more so the lowly aberrations that exuded from that Covenant. There was nothing redeemable in STJ for Paul to recast and Paul knew it. The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom was, as the prophets said it would be, “a new thing” not the reworking of something old. Jesus makes this plain in his analogy of the wine skins.
“I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.”
That is your privelege to believe, it is of no consequence to me. Wright is looking for an hermeneutic that gives greater flexibility to definitions of Christianity in keeping with his place in evangelical ecumenism. His basic question is “How can Christian be most broadly defined in order that Cathoiics, Liberals and Protestants may sit at the same table of academic relavency?” The answer is to put thoughts in Paul’s head that are not there, thoughts that Paul himself called “dung”.

Why is NT Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?…

As one who appreciates N.T. Wrights works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see…

[...] Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by So Many of His Reformed Critics? by Alistair “Adversaria” - an exploration into the possible psychology of the Reformed rush to judgments [...]

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do”

That kinda destroys the idea that Jesus thought all of 2TJ was worthless and to be destroyed.

I also think that you can put however much oomph into “radical recasting” that your dispute becomes one merely of words. Jesus ressurection body was a radical recasting of his fleshly body. Was it ‘the same’? Well, not is one sense, but yes in another…

Paul,

I’m not sure whether your comment is in response to me or not. However, I imagine that we are pretty much in agreement here. There is both significant continuity and discontinuity, something that is well illustrated by the example of resurrection that you give.

It was to Tim Price, actually.

Oh, 100th post!

Pduggie,
Please don’t stop with the first verse of Matthew 23. Please read on and see if, by the time Jesus finished his indictment against Judaism as he knew that there was anything left of it that he wished to have retrieved. Verse four sets the tone, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Jesus has already told his disciples that his burden is easy and light, quite different from that which the Pharisees would not bother to lift with their finger, that burden that barred their disciples from heaven and salvation. Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Jesus opens the gates of heaven for his disciples, but the teaching of Judaism did exactly the opposite precisely because they “travel[ed] (v.15) across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he be[came] a proselyte, [they] made him twice as much a child of hell as [them]selves.” In light of this, I would say that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to observe the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is simply a deference to civil authority (the seat of Moses). Nothing more. That ended in A.D. 70.

Alastair,
There is a place in debate to air issues like the motives and dispositions of critics of Tom Wright, but I suggest you focus a post on the substantive issues that the Reformed critics have with NT Wright — like does he teach imputation? does he teach forensic justification? What I find is that, while he sometimes pokes Reformers in the eye about both of these, mostly it is rhetoric of the via negativa sort. Careful readings of his Romans commentary convinces me that there is an element of imputation in Wright and he clearly sees justification as forensic, if also much more covenantal/relational.

Thanks for the comments, Scot. I have discussed a number of these issues in the past. I am also in the process of writing up a lengthy treatment of Wright’s doctrine of final justification, in which I engage with some of the concerns and criticisms raised by his Reformed critics.

Scot, you can also find some more detailed discussions of Wright’s position on imputation and justification in the comments above, particularly in my interaction with Lane Keister.

WOW! Finally somebody nailed it. I am particularly disturbed the theological arrogance of aforementioned Reformed scholars who appear to me to believe themselves to be the gatekeepers of truth. N.T. Wright is indeed tough to “skim” and you really need some patience to digest his work. I learned that in seminary while working on a Jesus paper for a course.

Frankly, there is not a theologian who has ever lived, whether it’s Wright, Warfield, Augustine, or even (*gasp*) Jonathan Edwards, who is so intelligent that they can elucidate the wideness, richness, and depth of all that God truly is.

this page has a googlewack on it

pokes solemnibus

[...] Some guy I don’t know on Bad Criticism of N.T. Wright - right on the money! [...]

The reformed community has been quite fair to N.T Wright. He has written a number of great resources and seems to have stood very solid among Anglicans, but he does take an aberrant position on justification. Where in any of his writings has he fully embraced justification by faith alone? You will be hard pressed to find it, because he does not hold to it. He certainly does not stand with J.C Ryle or even his own 39 Articles. He is very clear that all who are baptised are considered justified. N.T Wright is very easy to understand if you take the time to read his material.

Stephen,
I have read just about everything that Wright has ever written. He affirms his agreement with Luther’s basic point in JBFA on a number of occasions. He has explicitly stated that he agrees with the 39 Articles in responding to Wrightsaid discussion list questions. His position on the relationship between Baptism and justification is far more nuanced than you present. I humbly suggest that it is you who need to reread Wright.

I will hopefully be posting a podcast that is relevant to this subject in the next week or so.

[...] with the Canadian government. Via. ———————– A long post on NT Wright and why his critics misunderstand them. There is also a lot of comments and discussion [...]



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[...] Alastair has some excellent thoughts on why many Reformed folks do not get NTW:  http://alastair.adversaria.co.uk/?p=309 [...]

A fantastic post, for which you will be savaged by the Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy.

Two additions:

1) Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of lalrger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

2) Anti-COE/RCC bias. In other words, there’s no badge of membership :-) quite like overall disgust at all things catholic and/or CofE. Puritans don’t do well with Bishops.

Your assessment will be called arrogant, but it is on target. Bravo.

[...] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. :) Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. [...]

[...] Alastair at Adversaria has written a detailed, important and comprehensive post on Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics? It’s a monster of good post that you must read if you are interested in Bishop Wright’s contribution to theology and the judgement of many in the reformed community that Wright is a heretic on many different doctrines. [...]

Alastair,

Wow, this is one of the best things I have read on the Internet in sometime. It is articulate, measured and accurate.

While it may not be “charitable” it is not mean spirited which is more than can be said for most of the nonsense written about Wright. I don’t know how you could charitably speak the truth in this situation.

I applaud your courage.

God Bless,

Rod

I disagree. The post is quite charitable. What is lacking is not charity but congeniality, which under present circumstances is simply not in high demand.

[...] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. :) Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. [...]

Excellent post Al, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you’ve written.

I appreciate your comments, actually, though I deeply disagree with some of them. I agree fully that many in the Reformed camp think that they can understand NTW reading just WSPRS. That would be a big mistake. It seems to me that the bulk of what NTW is trying to say is to be found in the COQG series and in _Romans_, even though none of these works have any systematic treatment of justification. I’m sure that that is part of the reason that WSPRS gets so much attention: it does have a reasonably thorough treatment of what NTW believes about justification.

Having focused first on what we agree on, I must now move on to disagreement. our first five reasons are, I hope, not meant to be applied to Lig Duncan and Guy waters. Neither can be called in the least lazy, as it is evident that they have read widely and thoroughly in NTW’s works. Especially number 5 is really irrelevant, even it is true. Why would Lig’s arrogance mean that he misunderstands NTW, if he is arrogant (which, as I know him personally, can vouch is simply not the case: he is in fact one of the most humble men I know: I’ve met Waters as well, and ditto). Or are you intending that Duncan and Waters fit with all of these reasons?

Theological romanticism? You do realize that we in the PCA (for instance) take *vows* stating that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture, and that we will defend that system of doctrine. The PCA further argues that the WCF is fully in line with the ancient creeds of the church. So defense of the WCF simply cannot be equated with romanticism. It is simply our oath.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see number 7 at all. Doug wilson, for instance, is not afraid of differing from everyone else in the world. He is not afraid to put his neck out for people to hack at. He is no hero of mine. But Wilson attacks general evangelicalism with absolute glee. He gets plenty of flack for that, but doesn’t change his mind based on that.

Number 8 seems to dismiss purity of doctrine as a concern of the church. What you think of as our trying to preserve the status quo is what we think of as preserving pure doctrine. And we are listening, thank you very much, to NTW. I have listened to him for years. I too have read all his major works, and find much that is profitable there, though thinking him outside the bounds of the WCF, especially on justification. You are using a label that none of us who disagree with NTW on justification would use for ourselves. The shoe does not fit.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin? We have made respect and charity of discourse an idol in our society. That is why I won’t touch the P&P Together document with a 10′ pole. I believe quite firmly in not misrepresenting someone’s position. I take rather great lengths to avoid doing so. But battle does not equal misunderstanding. Calvin and Luther fought tooth and nail for what I believe was the truth. Surely you must see that battle does equal misrepresentation.

As for number 10, I disagree completely. The Reformers themselves were absolutely *saturated* with the patristic scholars. I read patristics all the time, as do most of my best friends in the PCA. That is plain and simply false that we cannot understand premodern ways of thinking. If there are some who do not understand premodern ways of thinking, it is because of the Enlightenment, ***NOT*** because of the Reformation.

As to postmodernism, I (for instance) went to a very postmodern school. I listened for three years to their absolute drivel about there being no absolute truth, and all that. Rubbish. They can’t even think straight, or they woud have recognized that the statement “there is no such thing as absolute truth” kills itself, since it must be absolutely true in order to work! And I’m sorry, but logic is biblical, not modern.

As to 11, which critics are you thinking of? It will not do to put away some of NTW’s best critics such as Waters and Richard Phillips, just because some *others* do not understand Wright. You cannot tar and feather some by tarring and feathering others. And I believe that it is quite healthy to be questioning whether or not NTW is even on the right page with regard to Paul. I see quite enough of what you’re talking about on the side that defends NTW! I’ve dealt with it ad nauseum first hand. People will not even answer my scholarly arguments. Instead, they will fasten on the tiniest detail in what I say, and object to that, rather than the substance of my critique. Sometimes it drives me nearly batty. I see that a paradigm straight-jacket has been imposed on fans of NTW, and anything that disagrees with that is attacked with just as much vehemence as NTW’s critics. With most of these critiques of yours, I could turn them around and level them at NTW’s supporters, most of whom *will not* read the Reformers themselves, and the great treatises on justification, such as those by John Owen, James Buchanan, Anthony Burgess, and William Pemble. I’m sorry, but many of NTW’s supporters lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers. I have in fact experienced from NTW’s supporters *everything* you are talking about.

Good heavens, man, what’s in the water over there? I got through about point #4 and I realized something: I could mimic almost all of these diagnoses to describe what it’s been like to get some postmodern thought (philosophical) a fair hearing. Of course, there is the high probability that I am a very poor communicator and ambassador. I fear that some of Wright’s “fans” might also suffer from this weakness.

Oh, and sorry. Another BHT voice here to ensure that some of those who would benefit from the soul-searching your post encourages will instead dismiss it. I hope I’m wrong about that. Live long and prosper, Al.

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.” Links?

Michael (comment 2),

Your additions are helpful. I get the impression that the first one in particular is an important factor in D.A. Carson’s approach to Wright. Listen to 19:30 to 22:00 of this lecture, for a sense of what I mean by this claim.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin?

I’ve no choice but to conclude that Calvin and Luther were the personification of “charity”.

#8 is a slam-dunk.

To Matthew I give this link for why it is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that NPP advocates themselves have read the Reformers.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nppdebate/message/426

For evidence of his followers, I don’t know if you are a member of Wrightsaid, but if you are, then go back in the archives to the discussions I had with Wright supporters. Look for my early posts, and the responses it got. Pretty solid evidence. Loads of people in that debate were lambasting the Reformers without quoting them at all in many cases, or extremely rarely in other cases.

In response to Kent, why is charity to be made an idol in this debate? There are those of us who think (based on careful reading, I might add) that central issues are at stake regarding justification. Misrepresentation is bad. But I have been misrepresented. So have Richard Phillips, Lig Duncan, and many others who critique NTW. Why are all the scholastic boo-boos on one side of this thing? Why is it *only* the critics of NTW that are uncharitable? This is definitely a case of the splinter/log thing that Jesus was talking about.

Even the apostle John, the so-called “apostle of love,” when Cerinthus the heretic walked into the bath, ran out, saying that they should not be under the same roof as the heretic, God save us, etc. When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it. I will fight with scholarly weapons, knowing my enemy thoroughly. I can attest that I read NTW with an open mind, in the sense that I was willing to read him to see what he said about himself. I did not base any of my opinions on what other people said, since, when I was reading him, I wasn’t involved in *any* of the conversations. I have come to my own conclusions. and number 8 is the farthest thing from a slam-dunk. It is only a slam-dunk to those who are predisposed to see it as such in the PCA and other such denoms.

To Al, are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

[...] Alastair Roberts reflects on Tom Wright and the misrepresentations of his work within the Reformed community. As a former Anglican, it’s hard for me to understand why Wright is perceived to be such a threat, particularly on the topic of justification. Anglicanism embraces a diversity of positions on justification and has even reached agreement. albeit unofficially, with the Catholic Church: Salvation and the Church. Hence the exegetical studies of Wright are received by Anglicans (at least most of them) without too much anxiety. [...]

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.”

Wright himself has been ewtremly (and naively) harsh on Luther, while admitting at the same time he has not read the German reformer for 20 years.

Anyway, it was great to read another of those posts where pro-NPP/NTW convince themselves their opponents are just lazy/traditionalist/anti-intellectual etc, etc. Not exactly new, but so far it has prevented much honest debate and reconsideration of NTW’s views, so you should continue this way.

I hear the sound of cymbals clashing…

Trackback Pontifications

Lane, I appreciate the response and I cannot remember whether or not I was a member of Wrightsaid that early so I might have to check the archives. I wonder if we are not communicating clearly? When I read your comment what I understood was that there are Wright supporters who are unashamed reformer bashers. People who take quotes from the reformers and tear them apart. When I read the post that you linked, I didn’t read anything remotely like that at all. It appeared to me that the reformers weren’t invited to the “conversation” about Paul’s language on justification like when you mentioned Sander’s book contains only one referece to Luther. Could it be that Luther’s works don’t have much to say about Palestinian Judaism instead of that these guys haven’t read Luther? I really don’t see that as a big deal but maybe I’m being obtuse.

Let me ask a more clear question: To lambaste the Reformers — does this mean openly criticize the reformers and their works or does it mean that one doesn’t seek the opinion of the reformers in research and publication?

Thanks for the clarifying question, Matthew. What I mean is that NPP advocates often make these blanket statements about what the Reformation teaches (NTW’s classic is proto-Pelagianism as something against which the Reformers argued, whereas Paul is not reacting against that in 2TJ: it was semi-Pelagianism, which makes a huge difference in terms of the language being used), without quoting any of the Reformers. So my post on that debate page (which you are welcome to join, btw) went to show that the NPP advocates do not quote the Reformers, when it is manifestly the Reformational understanding of Paul that they are attacking. Carl Trueman makes this point crystal clear here:

http://www.crcchico.com/covenant/trueman.html

Dunn’s response was not in the least convincing as to Trueman’s main point, which was that Dunn didn’t quote Luther, while saying that Luther was wrong.

So, while NPP advocates spend all their time researching Paul and 2TJ literature, they forget to learn what their opponents (the Reformers) actually teach. See the excellent comment by Jean-Martin above. So I am not talking about quotations from the Reformers which are misinterpreted, since such quotations do not exist in the extant writings of the NPP advocates.

Luther has plenty to say about Jews (most of it highly non-complimentary). the problem here is that the NPP says that the Reformation read Paul wrong. This goes all the way back to Stendahl’s article, which says that Paul didn’t have this introspective inward-looking struggle that Luther had. But if you are going to say that the Reformation was wrong, then it had better be the real Reformation that you are rejecting.

Same old, same old. Go back some years and read what Barth’s supporters were saying about his critics. There’s nothing new under the sun!

Thanks for the clarification, Lane. I’ll politely decline the invitation to the debate page, though. You guys are clearly more advanced than I am and what little I could contribute would probably be just a whole lot of questions.

On the contrary, we have a hard time getting people to talk at all. While it is true that there are some decent scholars on that debate group, in order to keep the discussions going, we need more people who have questions. So join up! Though I understand if you still wish to decline.

Lane,

Let me begin by making clear that I do not believe that only Wright’s critics have these problems. None of us are immune and, as you point out, I think that it is fair to say that many of Wright’s supporters have caricatured the teaching of the Reformation. I believe that Wright himself has done this on a number of occasions and I have posted on the subject in the past.

It should be recognized that, in many situations, the caricatures arise from involvement in and subsequent reactions against traditions that had ended up caricaturing themselves. Wright was in Reformed circles for a number of years. However, he reacted against the Reformed tradition. I get the impression that he found it hidebound, introverted and narrow (from this interview, among other places).

In fairness, I think that many of us can relate to the experience that Wright recounts. When you have been brought up to believe that the Reformed faith is generally a completed edifice and trained to believe that you must read a particular set of Puritan writers (for example) to get the right answers it should not be surprising if you react against this when you start to find that the Bible opens up ‘new horizons’ that were obscured in these authors. Wright cut his theological teeth on Banner of Truth books like Berkhof’s systematic theology, a theology which he later came to regard as ‘sterile’ (NTPG, 132, fn16). Wright’s increasing conviction that God had more truth to break out of His Word was at odds with a theological milieu whose primarily focus was defending traditional positions and that was reluctant to move beyond the theology and language of the seventeenth century.

I can easily relate to Wright’s experience. The only reason that I can still appreciate the Reformed faith is through my exposure to Reformed theologians who are prepared to think new thoughts and have not idealized past theological generations. I am not at all unacquainted with the works of the Puritans (my father has republished dozens of Puritan works and has countless Puritan books in his library, so I have grown up around the Puritans) and have studied Calvin in detail. However, whilst I retain an appreciation for many of their theological concerns and pastoral insight, I confess that I find them less and less helpful in understanding Scripture.

I have no intention of identifying the exact factors underlying each individual critic’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Wright. However, I believe that some of the first five factors are present in Duncan and Waters, who both seriously misrepresent Wright in my estimation. I think that theological arrogance (which is not always accompanied by personal arrogance, at least not in my experience) is a factor here. It is quite present in Duncan and Carson in particular. They dismiss Wright too quickly because they are not open enough to admitting that the Reformed tradition might actually have gotten it wrong in certain areas.

The dismissive and superior tone is maintained even when it is obvious that Wright and the NPP have scored points against the tradition. For example, how many of the leading Reformed critics of Wright would defend the understanding of the Judaizers that one finds in the Reformers? Reading the critics, one will soon realize that they appreciate that they cannot go back to a pre-Sanders world. Nevertheless, the rhetoric all too often suggests that the Reformers are thoroughly vindicated and whatever is new in the NPP is to be rejected.

A greater humility of tone would go a long way. If they were willing to admit that, yes, the Reformers did often read debates with the Roman Catholics into the text and misread Paul to a degree as a result, a claim that we are not justified in denying the presence of a form of merit theology altogether would receive a better hearing. As it is, it is hard not to get the impression of a tradition that suffers from theological self-righteousness and an inability or unwillingness to admit its own errors and sins. An openness to learn from gifted theologians in other traditions and to admit the shortcomings of our own can really help to oil the wheels of debate.

As regards your disagreement with my claims regarding theological romanticism, there is an important difference between upholding the system of doctrine of Westminster and believing that it cannot be surpassed by a richer and fuller expression of the Christian faith. There is a difference between acknowledging and seeking to preserve the theological achievements of our forefathers and a refusal to move beyond them.

My comments regarding Doug Wilson are based around some of the posts in his series ‘N.T. Wrights and Wrongs’. Start reading them from the bottom up. A significant number of them sink to a level of nit-picking that is quite ridiculous. One must ask the reason for such things. I stand by my earlier interpretation as the best that I have encountered so far. It was interesting noticing the reaction in the blogosphere when Wilson started posting on Wright last year. Those who had studied Wright and appreciated him were irritated with the hairsplitting, hypercritical approach that Wilson was adopted. However, there was a noticeable thawing of attitudes to Wilson within other parts of the blogosphere. The differences that Wilson claimed that he had with Wright were petty, but it was the fact that he made so much of them that people appreciated.

Regarding number 8, I certainly believe that purity of doctrine ought to be a concern of the church. However, purity of doctrine is not the same thing as maintenance of the status quo. The status quo is all too often the greatest enemy of purity of doctrine. It is the ‘good’ that would hold us back from the ‘better’.

Orthodoxy is always an unfinished task, continually calling the Church to move beyond its present understanding to something deeper and richer. The problem is that Reformed people all too often think of purity of doctrine as something that we already have and occasionally need to recover, rather than as something that we must continually strive for, correcting the weaknesses of previous ages and being aware of the presence of weaknesses in our own understanding. I am well aware of the rhetoric of semper Reformanda, but all too often it rings hollow in the contemporary climate.

I firmly believe that the elevation of the Westminster Confession now stands in the way of the movement towards pure doctrine that it once advanced. It is like an old shoe that is forced on a foot that is too big. The mindset that purity of doctrine will merely entail the repristination of seventeenth (or sixteenth) century doctrine, and have no significant movements beyond the position of our forefathers, is widespread.

Number 9. Battle does not equal misrepresentation. That is a strange reading of my point. Battle, however, is often a factor underlying misrepresentation. For example, Barth was seriously misrepresented by Van Til largely because Van Til adopted such an antithetical approach towards Barth. Antithetical thinking is extremely important. We should be prepared to make enemies. I have made these points at length in the past.

The problem comes when the antithesis is misplaced. Reformed people are far too accustomed to thinking antithetically, when they could be thinking ‘perspectivally’, for example. Frame’s ‘Machen’s Warrior Children’ article is important evidence here. The problem comes when every issue becomes a matter of either/or and all or nothing. I have no problem synthesizing the concerns of Wright with those of the Reformers. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

So what about Luther and Calvin? I do not think that they are good examples to follow in this area. They were men and, like all men, they had feet of clay. Whilst there were occasions when they were perfectly right to fight for the truth, there were other occasions when it is a shame that the irenical spirit of Reformers such as Bucer was not more widespread.

As regards number 10, I don’t agree with you. Study of the patristics has not been the Reformed churches’ forte since the Reformation, although you are certainly right to point out that the early Reformers read a lot of them. What you do see in the Reformers is a movement away from premodern ways of thinking. Whilst they read the patristics, the Reformed churches became increasingly dismissive of patristic exegesis, for example, and manifested an incipient modernism in many areas of its thought.

I don’t want this to become a debate about postmodernism, but from what you describe it does not appear that you have much of a grasp of what postmodernist scholars really say. What you are speaking of may well be just pop postmodernism or modern relativism. Incidentally, the idea that there is no absolute truth is not as easily refuted as you expect. It is a second-order statement about first-order statements. Your refutation relies on equivocation. The claim being made is more subtle than you seem to recognize.

I am not going to say which critics I am thinking of in number 11. I will just say that I am not referring to any of the big name critics, but to the many critics that further distort the already distorted picture of Wright found in the writings of the more scholarly critics.

I don’t believe that Waters and Phillips are remotely deserving of being regarded as some of Wright’s best critics. Having read both of them (and listened to Guy Waters lecture) I believe that both of them badly misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in various areas. I am far from alone in this conviction.

Let me reiterate that this has nothing to do with questioning Wright. You haven’t read my post very carefully if that is the idea that you end up with. I have no problem with people questioning whether Wright is ‘on the right page with regard to Paul’. What I do have a problem with is his being misrepresented in the process.

Lane, I have been a participant in or witness of many of the debates in which you have engaged with those in favour of Wright. The impression that I have been left with is that you are more concerned with attacking those who appreciate Wright than dialoguing with them. It was not without reason that you were removed from the Wrightsaid list a while back. We are quite happy to answer questions about Wright, but we are not interested in just being continually attacked by someone who manifests deep misunderstandings of Wright and seems determined to believe the worst.

As regards your ‘scholarly arguments’, there was engagement with them on many occasions on the Wrightsaid list. The big problem was your tone. You justified this by referring to the tone of Calvin and Luther. As I have pointed out above, I believe that Calvin and Luther are not good examples to follow in this area.

I agree that some of Wright’s supporters will not read the Reformers themselves. In the case of many of them, I don’t see why they should be expected to. Many of the people that you engaged with on the Wrightsaid list, for example, were not from the Reformed tradition. Some of Wright’s supporters have made false statements about the Reformers and this is, of course, quite unjustified. As I pointed out at the beginning of this comment, I am not denying that many of these factors (and other ones besides) play in the way in which some of Wright’s supporters (and Wright himself at times) treat the Reformers. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that the heat level of the rhetoric has generally been raised by the critics of Wright, rather than his supporters.

The big difference between those who appreciate Wright and Wright’s opponents is that few if any of the appreciators of Wright are trying to drive people who hold traditional Reformed positions out of church office. The charges of heresy are almost all coming from one side.

Lane,

You ask:

…are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

No. Read me more carefully and you will see that I am not saying that each and every factor that I identify applies to every individual critic.

Maybe, I’m lazy, stupid or impatient, but this post is too long. I suggest shortening it.

You would, wouldn’t you Peter! :)

As I see it, the two main points of difference between us lie firstly in the area of progressivism. There are those who say that theology is always progressing, and sometimes they say it without qualification. Then there are those who say that only those areas which are not essential are open to progressing. This is probably where I would put myself. After all, do we hold to the creeds, or do we not? The problem here is that progression is actually often regression. This is what I see with NTW’s doctrine of justification. When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them? What if, thinking that we have progressed beyond the level of these writers in some areas, we have actually regressed in other areas? I think Muller’s four volume set on the Post-Reformed Dogmatics is really revealing here. You seem to allow for a great deal more latitude in progression than I would. There are certain things that have been hammered out in the fires of great controversies. Justification is one of those, and should not be touched. My forebears in the Reformed faith fought and died for those truths. I will not dishonor their memory by refusing to step up to the plate when they are attacked.

Let’s set the record straight about the Wrightsaid group. First of all, the whole discussion got started with the post by Jason Fry, which was unbelievably condescending to views which I hold. He even used the word “sickening.” I took exception to that. Then Mark Horne lit into me with condescending rhetoric as well (for which he later apologized, by the way, and Jason and I made up as well: hence your statement that I am unwilling to dialogue is quite simply false). Just read those first couple of rounds, and you will see that this is true. As I have said before, I deeply appreciate many of the things that Wright has said, especially in RSG, which I think is a masterpiece, and beyond a doubt his best work, notwithstanding a very few quibbles that I have with it.

A further misunderstanding that you obviously have of me is that my tone was a problem. I get heated when I argue, but that is a far cry in my own mind from being overbearing. I think that this statement of mine is more than justified by looking at John Shakespeare’s defense of me. Rance Darity didn’t have any problems crossing swords with me, and getting heated, though it wasn’t personal.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I do not have “deep misunderstandings of Wright.” Kindly give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I know what I am talking about: I am giving you that benefit. “Seems determined to think the worst” is also wide of the mark here: I think that NTW is wrong when it comes to justification. That doesn’t mean I think he’s wrong in every other area of theology. You seem to forget that I was the only person on that group arguing for my position, with about ten to twenty people arguing against me. When one’s arguments (not me personally) are being attacked by that many people, then I don’t really have time to go through all the ways in which I agree with that person. I have to go straight to the nub of the issue.

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric? How do you think that comes across to one of my persuaion who knows enough to know that he just slammed my entire tradition? We’re supposed to sit quietly and let him do that?

Furthermore, those discussion evinced a majority of speaking on my part that had to do with substance, not with rhetoric. I deny utterly any claims to the contrary. I was concerned to argue the points at issue. I won’t deny that I got heated at times, when I saw stupid arguments, or personal slams against myself, saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those are irritating comments, I must admit. And I am not necessarily proud of everything I said on that group, either. But there was certainly provocation.

About postmodernism. One cannot resort to “second-level” statements in order to save the statement. In order for it to be a second-level statement, would it not then have to allow for exceptions? If the statement is making an absolute claim, then it is a ridiculous statement. Furthermore, what I have been talking about is rife in the scholarly world, not just in popular relativism. My entire school, full of Ph.D’s were saying this, and reading Derrida and others associated with it in the process. Again, please pay me the compliment of assuming that I know what I am talking about. We can disagree, but let’s not imply that the other person is ignorant.

With regard to the antitheses, I believe that they are not misplaced. John Shakespeare agrees with me here, as does Rance Darity, guys who have read deeply into NTW’s works. NTW is not compatible with Reformed theology. You can’t look at chapter 11 of the WCF, for instance, then look at NTW, and say that they can be made to fit each other.

You can say all you want to about Waters and Phillips, but there are many of us who believe that they have in fact understood Wright very well. Besides, what virtue can there be in a theology that some of the brightest minds in the PCA can’t seem to understand? Is NTW really that difficult to understand? If he is, then I would suggest that he is not really a good scholar. My definition of a good scholar is someone who can take the most difficult concepts, and make them understandable to a Joe on the street. If he can’t do that, but has to resort to category twisting, and redefinitions of words, and jargon, then maybe he isn’t such a great scholar, no matter how much he has read. Much reading does not a scholar make, as I have to constantly remind myself.

I heartily agree with you, by the way, on the tone of many people in the Reformed world. It saddens me that so many people are arrogant. You will probably think that I am arrogant. I hope I am not, but am rather arguing issues, rather than tooting my own horn. I have struggled all my life with my tone of voice. I come across sometimes as arrogant when I’m sure that I am not. It is just that I am so certain during those times of what I believe. It is, though, one of the severest limitations on the medium of typed words as opposed to being in person. Tone is often assumed to be something that it is not.

But let’s suppose that the Reformed world is completely stuck up arrogant. That still has *nothing* to do with whether or not the Reformed world is right when it criticizes NTW. And that’s the real issue, as I see it. Are you sure that you are not attributing to arrogance what is really confidence that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong?

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Oh wait, now I see. You meant the first of imonk’s two factors, not the first factor in your post. I gotcha.

Lane, you wrote:

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Re-read my comment. I was referring to Michael Spencer’s additions (in the second comment after the post) to the factors that I listed. His first addition read:

1. Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of larger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

It was this that I was referring to in the case of Carson. This fact can be borne out if you listen to the section of the lecture that I linked to.

I corrected myself, if you look at the comment right before yours.

Lance,

At the risk of you thinking that I am condescending, I think you are missing a couple of related points.

The problem with the “intellectual arrogance” that Alastair is talking about is that it doesn’t allow a person to reevaluate what he believes. Many modern Reformed people assume that theology reached its perfection during the Reformation. The obvious corollary is that anything new is wrong.

You even said as much regarding justification. Just because you limit what you think the Reformers got perfectly right doesn’t mean that you are free from this “intellectual arrogance.” It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught.

If what they taught is true, it is true because it is true. It is not true because they said it.

Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history.

You said that people died for doctrinal truth. People also died in England over the “English Reformation.” Does that make their cause righteous? For that matter Joseph Smith died for his “faith.”

You said, “When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it.”

This strikes me as odd. Is it not the essentials of Christianity that we should be committed to? Apparently to you Reformed faith is equivalent to true Christianity. This is “intellectual arrogance.”

You said, “When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them?”

Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right?

Isaac Newton was a brilliant man. His contribution to the field of physics was enormous. But Einstein gave us an even more accurate description of how the world works.

The world works the same way that it did in the time of Newton, but a high school student has a better understanding of how it works than he did.

Was Newton wrong? No he was just limited in his information and tools. Most of what he said is still true. It is just true in a different way than he realized.

Why should it be any different when it comes to understanding God? Or the Bible? Even though the canon is closed, we have much more (and better) information than the Reformers had.

Lane,

Sorry. I typed your name wrong.

Rod

Lane,

Please forgive me if I respond to your points quickly. I don’t have the time to get embroiled in a lengthy debate.

I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways.

I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more.

I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. It is for this reason that I believe that it deserves especial attention.

I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.

In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.

You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).

Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology. When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing.

On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient.

Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.

It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.

Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.

I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.

As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.

Rod, thanks for your input here.

I would disagree that just because I think the Reformation is right means that I cannot be re-evaluating what the Reformers said. I evaluate all the time. Just because I think they’re right about most things doesn’t mean I think they’re right about all things. I disagree with Calvin, my personal hero, on occasion.

BOQ It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught. EOQ

And I’m doing that how? You extended my comment *way* beyond its scope. I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification. I think the Reformers are right on justification, and I think that the NPP is wrong. How does that make me intellectually arrogant? If anything, I am being humble (irony of the statement notwithstanding), since I am thinking that I am not better than my forebears necessarily, and I should not abandon without good cause what my forebears have taught. I don’t see good cause to abandon the Reformation on justification. NTW has not convinced me.

I think that the WCF could be better, especially wrt the Holy Spirit (a more personal approach would seem to be required). But I *do not* believe what the WCF says simply because it was they who said it. I believe what the WCF says because I believe that that is what Scripture says.

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance. Then I should just throw out my vows, shouldn’t I? I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

BOQ Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right? EOQ

Of course I realize that. I read modern theology, too, you know. But saying that the Reformers got everything perfectly right is precisely *not* what I am claiming. I am claiming that they were perfectly right on justification. Do not extend my statements to make them say something they didn’t.

We have better manuscript evidence. But we don’t have better brains. We don’t necessarily have worse brains either. But we have a limitation that the Reformers did not have: the fragmentation of knowledge. We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal. Computers will not make up for this, though they can lessen the problem.

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

BOQ Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history. EOQ

Refined is one thing: wholesale repudiation is quite another. Nothing is off limits to inquiry. But that is not what you are implying. You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church. If that is true, then why not question the Christological formulations of the early church? Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church. We have more information, but not more knowledge. Some of them knew the apostles first-hand. I am not chronologically snobbish. But NTW is. Just look at what he quotes. There are the early church fathers, no medieval theology, and no Reformation theology quoted in his works. The early church and the moderns is all he quotes. Now that is chronologically snobbish. I try to read commentators (for instance) from every age of the church, not just modern, and not just reformed. I read liberal and conservative. I read scholarly and not-so-scholarly (I own and regularly use over 900 commentaries). Who is really chronologically snobbish here?

BOQ
I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways. EOQ

This I could live with, as long as it is understood that the church has nailed down an awful lot of essential things to the Christian faith.

BOQ
I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. EOQ

If we could stand on their shoulders, we could see quite a ways. But hardly anyone that I know of is even looking at them, let alone standing on them.

BOQ
I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. EOQ

I agree. But justification is not one of them.

BOQ
I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. EOQ

Reversion? Who is reversioning? People such as myself would say that we are standing on their shoulders, not modifying the shoulder.

BOQ
Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more. EOQ

I agree to an extent. The problem is that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past, if we aren’t reading the writers of the past, which NTW is not doing.

BOQ
I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). EOQ

I equally as firmly believe that NTW has denied the Reformation understanding of justification.

BOQ
Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. EOQ

Imputation is at the very heart of justification. Read Buchanan on this. Without it, justification falls to the ground, and the church along with it, as Luther would say. I would root imputation in union with Christ as Gaffin does (he was my teacher). But NTW would not say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has anything to do with Christ’s being obedient to the law and earning our salvation. He only has these vague statements about “what’s Christ’s is ours.” That is not nearly good enough. There has to be holiness in standing before an infinitely holy God. Therein lies our need to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. NTW systematically does violence to the NT in those passages that the Reformers have exegeted as having to do with imputation. He says that they don’t mean what the Reformation has said they mean.

BOQ
In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. EOQ

But we know what happens with compromise, don’t we? It pleases no one. How can NTW and others of the NPP approach Rome on this (which hasn’t moved for centuries, since they have by no means repudiated Trent), without leaving the Reformation?

BOQ
I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). EOQ

Likewise.

BOQ
What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. EOQ

Jesus got rather polemical too, you know. Calling Pharisees “white-washed tombs” isn’t the most complimentary thing one could say. Polemics are not bad in and of themselves.

BOQ
Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. EOQ

Excuse me? What accusations?

BOQ
That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.EOQ

See my comment on Jesus Christ above.

BOQ
In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. EOQ

I didn’t say that you were presuming. I was saying that you are wrong to say that I don’t understand NTW. I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

BOQ
If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.EOQ

I didn’t usually begin discussions with questions for the very simple reason that I had already read NTW! I did ask some questions about what others were saying. But if I limit my conversation to questions, then my critiques would never have seen the light of day.

BOQ
You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).EOQ

I’m glad to see you say that. But if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

BOQ
Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. EOQ

Thank you.

BOQ
That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. EOQ

We must all wear kid gloves when discussing absolutely vital things of the Christian faith? You need to re-read those posts of mine. If you were to put a more charitable read on them, you would discover that I was arguing far more often about substance than about rhetoric. No one ever did answer my argument about 4QMMT, by the way.

BOQ
As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology.EOQ

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

BOQ
When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing. EOQ

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

BOQ
On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient. EOQ

This is merely a restatement of your position. It adds nothing. I have argued that it makes a categorical statement. As such, it must be subject to its own claim.

BOQ
Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.EOQ

But Doug Green is *no* expert on the Reformation, either. He doesn’t read systematics at all, by his own admission. He is not qualified to be the spokesperson on the relationship between NTW and the Reformation. I should know. I had him as a professor. He was a great professor of OT, don’t get me wrong. I learned an enormous amount from him. But he is wrong about NTW and his relationship to the Reformed faith.

BOQ
It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. EOQ

You would say this!

BOQ
It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. EOQ

I couldn’t agree with you more. Part of this is in reaction to the vociferousness of NTW’s critics, of course.

BOQ
I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. EOQ

I also agree here. But I would go a bit further to say that Wright’s own theology could not fit within the theology of the WCF, not just the language.

BOQ
However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.EOQ

I myself have done so. But not on justification.

BOQ
Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. EOQ

The WCF may be revised some day, who knows? But the substance of the wCF is correct. Why the need to go on to something new and better all the time? This betrays a restless attitude towards God’s truth. We have the canon, and it is closed. We are not going to get more revelation from God until Christ comes back. God’s Word doesn’t change, even if culture does. Therefore, the church needs to find new ways to appropriate *old truths* to new situations.

BOQ
This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. EOQ

I like this, except for the word “progression.” Some slight modifications perhaps. But nothing wholesale is necessary.

BOQ
Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.EOQ

This statement does not make sense to me. You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

BOQ
I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. EOQ

I disagree quite strongly with this estimation of terminology. NTW has said this, but has not proved it. I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

BOQ
Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.EOQ

But that is just the point: NTW is *not* returning to more biblical terminology. Hence, he is redefining terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.EOQ

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm. But your suggestion is what I would argue is *precisely* what I am doing! I want to see if these things be so. I am a Berean.

Lane,

You said,

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

Quality comments by Rod and Al regarding progression. Progression by its very definition means to move forward. I think that progressing in the area of theology means to better understand God. It’s not snobbery to seek a better understanding of Jesus, Paul, God, or the Bible. This is always reforming. We may have insights due to our unique place in history that our parents generation never had. That’s not to say we are above them as they had insights that we don’t. I think this is, very simply, what Wright is trying to do: come to the Bible honestly and try to discover its true meaning. How can you say that certain areas of the Theology are not to be touched? On the contrary we should wrapping our hands around all areas and testing and reforming our beliefs whether they were “hammered out” as you say in the 2nd, 4th, 16th, 17th, or 21st centuries. Let’s not check any doctrines off the list as “perfectly right” when there are quality arguments made by quality people out there with different views. Where the arguments (within Christian theology) are easily defeated such as Mary as a coredemptrix or something to that effect, let’s call our belief perfectly right in that area. Tell me that you think Wright is probably wrong or even that it is a high probability that he is wrong. But don’t tell me there isn’t a decent, if small, chance he is right, based on the quality of his argument.

Thanks,

Sorry that I goofed up with the blockquote tag. I hope you can make sense out of what I wrote.

OK. Let me try this again.

Lane,

You said,

I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification.

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance.

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal.

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church.

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church.

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

You said,

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm.

This is a perfect expression of intellectual arrogance. “I examined this once, and I decided that this is the way it is. From now on I take it as an article of faith.”

[...] Alastair’s post nails it. [...]

Can you point us to where someone has outlined how (as opposed to why) the “Reformed Critics of NTW” have misrepresented and misunderstood him? Such an outline might go something like: Reformed Critic Mr. So-n-so says that NTW teaches ‘X,’ and to that effect quotes the following passage. However, it turns out NTW teaches no such thing as ‘X’ but rather teaches ‘Y’ and when we consider the quoted passage in light of this other passage, this becomes clearer.
…you know, something like that.
You hint that such a thing could be done, and I’d like to see some of it somewhere. Where can I find it?

I echo Baus’ comment - it’d be great to see something really clear on where & how NTW is misrepresented, as well as why these are misrepresentations.
Seems to me the nub of the issue is here, not in much of the above debate: we’re all lazy, we all think we’re right, etc… we’re all sinners, aren’t we?
I read Al’s original post hoping it would be what Baus & I are asking for. Perhaps Al could write another post substituting ‘how’ for ‘why’ in this title (and removing the ‘?’). It might be a big ask, but it seems muh more useful than this one - meaning no offence, and not to deny the usefulness of the above discussion.

Baus and Andrew,

There are a number of such responses. Here are a representative few:

1. My response to Ligon Duncan. This is an older and somewhat uneven post; I would like to believe that I could significantly improve upon it if I rewrote it now. It also does not address some of Duncan’s most serious charges against Wright (charges that also distort Wright beyond recognition) that can be found in this article.

2. Tim Gallant responds to Guy Waters.

3. Daniel Kirk responds to Douglas Kelly.

4. Joel Garver examines some Reformed concerns with Wright and points to reasons why many of them are unjustified. A more careful reading of Wright would lead us to a more charitable assessment of his position, even if we end up disagreeing with him.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that critics of Wright such as Waters, Duncan and Carson have broken the ninth commandment and make wild allegations, many of which are demonstrably false. Frankly, I have decided not to continue to write responses to such critics, because I don’t believe that their most serious criticisms are actually worthy of engagement. I continue to listen to them and read them, but if I had to respond to all of their misrepresentations I would be wasting my time.

I doubt that they are really interested in listening anyway. The fact that many of the gross misrepresentations persist even though they have been responded to on a number of occasions makes me believe that writing responses is a waste of time. Let them believe what they want to believe.

That said, within the next month I have been asked to give a day conference on the subject of Wright’s theology. One of my talks will deal with the substance of the debates surrounding him and the focus will be on how, rather than why, Wright is misunderstood. Perhaps I will post an altered version of my notes for that talk up here.

Al, you should definitely post your notes for your upcoming conference talks. And find a way to podcast …

To Rod, if you are going to label an entire denomination as arrogant (by its formulation of oath), then we really don’t have a lot to say to each other. Your definition of arrogance would fit NTW far better than the PCA. He has said that he came to his conclusions about Paul and the Law, and that he’s never going back. That’s pretty arrogant, don’t you think? He goes against centuries of church interpretation, and he is the eschatological exegete in his own mind. Your definition of arrogance backfires pretty severely. I see the PCA oath as acknowledging our forebears in the faith as giants of the faith, not some mind-numbing commitment to a human document. I have never said that it closes down discussion. But I have come to the conclusion (***after*** all my reading!!!!!!!) that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong on justification. I have already admitted that I don’t think the WCF is perfect. Therefore, I am not arrogant. You have way too broad a definition of arrogance, Rod. I simply cannot go there.

What about the entire paradigm of progress? Is that not in itself arrogant? I am not saying that progress is necessarily bad. There certainly ahs been progress in textual criticism. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very helpful, and shed additional light on things. But even these things didn’t alter fundamental Biblical truths once for all delivered by God. Sure, there are always more passages that could become clear. But I make a distinction between essentials of the Christian faith and non-essentials. The church has hammered out the essentials. That’s done. The creeds tell us where orthodoxy lies. But don’t tell me the PCA is arrogant and NTW isn’t.

And Rod, to say that there is only a difference in degree between saying that the WCF is right on justification and that it is right on everything is ridiculous. You’re forcing a Procrustean bed on my claims, and I won’t allow it. The WCF is right on justification, and to my knowledge, on just about everything else that it says. But it is a fallible document. I am not using it in this discussion of NTW as a fundamental presupposition that is used to force out a priori all disagreement. NTW is not Presbyterian! As a matter of fact, I was reading NTW at the same time as (and actually mostly before) my ordination examination of the wCF. So I *couldn’t* have been using the WCF as a Procrustean bed for NTW’s theology. And Rod, since you don’t know me, you shouldn’t even be talking about my methods and my journey towards my conclusions.

Al, thanks for those pointers - v helpful. If you do get a chance to either stick your notes up, or (even better) make MP3s available to download, I for one would be very interested both in your overview of NTW’s theology & summary of where and how he is being misunderstood.

Gaines and Andrew,

Yes, I will try to post something. In all likelihood my notes will be far more extensive than my talks, so I will probably post my expanded thoughts here.

You all seem to be following this debate closer than I am. We live in an age where communicating is easy, and we have the advantage (over, e.g., Arminius) that Wright is actually alive and breathing. As I said, I don’t follow the debate closely — but about what percentage of those who have written against Wright have also engaged him in conversation over his beliefs? Where can I read something from, for example, J. Ligon Duncan or Guy Waters that contains a description of their conversations with Wright directly in verbal or written dialog? I’m very interested in reading about their interaction with him.

Thanks you so much for helping me out!

What a brilliant article. Yes, some of the Reformed are just stupid…that makes me laugh… HA!

Doug,

To my knowledge neither Duncan nor Waters have personally engaged with Wright, even though there have been opportunities for them to do so (AAPC 2005 being a good example). Both Duncan and Waters seem to have been quite reluctant to take the opportunities to interact with the targets of their critiques, whether of the FV or NPP. Some FV proponents went so far as to contact Waters offering to help to clarify their views, but the offers were not taken up.

Carson has known Wright personally for decades, since they were in university. I get the impression (though it is only an impression) that Carson’s relationship with Wright has soured quite a bit over the years and there is a sense of betrayal to be felt (listen to 19:30-22:00 of this lecture for an idea of what I am referring to).

As ever Al, not too keen on the idea that NTW is ‘misunderstood’. I understand what you mean by it; people are sloppy in understanding Wright. But it makes things very subjective because you can always claim that anyone who doesn’t appreciate NTW is misunderstanding him and this is just epistemological bullying. Few have the opportunity to read the complete works of NT and thus much “honing” must be done. I dislike this epistemological hierarchy which becomes set up: the more you know of NTW’s work, the more you understand it. That’s not the right way to approach the text…

if the NPP is rejecting an imaginary Reformation, then the NPP isn’t rejecting the real reformation at all, and everyone should be able to get along. Right?

Jon,

I don’t think that that is true. Whilst some people might identify all lack of appreciation for Wright with misunderstanding (I don’t know who), I don’t believe that I do. There are points in Wright’s critics when it is clear that they understand him and yet decide to disagree with him. I am more than happy to admit that.

I know the difference between misunderstanding and lack of appreciation. What I am referring to here is not some mere ’subjective’ judgment. There are demonstrable and serious misrepresentations in the critiques given to us by men such as Carson, Waters and Duncan. This has been pointed to by many people. Wright himself has responded to some of Carson’s.

In addition I don’t believe that it is necessary to read all of Wright in order to understand him. Nor do I hold to some hierarchy in this respect. I know people who have only read a few of Wright’s books who understand him better on certain points than someone like Lane, who claims to have read most of what Wright has written.

What I do believe is that it is necessary to study Wright carefully, sympathetically and in considerable depth before you have the right to put yourself forward as an authority on his thought. The standard required of someone who wants to condemn him as a gospel-denying heretic should be, if anything, considerably higher.

Sloppy readings of Wright:

One critic wrote a lengthy web article ’showing’ that Wright ‘denied imputation’. The article stressed how important it was to only consider the righteousness that we have by imputation.

What the article would have done better to say was that Wright seems to deny that a status of moral merit, OTHER THAN FORGIVEN SIN, is necessary for a declaration of righteousness in justifcation.

Imputed active obedience solves a problem that Wright denies exists. Critics of Wright focus on the lack of ‘imputation’ in Wright’s model, but fail to notice that Wright thinks everything we need for justification was accomplished on the cross.

Paul,

I am not sure that I completely agree with your reading of Wright on this point. Wright teaches that we share in the Messiah’s faithfulness by faith, which seems to be saying something more. He also argues that all that the Messiah has is ours. Christ does not merely clear all of our debits; He gives us a new credit balance. Christ does not merely wipe the slate clean; He brings in new creation.

But do we need a new creation for justification? I can accept that wright puts received moral uprightness PRIOR to justifiation in the call or in regeneration. But he seems to say (see the fake interview from Kunalians) that ‘justification’ needs only an objective dealing with sin (atonement).

Wright says that all that stuff happens, but it isn’t part of his account of justification.

Paul,

Sorry, I misread you, although I still don’t think that I entirely agree. Wright teaches that the atonement makes justification possible — as you said he does not believe that the transfer of moral merit is also required. The idea that righteousness equals perfect obedience to the Law is not present in Wright. Righteousness is right relationship with God and can exist even when sins have been committed, provided that those sins have been atoned for. There is no need for the imputation of active obedience (which is not to say that we merely have our debts cancelled). However, I don’t believe that that means that he teaches that forgiveness of sins is all that justification consists of.

The justification that Jesus Himself received, for example, was not a forgiveness of sins but a vindication, which is something more. We don’t just have Christ dying for our sins; He is also raised for our justification. For Wright this justification is not merely about the forgiveness of sins, but about membership in the family promised to Abraham.

Lane,

In response to your earlier comments.

I agree that the Church has nailed down many essential things to the Christian faith. However, I believe that there is a lot more latitude for rethinking than you seem to. In general what the Church has nailed down are boundaries, guarding against certain erroneous positions. We theologize within those boundaries. There are many orthodox ways of understanding the Trinity and many orthodox ways of understanding justification. In passing, I also believe that we should be very careful that we don’t give the Reformed tradition the same weight as the catholic tradition of the Church.

One thing that you realize when you start reading the early Reformed is that there was a lot of diversity in their understanding of issues such of justification and a huge diversity in their reading of Romans. Musculus advocates paedocommunion. Bullinger holds an understanding of election that many would see as FV or worse today. He also has interesting views about the Law and covenant. In Bucer, to take another example, one will find a number of interesting diversions from certain popular readings of Romans and Galatians (for example the reading of expressions such as ‘the righteousness of God’ and the ‘works of the Law’). Such examples could be multiplied.

I believe that we can learn a lot from studying the Reformers. However, I believe that in many respects, particularly exegetically, they have less and less to teach us. They have done an awful lot to bring us to the place that we are, but they have been surpassed in many areas by those who followed after them. It is like reading Newton after Einstein. One does not denigrate Newton by claiming that he has been surpassed; one simply recognizes that all of our limited formulations can be improved upon. Wright will be surpassed by many in the future and has been surpassed by some already. Wright himself has admitted that a significant percentage of what he has put forward is probably wrong, but he does not know which part. This, incidentally, exposes the unfairness of your claims about Wright’s view of his importance as a theologian.

You claim that the Reformation and Puritan view of justification cannot be improved upon. I beg to differ. For starters there are dozens of Protestant and Reformed views of justification. There has been significant diversity on such issues in all periods of the Reformed churches’ history. I believe that a number of the doctrines of justification that the Reformers and the Puritans put forward are inadequate in various respects.

I believe that careful analysis of their work will make clear that it was their concern to rule out certain understandings of the doctrine as impermissible. This becomes clearer when one appreciates the wide range of understandings of justification that were present in early Protestantism, some of which closely resemble Catholic views (Peter Leithart has done quite a bit of study on this). One begins to recognize what exactly it is about certain Roman Catholic views that the Reformers are objecting to. As the diversity of views of justification begins to diminish somewhat one notices that the early Reformers’ formulations fall foul of many of the new distinctions. The Reformers’ successors largely presume that the root concerns demand the distinctions, but this is not necessarily the case.

I believe that there are ways of thinking about justification that do justice to the root concerns of the Reformers, whilst clearly departing from traditional Reformed formulations and I believe that Wright has provided us with some ways of moving towards such positions. For example, the doctrine of imputation is important to the Reformers because it guards against the error of basing our justification upon an impersonal infused righteousness. However, I don’t believe that it is the only way of guarding against such an error. I believe that the concerns that underlie the Reformed doctrine of justification are to be retained, but I also believe that most of the traditional formulations can easily be improved upon.

I find your claim that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past a bit unfair. Wright may not read as many of your favourite dead theologians as you think he should do, but much of this has to do with the fact that he operates in a very different milieu from the one that you do. Many thinking Christians just don’t find the Puritans as helpful as you do. Given the fact that he is an Anglican you should not be surprised if Wright doesn’t give that much attention to your pet theologians as you would like him to. Perhaps he reads Anglicans instead. Besides, I would like to see your proof that Wright isn’t reading the writers of the past.

Wright hardly cuts himself off from the voices of Church history. It just seems to me that he reads different ones and also that he interacts with certain traditional positions by interacting by leading modern advocates of those positions. Besides, no one is claiming that historical theology is Wright’s forte. Learning the lessons of the past is not primarily something that we do individually, but something that we do in dialogue with others within the body of Christ. Frankly, I believe that Wright would be wasting his time if he focused on reading the Reformers’ commentaries. I am pleased when he focuses on his area of gifting. I am disappointed when he makes unhelpful pronouncements on issues outside of the area of his expertise, such as contemporary politics and historical theology.

Another important point that you must appreciate is that there are plenty of people who enjoy Wright who do listen firsthand to the voices of the past. There is no one man movement here. People critically appropriate Wright and relate his thought to the previous thinking that has occurred within their tradition. There are people who have studied the Puritans and Reformed history who actually find Wright very helpful in progressing their thinking.

On the issue of imputation, I really, truly and honestly fail to see what all the fuss is about. Wright’s view gives us everything that imputation gives us. What is wrong with the position put forward in a statement like this? What does it take from us that the doctrine of imputation gives us?—

The first of these [the status of being ‘in Christ’] is particularly important, and is the theme of verse 9, which sums up a good deal that he says at more length in Romans and Galatians. Paul draws out the contrast, the same contrast he’s been talking about throughout the passage, between those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant people because they possess, and try to keep, the Jewish law, the Torah, and those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant family because of what the Messiah has done. In 2:8 he described the Messiah’s achievement as his ‘obedience, even unto death’; here he describes it as his ‘faithfulness’; but the two mean substantially the same thing. And the way we share in ‘the Messiah’s faithfulness’ is by our ‘faith’. Our belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world, and our loyalty to him, are the sign and badge that we have a credit balance consisting simply of him, over against all the debits we could ever have from anywhere else. This is Paul’s famous doctrine of ‘justification by faith’, which continues to be a comfort and a challenge to millions around the world.

I believe that the concerns that underlie the doctrine of imputation are important. However, I don’t believe that imputation is necessary in order to preserve them. It seems to me that Wright gives us a possible alternative.

In the quote above Wright clearly teaches that we share in the ‘Messiah’s faithfulness’, which he identifies as Christ’s obedience unto death. What is it that you think that Wright is missing? I think that the fuss over imputation is one of the silliest things about the whole present debate. Wright certainly rejects the terminology, but retains the key elements of the substance.

On the issue of polemics, there is a time and a place. We should all be prepared to employ polemics on the right occasion. However, the example of Jesus does not give a carte blanche to polemicists. I am certainly not alone in believing that you employed polemics in quite the wrong place. As I have pointed out before, there was a reason that you got thrown off the Wrightsaid list, a place where many contradictory points of view have been able to co-exist in dialogue.

You write:—

I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

I don’t really think that IQ is the issue here. I know many smart people who don’t get and seemingly can’t get Wright, no matter how hard they try. As I pointed out in my post, a sharp mind that has brought a particular way of thinking to a high degree of consistency is often less able to understand a new position than someone who has never developed such a depth of consistency in their thinking. Some people who have high IQs have deep, but narrow minds, that are increasingly unable to entertain new ways of thinking that run against the grain of their habitual ways of thinking. Reading comprehension is one thing, reading comprehension across sharply differing paradigms is another. Often highly intelligent people are also unimaginative people, which can make it hard for them to comprehend radically different ways of thinking. I also believe that we do have significant differences in our reading of Wright (imputation being a case in point).

You ask:

…if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

I don’t take Wright’s word for everything that he says. Most of Wright’s readers do have the power of independent thought and a significant number of them have read the Reformers in depth for themselves. They can arrive at their own assessment of the accuracy of Wright’s statements. I have read a lot of Calvin and I think that some of what Wright claims is unfair when applied to Calvin. However, I believe that a number of Wright’s claims are true. Calvin does, for example, often tend to read the discussions with the Roman Catholics into the text.

You write:

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

Because we claim to be Christians.

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

It might be worthwhile to try a different tone for a while and see what happens. You are speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ, people for whom our Lord died. You tone often gives the impression that you love polemics more than you love your neighbour, that you want to win the argument more than you want to win your brother.

On Wright’s compatibility with the WCF, I believe that Wright is compatible with what I regard as the root concerns of the WCF’s doctrine of justification. I do not believe that those root concerns necessitate the position that Westminster gives us though.

I believe that the desire to move forward to new formulations of the truth is not a sign of a ‘restless attitude towards God’s truth’. Quite the opposite. The desire to move forward can be an indication that our desire is fixed on God’s Truth and we are not going to content ourselves with something less. All of our theological formulations are merely signposts that point beyond themselves. They are witnesses to the Truth and seek to reflect that Truth as best they can. However, as our hearts are drawn towards the Truth, we will start to develop a restless attitude towards our theological formulations insofar as they arrest our movement towards the Truth at a particular point. Our formulations can always reflect God’s Truth more accurately.

You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

Yes and no. There is both similarity and difference. We must do justice to both and not overemphasize one to the neglect of the other. One could argue that Wright’s doctrine of justification could be accommodated to the Westminster Confession to a large extent, just as Wright is willing to accommodate himself to the language of the 39 Articles on justification. I am pretty sure that, if Wright were operating within a confessionally Reformed context, he would be prepared to accommodate himself to traditional language on imputation, whilst making clear that he thought that Paul speaks about things differently.

I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

Sorry, I’m far from persuaded.

Thanks Al,
I appreciate your concise argumentation both online and in person. I also find it helpful when you do discuss these issues in a positive way rather than in the usual negative evangelical mistrusting approach. Hope your summer has been good so far. Looking forwards to uni again?

Thanks Jon,

Yes, I am looking forward to returning to uni. I am not enjoying my present work very much, although that should change in a few days’ time. However, in other respects the summer has gone very well.

As regards more positive approaches, I confess that I prefer them too. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to express my frustration and I blog about it. As I have been reading Waters on the FV and relistening to lectures from Wright and his critics while I have been working, I have a lot of frustration at the moment. On such occasions I often put things in a way that I would not in my calmer moments, even though I would not disagree with the points that I have made above. In retrospect I do regret a number of my past posts and regret that I did not put things in a more balanced manner in the post above. It was written quickly and posted without as much thought as I could have given.

Unfortunately posts that are more negative in tone seem to draw the greatest response (as the number of comments above proves) and often people from different parties seem to understand and employ them in a manner quite alien to my intentions. Some from other traditions use it to dismiss Reformed scholarship. Some Wright supporters use it to mock Wright’s critics. A number of those critical of Wright totally misread it as well (this post being a good example). I see the situation that I describe in my post as incredibly tragic and believe that it shows a venerable theological tradition in a very poor light.

Al, I’m not going to answer everything you said, because I’ve answered it already, and I would just be repeating myself. But I will say one or two things.

Firstly, regarding imputation. I am absolutely dumbfounded and rather disappointed that you think the debate over imputation is silly. That has *always* been the heart of the Reformers’ doctrine of justification. The entire OT has the shape of needing to obey the law to live. Christ obeyed the law, and we live. It’s as simple as that. His obedience to the law is what is credited to our account. NTW will not say that, and did not say that in your quotation. NTW would argue that obeying the law is not and has never been the way to perfect righteousness for anyone. He would quote the sacrificial system as evidence for this (which is a non-sequitur).

For evidence that imputation is absolutely irrevocably central to justification in the minds of the Reformers, go to the following places: Calvin’s Inst. 2.7.2, especially Turretin’s Institutes 2.646-656, Bavinck’s RD 3.102, Owen’s works, vol 5, pp 223-240, Hodge, volume 3, pp 144-150, Dabney, ST, pp 328-331, Pelikan’s Christian Tradition, volume 4, pp 149-151, Witsius, ECBGM, I, pp 402-403, Reymond’s ST, pp. 745-747, James P. Boyce’s Abstracts, pp 396-398, Berkhof, pp 523-524, Buchanan’s work on Justification, pp 314-339, Cunningham’s Historical Theology, vol 2, pp 45-56, Pemble’s Justificaion of a Sinner, pp 69-134, Murray, RAA, pp 123-124, Ursinus’s Commentary, pp 326-328, Murray’s works, volume 2, pp. 213-215, Packer, in New Bible Dictionary, pg 639, and just look at the title in Bunyan’s works, volume 1, pp 300-330, Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin for a conclusive argument on Romans 5, Strong’s ST, pg 862, Haldane on Romans, pg 177, Edwards, BT works, vol 1, pp 622-654, especially pp. 628, 635-636, WCF chapter 11, Heidelberg Catechism, question 60. Now I suggest that you *seriously* revise your statement after reading these relatively short quotations. I have been at pains to make sure that most of them are only a few pages. I have referenced 16th-20th century works, Puritan and Continental, Presbyterian and Independent, even Baptist.

Secondly, about being gracious: you did not answer my challenge. NTW lambastes the Reformational understanding of justification. He uses highly inflammatory language. You claim that we should be gracious because we are Christians. what about him? Of course, we should be gracious to our brothers. But if we are gracious to wolves, we will wind up with fat, contented wolves and no sheep. You seem to completely forget Jesus’ own harshest of harsh words to the Pharisees! Did that portion of Scripture simply drop out of the canon? See Douglas Wilson’s great book _The Serrated Edge_ for a great exegetical defense of what I’m talking about. *Graciousness does not equal Christianity.*

Lane,

When I claimed that I thought that the debate over imputation was silly, I was not claiming that the concerns underlying the doctrine of imputation are silly. Far from it. What I was claiming was that the claims that Wright is the great enemy of imputation are silly and have little basis.

I will acknowledge that Wright does not hold to the imputation of Christ’s ‘active obedience’ as classically understood, but this can hardly be called heresy. The Westminster Confession (11.1) does not even teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and deliberately leaves the question open as a number of the divines themselves denied it.

Wright does believe that the death of Christ for our sins is the necessary condition for our being declared righteous and he believes that in union with Christ we share His justified status. So I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

In fact, one could even argue that Wright holds to a form of the imputation of active obedience as well. God does not merely pardon our sins and accept us as righteous; God views us as the true humanity in Christ. Christ lived as the true Adam and in Him we are regarded by God as those who have fulfilled His pattern for humanity.

Of course, Wright sees the Law playing a very different role in his account to the one that it plays in classic Reformed theology. I readily acknowledge this, but still don’t see why this is such a big issue. In Wright’s account of the Law it is, in some sense the pattern for true humanity, a pattern that is fulfilled by and in Christ, so his view isn’t even as far removed as it might originally appear.

I really don’t believe that Wright lambasts the Reformational understanding of justification. Some have put forward strange readings of statements in WSPRS, suggesting that Wright presents the Reformed doctrine as if it were a fart joke (the reference being to Wright’s statement that righteousness is not some sort of substance or gas that can be passed over from the judge to the defendent). I just don’t have time or patience to respond to such readings. Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). However, I do not believe could fairly be said to ‘lambast’ the Reformed doctrine of imputation. It should also be remembered that many of the positions that he dialogues with are popular evangelical misconceptions rather than traditional Reformed doctrine. Wright’s language simply is not that inflammatory to those who are prepared to listen carefully. To be honest, I am surprised at how graciously he has responded to people who have grossly misrepresented him with evangelicalism.

I am quite aware of the attitude that Jesus had to the Pharisees and the attitude that Paul had to Peter, and so on. However, there is a time and a place and I don’t think that you are careful enough in this area. It is easy to shoot first and ask questions later. Even supposing that Wright is a heretic, many of us have many differences with him and don’t appreciate when it is presumed that we hold all of his views and can be personally attacked as if we held them ourselves. If you can’t clearly identify your target and throw straight you shouldn’t be playing with serrated edges.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric?

For the record, Lane, Wright did not name the book, his publisher did. Wright doesn’t even like the name (just as he doesn’t like the title of his recent book, The Last Word). As I said in my previous comment, if you can’t get your facts right, we would all appreciate if you would keep the serrated edge sheathed.

Al, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to me, and a model of how to deal with controversy on the Internet (and that I need as many such models as I can get is undoubtable!). I greatly appreciate your theological work and the provocative ways you approach many old issues, shedding fresh light on them.

I look forward to hopefully meeting you next year when, by the grace of God, I actually do get to come to Edinburgh and begin my graduate studies.

You were probably listening to my debate with Daniel Kirk on this about Chad Van Dixhorn’s work on the WCF. Suffice it to say that Chad does *not* ultimately take the direction on WCF 11.1 (as explained by LC 70) that Daniel Kirk does. They listen to the first part of what he says without listening to the rest. Ultimately, Chad believes that question 70 (which most assuredly does teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience) should be allowed to influence our reading of chapter 11. The Westminster standards *do* teach the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer.

With regard to the serrated edge, I have spent four or five years deeply researching NTW’s work before I said a word about it. So I did in fact ask questions first, and then started my shooting. I am not a rash person, as you seem to think. I am a scholar who reads widely.

WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

I trust that I have never said that you hold to all of NTW’s ideas. I have never said it. So don’t attribute to me what I didn’t say. It doesn’t look good when you accuse me of doing that.

And I am not attacking people, but ideas.

With regard to the title of NTW’s book, I have two things to say. First, I didn’t know that the publisher had entitled it. So I see your point up to a point. But two, NTW could have refused to have it published under that title. He is responsible for how he comes across. He can’t push that responsibility over on to a publisher, and neither can you.

BOQ
Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). EOQ

And this is precisely where all the quotes I gave earlier, which you conveniently forgot to mention or interact with, would disagree with NTW. If someone doesn’t hold to imputation in the Reformation sense, as given in all those quotations, then he has justification wrong. One can’t just try to get around critics, as NTW tries all the time, by stating something that sounds the same, but isn’t. This is why you misunderstand NTW’s position vis-a-vis the Reformation. It is not I who misunderstands NTW, but you.

At least you admit that NTW does not agree with the transfer of accounts. I read him that way too. And refusing to acknowledge that language, especially in Romans 4, is what makes NTW wrong on this, and incompatible with Reformed theology.

Further, you are guilty of a non-sequitur when you say that it cannot be a matter of transfer of accounts, but can only be a matter of being seen in His vindication. Read the Edwards treatise, especially, and you will see that it is not either/or there. We are give by imputation the righteousness of Christ’s law-keeping precisely because we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection by faith. We become married to Him, and as His spouse, have a legal right to everything that belongs to Christ, all His merits. So we are seen and united to Christ in His vindication, and in the process have His merits transferred to our account. Why can’t it be both, pray?

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Lane, you write:
WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

Well, I think there could be other ways of approaching the obedience of Christ. Especially in light of the text: Rom.3:21 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law..” Before dismissing Wright, I would encourage you to look at how obedience to the Father “apart from the law” may have primacy and may answer your concerns. I would encourage you to read Rich Lusk’s response to OPC report on this point before jumping to conclusions. It may be helpful. Here it is:
http://www.trinity-pres.net/essays/opc-justification-reply-2.pdf

Wow! You certainly got a lot of comments on this one. I found your post very interesting. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about N.T. Wright, except that my Reformed Pastor really likes his commentaries. These days, while I am reading blogs, I find very little comment about what N.T. Wright actually says but a whole lot concerning his worth as a theologian. Some seem to love him unconditionally; some seem to hate him unconditionally.

You’ve piqued my interest.

Thanks,
Renee

To Troy, are you assuming that Romans 3:21 refers the “without the law” to Christ’s obedience and righteousness? Most Reformed authors would refer that “without the law” to our way of appropriating Christ’s righteousness. This demonstrated as being in accord with the context by verses 27-28.

Lane:

Imputation is irrevocably central to the reformed formulation of Justification because the reformed formulation stipulates that you need the merit of lawkeeping to be justified.

Wright doesn’t stipulate that, so he doesnt need the merit of lawkeeping for justification. I suppose that’s why some people say Wright is soft on sin, though he isn’t.

What Al is saying though is that there are OTHER parts of wrights theology that carry the loads that you want justification and imputation to bear. I suspect there are those aspects, though I’ll admit its not clear to me, though I’m working on it. More later

Lane,

I would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology.

Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification.

For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology.

As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false.

As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position.

As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.

There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132)

Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language.

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these.

Just in case any of you are wanting any more discussion of this issue (!!), there is further discussion of this post taking place on the Derek Webb board.

BOQI would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

BOQ
It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. EOQ

I have read him, and he does not cover the same bases.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

BOQ
You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. EOQ

Look, NTW can say whatever he wants. He is not Presbyterian. He is not bound to the Westminster standards. But that is not the issue. My problem is with people who say that he isn’t saying anything really different from Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy. He is. And therefore, those who profess to hold to Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy may not hold to NTW’s beliefs on justification.

BOQ
For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology. EOQ

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible. You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level. Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

BOQ
I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false. EOQ

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically. I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

BOQ
As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position. EOQ

To claim that NTW doesn’t hold to imputation has nothing to do with whether I engaged his position or not. That is wholly irrelevant to that precise logical question. You may claim that I didn’t engage his position correctly. But you are simply wrong to claim that I am not engaging him at all when I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation. When I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation, I mean that he doesn’t hold to the Reformed doctrine of it, which even you must admit. What I have tried to argue (through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so) is simply that the Reformed view of imputation is part of an irreducible complexity (to borrow a phrase from Michael Behe) with regard to justification. I have also tried the tack of practical holiness: we must needs have a *perfect* righteousness to stand before the infinitely holy God. This is proved by the fact that the OT Israelites needed a Mediator. They couldn’t stand in God’s presence directly. Not even Moses could look directly at God, since he was a sinner. Isaiah’s call narrative is another case in point. In justification, a court-room decision *in God’s presence* is made. We must have a perfect righteousness in order to be acquitted, otherwise God is not just. That is why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness, since we cannot procure a perfect righteousness for ourselves. This can only happen by imputation. It is not enough to have our sins forgiven. As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness. That is not the point of the passage, since the proof-text is brought in to prove imputation, not any direction in reverse. If anything, we would have to say that in Romans 4, Forgiveness is part of imputation, if we wanted to subsume one to the other. No, rather, they are the flip side of the same coin. NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness. The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

BOQ
The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. EOQ

This is true, but so is the other.

BOQ
This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.EOQ

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

BOQ
There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. EOQ

This is simply not imputation. In imputation something new and different happens. It is not the declaration of what is already the case. The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification. I know this from personal correspondence with him, and many talks with him on the phone. I think you picked the wrong theologian to throw at me. What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ. I am no more claiming a separate discrete structure for imputation than Gaffin does. My position is identical with Gaffin. But Gaffin does not support Wright here. Because Gaffin supports the traditional Reformed understanding of imputation. Gaffin is merely at pains to locate imputation and justification within the realm of union with Christ. He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that. Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. Gaffin would argue that imputation does involve any kind of legal fiction. As would I. But Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

BOQ
Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132) EOQ

BOQ
Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language. EOQ

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

(me)
But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

BOQ
Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. EOQ

I was not actually claiming that that was my sole ground of belief. It was perhaps poorly worded. What I was saying is that belief that Jesus is God is necessary (though not sufficient) for this understanding of imputation in justification.

BOQ
I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these. EOQ

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy? I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

“And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem.”

I wonder if Lane’s prolixity on internet forumns in indicative of a mental aberration. I wonder if Lane’s prolixity is an indication he’s neclecting his pastoral duties. I’m not claiming he has these problems, I’m just wondering out loud about them.

Listen to yourself sometime Lane.

Or listen to an excellent series of talks from Marion Clark on speaking the truth in love. They were very convicting to me. Clark would probably say I’m ill advised to make these kinds of sarcastic responses, but I’m trying a serrated clarkian approach

Lane,

Let’s assume that you are 100% right in everything you say. It is obvious that you are not persuading anyone. Your arguments, even your “best arguments,” are simply alienating people. From a practical perspective, it might be time to let it go–or to preach to the choir of those who have sworn their allegiance to the WCF.

Rod

Lane,

This is going to have to be my final response to your comments. I stand by my earlier claims that you have misunderstood Wright. You have not presented me with any convincing reason to change my mind on this assessment (and I am listening to what you have to say). You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. Once that has taken place there is the exceedingly difficult task of translating his theological proposal into the language game of the WCF. The problem is that some of Wright’s proposals cannot be expressed in the theological vocabulary that Westminster offers us. It is that act of translation that has been short-circuited in your approach. Only after this has been done can we establish whether Wright’s position is out of bounds or not.

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

You misunderstand me. To study someone’s theology from the inside does not necessity any sort of willingness to accept its truth. Rather, it is an act of the imagination whereby the reader tries looking at the world through a different set of eyes. To understand Wright’s theology you need to have an appreciation of the way that Wright’s own mind works. Why does Wright find his position persuasive? Why does he find his earlier ‘Banner of Truth’-type Reformed position unpersuasive? The person who truly understands Wright should be able to represent the reasoning underlying his position in a manner that Wright himself would acknowledge to be his own.

This is not merely a mastery of the way that Wright uses his terms; it is an imaginative sharing of his theological vision. One tries to look at the world through Wright’s eyes, even if one believes that Wright’s eyesight is distorted. This is a ‘sympathetic’ reading inasmuch as it is an attempt to imaginatively share the feelings and vision of another. It need not be a ‘sympathetic’ reading in the sense that would imply that this vision is one that you believe to be right or one that you would be willing to share.

I believe that we won’t truly understand any position (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) until we give it the first type of sympathetic reading. Whilst I do not believe that a sympathetic reading is sufficient for the true understanding of a position (we need a critical reading as well), I do believe that it is necessary. I believe that Hinduism is a false religion and I would not bring an open mind to my study of it. However, I would seek to give a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

As I said before, you have not given Wright a sympathetic reading, nor have you made a genuine attempt to translate his claims into language that can be processed by the WCF. Consequently, I believe that your judgment concerning his theology is ill-founded (even were it right). The cause of your misunderstanding is not, I believe, a lack of intelligence. Rather, I believe that it is more likely a failure of theological imagination or the unjustifiable unwillingness to grant Wright a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

That is not true. I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

You have made far too facile a translation of Wright’s theology into Reformed categories here. The translation is far, far more complex — if it is possible at all. The Law for Reformed theology is generally understood more in terms of a supra-historical universal standard that is applied to history at some later stage. The Law tends to be understood as the obedience that God requires. For Wright the Law is something quite different. It is a particular thing, given to a particular nation at a particular moment in history. For Wright the Law is also narrative and, significantly, covenant. The Law is the charter of Israel’s existence.

If you understand Wright’s view of the Law you should recognize that to ask him about the three uses of the Law is much like a Chinese man talking to you in his language and expecting you to understand him. This does not mean that there is no way that something similar to the three uses of the Law couldn’t be asserted in Wright’s language. It is just to say that you are expecting Wright to speak a foreign language that is now only spoken in very isolated pockets of the Christian Church. This is not fair.

I actually believe that there are ways in which Wright could affirm something similar to the three uses of the Law in terms of his theology. The Law certainly has a pedagogical purpose in Wright’s theology. On one important level it is the blueprint for authentic human existence and in God’s redemptive-historical purposes it also puts a spotlight on human sin. The Law bears witness to Christ in typology and prophecy, leading the people of God to Him by revealing the problem and witnessing to the solution. The Law is also fulfilled in the faithful life of the Christian. These do not exactly correspond to the traditional understanding of the role of the Law, but we must remember that there is equivocation here in our use of the terminology of Law.

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible.

The differences between Wright and the confession are certainly not on the level of wording alone. It is misleading to say that it is. Many of the concepts and categories of thought that Wright works in terms of are not found in the confession. However — and this point is crucial — the concepts that one finds in Wright’s theology, whilst different from those of the confession are not for that reason necessarily contrary to the key concepts of the confession. They accomplish the same end through differing means. Wright’s affirmations can also be accommodated to the alien language of the confession in various respects, through an act of careful translation.

You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level.

The difference is not one of mere wording. The difference is like any difference between languages. The word for ‘dog’ in different languages does not always denote and connote exactly the same things, although there will be significant overlap. You cannot usually use the word for ‘dog’ in a foreign language in exactly the same way as one uses the word in English. Translation is a task that involves careful accommodation and negotiation and a degree of meaning will always be lost in the process. However, linguistic and conceptual differences need not entail radical substantial differences.

In the end I think that, in substance, Wright’s theology is quite Reformed in many respects. I also believe that, once one has appropriated his linguistic and conceptual tools, one will appreciate that they grant one a far greater grasp of the substance of Paul’s theology than Reformed theology has done so far. He does not deny the substance that has been previously recognized but gives us ways to get a purchase on substance that we had not truly grasped before.

Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. As regards union with Christ, Wright distinguishes this from justification. What he argues is that union with Christ is the basis on which God reckons righteousness to us. Union with Christ is not identified as the reckoning righteous, but as that which provides the basis. I don’t see the great difference here.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

I was trying to give a possible explanation. I know for a fact that Wright is not the only theologian to have had his book titled against his wishes. At a recent SBL conference that one of my lecturers in St. Andrews attended he said that Wright gave reasons why he disliked the title that the publishers had given to the US edition of his recent book on Scripture. Bart Ehrman, who was speaking in the same session as Wright, said the same thing about his book Misquoting Jesus.

Whether making a fuss would have made a difference is beyond my knowledge. Wright does not seem to be the person to make such a fuss. The impression that I get is that the choice of the title is not always under the writer’s control. Perhaps Wright didn’t fight to rename his book because he didn’t expect to be taken to task for it by cantankerous and uncharitable people and thought that he would prefer to retain good relations with his publisher than have his own way on this issue. The fact of the matter is that you have made an embarrassingly big deal out of an assumption that you have failed to demonstrate.

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically.

This is, as usual, a very uncharitable reading. I am sure that Wright is just saying that he has made up his mind on some important central issues in his reading of Paul and no longer holds them in question. I am sure that all of us have done this to some extent. There are certain questions that I have settled in my mind and don’t plan to return to. I have carefully weighed the various sides of the arguments and come to a conclusion. This does not mind that I think that I have arrived theologically. I have come to be persuaded that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity and am never going to go back on that. Does that imply an arrogant feeling of having arrived on my part? Wright has made clear that he does not believe that every detail of his picture is correct, but he is not going to change the basic sketch.

I get the impression that if Wright had expressed an openness to totally rethink his position, critics would claim that he was the type who would never have the courage to make up his mind, the type of person who was always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

Maybe you need to spend some more time thinking about it. It is not hard to reconcile the two statements. The idea that Wright regards himself as the ‘eschatological exegete’ is bizarre in the extreme.

…through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so…

Well, I have read at least a dozen of the sources that you listed in the past and was not going to go through them again. Besides, whilst it is reasonable to expect me to be familiar with Reformed understandings of justification if I claim that Wright is compatible with the Reformed tradition, it is totally unreasonable to expect anyone to read 100+ pages of text in order to answer your comment.

I am acquainted with the position of the Reformers and their successors. However, my claim is still that you are failing to treat Wright on his own terms. Reading the Reformers is not going to settle anything. You must have the careful sympathetic reading before the critical reading can take place. Furthermore, there is the task of translation, which you haven’t really undertaken.

Your further comments neglect the fact that imputation of active obedience is far from the consensus of the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition is not as monolithic on the issues of justification and imputation as you suggest. Dabney and Hodge disagree, Calvin and many of his successors disagree, there were differing views among the Westminster divines, etc.

As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness.

Wright doesn’t deny that justification involves forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness in Romans 4. God forgives our sins and reckons us righteous because in Christ we are righteous. I don’t believe that Wright does subsume imputation into forgiveness.

NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness.

I don’t think that that is true. Wright does not see the declaration of righteousness as being based upon the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. However, he does hold that in Christ we possess everything that is Christ’s, including the glory that the Father gave to Him as a result of His faithful fulfilling of His vocation.

Wright argues that God includes us in the verdict of righteous that He made at Christ’s resurrection. If we are included in Christ’s vindication then we are counted as if we lived the righteous life that gave rise to that vindication. Consequently, one can argue that Wright believes in a form of the doctrine of the imputation of active obedience as a part of his doctrine of justification. The difference between his view and the common understanding is that the imputation is logically subsequent or contemporaneous with our participation in Christ’s verdict for Wright, whilst it is logically prior for the more common understanding.

The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

Wright believes that we share the verdict that is cast over Christ as a result of His faithful life (which he would not speak of as ‘earning’ righteousness, as if righteousness were some sort of brownie points). The verdict that is ours is one that involves us being regarded in Christ as those who are the true humanity and members of the Israel that has fulfilled its vocation. He also believes that Christ bears both our sins and our sinful nature (he is strong on this point). We are accepted as sons as God reckons us in Christ and we are guaranteed eternal life in Him. It seems to me that Wright can be seen to cover the same bases if we read him carefully and think through his position on its own terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

I was not misquoting you; you are misunderstanding me. I know full well what you are and were saying. My point is that the marriage analogy that you gave is a good way to illustrate the fact that no transfer from one account to another is necessary for imputation to take place. If we are transferred into Christ’s body all that is His becomes our, with no transfer between accounts at all; we have a shared account. Participation rather than extrinsic transfer is a more healthy and biblical way of thinking.

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

No, I don’t think that it is the only way. The imputation of our sins (or debts to keep with the analogy) to Christ takes place when Christ comes to share the account of rebellious humanity at the cross and pays off the debt completely. There is no transfer of funds. Christ unites Himself to sinful humanity in His coming and exhausts their debt in His death.

The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification.

I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this.

What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ.

So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?

He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that.

Is Wright denying this?

Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. …Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

Gaffin is saying that our vital relationship with Christ makes Christ’s righteousness ours, along with all of His other blessings. Our being reckoned righteousness rests on Christ’s own ‘resurrection-approved righteousness’ which is ours by virtue of the union. Gaffin points out that it is reckoned ours because it is ours (“The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established”). It was in precisely this sense that I meant that imputation does not change anything. It is merely a reckoning of what is in fact the case by virtue of the union established.

Gaffin may believe that it is not technically inappropriate to speak of the event of our being united with Christ as an imputation that changes things (in the sense that I have used the word) and thus as an act of transfer, but this would merely be a debate about terminology. In substance he is saying the same thing as Wright here. He may have gone back on the position since, but in this quote Gaffin is not teaching anything opposed to what Wright himself teaches.

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

There is no contradiction. What Wright is saying is that the common view of imputation is incompatible with what he claims to be the biblical way that righteousness language works. He brings forward ridiculous examples that no one would hold to in order to illustrate this incompatibility.

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy?

Yes. I have.

I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

What I was objecting to was the number of assumptions that you were reading in. Wright does not share these assumptions. To even suggest that those beliefs are not shared because he compromises some foundational truth of Christianity that he strongly claims to hold is terribly premature, to say the least. There are far more immediate explanations that one needs to test before one resorts to putting one of the worst possible constructions on his statements.

In conclusion, Lane, I have extended you the courtesy of responding to your comments in detail. I have listened to what you have to say and have been unpersuaded. I do not have the time, energy or will to continue this dialogue any further at the moment, so this is my final comment. Thank you for your time and effort. I hope that God will bless you in your continued studies. I sincerely hope that you will come to an accurate assessment of Wright. If he is a heretic then I trust that you will be able to recognize that and carefully identify and warn us of his errors. If he is not, I trust that you will be given the courage to clear up confusion and exonerate him of false charges.

[...] The commenting continues beneath the Wright post. I have just written one of the longest comments I have ever written in my life. [...]

Indeed, you have been courteous in replying to my long-winded cantankerous comments. For that I thank you. We aren’t convincing each other of a single thing, and so I also will not continue beyond this last comment. And it will be quite selective.

BOQ
You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. EOQ

What you fail to appreciate is that I already Wright before I had any oath or binding committment to the Westminster Standards. In fact, I was not very familiar with them before I read most of Wright’s works. And so, i was actually able to do the very thing you seem to think I haven’t done: read him on his own terms. The problem here is that you cannot enter into my mind to find out the path that took me from there to rejecting *some* of his theology. But I deny utterly that I haven’t given him a fair reading. I view that claim as utterly absurd, and you are in no position to read my mind to say whether I have given him a fair reading or not. For you, the evidence consists completely in whether I come to the same conclusions as you have! I think that that would be the only way to convince you that I had given him a fair reading. So we are at an impasse there. I might add that Gaffin himself, in private communication, has said that he uniformly appreciated my posts on the debate page regarding NTW’s theology. Apparently, he agrees with my critiques. Gaffin is quite the scholar, and quite the gentleman, and that is why many have thought that he was too easy on NTW, especially in the Auburn Avenue lectures. Many people have thought that they teach basically the same things, as you also seem to think. His newest book will forever disabuse you of that notion, I trust.

BOQ
I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously. EOQ

As I have said before, I really don’t think that this is possible, since the only way to convince you that I understood NTW would be to come to your conclusions.

BOQ
So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?
EOQ

That is certainly not what Gaffin is saying. He would never equate union with imputation. He would say that union is the basis on which imputation can take place. It is what prevents the transfer from being a legal fiction. But it is not equal to imputation.

BOQ
Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. EOQ

He says that, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he is consistently applying it. It shows his inconsistency in the very formula that he gives that justification is matter not so much of soteriology, as of ecclesiology. How is that not playing one off against the other?

BOQ
I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this. EOQ

And I know for a fact that Gaffin himself would disagree with you. That’s all for me. I’m done. It has been extremely interesting and in many ways enlightening as well. Debate is something I love. I wish people were not so afraid of it. These comments about tone are off, for the most part. The Jewish rabbis themselves would call other rabbis empty-heads, even their best friends, right in the middle of debate. It has been in that spirit in which I have wished to debate. I have never meant anything as a personal attack, and if you, or anyone else have gotten that impression, then I apologize. I have always meant to attack ideas. Intention is often better than performance, however. Peace.

wow … long discussion. O.O now that we know we won’t be settling these issues, lets all just go anglican! ^^/ … imho, reformed circles in general have a fatal problem with understanding teh vitatlity of teh church–teh sacraments, teh liturgy, teh prayers …. btw, nice post!

Some of my earlier comments had problems with double blockquotes. Consequently it looks as if some of Lane’s words are mine. Whilst whose words are whose should generally be relatively obvious, I hope that this hasn’t caused any confusion. I have adjusted my last comment to try to address this problem, but am aware that it might have affected other earlier comments, which I have not checked.

Berek,

I quite understand where you are coming from on this one, although I have no intention to go Anglican just yet. It seems to me that it might just be a case of exchanging one set of fatal problems for another.

[...] For example: the minute you become a Calvinist or Lutheran you begin to spot heresy everywhere, because it is easy to find believers Doing Something, even yourself. This pernicious bug is so common it pops up not only in explicit thought but even in the way phrases are turned. The Christian side of the internet features many long, complicated arguments over whether such and such a person is a works person or not. It’s all quite nuanced. There are Christians who spend their lives at it. There are categories within categories. I’m not sure if I’m a semi-palagian or a semi-semi-pelagian. I can’t figure out why it matters, though, since whatever God wants to happen to me is what will happen. [...]

An excellent post. I’m not sure I follow all the theological fine points that you get into with your commenters; some of that is way over my head. But I’m sure that N. T. Wright does not deserve what he is getting from his Reformed critics.

I was hoping for a post with more substance. It seems your “reasons” are really just empty ad hominems. If you’re interested, I discussed your article here.

Nate,

I have responded in the comments of your post.

An astute theologian, such as Mr. Wright ought to write, and to speak, so as to be understood with a reasonable application of effort.
My only other problem with Mr. Wright is that I shouldn’t have to drop the price of a small house on all his books and lectures in order to be able find out that he isn’t a heretic.

Ray,

I actually don’t believe that Wright is all that hard to understand, though I can understand why some find him confusing. Wright only becomes hard to understand for those who try to interpret him within an alien theological framework. The difficulty is that many of Wright’s Reformed critics seem to find it incredibly hard to think outside of traditional Reformed categories. There are plenty of lay people in pews who seem to be able to get a better grasp on what Wright is saying than leading Reformed critics like Ligon Duncan.

The difficulties of understanding are paradigm difficulties. One could compare it to a Dutch speaker who continually picks up on the errors of those who speak other dialects, regional languages and other related languages such as Flemish, Brabantic, Zeelandic or Afrikaans and fails to realize that these dialects and languages need to be understood, to a significant degree, on their own terms.

Once it is appreciated that the grammar and vocabulary of Wright’s system works differently and that these need to be understood on their own terms, understanding him really isn’t that hard. However, lingering difficulties may exist as the close relationship between the language that the critic is more accustomed to and the language of Wright’s theology may occasionally mislead him into treating Wright’s language as if it were the same.

Wright’s critics are the grammaticians of Reformed language. They police the way in which the Reformed language should and should not be used. They often seek to standardize Reformed usage and eliminate some unhelpful dialects that persist. There are good reasons why such people find it especially hard to understand what Wright is saying.

I believe that Wright is generally one of the clearest writers I have ever read. He is acknowledged by almost everyone to be an incredibly gifted communicator, so it would surprise me if his thought was that hard to understand for the person who went about it the right way.

Wright goes wrong when he disagrees with Jesus and Paul on their perspicuous and far more expert assessment of STJ plus the clear treatment in the Gospels of the way in which the various Judaic schools used the Taanach. Jesus even gives us a critique on Jewish systematics to show that they had travelled in a diametrical direction from that of revealed Scripture. Paul did not build his theology on STJ. He built it, as the New Testament clearly testifies, on the revelation of Christ through the Older Testment in conformity with Jesus own method of revealing himself in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus and in the declaration “Moses spoke of me”.

Tim,

Wright claims to be representing the analysis of Jesus and Paul in his treatment of 2TJ. Wright shows how Jesus and Paul were deeply critical of the theology of many of their contemporaries (the Pharisees and Judaizers in particular), arguing that these parties missed the point of the Law and distracted attention away from the things that really mattered, leading people dangerously astray. Their almost talismanic use of the Torah is exposed for what it is and the primacy of faith is stressed against them as the thing that God is really looking for.

Wright does not see Paul’s theology as having been built on general theologies in 2TJ. Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.

I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.

“Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.” Perhaps in Wright’s understanding, but not in Paul’s. Paul, following Jesus, along with James, and John soundly condemn all STJ. If, indeed, the Old Covenant was abolished, so much more so the lowly aberrations that exuded from that Covenant. There was nothing redeemable in STJ for Paul to recast and Paul knew it. The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom was, as the prophets said it would be, “a new thing” not the reworking of something old. Jesus makes this plain in his analogy of the wine skins.
“I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.”
That is your privelege to believe, it is of no consequence to me. Wright is looking for an hermeneutic that gives greater flexibility to definitions of Christianity in keeping with his place in evangelical ecumenism. His basic question is “How can Christian be most broadly defined in order that Cathoiics, Liberals and Protestants may sit at the same table of academic relavency?” The answer is to put thoughts in Paul’s head that are not there, thoughts that Paul himself called “dung”.

Why is NT Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?…

As one who appreciates N.T. Wrights works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see…

[...] Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by So Many of His Reformed Critics? by Alistair “Adversaria” - an exploration into the possible psychology of the Reformed rush to judgments [...]

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do”

That kinda destroys the idea that Jesus thought all of 2TJ was worthless and to be destroyed.

I also think that you can put however much oomph into “radical recasting” that your dispute becomes one merely of words. Jesus ressurection body was a radical recasting of his fleshly body. Was it ‘the same’? Well, not is one sense, but yes in another…

Paul,

I’m not sure whether your comment is in response to me or not. However, I imagine that we are pretty much in agreement here. There is both significant continuity and discontinuity, something that is well illustrated by the example of resurrection that you give.

It was to Tim Price, actually.

Oh, 100th post!

Pduggie,
Please don’t stop with the first verse of Matthew 23. Please read on and see if, by the time Jesus finished his indictment against Judaism as he knew that there was anything left of it that he wished to have retrieved. Verse four sets the tone, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Jesus has already told his disciples that his burden is easy and light, quite different from that which the Pharisees would not bother to lift with their finger, that burden that barred their disciples from heaven and salvation. Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Jesus opens the gates of heaven for his disciples, but the teaching of Judaism did exactly the opposite precisely because they “travel[ed] (v.15) across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he be[came] a proselyte, [they] made him twice as much a child of hell as [them]selves.” In light of this, I would say that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to observe the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is simply a deference to civil authority (the seat of Moses). Nothing more. That ended in A.D. 70.

Alastair,
There is a place in debate to air issues like the motives and dispositions of critics of Tom Wright, but I suggest you focus a post on the substantive issues that the Reformed critics have with NT Wright — like does he teach imputation? does he teach forensic justification? What I find is that, while he sometimes pokes Reformers in the eye about both of these, mostly it is rhetoric of the via negativa sort. Careful readings of his Romans commentary convinces me that there is an element of imputation in Wright and he clearly sees justification as forensic, if also much more covenantal/relational.

Thanks for the comments, Scot. I have discussed a number of these issues in the past. I am also in the process of writing up a lengthy treatment of Wright’s doctrine of final justification, in which I engage with some of the concerns and criticisms raised by his Reformed critics.

Scot, you can also find some more detailed discussions of Wright’s position on imputation and justification in the comments above, particularly in my interaction with Lane Keister.

WOW! Finally somebody nailed it. I am particularly disturbed the theological arrogance of aforementioned Reformed scholars who appear to me to believe themselves to be the gatekeepers of truth. N.T. Wright is indeed tough to “skim” and you really need some patience to digest his work. I learned that in seminary while working on a Jesus paper for a course.

Frankly, there is not a theologian who has ever lived, whether it’s Wright, Warfield, Augustine, or even (*gasp*) Jonathan Edwards, who is so intelligent that they can elucidate the wideness, richness, and depth of all that God truly is.

this page has a googlewack on it

pokes solemnibus

[...] Some guy I don’t know on Bad Criticism of N.T. Wright - right on the money! [...]

The reformed community has been quite fair to N.T Wright. He has written a number of great resources and seems to have stood very solid among Anglicans, but he does take an aberrant position on justification. Where in any of his writings has he fully embraced justification by faith alone? You will be hard pressed to find it, because he does not hold to it. He certainly does not stand with J.C Ryle or even his own 39 Articles. He is very clear that all who are baptised are considered justified. N.T Wright is very easy to understand if you take the time to read his material.

Stephen,
I have read just about everything that Wright has ever written. He affirms his agreement with Luther’s basic point in JBFA on a number of occasions. He has explicitly stated that he agrees with the 39 Articles in responding to Wrightsaid discussion list questions. His position on the relationship between Baptism and justification is far more nuanced than you present. I humbly suggest that it is you who need to reread Wright.

I will hopefully be posting a podcast that is relevant to this subject in the next week or so.

[...] with the Canadian government. Via. ———————– A long post on NT Wright and why his critics misunderstand them. There is also a lot of comments and discussion [...]



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Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?

As one who appreciates N.T. Wright’s works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see this as arrogance on my part. Can I really believe that I understand what Wright is saying better than theologians like Don Carson, Ligon Duncan and Guy Waters? Surely these people aren’t stupid and they know what they are saying when they critique Wright.

Having read and listened to the above-mentioned theologians (and many others besides) I am pretty certain that they seriously misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in a number of key areas. I have studied Wright’s theology in depth and so I don’t feel that I am unjustified in making such a judgment. I have read all of Wright’s major works at least once, most of them three, four or more times. I have read almost all of his more popular works at least once and all of the essays that he has contributed to various volumes that I have been able to lay my hands on. I have read almost all of his Internet articles. I have listened to over 70 hours’ worth of his lectures. I have read his unpublished doctoral thesis. I have read many of his critics and I have participated in lengthy e-mail and Internet debates on various aspects of his theology.

The issue here is not disagreement. It is quite possible to disagree with someone, Wright included, without misrepresenting or misunderstanding them. Whilst there are certainly areas where Wright’s critics have understood him and fairly represent him and choose to differ from him, I believe that there are many areas where the import of Wright’s theology has been badly misconstrued by his Reformed critics.

This is all the more tragic as a theologian with as sweeping a picture as Wright is badly in need of good critics to counterbalance certain elements of his thought. Good critical debate could lead to the various parties arriving at a more qualified and balanced position. In the current debate we tend to just have polarization.

So why has Wright been so consistently misunderstood and misrepresented by his Reformed critics? I think that the explanation can be boiled down to the following contributing factors. Whilst none of these explanations could be said to apply in every instance, I do think that, taken together, they can cover most of the cases that I have encountered. It should also be observed that (as someone remarked to me in way of criticism) the following can generally be categorized as worldview problems, sin or incompetence. I think that this is a fair assessment, but I stand by the following nonetheless.

1) Laziness. It takes a lot of effort to read Wright carefully and seek to understand him on his own terms, effort that many Reformed critics apparently don’t want to take. The idea that we ought to devote weeks of painstaking study to the work of someone we have been told is a heretic might be considered by many to be a waste of time.

Wright has written dozens of books and yet one will consistently see Reformed critics honing in on a couple of statements in a popular book when he has explained his views on the subject in question with far more clarity, nuance and detail in more weighty works. Once you read the more scholarly volumes, the ambiguous statements in the popular works begin to make more sense.

Indeed, the fact that some of Wright’s more popular critics repeat the same misrepresentations and focus on the same couple of quotes in the vast corpus of Wright’s works as some well known Reformed critiques makes me suspect that some have not even bothered to read one of Wright’s books from start to finish at all.

2) Impatience. Understanding Wright is not easy. It takes a long time before you will have anywhere near enough knowledge of the character of his position to be able to intelligently make up your mind about him. Most people don’t have the requisite patience. They expect to be able to grasp Wright after skim-reading What St Paul Really Said. Wright is a gifted communicator, but like most serious theologians, understanding him on his own terms takes a lot of work.

3) Presumption of heresy. We are frequently told that Wright is a great threat to the Reformed faith. Consequently, we come to our reading of Wright looking for the heresy that we expect to find there. If you approach any author in such a fashion you should not be surprised if you find what you are looking for. There are dozens of ambiguous statements in Wright’s works that are quite susceptible to uncharitable constructions. Giving Wright the benefit of the doubt in many of these instances, one will find that the ambiguity is elsewhere cleared up and that a negative construction need not be placed on the statement in question.

The fact that many who approach Wright are already convinced of his heterodoxy and are merely seeking proof has resulted in numerous misreadings and misrepresentations.

4) A sense of urgency. Given the heat of the debate concerning the theology of N.T. Wright in Reformed circles at the moment it is exceedingly difficult to approach Wright’s work with an open mind. One is pressed to either side with or oppose Wright from the outside. This sense of urgency has resulted in many Reformed readers of Wright having made up their minds about them before they have ever studied him carefully. The possibility of anyone keeping an open mind about Wright for long enough to come to a truly informed judgment is increasingly unlikely in Reformed circles.

Wider scholarship is a different matter. The debate is cooler there and I would strongly recommend engagement with what some of Wright’s more scholarly critics have to say about him.

5) Arrogance. Appreciation of Wright in Reformed circles has been dismissed (by leading critics such as Duncan) as a fad for the theologically naïve, former theonomists, those who are ignorant of much of the Reformed theological tradition, etc. I feel that many such critiques arise from a theological arrogance that is dismissive of anything that is not recycling the texts that Reformed people have been reading for centuries.

Furthermore, the idea that an Anglican bishop might score points against the Reformed tradition hurts Reformed theological pride (which is quite widespread, in my experience). What have the heirs of Westminster to learn from a son of Canterbury? Openness to learn positive lessons from other traditions is not the greatest virtue of the Reformed churches. Many Reformed people continue to approach Anglican thinkers with suspicion and a historical chip on their shoulder.

6) Theological romanticism. The idea that the acme of theological achievement was reached in 17th century Reformed confessionalism leads many people to reject the idea that the major Reformed confessions were products of their own time that may be revealed to have serious weaknesses. I think that many Reformed people are scared by the notion that God might have new lessons to teach His Church. God might even lead us beyond Protestantism and the Reformed faith to something even more glorious.

For those for whom Protestantism and the Reformed faith have become ends in themselves and the theological zeniths to which God will lead his people this is a very uncomfortable truth to swallow. It would involve uprooting them from their theological comfort zone and would also alert them to the fact that many other traditions (even more liberal ones) have proved far more willing to make progress than they have. They would find themselves in the position of the older brother once the prodigal had returned.

7) Peer pressure. The mimetic character of human action makes it increasingly hard for Reformed people to defend Wright against criticisms once the first stones have been thrown at him. People who do so risk losing friends, positions, credibility, etc. Even charitable and calm engagement with Wright might raise concerns of compromise in some circles. The mob is baying and it takes a stout heart to stand for the truth and refuse to put the worst construction on Wright’s theology.

There is a tendency for human society to degenerate into finding its unity in shared enemies. This is a particular danger in Reformed circles at the moment. One proves that one is on the right side by attacking N.T. Wright. Even though many of the criticisms levelled at Wright as a result of this may be legitimate, they are made for quite the wrong reasons. One of the things that has particularly irritated me about these debates is the degree of hair-splitting that many have employed in their critiques of Wright. The sense is given that one has the duty to disagree with Wright to the greatest degree that one possibly can and distance yourself from him by the largest margin, lest you become scapegoat too. If you can’t bring yourself to throw the big rocks, check pebbles. The important thing is that you join in the stoning.

Naming names, I think that Doug Wilson is a perfect example of this tendency. When Wilson’s orthodoxy is under attack and he finds himself associated with Wright, he feels the need to prove that he is on the right side by criticizing Wright. However, he is aware that Wright is generally innocent of the charges that many have levelled against him in Reformed circles. Consequently, he must split some hairs and find as many ways in which he can disagree with Wright as possible, just so that he can join in the scapegoating. As one who has an appreciation for much of Wilson’s work, I find this very sad.

8) Attempts to maintain ecclesiastical power and the status quo. I think that many people know that the effects of a widespread acceptance of Wright’s thought in Reformed circles would open up deep-rooted faultlines in Reformed circles and lead to a big shake-up of the present order. It is not surprising that people who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo do not want Wright to gain a fair hearing and seek to poison people against him.

Admitting the validity of many of Wright’s points would also threaten Reformed identity, which is in too many circles one deeply affected with ecclesiastical parochialism. The idea that the Reformed tradition needs to get into the habit of listening to voices outside its walls is one that many Reformed people find hard to accept. The Reformed world is small and there are people who like being big fish in a small pond. They want to build the walls of the Reformed churches as high as possible to prevent the pond from becoming part of the large lake of the wider Christian Church, knowing that they would then occupy far less favourable a position within the theological foodchain.

9) A lack of charity. Reformed people love battling for the truth. Many Reformed people just love battling, period, and the idea of battling for such a noble cause as the truth appeals to them. Charity in Reformed theological debate is not easy to come by. The idea of calmly working out differences in a grown up conversation is alien to many Reformed people. The gospel is always at stake. The idea of theological diversity in Reformed churches is one that scares many people. This lack of charity is particularly evident when the views under discussion did not originate within the Reformed camp. There is a sensed need to keep the tradition hermetically sealed from others to avoid contagion. Cross-pollination does not fit nicely into the plans of many to create a pure Reformed breed of theology.

10) Paradigm problems. Many of Wright’s Reformed critics are systematically incapable of understanding him. Their minds have been formed by very narrow (though voluminous in quantity) reading and the ruts of their mental pathways are deep. Understanding Wright demands that they develop new ways of thinking. For the person who has largely limited his reading to theologians within a narrow tradition this becomes increasingly harder to do. Ironically, the more such people read, the harder it becomes.

Furthermore, many Reformed people think like moderns and cannot understand premodern and postmodern ways of thinking, which can work quite differently. They cannot understand the persuasive power of, for example, patristic exegesis, of medieval theology, or of N.T. Wright, because their minds are so bound to modern habits of thought. Such people translate Wright and others into their own categories of thought and badly caricature them in the process.

11) Stupidity. A few of Wright’s critics in Reformed circles are just in over their own heads. They are not theologically gifted or well read enough to give the sort of theological engagement that a thinker like Wright demands.

The above list may seem uncharitable to some. Perhaps in some respects it is less charitable than it could be. However, I find it increasingly harder to put a charitable construction on the actions and writings of many of Wright’s Reformed critics.

I just hope that one day the debate will cool down enough for genuine progress to be made. Wright’s theology is not, I believe, the final interpretation of Paul. He is not without his problems. Wright needs to be corrected, qualified and counterbalanced in many different respects. We should feel keenly the lack of careful and balanced critics and not take it as a cause for pride, nor should we dismiss those who oppose Wright. We need voices to question Wright, but we need them to question Wright for the right reasons. Perhaps it is time for us to pray for God to raise up such people.

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[...] Alastair has some excellent thoughts on why many Reformed folks do not get NTW:  http://alastair.adversaria.co.uk/?p=309 [...]

A fantastic post, for which you will be savaged by the Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy.

Two additions:

1) Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of lalrger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

2) Anti-COE/RCC bias. In other words, there’s no badge of membership :-) quite like overall disgust at all things catholic and/or CofE. Puritans don’t do well with Bishops.

Your assessment will be called arrogant, but it is on target. Bravo.

[...] responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. :) Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your ownsite. [...]

[...] Alastair at Adversaria has written a detailed, important and comprehensive post on Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics? It’s a monster of good post that you must read if you are interested in Bishop Wright’s contribution to theology and the judgement of many in the reformed community that Wright is a heretic on many different doctrines. [...]

Alastair,

Wow, this is one of the best things I have read on the Internet in sometime. It is articulate, measured and accurate.

While it may not be “charitable” it is not mean spirited which is more than can be said for most of the nonsense written about Wright. I don’t know how you could charitably speak the truth in this situation.

I applaud your courage.

God Bless,

Rod

I disagree. The post is quite charitable. What is lacking is not charity but congeniality, which under present circumstances is simply not in high demand.

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Excellent post Al, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you’ve written.

I appreciate your comments, actually, though I deeply disagree with some of them. I agree fully that many in the Reformed camp think that they can understand NTW reading just WSPRS. That would be a big mistake. It seems to me that the bulk of what NTW is trying to say is to be found in the COQG series and in _Romans_, even though none of these works have any systematic treatment of justification. I’m sure that that is part of the reason that WSPRS gets so much attention: it does have a reasonably thorough treatment of what NTW believes about justification.

Having focused first on what we agree on, I must now move on to disagreement. our first five reasons are, I hope, not meant to be applied to Lig Duncan and Guy waters. Neither can be called in the least lazy, as it is evident that they have read widely and thoroughly in NTW’s works. Especially number 5 is really irrelevant, even it is true. Why would Lig’s arrogance mean that he misunderstands NTW, if he is arrogant (which, as I know him personally, can vouch is simply not the case: he is in fact one of the most humble men I know: I’ve met Waters as well, and ditto). Or are you intending that Duncan and Waters fit with all of these reasons?

Theological romanticism? You do realize that we in the PCA (for instance) take *vows* stating that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture, and that we will defend that system of doctrine. The PCA further argues that the WCF is fully in line with the ancient creeds of the church. So defense of the WCF simply cannot be equated with romanticism. It is simply our oath.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see number 7 at all. Doug wilson, for instance, is not afraid of differing from everyone else in the world. He is not afraid to put his neck out for people to hack at. He is no hero of mine. But Wilson attacks general evangelicalism with absolute glee. He gets plenty of flack for that, but doesn’t change his mind based on that.

Number 8 seems to dismiss purity of doctrine as a concern of the church. What you think of as our trying to preserve the status quo is what we think of as preserving pure doctrine. And we are listening, thank you very much, to NTW. I have listened to him for years. I too have read all his major works, and find much that is profitable there, though thinking him outside the bounds of the WCF, especially on justification. You are using a label that none of us who disagree with NTW on justification would use for ourselves. The shoe does not fit.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin? We have made respect and charity of discourse an idol in our society. That is why I won’t touch the P&P Together document with a 10′ pole. I believe quite firmly in not misrepresenting someone’s position. I take rather great lengths to avoid doing so. But battle does not equal misunderstanding. Calvin and Luther fought tooth and nail for what I believe was the truth. Surely you must see that battle does equal misrepresentation.

As for number 10, I disagree completely. The Reformers themselves were absolutely *saturated* with the patristic scholars. I read patristics all the time, as do most of my best friends in the PCA. That is plain and simply false that we cannot understand premodern ways of thinking. If there are some who do not understand premodern ways of thinking, it is because of the Enlightenment, ***NOT*** because of the Reformation.

As to postmodernism, I (for instance) went to a very postmodern school. I listened for three years to their absolute drivel about there being no absolute truth, and all that. Rubbish. They can’t even think straight, or they woud have recognized that the statement “there is no such thing as absolute truth” kills itself, since it must be absolutely true in order to work! And I’m sorry, but logic is biblical, not modern.

As to 11, which critics are you thinking of? It will not do to put away some of NTW’s best critics such as Waters and Richard Phillips, just because some *others* do not understand Wright. You cannot tar and feather some by tarring and feathering others. And I believe that it is quite healthy to be questioning whether or not NTW is even on the right page with regard to Paul. I see quite enough of what you’re talking about on the side that defends NTW! I’ve dealt with it ad nauseum first hand. People will not even answer my scholarly arguments. Instead, they will fasten on the tiniest detail in what I say, and object to that, rather than the substance of my critique. Sometimes it drives me nearly batty. I see that a paradigm straight-jacket has been imposed on fans of NTW, and anything that disagrees with that is attacked with just as much vehemence as NTW’s critics. With most of these critiques of yours, I could turn them around and level them at NTW’s supporters, most of whom *will not* read the Reformers themselves, and the great treatises on justification, such as those by John Owen, James Buchanan, Anthony Burgess, and William Pemble. I’m sorry, but many of NTW’s supporters lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers. I have in fact experienced from NTW’s supporters *everything* you are talking about.

Good heavens, man, what’s in the water over there? I got through about point #4 and I realized something: I could mimic almost all of these diagnoses to describe what it’s been like to get some postmodern thought (philosophical) a fair hearing. Of course, there is the high probability that I am a very poor communicator and ambassador. I fear that some of Wright’s “fans” might also suffer from this weakness.

Oh, and sorry. Another BHT voice here to ensure that some of those who would benefit from the soul-searching your post encourages will instead dismiss it. I hope I’m wrong about that. Live long and prosper, Al.

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.” Links?

Michael (comment 2),

Your additions are helpful. I get the impression that the first one in particular is an important factor in D.A. Carson’s approach to Wright. Listen to 19:30 to 22:00 of this lecture, for a sense of what I mean by this claim.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin?

I’ve no choice but to conclude that Calvin and Luther were the personification of “charity”.

#8 is a slam-dunk.

To Matthew I give this link for why it is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that NPP advocates themselves have read the Reformers.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nppdebate/message/426

For evidence of his followers, I don’t know if you are a member of Wrightsaid, but if you are, then go back in the archives to the discussions I had with Wright supporters. Look for my early posts, and the responses it got. Pretty solid evidence. Loads of people in that debate were lambasting the Reformers without quoting them at all in many cases, or extremely rarely in other cases.

In response to Kent, why is charity to be made an idol in this debate? There are those of us who think (based on careful reading, I might add) that central issues are at stake regarding justification. Misrepresentation is bad. But I have been misrepresented. So have Richard Phillips, Lig Duncan, and many others who critique NTW. Why are all the scholastic boo-boos on one side of this thing? Why is it *only* the critics of NTW that are uncharitable? This is definitely a case of the splinter/log thing that Jesus was talking about.

Even the apostle John, the so-called “apostle of love,” when Cerinthus the heretic walked into the bath, ran out, saying that they should not be under the same roof as the heretic, God save us, etc. When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it. I will fight with scholarly weapons, knowing my enemy thoroughly. I can attest that I read NTW with an open mind, in the sense that I was willing to read him to see what he said about himself. I did not base any of my opinions on what other people said, since, when I was reading him, I wasn’t involved in *any* of the conversations. I have come to my own conclusions. and number 8 is the farthest thing from a slam-dunk. It is only a slam-dunk to those who are predisposed to see it as such in the PCA and other such denoms.

To Al, are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

[...] Alastair Roberts reflects on Tom Wright and the misrepresentations of his work within the Reformed community. As a former Anglican, it’s hard for me to understand why Wright is perceived to be such a threat, particularly on the topic of justification. Anglicanism embraces a diversity of positions on justification and has even reached agreement. albeit unofficially, with the Catholic Church: Salvation and the Church. Hence the exegetical studies of Wright are received by Anglicans (at least most of them) without too much anxiety. [...]

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.”

Wright himself has been ewtremly (and naively) harsh on Luther, while admitting at the same time he has not read the German reformer for 20 years.

Anyway, it was great to read another of those posts where pro-NPP/NTW convince themselves their opponents are just lazy/traditionalist/anti-intellectual etc, etc. Not exactly new, but so far it has prevented much honest debate and reconsideration of NTW’s views, so you should continue this way.

I hear the sound of cymbals clashing…

Trackback Pontifications

Lane, I appreciate the response and I cannot remember whether or not I was a member of Wrightsaid that early so I might have to check the archives. I wonder if we are not communicating clearly? When I read your comment what I understood was that there are Wright supporters who are unashamed reformer bashers. People who take quotes from the reformers and tear them apart. When I read the post that you linked, I didn’t read anything remotely like that at all. It appeared to me that the reformers weren’t invited to the “conversation” about Paul’s language on justification like when you mentioned Sander’s book contains only one referece to Luther. Could it be that Luther’s works don’t have much to say about Palestinian Judaism instead of that these guys haven’t read Luther? I really don’t see that as a big deal but maybe I’m being obtuse.

Let me ask a more clear question: To lambaste the Reformers — does this mean openly criticize the reformers and their works or does it mean that one doesn’t seek the opinion of the reformers in research and publication?

Thanks for the clarifying question, Matthew. What I mean is that NPP advocates often make these blanket statements about what the Reformation teaches (NTW’s classic is proto-Pelagianism as something against which the Reformers argued, whereas Paul is not reacting against that in 2TJ: it was semi-Pelagianism, which makes a huge difference in terms of the language being used), without quoting any of the Reformers. So my post on that debate page (which you are welcome to join, btw) went to show that the NPP advocates do not quote the Reformers, when it is manifestly the Reformational understanding of Paul that they are attacking. Carl Trueman makes this point crystal clear here:

http://www.crcchico.com/covenant/trueman.html

Dunn’s response was not in the least convincing as to Trueman’s main point, which was that Dunn didn’t quote Luther, while saying that Luther was wrong.

So, while NPP advocates spend all their time researching Paul and 2TJ literature, they forget to learn what their opponents (the Reformers) actually teach. See the excellent comment by Jean-Martin above. So I am not talking about quotations from the Reformers which are misinterpreted, since such quotations do not exist in the extant writings of the NPP advocates.

Luther has plenty to say about Jews (most of it highly non-complimentary). the problem here is that the NPP says that the Reformation read Paul wrong. This goes all the way back to Stendahl’s article, which says that Paul didn’t have this introspective inward-looking struggle that Luther had. But if you are going to say that the Reformation was wrong, then it had better be the real Reformation that you are rejecting.

Same old, same old. Go back some years and read what Barth’s supporters were saying about his critics. There’s nothing new under the sun!

Thanks for the clarification, Lane. I’ll politely decline the invitation to the debate page, though. You guys are clearly more advanced than I am and what little I could contribute would probably be just a whole lot of questions.

On the contrary, we have a hard time getting people to talk at all. While it is true that there are some decent scholars on that debate group, in order to keep the discussions going, we need more people who have questions. So join up! Though I understand if you still wish to decline.

Lane,

Let me begin by making clear that I do not believe that only Wright’s critics have these problems. None of us are immune and, as you point out, I think that it is fair to say that many of Wright’s supporters have caricatured the teaching of the Reformation. I believe that Wright himself has done this on a number of occasions and I have posted on the subject in the past.

It should be recognized that, in many situations, the caricatures arise from involvement in and subsequent reactions against traditions that had ended up caricaturing themselves. Wright was in Reformed circles for a number of years. However, he reacted against the Reformed tradition. I get the impression that he found it hidebound, introverted and narrow (from this interview, among other places).

In fairness, I think that many of us can relate to the experience that Wright recounts. When you have been brought up to believe that the Reformed faith is generally a completed edifice and trained to believe that you must read a particular set of Puritan writers (for example) to get the right answers it should not be surprising if you react against this when you start to find that the Bible opens up ‘new horizons’ that were obscured in these authors. Wright cut his theological teeth on Banner of Truth books like Berkhof’s systematic theology, a theology which he later came to regard as ‘sterile’ (NTPG, 132, fn16). Wright’s increasing conviction that God had more truth to break out of His Word was at odds with a theological milieu whose primarily focus was defending traditional positions and that was reluctant to move beyond the theology and language of the seventeenth century.

I can easily relate to Wright’s experience. The only reason that I can still appreciate the Reformed faith is through my exposure to Reformed theologians who are prepared to think new thoughts and have not idealized past theological generations. I am not at all unacquainted with the works of the Puritans (my father has republished dozens of Puritan works and has countless Puritan books in his library, so I have grown up around the Puritans) and have studied Calvin in detail. However, whilst I retain an appreciation for many of their theological concerns and pastoral insight, I confess that I find them less and less helpful in understanding Scripture.

I have no intention of identifying the exact factors underlying each individual critic’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Wright. However, I believe that some of the first five factors are present in Duncan and Waters, who both seriously misrepresent Wright in my estimation. I think that theological arrogance (which is not always accompanied by personal arrogance, at least not in my experience) is a factor here. It is quite present in Duncan and Carson in particular. They dismiss Wright too quickly because they are not open enough to admitting that the Reformed tradition might actually have gotten it wrong in certain areas.

The dismissive and superior tone is maintained even when it is obvious that Wright and the NPP have scored points against the tradition. For example, how many of the leading Reformed critics of Wright would defend the understanding of the Judaizers that one finds in the Reformers? Reading the critics, one will soon realize that they appreciate that they cannot go back to a pre-Sanders world. Nevertheless, the rhetoric all too often suggests that the Reformers are thoroughly vindicated and whatever is new in the NPP is to be rejected.

A greater humility of tone would go a long way. If they were willing to admit that, yes, the Reformers did often read debates with the Roman Catholics into the text and misread Paul to a degree as a result, a claim that we are not justified in denying the presence of a form of merit theology altogether would receive a better hearing. As it is, it is hard not to get the impression of a tradition that suffers from theological self-righteousness and an inability or unwillingness to admit its own errors and sins. An openness to learn from gifted theologians in other traditions and to admit the shortcomings of our own can really help to oil the wheels of debate.

As regards your disagreement with my claims regarding theological romanticism, there is an important difference between upholding the system of doctrine of Westminster and believing that it cannot be surpassed by a richer and fuller expression of the Christian faith. There is a difference between acknowledging and seeking to preserve the theological achievements of our forefathers and a refusal to move beyond them.

My comments regarding Doug Wilson are based around some of the posts in his series ‘N.T. Wrights and Wrongs’. Start reading them from the bottom up. A significant number of them sink to a level of nit-picking that is quite ridiculous. One must ask the reason for such things. I stand by my earlier interpretation as the best that I have encountered so far. It was interesting noticing the reaction in the blogosphere when Wilson started posting on Wright last year. Those who had studied Wright and appreciated him were irritated with the hairsplitting, hypercritical approach that Wilson was adopted. However, there was a noticeable thawing of attitudes to Wilson within other parts of the blogosphere. The differences that Wilson claimed that he had with Wright were petty, but it was the fact that he made so much of them that people appreciated.

Regarding number 8, I certainly believe that purity of doctrine ought to be a concern of the church. However, purity of doctrine is not the same thing as maintenance of the status quo. The status quo is all too often the greatest enemy of purity of doctrine. It is the ‘good’ that would hold us back from the ‘better’.

Orthodoxy is always an unfinished task, continually calling the Church to move beyond its present understanding to something deeper and richer. The problem is that Reformed people all too often think of purity of doctrine as something that we already have and occasionally need to recover, rather than as something that we must continually strive for, correcting the weaknesses of previous ages and being aware of the presence of weaknesses in our own understanding. I am well aware of the rhetoric of semper Reformanda, but all too often it rings hollow in the contemporary climate.

I firmly believe that the elevation of the Westminster Confession now stands in the way of the movement towards pure doctrine that it once advanced. It is like an old shoe that is forced on a foot that is too big. The mindset that purity of doctrine will merely entail the repristination of seventeenth (or sixteenth) century doctrine, and have no significant movements beyond the position of our forefathers, is widespread.

Number 9. Battle does not equal misrepresentation. That is a strange reading of my point. Battle, however, is often a factor underlying misrepresentation. For example, Barth was seriously misrepresented by Van Til largely because Van Til adopted such an antithetical approach towards Barth. Antithetical thinking is extremely important. We should be prepared to make enemies. I have made these points at length in the past.

The problem comes when the antithesis is misplaced. Reformed people are far too accustomed to thinking antithetically, when they could be thinking ‘perspectivally’, for example. Frame’s ‘Machen’s Warrior Children’ article is important evidence here. The problem comes when every issue becomes a matter of either/or and all or nothing. I have no problem synthesizing the concerns of Wright with those of the Reformers. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

So what about Luther and Calvin? I do not think that they are good examples to follow in this area. They were men and, like all men, they had feet of clay. Whilst there were occasions when they were perfectly right to fight for the truth, there were other occasions when it is a shame that the irenical spirit of Reformers such as Bucer was not more widespread.

As regards number 10, I don’t agree with you. Study of the patristics has not been the Reformed churches’ forte since the Reformation, although you are certainly right to point out that the early Reformers read a lot of them. What you do see in the Reformers is a movement away from premodern ways of thinking. Whilst they read the patristics, the Reformed churches became increasingly dismissive of patristic exegesis, for example, and manifested an incipient modernism in many areas of its thought.

I don’t want this to become a debate about postmodernism, but from what you describe it does not appear that you have much of a grasp of what postmodernist scholars really say. What you are speaking of may well be just pop postmodernism or modern relativism. Incidentally, the idea that there is no absolute truth is not as easily refuted as you expect. It is a second-order statement about first-order statements. Your refutation relies on equivocation. The claim being made is more subtle than you seem to recognize.

I am not going to say which critics I am thinking of in number 11. I will just say that I am not referring to any of the big name critics, but to the many critics that further distort the already distorted picture of Wright found in the writings of the more scholarly critics.

I don’t believe that Waters and Phillips are remotely deserving of being regarded as some of Wright’s best critics. Having read both of them (and listened to Guy Waters lecture) I believe that both of them badly misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in various areas. I am far from alone in this conviction.

Let me reiterate that this has nothing to do with questioning Wright. You haven’t read my post very carefully if that is the idea that you end up with. I have no problem with people questioning whether Wright is ‘on the right page with regard to Paul’. What I do have a problem with is his being misrepresented in the process.

Lane, I have been a participant in or witness of many of the debates in which you have engaged with those in favour of Wright. The impression that I have been left with is that you are more concerned with attacking those who appreciate Wright than dialoguing with them. It was not without reason that you were removed from the Wrightsaid list a while back. We are quite happy to answer questions about Wright, but we are not interested in just being continually attacked by someone who manifests deep misunderstandings of Wright and seems determined to believe the worst.

As regards your ‘scholarly arguments’, there was engagement with them on many occasions on the Wrightsaid list. The big problem was your tone. You justified this by referring to the tone of Calvin and Luther. As I have pointed out above, I believe that Calvin and Luther are not good examples to follow in this area.

I agree that some of Wright’s supporters will not read the Reformers themselves. In the case of many of them, I don’t see why they should be expected to. Many of the people that you engaged with on the Wrightsaid list, for example, were not from the Reformed tradition. Some of Wright’s supporters have made false statements about the Reformers and this is, of course, quite unjustified. As I pointed out at the beginning of this comment, I am not denying that many of these factors (and other ones besides) play in the way in which some of Wright’s supporters (and Wright himself at times) treat the Reformers. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that the heat level of the rhetoric has generally been raised by the critics of Wright, rather than his supporters.

The big difference between those who appreciate Wright and Wright’s opponents is that few if any of the appreciators of Wright are trying to drive people who hold traditional Reformed positions out of church office. The charges of heresy are almost all coming from one side.

Lane,

You ask:

…are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

No. Read me more carefully and you will see that I am not saying that each and every factor that I identify applies to every individual critic.

Maybe, I’m lazy, stupid or impatient, but this post is too long. I suggest shortening it.

You would, wouldn’t you Peter! :)

As I see it, the two main points of difference between us lie firstly in the area of progressivism. There are those who say that theology is always progressing, and sometimes they say it without qualification. Then there are those who say that only those areas which are not essential are open to progressing. This is probably where I would put myself. After all, do we hold to the creeds, or do we not? The problem here is that progression is actually often regression. This is what I see with NTW’s doctrine of justification. When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them? What if, thinking that we have progressed beyond the level of these writers in some areas, we have actually regressed in other areas? I think Muller’s four volume set on the Post-Reformed Dogmatics is really revealing here. You seem to allow for a great deal more latitude in progression than I would. There are certain things that have been hammered out in the fires of great controversies. Justification is one of those, and should not be touched. My forebears in the Reformed faith fought and died for those truths. I will not dishonor their memory by refusing to step up to the plate when they are attacked.

Let’s set the record straight about the Wrightsaid group. First of all, the whole discussion got started with the post by Jason Fry, which was unbelievably condescending to views which I hold. He even used the word “sickening.” I took exception to that. Then Mark Horne lit into me with condescending rhetoric as well (for which he later apologized, by the way, and Jason and I made up as well: hence your statement that I am unwilling to dialogue is quite simply false). Just read those first couple of rounds, and you will see that this is true. As I have said before, I deeply appreciate many of the things that Wright has said, especially in RSG, which I think is a masterpiece, and beyond a doubt his best work, notwithstanding a very few quibbles that I have with it.

A further misunderstanding that you obviously have of me is that my tone was a problem. I get heated when I argue, but that is a far cry in my own mind from being overbearing. I think that this statement of mine is more than justified by looking at John Shakespeare’s defense of me. Rance Darity didn’t have any problems crossing swords with me, and getting heated, though it wasn’t personal.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I do not have “deep misunderstandings of Wright.” Kindly give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I know what I am talking about: I am giving you that benefit. “Seems determined to think the worst” is also wide of the mark here: I think that NTW is wrong when it comes to justification. That doesn’t mean I think he’s wrong in every other area of theology. You seem to forget that I was the only person on that group arguing for my position, with about ten to twenty people arguing against me. When one’s arguments (not me personally) are being attacked by that many people, then I don’t really have time to go through all the ways in which I agree with that person. I have to go straight to the nub of the issue.

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric? How do you think that comes across to one of my persuaion who knows enough to know that he just slammed my entire tradition? We’re supposed to sit quietly and let him do that?

Furthermore, those discussion evinced a majority of speaking on my part that had to do with substance, not with rhetoric. I deny utterly any claims to the contrary. I was concerned to argue the points at issue. I won’t deny that I got heated at times, when I saw stupid arguments, or personal slams against myself, saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those are irritating comments, I must admit. And I am not necessarily proud of everything I said on that group, either. But there was certainly provocation.

About postmodernism. One cannot resort to “second-level” statements in order to save the statement. In order for it to be a second-level statement, would it not then have to allow for exceptions? If the statement is making an absolute claim, then it is a ridiculous statement. Furthermore, what I have been talking about is rife in the scholarly world, not just in popular relativism. My entire school, full of Ph.D’s were saying this, and reading Derrida and others associated with it in the process. Again, please pay me the compliment of assuming that I know what I am talking about. We can disagree, but let’s not imply that the other person is ignorant.

With regard to the antitheses, I believe that they are not misplaced. John Shakespeare agrees with me here, as does Rance Darity, guys who have read deeply into NTW’s works. NTW is not compatible with Reformed theology. You can’t look at chapter 11 of the WCF, for instance, then look at NTW, and say that they can be made to fit each other.

You can say all you want to about Waters and Phillips, but there are many of us who believe that they have in fact understood Wright very well. Besides, what virtue can there be in a theology that some of the brightest minds in the PCA can’t seem to understand? Is NTW really that difficult to understand? If he is, then I would suggest that he is not really a good scholar. My definition of a good scholar is someone who can take the most difficult concepts, and make them understandable to a Joe on the street. If he can’t do that, but has to resort to category twisting, and redefinitions of words, and jargon, then maybe he isn’t such a great scholar, no matter how much he has read. Much reading does not a scholar make, as I have to constantly remind myself.

I heartily agree with you, by the way, on the tone of many people in the Reformed world. It saddens me that so many people are arrogant. You will probably think that I am arrogant. I hope I am not, but am rather arguing issues, rather than tooting my own horn. I have struggled all my life with my tone of voice. I come across sometimes as arrogant when I’m sure that I am not. It is just that I am so certain during those times of what I believe. It is, though, one of the severest limitations on the medium of typed words as opposed to being in person. Tone is often assumed to be something that it is not.

But let’s suppose that the Reformed world is completely stuck up arrogant. That still has *nothing* to do with whether or not the Reformed world is right when it criticizes NTW. And that’s the real issue, as I see it. Are you sure that you are not attributing to arrogance what is really confidence that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong?

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Oh wait, now I see. You meant the first of imonk’s two factors, not the first factor in your post. I gotcha.

Lane, you wrote:

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Re-read my comment. I was referring to Michael Spencer’s additions (in the second comment after the post) to the factors that I listed. His first addition read:

1. Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of larger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

It was this that I was referring to in the case of Carson. This fact can be borne out if you listen to the section of the lecture that I linked to.

I corrected myself, if you look at the comment right before yours.

Lance,

At the risk of you thinking that I am condescending, I think you are missing a couple of related points.

The problem with the “intellectual arrogance” that Alastair is talking about is that it doesn’t allow a person to reevaluate what he believes. Many modern Reformed people assume that theology reached its perfection during the Reformation. The obvious corollary is that anything new is wrong.

You even said as much regarding justification. Just because you limit what you think the Reformers got perfectly right doesn’t mean that you are free from this “intellectual arrogance.” It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught.

If what they taught is true, it is true because it is true. It is not true because they said it.

Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history.

You said that people died for doctrinal truth. People also died in England over the “English Reformation.” Does that make their cause righteous? For that matter Joseph Smith died for his “faith.”

You said, “When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it.”

This strikes me as odd. Is it not the essentials of Christianity that we should be committed to? Apparently to you Reformed faith is equivalent to true Christianity. This is “intellectual arrogance.”

You said, “When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them?”

Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right?

Isaac Newton was a brilliant man. His contribution to the field of physics was enormous. But Einstein gave us an even more accurate description of how the world works.

The world works the same way that it did in the time of Newton, but a high school student has a better understanding of how it works than he did.

Was Newton wrong? No he was just limited in his information and tools. Most of what he said is still true. It is just true in a different way than he realized.

Why should it be any different when it comes to understanding God? Or the Bible? Even though the canon is closed, we have much more (and better) information than the Reformers had.

Lane,

Sorry. I typed your name wrong.

Rod

Lane,

Please forgive me if I respond to your points quickly. I don’t have the time to get embroiled in a lengthy debate.

I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways.

I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more.

I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. It is for this reason that I believe that it deserves especial attention.

I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.

In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.

You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).

Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology. When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing.

On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient.

Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.

It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.

Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.

I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.

As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.

Rod, thanks for your input here.

I would disagree that just because I think the Reformation is right means that I cannot be re-evaluating what the Reformers said. I evaluate all the time. Just because I think they’re right about most things doesn’t mean I think they’re right about all things. I disagree with Calvin, my personal hero, on occasion.

BOQ It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught. EOQ

And I’m doing that how? You extended my comment *way* beyond its scope. I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification. I think the Reformers are right on justification, and I think that the NPP is wrong. How does that make me intellectually arrogant? If anything, I am being humble (irony of the statement notwithstanding), since I am thinking that I am not better than my forebears necessarily, and I should not abandon without good cause what my forebears have taught. I don’t see good cause to abandon the Reformation on justification. NTW has not convinced me.

I think that the WCF could be better, especially wrt the Holy Spirit (a more personal approach would seem to be required). But I *do not* believe what the WCF says simply because it was they who said it. I believe what the WCF says because I believe that that is what Scripture says.

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance. Then I should just throw out my vows, shouldn’t I? I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

BOQ Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right? EOQ

Of course I realize that. I read modern theology, too, you know. But saying that the Reformers got everything perfectly right is precisely *not* what I am claiming. I am claiming that they were perfectly right on justification. Do not extend my statements to make them say something they didn’t.

We have better manuscript evidence. But we don’t have better brains. We don’t necessarily have worse brains either. But we have a limitation that the Reformers did not have: the fragmentation of knowledge. We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal. Computers will not make up for this, though they can lessen the problem.

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

BOQ Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history. EOQ

Refined is one thing: wholesale repudiation is quite another. Nothing is off limits to inquiry. But that is not what you are implying. You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church. If that is true, then why not question the Christological formulations of the early church? Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church. We have more information, but not more knowledge. Some of them knew the apostles first-hand. I am not chronologically snobbish. But NTW is. Just look at what he quotes. There are the early church fathers, no medieval theology, and no Reformation theology quoted in his works. The early church and the moderns is all he quotes. Now that is chronologically snobbish. I try to read commentators (for instance) from every age of the church, not just modern, and not just reformed. I read liberal and conservative. I read scholarly and not-so-scholarly (I own and regularly use over 900 commentaries). Who is really chronologically snobbish here?

BOQ
I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways. EOQ

This I could live with, as long as it is understood that the church has nailed down an awful lot of essential things to the Christian faith.

BOQ
I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. EOQ

If we could stand on their shoulders, we could see quite a ways. But hardly anyone that I know of is even looking at them, let alone standing on them.

BOQ
I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. EOQ

I agree. But justification is not one of them.

BOQ
I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. EOQ

Reversion? Who is reversioning? People such as myself would say that we are standing on their shoulders, not modifying the shoulder.

BOQ
Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more. EOQ

I agree to an extent. The problem is that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past, if we aren’t reading the writers of the past, which NTW is not doing.

BOQ
I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). EOQ

I equally as firmly believe that NTW has denied the Reformation understanding of justification.

BOQ
Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. EOQ

Imputation is at the very heart of justification. Read Buchanan on this. Without it, justification falls to the ground, and the church along with it, as Luther would say. I would root imputation in union with Christ as Gaffin does (he was my teacher). But NTW would not say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has anything to do with Christ’s being obedient to the law and earning our salvation. He only has these vague statements about “what’s Christ’s is ours.” That is not nearly good enough. There has to be holiness in standing before an infinitely holy God. Therein lies our need to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. NTW systematically does violence to the NT in those passages that the Reformers have exegeted as having to do with imputation. He says that they don’t mean what the Reformation has said they mean.

BOQ
In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. EOQ

But we know what happens with compromise, don’t we? It pleases no one. How can NTW and others of the NPP approach Rome on this (which hasn’t moved for centuries, since they have by no means repudiated Trent), without leaving the Reformation?

BOQ
I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). EOQ

Likewise.

BOQ
What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. EOQ

Jesus got rather polemical too, you know. Calling Pharisees “white-washed tombs” isn’t the most complimentary thing one could say. Polemics are not bad in and of themselves.

BOQ
Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. EOQ

Excuse me? What accusations?

BOQ
That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.EOQ

See my comment on Jesus Christ above.

BOQ
In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. EOQ

I didn’t say that you were presuming. I was saying that you are wrong to say that I don’t understand NTW. I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

BOQ
If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.EOQ

I didn’t usually begin discussions with questions for the very simple reason that I had already read NTW! I did ask some questions about what others were saying. But if I limit my conversation to questions, then my critiques would never have seen the light of day.

BOQ
You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).EOQ

I’m glad to see you say that. But if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

BOQ
Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. EOQ

Thank you.

BOQ
That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. EOQ

We must all wear kid gloves when discussing absolutely vital things of the Christian faith? You need to re-read those posts of mine. If you were to put a more charitable read on them, you would discover that I was arguing far more often about substance than about rhetoric. No one ever did answer my argument about 4QMMT, by the way.

BOQ
As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology.EOQ

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

BOQ
When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing. EOQ

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

BOQ
On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient. EOQ

This is merely a restatement of your position. It adds nothing. I have argued that it makes a categorical statement. As such, it must be subject to its own claim.

BOQ
Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.EOQ

But Doug Green is *no* expert on the Reformation, either. He doesn’t read systematics at all, by his own admission. He is not qualified to be the spokesperson on the relationship between NTW and the Reformation. I should know. I had him as a professor. He was a great professor of OT, don’t get me wrong. I learned an enormous amount from him. But he is wrong about NTW and his relationship to the Reformed faith.

BOQ
It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. EOQ

You would say this!

BOQ
It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. EOQ

I couldn’t agree with you more. Part of this is in reaction to the vociferousness of NTW’s critics, of course.

BOQ
I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. EOQ

I also agree here. But I would go a bit further to say that Wright’s own theology could not fit within the theology of the WCF, not just the language.

BOQ
However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.EOQ

I myself have done so. But not on justification.

BOQ
Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. EOQ

The WCF may be revised some day, who knows? But the substance of the wCF is correct. Why the need to go on to something new and better all the time? This betrays a restless attitude towards God’s truth. We have the canon, and it is closed. We are not going to get more revelation from God until Christ comes back. God’s Word doesn’t change, even if culture does. Therefore, the church needs to find new ways to appropriate *old truths* to new situations.

BOQ
This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. EOQ

I like this, except for the word “progression.” Some slight modifications perhaps. But nothing wholesale is necessary.

BOQ
Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.EOQ

This statement does not make sense to me. You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

BOQ
I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. EOQ

I disagree quite strongly with this estimation of terminology. NTW has said this, but has not proved it. I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

BOQ
Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.EOQ

But that is just the point: NTW is *not* returning to more biblical terminology. Hence, he is redefining terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.EOQ

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm. But your suggestion is what I would argue is *precisely* what I am doing! I want to see if these things be so. I am a Berean.

Lane,

You said,

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

Quality comments by Rod and Al regarding progression. Progression by its very definition means to move forward. I think that progressing in the area of theology means to better understand God. It’s not snobbery to seek a better understanding of Jesus, Paul, God, or the Bible. This is always reforming. We may have insights due to our unique place in history that our parents generation never had. That’s not to say we are above them as they had insights that we don’t. I think this is, very simply, what Wright is trying to do: come to the Bible honestly and try to discover its true meaning. How can you say that certain areas of the Theology are not to be touched? On the contrary we should wrapping our hands around all areas and testing and reforming our beliefs whether they were “hammered out” as you say in the 2nd, 4th, 16th, 17th, or 21st centuries. Let’s not check any doctrines off the list as “perfectly right” when there are quality arguments made by quality people out there with different views. Where the arguments (within Christian theology) are easily defeated such as Mary as a coredemptrix or something to that effect, let’s call our belief perfectly right in that area. Tell me that you think Wright is probably wrong or even that it is a high probability that he is wrong. But don’t tell me there isn’t a decent, if small, chance he is right, based on the quality of his argument.

Thanks,

Sorry that I goofed up with the blockquote tag. I hope you can make sense out of what I wrote.

OK. Let me try this again.

Lane,

You said,

I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification.

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance.

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal.

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church.

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church.

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

You said,

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm.

This is a perfect expression of intellectual arrogance. “I examined this once, and I decided that this is the way it is. From now on I take it as an article of faith.”

[...] Alastair’s post nails it. [...]

Can you point us to where someone has outlined how (as opposed to why) the “Reformed Critics of NTW” have misrepresented and misunderstood him? Such an outline might go something like: Reformed Critic Mr. So-n-so says that NTW teaches ‘X,’ and to that effect quotes the following passage. However, it turns out NTW teaches no such thing as ‘X’ but rather teaches ‘Y’ and when we consider the quoted passage in light of this other passage, this becomes clearer.
…you know, something like that.
You hint that such a thing could be done, and I’d like to see some of it somewhere. Where can I find it?

I echo Baus’ comment - it’d be great to see something really clear on where & how NTW is misrepresented, as well as why these are misrepresentations.
Seems to me the nub of the issue is here, not in much of the above debate: we’re all lazy, we all think we’re right, etc… we’re all sinners, aren’t we?
I read Al’s original post hoping it would be what Baus & I are asking for. Perhaps Al could write another post substituting ‘how’ for ‘why’ in this title (and removing the ‘?’). It might be a big ask, but it seems muh more useful than this one - meaning no offence, and not to deny the usefulness of the above discussion.

Baus and Andrew,

There are a number of such responses. Here are a representative few:

1. My response to Ligon Duncan. This is an older and somewhat uneven post; I would like to believe that I could significantly improve upon it if I rewrote it now. It also does not address some of Duncan’s most serious charges against Wright (charges that also distort Wright beyond recognition) that can be found in this article.

2. Tim Gallant responds to Guy Waters.

3. Daniel Kirk responds to Douglas Kelly.

4. Joel Garver examines some Reformed concerns with Wright and points to reasons why many of them are unjustified. A more careful reading of Wright would lead us to a more charitable assessment of his position, even if we end up disagreeing with him.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that critics of Wright such as Waters, Duncan and Carson have broken the ninth commandment and make wild allegations, many of which are demonstrably false. Frankly, I have decided not to continue to write responses to such critics, because I don’t believe that their most serious criticisms are actually worthy of engagement. I continue to listen to them and read them, but if I had to respond to all of their misrepresentations I would be wasting my time.

I doubt that they are really interested in listening anyway. The fact that many of the gross misrepresentations persist even though they have been responded to on a number of occasions makes me believe that writing responses is a waste of time. Let them believe what they want to believe.

That said, within the next month I have been asked to give a day conference on the subject of Wright’s theology. One of my talks will deal with the substance of the debates surrounding him and the focus will be on how, rather than why, Wright is misunderstood. Perhaps I will post an altered version of my notes for that talk up here.

Al, you should definitely post your notes for your upcoming conference talks. And find a way to podcast …

To Rod, if you are going to label an entire denomination as arrogant (by its formulation of oath), then we really don’t have a lot to say to each other. Your definition of arrogance would fit NTW far better than the PCA. He has said that he came to his conclusions about Paul and the Law, and that he’s never going back. That’s pretty arrogant, don’t you think? He goes against centuries of church interpretation, and he is the eschatological exegete in his own mind. Your definition of arrogance backfires pretty severely. I see the PCA oath as acknowledging our forebears in the faith as giants of the faith, not some mind-numbing commitment to a human document. I have never said that it closes down discussion. But I have come to the conclusion (***after*** all my reading!!!!!!!) that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong on justification. I have already admitted that I don’t think the WCF is perfect. Therefore, I am not arrogant. You have way too broad a definition of arrogance, Rod. I simply cannot go there.

What about the entire paradigm of progress? Is that not in itself arrogant? I am not saying that progress is necessarily bad. There certainly ahs been progress in textual criticism. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very helpful, and shed additional light on things. But even these things didn’t alter fundamental Biblical truths once for all delivered by God. Sure, there are always more passages that could become clear. But I make a distinction between essentials of the Christian faith and non-essentials. The church has hammered out the essentials. That’s done. The creeds tell us where orthodoxy lies. But don’t tell me the PCA is arrogant and NTW isn’t.

And Rod, to say that there is only a difference in degree between saying that the WCF is right on justification and that it is right on everything is ridiculous. You’re forcing a Procrustean bed on my claims, and I won’t allow it. The WCF is right on justification, and to my knowledge, on just about everything else that it says. But it is a fallible document. I am not using it in this discussion of NTW as a fundamental presupposition that is used to force out a priori all disagreement. NTW is not Presbyterian! As a matter of fact, I was reading NTW at the same time as (and actually mostly before) my ordination examination of the wCF. So I *couldn’t* have been using the WCF as a Procrustean bed for NTW’s theology. And Rod, since you don’t know me, you shouldn’t even be talking about my methods and my journey towards my conclusions.

Al, thanks for those pointers - v helpful. If you do get a chance to either stick your notes up, or (even better) make MP3s available to download, I for one would be very interested both in your overview of NTW’s theology & summary of where and how he is being misunderstood.

Gaines and Andrew,

Yes, I will try to post something. In all likelihood my notes will be far more extensive than my talks, so I will probably post my expanded thoughts here.

You all seem to be following this debate closer than I am. We live in an age where communicating is easy, and we have the advantage (over, e.g., Arminius) that Wright is actually alive and breathing. As I said, I don’t follow the debate closely — but about what percentage of those who have written against Wright have also engaged him in conversation over his beliefs? Where can I read something from, for example, J. Ligon Duncan or Guy Waters that contains a description of their conversations with Wright directly in verbal or written dialog? I’m very interested in reading about their interaction with him.

Thanks you so much for helping me out!

What a brilliant article. Yes, some of the Reformed are just stupid…that makes me laugh… HA!

Doug,

To my knowledge neither Duncan nor Waters have personally engaged with Wright, even though there have been opportunities for them to do so (AAPC 2005 being a good example). Both Duncan and Waters seem to have been quite reluctant to take the opportunities to interact with the targets of their critiques, whether of the FV or NPP. Some FV proponents went so far as to contact Waters offering to help to clarify their views, but the offers were not taken up.

Carson has known Wright personally for decades, since they were in university. I get the impression (though it is only an impression) that Carson’s relationship with Wright has soured quite a bit over the years and there is a sense of betrayal to be felt (listen to 19:30-22:00 of this lecture for an idea of what I am referring to).

As ever Al, not too keen on the idea that NTW is ‘misunderstood’. I understand what you mean by it; people are sloppy in understanding Wright. But it makes things very subjective because you can always claim that anyone who doesn’t appreciate NTW is misunderstanding him and this is just epistemological bullying. Few have the opportunity to read the complete works of NT and thus much “honing” must be done. I dislike this epistemological hierarchy which becomes set up: the more you know of NTW’s work, the more you understand it. That’s not the right way to approach the text…

if the NPP is rejecting an imaginary Reformation, then the NPP isn’t rejecting the real reformation at all, and everyone should be able to get along. Right?

Jon,

I don’t think that that is true. Whilst some people might identify all lack of appreciation for Wright with misunderstanding (I don’t know who), I don’t believe that I do. There are points in Wright’s critics when it is clear that they understand him and yet decide to disagree with him. I am more than happy to admit that.

I know the difference between misunderstanding and lack of appreciation. What I am referring to here is not some mere ’subjective’ judgment. There are demonstrable and serious misrepresentations in the critiques given to us by men such as Carson, Waters and Duncan. This has been pointed to by many people. Wright himself has responded to some of Carson’s.

In addition I don’t believe that it is necessary to read all of Wright in order to understand him. Nor do I hold to some hierarchy in this respect. I know people who have only read a few of Wright’s books who understand him better on certain points than someone like Lane, who claims to have read most of what Wright has written.

What I do believe is that it is necessary to study Wright carefully, sympathetically and in considerable depth before you have the right to put yourself forward as an authority on his thought. The standard required of someone who wants to condemn him as a gospel-denying heretic should be, if anything, considerably higher.

Sloppy readings of Wright:

One critic wrote a lengthy web article ’showing’ that Wright ‘denied imputation’. The article stressed how important it was to only consider the righteousness that we have by imputation.

What the article would have done better to say was that Wright seems to deny that a status of moral merit, OTHER THAN FORGIVEN SIN, is necessary for a declaration of righteousness in justifcation.

Imputed active obedience solves a problem that Wright denies exists. Critics of Wright focus on the lack of ‘imputation’ in Wright’s model, but fail to notice that Wright thinks everything we need for justification was accomplished on the cross.

Paul,

I am not sure that I completely agree with your reading of Wright on this point. Wright teaches that we share in the Messiah’s faithfulness by faith, which seems to be saying something more. He also argues that all that the Messiah has is ours. Christ does not merely clear all of our debits; He gives us a new credit balance. Christ does not merely wipe the slate clean; He brings in new creation.

But do we need a new creation for justification? I can accept that wright puts received moral uprightness PRIOR to justifiation in the call or in regeneration. But he seems to say (see the fake interview from Kunalians) that ‘justification’ needs only an objective dealing with sin (atonement).

Wright says that all that stuff happens, but it isn’t part of his account of justification.

Paul,

Sorry, I misread you, although I still don’t think that I entirely agree. Wright teaches that the atonement makes justification possible — as you said he does not believe that the transfer of moral merit is also required. The idea that righteousness equals perfect obedience to the Law is not present in Wright. Righteousness is right relationship with God and can exist even when sins have been committed, provided that those sins have been atoned for. There is no need for the imputation of active obedience (which is not to say that we merely have our debts cancelled). However, I don’t believe that that means that he teaches that forgiveness of sins is all that justification consists of.

The justification that Jesus Himself received, for example, was not a forgiveness of sins but a vindication, which is something more. We don’t just have Christ dying for our sins; He is also raised for our justification. For Wright this justification is not merely about the forgiveness of sins, but about membership in the family promised to Abraham.

Lane,

In response to your earlier comments.

I agree that the Church has nailed down many essential things to the Christian faith. However, I believe that there is a lot more latitude for rethinking than you seem to. In general what the Church has nailed down are boundaries, guarding against certain erroneous positions. We theologize within those boundaries. There are many orthodox ways of understanding the Trinity and many orthodox ways of understanding justification. In passing, I also believe that we should be very careful that we don’t give the Reformed tradition the same weight as the catholic tradition of the Church.

One thing that you realize when you start reading the early Reformed is that there was a lot of diversity in their understanding of issues such of justification and a huge diversity in their reading of Romans. Musculus advocates paedocommunion. Bullinger holds an understanding of election that many would see as FV or worse today. He also has interesting views about the Law and covenant. In Bucer, to take another example, one will find a number of interesting diversions from certain popular readings of Romans and Galatians (for example the reading of expressions such as ‘the righteousness of God’ and the ‘works of the Law’). Such examples could be multiplied.

I believe that we can learn a lot from studying the Reformers. However, I believe that in many respects, particularly exegetically, they have less and less to teach us. They have done an awful lot to bring us to the place that we are, but they have been surpassed in many areas by those who followed after them. It is like reading Newton after Einstein. One does not denigrate Newton by claiming that he has been surpassed; one simply recognizes that all of our limited formulations can be improved upon. Wright will be surpassed by many in the future and has been surpassed by some already. Wright himself has admitted that a significant percentage of what he has put forward is probably wrong, but he does not know which part. This, incidentally, exposes the unfairness of your claims about Wright’s view of his importance as a theologian.

You claim that the Reformation and Puritan view of justification cannot be improved upon. I beg to differ. For starters there are dozens of Protestant and Reformed views of justification. There has been significant diversity on such issues in all periods of the Reformed churches’ history. I believe that a number of the doctrines of justification that the Reformers and the Puritans put forward are inadequate in various respects.

I believe that careful analysis of their work will make clear that it was their concern to rule out certain understandings of the doctrine as impermissible. This becomes clearer when one appreciates the wide range of understandings of justification that were present in early Protestantism, some of which closely resemble Catholic views (Peter Leithart has done quite a bit of study on this). One begins to recognize what exactly it is about certain Roman Catholic views that the Reformers are objecting to. As the diversity of views of justification begins to diminish somewhat one notices that the early Reformers’ formulations fall foul of many of the new distinctions. The Reformers’ successors largely presume that the root concerns demand the distinctions, but this is not necessarily the case.

I believe that there are ways of thinking about justification that do justice to the root concerns of the Reformers, whilst clearly departing from traditional Reformed formulations and I believe that Wright has provided us with some ways of moving towards such positions. For example, the doctrine of imputation is important to the Reformers because it guards against the error of basing our justification upon an impersonal infused righteousness. However, I don’t believe that it is the only way of guarding against such an error. I believe that the concerns that underlie the Reformed doctrine of justification are to be retained, but I also believe that most of the traditional formulations can easily be improved upon.

I find your claim that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past a bit unfair. Wright may not read as many of your favourite dead theologians as you think he should do, but much of this has to do with the fact that he operates in a very different milieu from the one that you do. Many thinking Christians just don’t find the Puritans as helpful as you do. Given the fact that he is an Anglican you should not be surprised if Wright doesn’t give that much attention to your pet theologians as you would like him to. Perhaps he reads Anglicans instead. Besides, I would like to see your proof that Wright isn’t reading the writers of the past.

Wright hardly cuts himself off from the voices of Church history. It just seems to me that he reads different ones and also that he interacts with certain traditional positions by interacting by leading modern advocates of those positions. Besides, no one is claiming that historical theology is Wright’s forte. Learning the lessons of the past is not primarily something that we do individually, but something that we do in dialogue with others within the body of Christ. Frankly, I believe that Wright would be wasting his time if he focused on reading the Reformers’ commentaries. I am pleased when he focuses on his area of gifting. I am disappointed when he makes unhelpful pronouncements on issues outside of the area of his expertise, such as contemporary politics and historical theology.

Another important point that you must appreciate is that there are plenty of people who enjoy Wright who do listen firsthand to the voices of the past. There is no one man movement here. People critically appropriate Wright and relate his thought to the previous thinking that has occurred within their tradition. There are people who have studied the Puritans and Reformed history who actually find Wright very helpful in progressing their thinking.

On the issue of imputation, I really, truly and honestly fail to see what all the fuss is about. Wright’s view gives us everything that imputation gives us. What is wrong with the position put forward in a statement like this? What does it take from us that the doctrine of imputation gives us?—

The first of these [the status of being ‘in Christ’] is particularly important, and is the theme of verse 9, which sums up a good deal that he says at more length in Romans and Galatians. Paul draws out the contrast, the same contrast he’s been talking about throughout the passage, between those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant people because they possess, and try to keep, the Jewish law, the Torah, and those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant family because of what the Messiah has done. In 2:8 he described the Messiah’s achievement as his ‘obedience, even unto death’; here he describes it as his ‘faithfulness’; but the two mean substantially the same thing. And the way we share in ‘the Messiah’s faithfulness’ is by our ‘faith’. Our belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world, and our loyalty to him, are the sign and badge that we have a credit balance consisting simply of him, over against all the debits we could ever have from anywhere else. This is Paul’s famous doctrine of ‘justification by faith’, which continues to be a comfort and a challenge to millions around the world.

I believe that the concerns that underlie the doctrine of imputation are important. However, I don’t believe that imputation is necessary in order to preserve them. It seems to me that Wright gives us a possible alternative.

In the quote above Wright clearly teaches that we share in the ‘Messiah’s faithfulness’, which he identifies as Christ’s obedience unto death. What is it that you think that Wright is missing? I think that the fuss over imputation is one of the silliest things about the whole present debate. Wright certainly rejects the terminology, but retains the key elements of the substance.

On the issue of polemics, there is a time and a place. We should all be prepared to employ polemics on the right occasion. However, the example of Jesus does not give a carte blanche to polemicists. I am certainly not alone in believing that you employed polemics in quite the wrong place. As I have pointed out before, there was a reason that you got thrown off the Wrightsaid list, a place where many contradictory points of view have been able to co-exist in dialogue.

You write:—

I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

I don’t really think that IQ is the issue here. I know many smart people who don’t get and seemingly can’t get Wright, no matter how hard they try. As I pointed out in my post, a sharp mind that has brought a particular way of thinking to a high degree of consistency is often less able to understand a new position than someone who has never developed such a depth of consistency in their thinking. Some people who have high IQs have deep, but narrow minds, that are increasingly unable to entertain new ways of thinking that run against the grain of their habitual ways of thinking. Reading comprehension is one thing, reading comprehension across sharply differing paradigms is another. Often highly intelligent people are also unimaginative people, which can make it hard for them to comprehend radically different ways of thinking. I also believe that we do have significant differences in our reading of Wright (imputation being a case in point).

You ask:

…if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

I don’t take Wright’s word for everything that he says. Most of Wright’s readers do have the power of independent thought and a significant number of them have read the Reformers in depth for themselves. They can arrive at their own assessment of the accuracy of Wright’s statements. I have read a lot of Calvin and I think that some of what Wright claims is unfair when applied to Calvin. However, I believe that a number of Wright’s claims are true. Calvin does, for example, often tend to read the discussions with the Roman Catholics into the text.

You write:

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

Because we claim to be Christians.

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

It might be worthwhile to try a different tone for a while and see what happens. You are speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ, people for whom our Lord died. You tone often gives the impression that you love polemics more than you love your neighbour, that you want to win the argument more than you want to win your brother.

On Wright’s compatibility with the WCF, I believe that Wright is compatible with what I regard as the root concerns of the WCF’s doctrine of justification. I do not believe that those root concerns necessitate the position that Westminster gives us though.

I believe that the desire to move forward to new formulations of the truth is not a sign of a ‘restless attitude towards God’s truth’. Quite the opposite. The desire to move forward can be an indication that our desire is fixed on God’s Truth and we are not going to content ourselves with something less. All of our theological formulations are merely signposts that point beyond themselves. They are witnesses to the Truth and seek to reflect that Truth as best they can. However, as our hearts are drawn towards the Truth, we will start to develop a restless attitude towards our theological formulations insofar as they arrest our movement towards the Truth at a particular point. Our formulations can always reflect God’s Truth more accurately.

You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

Yes and no. There is both similarity and difference. We must do justice to both and not overemphasize one to the neglect of the other. One could argue that Wright’s doctrine of justification could be accommodated to the Westminster Confession to a large extent, just as Wright is willing to accommodate himself to the language of the 39 Articles on justification. I am pretty sure that, if Wright were operating within a confessionally Reformed context, he would be prepared to accommodate himself to traditional language on imputation, whilst making clear that he thought that Paul speaks about things differently.

I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

Sorry, I’m far from persuaded.

Thanks Al,
I appreciate your concise argumentation both online and in person. I also find it helpful when you do discuss these issues in a positive way rather than in the usual negative evangelical mistrusting approach. Hope your summer has been good so far. Looking forwards to uni again?

Thanks Jon,

Yes, I am looking forward to returning to uni. I am not enjoying my present work very much, although that should change in a few days’ time. However, in other respects the summer has gone very well.

As regards more positive approaches, I confess that I prefer them too. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to express my frustration and I blog about it. As I have been reading Waters on the FV and relistening to lectures from Wright and his critics while I have been working, I have a lot of frustration at the moment. On such occasions I often put things in a way that I would not in my calmer moments, even though I would not disagree with the points that I have made above. In retrospect I do regret a number of my past posts and regret that I did not put things in a more balanced manner in the post above. It was written quickly and posted without as much thought as I could have given.

Unfortunately posts that are more negative in tone seem to draw the greatest response (as the number of comments above proves) and often people from different parties seem to understand and employ them in a manner quite alien to my intentions. Some from other traditions use it to dismiss Reformed scholarship. Some Wright supporters use it to mock Wright’s critics. A number of those critical of Wright totally misread it as well (this post being a good example). I see the situation that I describe in my post as incredibly tragic and believe that it shows a venerable theological tradition in a very poor light.

Al, I’m not going to answer everything you said, because I’ve answered it already, and I would just be repeating myself. But I will say one or two things.

Firstly, regarding imputation. I am absolutely dumbfounded and rather disappointed that you think the debate over imputation is silly. That has *always* been the heart of the Reformers’ doctrine of justification. The entire OT has the shape of needing to obey the law to live. Christ obeyed the law, and we live. It’s as simple as that. His obedience to the law is what is credited to our account. NTW will not say that, and did not say that in your quotation. NTW would argue that obeying the law is not and has never been the way to perfect righteousness for anyone. He would quote the sacrificial system as evidence for this (which is a non-sequitur).

For evidence that imputation is absolutely irrevocably central to justification in the minds of the Reformers, go to the following places: Calvin’s Inst. 2.7.2, especially Turretin’s Institutes 2.646-656, Bavinck’s RD 3.102, Owen’s works, vol 5, pp 223-240, Hodge, volume 3, pp 144-150, Dabney, ST, pp 328-331, Pelikan’s Christian Tradition, volume 4, pp 149-151, Witsius, ECBGM, I, pp 402-403, Reymond’s ST, pp. 745-747, James P. Boyce’s Abstracts, pp 396-398, Berkhof, pp 523-524, Buchanan’s work on Justification, pp 314-339, Cunningham’s Historical Theology, vol 2, pp 45-56, Pemble’s Justificaion of a Sinner, pp 69-134, Murray, RAA, pp 123-124, Ursinus’s Commentary, pp 326-328, Murray’s works, volume 2, pp. 213-215, Packer, in New Bible Dictionary, pg 639, and just look at the title in Bunyan’s works, volume 1, pp 300-330, Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin for a conclusive argument on Romans 5, Strong’s ST, pg 862, Haldane on Romans, pg 177, Edwards, BT works, vol 1, pp 622-654, especially pp. 628, 635-636, WCF chapter 11, Heidelberg Catechism, question 60. Now I suggest that you *seriously* revise your statement after reading these relatively short quotations. I have been at pains to make sure that most of them are only a few pages. I have referenced 16th-20th century works, Puritan and Continental, Presbyterian and Independent, even Baptist.

Secondly, about being gracious: you did not answer my challenge. NTW lambastes the Reformational understanding of justification. He uses highly inflammatory language. You claim that we should be gracious because we are Christians. what about him? Of course, we should be gracious to our brothers. But if we are gracious to wolves, we will wind up with fat, contented wolves and no sheep. You seem to completely forget Jesus’ own harshest of harsh words to the Pharisees! Did that portion of Scripture simply drop out of the canon? See Douglas Wilson’s great book _The Serrated Edge_ for a great exegetical defense of what I’m talking about. *Graciousness does not equal Christianity.*

Lane,

When I claimed that I thought that the debate over imputation was silly, I was not claiming that the concerns underlying the doctrine of imputation are silly. Far from it. What I was claiming was that the claims that Wright is the great enemy of imputation are silly and have little basis.

I will acknowledge that Wright does not hold to the imputation of Christ’s ‘active obedience’ as classically understood, but this can hardly be called heresy. The Westminster Confession (11.1) does not even teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and deliberately leaves the question open as a number of the divines themselves denied it.

Wright does believe that the death of Christ for our sins is the necessary condition for our being declared righteous and he believes that in union with Christ we share His justified status. So I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

In fact, one could even argue that Wright holds to a form of the imputation of active obedience as well. God does not merely pardon our sins and accept us as righteous; God views us as the true humanity in Christ. Christ lived as the true Adam and in Him we are regarded by God as those who have fulfilled His pattern for humanity.

Of course, Wright sees the Law playing a very different role in his account to the one that it plays in classic Reformed theology. I readily acknowledge this, but still don’t see why this is such a big issue. In Wright’s account of the Law it is, in some sense the pattern for true humanity, a pattern that is fulfilled by and in Christ, so his view isn’t even as far removed as it might originally appear.

I really don’t believe that Wright lambasts the Reformational understanding of justification. Some have put forward strange readings of statements in WSPRS, suggesting that Wright presents the Reformed doctrine as if it were a fart joke (the reference being to Wright’s statement that righteousness is not some sort of substance or gas that can be passed over from the judge to the defendent). I just don’t have time or patience to respond to such readings. Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). However, I do not believe could fairly be said to ‘lambast’ the Reformed doctrine of imputation. It should also be remembered that many of the positions that he dialogues with are popular evangelical misconceptions rather than traditional Reformed doctrine. Wright’s language simply is not that inflammatory to those who are prepared to listen carefully. To be honest, I am surprised at how graciously he has responded to people who have grossly misrepresented him with evangelicalism.

I am quite aware of the attitude that Jesus had to the Pharisees and the attitude that Paul had to Peter, and so on. However, there is a time and a place and I don’t think that you are careful enough in this area. It is easy to shoot first and ask questions later. Even supposing that Wright is a heretic, many of us have many differences with him and don’t appreciate when it is presumed that we hold all of his views and can be personally attacked as if we held them ourselves. If you can’t clearly identify your target and throw straight you shouldn’t be playing with serrated edges.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric?

For the record, Lane, Wright did not name the book, his publisher did. Wright doesn’t even like the name (just as he doesn’t like the title of his recent book, The Last Word). As I said in my previous comment, if you can’t get your facts right, we would all appreciate if you would keep the serrated edge sheathed.

Al, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to me, and a model of how to deal with controversy on the Internet (and that I need as many such models as I can get is undoubtable!). I greatly appreciate your theological work and the provocative ways you approach many old issues, shedding fresh light on them.

I look forward to hopefully meeting you next year when, by the grace of God, I actually do get to come to Edinburgh and begin my graduate studies.

You were probably listening to my debate with Daniel Kirk on this about Chad Van Dixhorn’s work on the WCF. Suffice it to say that Chad does *not* ultimately take the direction on WCF 11.1 (as explained by LC 70) that Daniel Kirk does. They listen to the first part of what he says without listening to the rest. Ultimately, Chad believes that question 70 (which most assuredly does teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience) should be allowed to influence our reading of chapter 11. The Westminster standards *do* teach the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer.

With regard to the serrated edge, I have spent four or five years deeply researching NTW’s work before I said a word about it. So I did in fact ask questions first, and then started my shooting. I am not a rash person, as you seem to think. I am a scholar who reads widely.

WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

I trust that I have never said that you hold to all of NTW’s ideas. I have never said it. So don’t attribute to me what I didn’t say. It doesn’t look good when you accuse me of doing that.

And I am not attacking people, but ideas.

With regard to the title of NTW’s book, I have two things to say. First, I didn’t know that the publisher had entitled it. So I see your point up to a point. But two, NTW could have refused to have it published under that title. He is responsible for how he comes across. He can’t push that responsibility over on to a publisher, and neither can you.

BOQ
Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). EOQ

And this is precisely where all the quotes I gave earlier, which you conveniently forgot to mention or interact with, would disagree with NTW. If someone doesn’t hold to imputation in the Reformation sense, as given in all those quotations, then he has justification wrong. One can’t just try to get around critics, as NTW tries all the time, by stating something that sounds the same, but isn’t. This is why you misunderstand NTW’s position vis-a-vis the Reformation. It is not I who misunderstands NTW, but you.

At least you admit that NTW does not agree with the transfer of accounts. I read him that way too. And refusing to acknowledge that language, especially in Romans 4, is what makes NTW wrong on this, and incompatible with Reformed theology.

Further, you are guilty of a non-sequitur when you say that it cannot be a matter of transfer of accounts, but can only be a matter of being seen in His vindication. Read the Edwards treatise, especially, and you will see that it is not either/or there. We are give by imputation the righteousness of Christ’s law-keeping precisely because we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection by faith. We become married to Him, and as His spouse, have a legal right to everything that belongs to Christ, all His merits. So we are seen and united to Christ in His vindication, and in the process have His merits transferred to our account. Why can’t it be both, pray?

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Lane, you write:
WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

Well, I think there could be other ways of approaching the obedience of Christ. Especially in light of the text: Rom.3:21 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law..” Before dismissing Wright, I would encourage you to look at how obedience to the Father “apart from the law” may have primacy and may answer your concerns. I would encourage you to read Rich Lusk’s response to OPC report on this point before jumping to conclusions. It may be helpful. Here it is:
http://www.trinity-pres.net/essays/opc-justification-reply-2.pdf

Wow! You certainly got a lot of comments on this one. I found your post very interesting. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about N.T. Wright, except that my Reformed Pastor really likes his commentaries. These days, while I am reading blogs, I find very little comment about what N.T. Wright actually says but a whole lot concerning his worth as a theologian. Some seem to love him unconditionally; some seem to hate him unconditionally.

You’ve piqued my interest.

Thanks,
Renee

To Troy, are you assuming that Romans 3:21 refers the “without the law” to Christ’s obedience and righteousness? Most Reformed authors would refer that “without the law” to our way of appropriating Christ’s righteousness. This demonstrated as being in accord with the context by verses 27-28.

Lane:

Imputation is irrevocably central to the reformed formulation of Justification because the reformed formulation stipulates that you need the merit of lawkeeping to be justified.

Wright doesn’t stipulate that, so he doesnt need the merit of lawkeeping for justification. I suppose that’s why some people say Wright is soft on sin, though he isn’t.

What Al is saying though is that there are OTHER parts of wrights theology that carry the loads that you want justification and imputation to bear. I suspect there are those aspects, though I’ll admit its not clear to me, though I’m working on it. More later

Lane,

I would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology.

Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification.

For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology.

As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false.

As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position.

As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.

There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132)

Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language.

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these.

Just in case any of you are wanting any more discussion of this issue (!!), there is further discussion of this post taking place on the Derek Webb board.

BOQI would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

BOQ
It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. EOQ

I have read him, and he does not cover the same bases.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

BOQ
You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. EOQ

Look, NTW can say whatever he wants. He is not Presbyterian. He is not bound to the Westminster standards. But that is not the issue. My problem is with people who say that he isn’t saying anything really different from Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy. He is. And therefore, those who profess to hold to Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy may not hold to NTW’s beliefs on justification.

BOQ
For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology. EOQ

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible. You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level. Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

BOQ
I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false. EOQ

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically. I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

BOQ
As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position. EOQ

To claim that NTW doesn’t hold to imputation has nothing to do with whether I engaged his position or not. That is wholly irrelevant to that precise logical question. You may claim that I didn’t engage his position correctly. But you are simply wrong to claim that I am not engaging him at all when I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation. When I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation, I mean that he doesn’t hold to the Reformed doctrine of it, which even you must admit. What I have tried to argue (through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so) is simply that the Reformed view of imputation is part of an irreducible complexity (to borrow a phrase from Michael Behe) with regard to justification. I have also tried the tack of practical holiness: we must needs have a *perfect* righteousness to stand before the infinitely holy God. This is proved by the fact that the OT Israelites needed a Mediator. They couldn’t stand in God’s presence directly. Not even Moses could look directly at God, since he was a sinner. Isaiah’s call narrative is another case in point. In justification, a court-room decision *in God’s presence* is made. We must have a perfect righteousness in order to be acquitted, otherwise God is not just. That is why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness, since we cannot procure a perfect righteousness for ourselves. This can only happen by imputation. It is not enough to have our sins forgiven. As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness. That is not the point of the passage, since the proof-text is brought in to prove imputation, not any direction in reverse. If anything, we would have to say that in Romans 4, Forgiveness is part of imputation, if we wanted to subsume one to the other. No, rather, they are the flip side of the same coin. NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness. The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

BOQ
The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. EOQ

This is true, but so is the other.

BOQ
This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.EOQ

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

BOQ
There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. EOQ

This is simply not imputation. In imputation something new and different happens. It is not the declaration of what is already the case. The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification. I know this from personal correspondence with him, and many talks with him on the phone. I think you picked the wrong theologian to throw at me. What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ. I am no more claiming a separate discrete structure for imputation than Gaffin does. My position is identical with Gaffin. But Gaffin does not support Wright here. Because Gaffin supports the traditional Reformed understanding of imputation. Gaffin is merely at pains to locate imputation and justification within the realm of union with Christ. He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that. Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. Gaffin would argue that imputation does involve any kind of legal fiction. As would I. But Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

BOQ
Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132) EOQ

BOQ
Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language. EOQ

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

(me)
But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

BOQ
Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. EOQ

I was not actually claiming that that was my sole ground of belief. It was perhaps poorly worded. What I was saying is that belief that Jesus is God is necessary (though not sufficient) for this understanding of imputation in justification.

BOQ
I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these. EOQ

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy? I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

“And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem.”

I wonder if Lane’s prolixity on internet forumns in indicative of a mental aberration. I wonder if Lane’s prolixity is an indication he’s neclecting his pastoral duties. I’m not claiming he has these problems, I’m just wondering out loud about them.

Listen to yourself sometime Lane.

Or listen to an excellent series of talks from Marion Clark on speaking the truth in love. They were very convicting to me. Clark would probably say I’m ill advised to make these kinds of sarcastic responses, but I’m trying a serrated clarkian approach

Lane,

Let’s assume that you are 100% right in everything you say. It is obvious that you are not persuading anyone. Your arguments, even your “best arguments,” are simply alienating people. From a practical perspective, it might be time to let it go–or to preach to the choir of those who have sworn their allegiance to the WCF.

Rod

Lane,

This is going to have to be my final response to your comments. I stand by my earlier claims that you have misunderstood Wright. You have not presented me with any convincing reason to change my mind on this assessment (and I am listening to what you have to say). You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. Once that has taken place there is the exceedingly difficult task of translating his theological proposal into the language game of the WCF. The problem is that some of Wright’s proposals cannot be expressed in the theological vocabulary that Westminster offers us. It is that act of translation that has been short-circuited in your approach. Only after this has been done can we establish whether Wright’s position is out of bounds or not.

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

You misunderstand me. To study someone’s theology from the inside does not necessity any sort of willingness to accept its truth. Rather, it is an act of the imagination whereby the reader tries looking at the world through a different set of eyes. To understand Wright’s theology you need to have an appreciation of the way that Wright’s own mind works. Why does Wright find his position persuasive? Why does he find his earlier ‘Banner of Truth’-type Reformed position unpersuasive? The person who truly understands Wright should be able to represent the reasoning underlying his position in a manner that Wright himself would acknowledge to be his own.

This is not merely a mastery of the way that Wright uses his terms; it is an imaginative sharing of his theological vision. One tries to look at the world through Wright’s eyes, even if one believes that Wright’s eyesight is distorted. This is a ‘sympathetic’ reading inasmuch as it is an attempt to imaginatively share the feelings and vision of another. It need not be a ‘sympathetic’ reading in the sense that would imply that this vision is one that you believe to be right or one that you would be willing to share.

I believe that we won’t truly understand any position (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) until we give it the first type of sympathetic reading. Whilst I do not believe that a sympathetic reading is sufficient for the true understanding of a position (we need a critical reading as well), I do believe that it is necessary. I believe that Hinduism is a false religion and I would not bring an open mind to my study of it. However, I would seek to give a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

As I said before, you have not given Wright a sympathetic reading, nor have you made a genuine attempt to translate his claims into language that can be processed by the WCF. Consequently, I believe that your judgment concerning his theology is ill-founded (even were it right). The cause of your misunderstanding is not, I believe, a lack of intelligence. Rather, I believe that it is more likely a failure of theological imagination or the unjustifiable unwillingness to grant Wright a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

That is not true. I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

You have made far too facile a translation of Wright’s theology into Reformed categories here. The translation is far, far more complex — if it is possible at all. The Law for Reformed theology is generally understood more in terms of a supra-historical universal standard that is applied to history at some later stage. The Law tends to be understood as the obedience that God requires. For Wright the Law is something quite different. It is a particular thing, given to a particular nation at a particular moment in history. For Wright the Law is also narrative and, significantly, covenant. The Law is the charter of Israel’s existence.

If you understand Wright’s view of the Law you should recognize that to ask him about the three uses of the Law is much like a Chinese man talking to you in his language and expecting you to understand him. This does not mean that there is no way that something similar to the three uses of the Law couldn’t be asserted in Wright’s language. It is just to say that you are expecting Wright to speak a foreign language that is now only spoken in very isolated pockets of the Christian Church. This is not fair.

I actually believe that there are ways in which Wright could affirm something similar to the three uses of the Law in terms of his theology. The Law certainly has a pedagogical purpose in Wright’s theology. On one important level it is the blueprint for authentic human existence and in God’s redemptive-historical purposes it also puts a spotlight on human sin. The Law bears witness to Christ in typology and prophecy, leading the people of God to Him by revealing the problem and witnessing to the solution. The Law is also fulfilled in the faithful life of the Christian. These do not exactly correspond to the traditional understanding of the role of the Law, but we must remember that there is equivocation here in our use of the terminology of Law.

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible.

The differences between Wright and the confession are certainly not on the level of wording alone. It is misleading to say that it is. Many of the concepts and categories of thought that Wright works in terms of are not found in the confession. However — and this point is crucial — the concepts that one finds in Wright’s theology, whilst different from those of the confession are not for that reason necessarily contrary to the key concepts of the confession. They accomplish the same end through differing means. Wright’s affirmations can also be accommodated to the alien language of the confession in various respects, through an act of careful translation.

You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level.

The difference is not one of mere wording. The difference is like any difference between languages. The word for ‘dog’ in different languages does not always denote and connote exactly the same things, although there will be significant overlap. You cannot usually use the word for ‘dog’ in a foreign language in exactly the same way as one uses the word in English. Translation is a task that involves careful accommodation and negotiation and a degree of meaning will always be lost in the process. However, linguistic and conceptual differences need not entail radical substantial differences.

In the end I think that, in substance, Wright’s theology is quite Reformed in many respects. I also believe that, once one has appropriated his linguistic and conceptual tools, one will appreciate that they grant one a far greater grasp of the substance of Paul’s theology than Reformed theology has done so far. He does not deny the substance that has been previously recognized but gives us ways to get a purchase on substance that we had not truly grasped before.

Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. As regards union with Christ, Wright distinguishes this from justification. What he argues is that union with Christ is the basis on which God reckons righteousness to us. Union with Christ is not identified as the reckoning righteous, but as that which provides the basis. I don’t see the great difference here.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

I was trying to give a possible explanation. I know for a fact that Wright is not the only theologian to have had his book titled against his wishes. At a recent SBL conference that one of my lecturers in St. Andrews attended he said that Wright gave reasons why he disliked the title that the publishers had given to the US edition of his recent book on Scripture. Bart Ehrman, who was speaking in the same session as Wright, said the same thing about his book Misquoting Jesus.

Whether making a fuss would have made a difference is beyond my knowledge. Wright does not seem to be the person to make such a fuss. The impression that I get is that the choice of the title is not always under the writer’s control. Perhaps Wright didn’t fight to rename his book because he didn’t expect to be taken to task for it by cantankerous and uncharitable people and thought that he would prefer to retain good relations with his publisher than have his own way on this issue. The fact of the matter is that you have made an embarrassingly big deal out of an assumption that you have failed to demonstrate.

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically.

This is, as usual, a very uncharitable reading. I am sure that Wright is just saying that he has made up his mind on some important central issues in his reading of Paul and no longer holds them in question. I am sure that all of us have done this to some extent. There are certain questions that I have settled in my mind and don’t plan to return to. I have carefully weighed the various sides of the arguments and come to a conclusion. This does not mind that I think that I have arrived theologically. I have come to be persuaded that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity and am never going to go back on that. Does that imply an arrogant feeling of having arrived on my part? Wright has made clear that he does not believe that every detail of his picture is correct, but he is not going to change the basic sketch.

I get the impression that if Wright had expressed an openness to totally rethink his position, critics would claim that he was the type who would never have the courage to make up his mind, the type of person who was always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

Maybe you need to spend some more time thinking about it. It is not hard to reconcile the two statements. The idea that Wright regards himself as the ‘eschatological exegete’ is bizarre in the extreme.

…through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so…

Well, I have read at least a dozen of the sources that you listed in the past and was not going to go through them again. Besides, whilst it is reasonable to expect me to be familiar with Reformed understandings of justification if I claim that Wright is compatible with the Reformed tradition, it is totally unreasonable to expect anyone to read 100+ pages of text in order to answer your comment.

I am acquainted with the position of the Reformers and their successors. However, my claim is still that you are failing to treat Wright on his own terms. Reading the Reformers is not going to settle anything. You must have the careful sympathetic reading before the critical reading can take place. Furthermore, there is the task of translation, which you haven’t really undertaken.

Your further comments neglect the fact that imputation of active obedience is far from the consensus of the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition is not as monolithic on the issues of justification and imputation as you suggest. Dabney and Hodge disagree, Calvin and many of his successors disagree, there were differing views among the Westminster divines, etc.

As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness.

Wright doesn’t deny that justification involves forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness in Romans 4. God forgives our sins and reckons us righteous because in Christ we are righteous. I don’t believe that Wright does subsume imputation into forgiveness.

NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness.

I don’t think that that is true. Wright does not see the declaration of righteousness as being based upon the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. However, he does hold that in Christ we possess everything that is Christ’s, including the glory that the Father gave to Him as a result of His faithful fulfilling of His vocation.

Wright argues that God includes us in the verdict of righteous that He made at Christ’s resurrection. If we are included in Christ’s vindication then we are counted as if we lived the righteous life that gave rise to that vindication. Consequently, one can argue that Wright believes in a form of the doctrine of the imputation of active obedience as a part of his doctrine of justification. The difference between his view and the common understanding is that the imputation is logically subsequent or contemporaneous with our participation in Christ’s verdict for Wright, whilst it is logically prior for the more common understanding.

The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

Wright believes that we share the verdict that is cast over Christ as a result of His faithful life (which he would not speak of as ‘earning’ righteousness, as if righteousness were some sort of brownie points). The verdict that is ours is one that involves us being regarded in Christ as those who are the true humanity and members of the Israel that has fulfilled its vocation. He also believes that Christ bears both our sins and our sinful nature (he is strong on this point). We are accepted as sons as God reckons us in Christ and we are guaranteed eternal life in Him. It seems to me that Wright can be seen to cover the same bases if we read him carefully and think through his position on its own terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

I was not misquoting you; you are misunderstanding me. I know full well what you are and were saying. My point is that the marriage analogy that you gave is a good way to illustrate the fact that no transfer from one account to another is necessary for imputation to take place. If we are transferred into Christ’s body all that is His becomes our, with no transfer between accounts at all; we have a shared account. Participation rather than extrinsic transfer is a more healthy and biblical way of thinking.

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

No, I don’t think that it is the only way. The imputation of our sins (or debts to keep with the analogy) to Christ takes place when Christ comes to share the account of rebellious humanity at the cross and pays off the debt completely. There is no transfer of funds. Christ unites Himself to sinful humanity in His coming and exhausts their debt in His death.

The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification.

I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this.

What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ.

So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?

He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that.

Is Wright denying this?

Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. …Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

Gaffin is saying that our vital relationship with Christ makes Christ’s righteousness ours, along with all of His other blessings. Our being reckoned righteousness rests on Christ’s own ‘resurrection-approved righteousness’ which is ours by virtue of the union. Gaffin points out that it is reckoned ours because it is ours (“The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established”). It was in precisely this sense that I meant that imputation does not change anything. It is merely a reckoning of what is in fact the case by virtue of the union established.

Gaffin may believe that it is not technically inappropriate to speak of the event of our being united with Christ as an imputation that changes things (in the sense that I have used the word) and thus as an act of transfer, but this would merely be a debate about terminology. In substance he is saying the same thing as Wright here. He may have gone back on the position since, but in this quote Gaffin is not teaching anything opposed to what Wright himself teaches.

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

There is no contradiction. What Wright is saying is that the common view of imputation is incompatible with what he claims to be the biblical way that righteousness language works. He brings forward ridiculous examples that no one would hold to in order to illustrate this incompatibility.

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy?

Yes. I have.

I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

What I was objecting to was the number of assumptions that you were reading in. Wright does not share these assumptions. To even suggest that those beliefs are not shared because he compromises some foundational truth of Christianity that he strongly claims to hold is terribly premature, to say the least. There are far more immediate explanations that one needs to test before one resorts to putting one of the worst possible constructions on his statements.

In conclusion, Lane, I have extended you the courtesy of responding to your comments in detail. I have listened to what you have to say and have been unpersuaded. I do not have the time, energy or will to continue this dialogue any further at the moment, so this is my final comment. Thank you for your time and effort. I hope that God will bless you in your continued studies. I sincerely hope that you will come to an accurate assessment of Wright. If he is a heretic then I trust that you will be able to recognize that and carefully identify and warn us of his errors. If he is not, I trust that you will be given the courage to clear up confusion and exonerate him of false charges.

[...] The commenting continues beneath the Wright post. I have just written one of the longest comments I have ever written in my life. [...]

Indeed, you have been courteous in replying to my long-winded cantankerous comments. For that I thank you. We aren’t convincing each other of a single thing, and so I also will not continue beyond this last comment. And it will be quite selective.

BOQ
You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. EOQ

What you fail to appreciate is that I already Wright before I had any oath or binding committment to the Westminster Standards. In fact, I was not very familiar with them before I read most of Wright’s works. And so, i was actually able to do the very thing you seem to think I haven’t done: read him on his own terms. The problem here is that you cannot enter into my mind to find out the path that took me from there to rejecting *some* of his theology. But I deny utterly that I haven’t given him a fair reading. I view that claim as utterly absurd, and you are in no position to read my mind to say whether I have given him a fair reading or not. For you, the evidence consists completely in whether I come to the same conclusions as you have! I think that that would be the only way to convince you that I had given him a fair reading. So we are at an impasse there. I might add that Gaffin himself, in private communication, has said that he uniformly appreciated my posts on the debate page regarding NTW’s theology. Apparently, he agrees with my critiques. Gaffin is quite the scholar, and quite the gentleman, and that is why many have thought that he was too easy on NTW, especially in the Auburn Avenue lectures. Many people have thought that they teach basically the same things, as you also seem to think. His newest book will forever disabuse you of that notion, I trust.

BOQ
I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously. EOQ

As I have said before, I really don’t think that this is possible, since the only way to convince you that I understood NTW would be to come to your conclusions.

BOQ
So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?
EOQ

That is certainly not what Gaffin is saying. He would never equate union with imputation. He would say that union is the basis on which imputation can take place. It is what prevents the transfer from being a legal fiction. But it is not equal to imputation.

BOQ
Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. EOQ

He says that, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he is consistently applying it. It shows his inconsistency in the very formula that he gives that justification is matter not so much of soteriology, as of ecclesiology. How is that not playing one off against the other?

BOQ
I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this. EOQ

And I know for a fact that Gaffin himself would disagree with you. That’s all for me. I’m done. It has been extremely interesting and in many ways enlightening as well. Debate is something I love. I wish people were not so afraid of it. These comments about tone are off, for the most part. The Jewish rabbis themselves would call other rabbis empty-heads, even their best friends, right in the middle of debate. It has been in that spirit in which I have wished to debate. I have never meant anything as a personal attack, and if you, or anyone else have gotten that impression, then I apologize. I have always meant to attack ideas. Intention is often better than performance, however. Peace.

wow … long discussion. O.O now that we know we won’t be settling these issues, lets all just go anglican! ^^/ … imho, reformed circles in general have a fatal problem with understanding teh vitatlity of teh church–teh sacraments, teh liturgy, teh prayers …. btw, nice post!

Some of my earlier comments had problems with double blockquotes. Consequently it looks as if some of Lane’s words are mine. Whilst whose words are whose should generally be relatively obvious, I hope that this hasn’t caused any confusion. I have adjusted my last comment to try to address this problem, but am aware that it might have affected other earlier comments, which I have not checked.

Berek,

I quite understand where you are coming from on this one, although I have no intention to go Anglican just yet. It seems to me that it might just be a case of exchanging one set of fatal problems for another.

[...] For example: the minute you become a Calvinist or Lutheran you begin to spot heresy everywhere, because it is easy to find believers Doing Something, even yourself. This pernicious bug is so common it pops up not only in explicit thought but even in the way phrases are turned. The Christian side of the internet features many long, complicated arguments over whether such and such a person is a works person or not. It’s all quite nuanced. There are Christians who spend their lives at it. There are categories within categories. I’m not sure if I’m a semi-palagian or a semi-semi-pelagian. I can’t figure out why it matters, though, since whatever God wants to happen to me is what will happen. [...]

An excellent post. I’m not sure I follow all the theological fine points that you get into with your commenters; some of that is way over my head. But I’m sure that N. T. Wright does not deserve what he is getting from his Reformed critics.

I was hoping for a post with more substance. It seems your “reasons” are really just empty ad hominems. If you’re interested, I discussed your article here.

Nate,

I have responded in the comments of your post.

An astute theologian, such as Mr. Wright ought to write, and to speak, so as to be understood with a reasonable application of effort.
My only other problem with Mr. Wright is that I shouldn’t have to drop the price of a small house on all his books and lectures in order to be able find out that he isn’t a heretic.

Ray,

I actually don’t believe that Wright is all that hard to understand, though I can understand why some find him confusing. Wright only becomes hard to understand for those who try to interpret him within an alien theological framework. The difficulty is that many of Wright’s Reformed critics seem to find it incredibly hard to think outside of traditional Reformed categories. There are plenty of lay people in pews who seem to be able to get a better grasp on what Wright is saying than leading Reformed critics like Ligon Duncan.

The difficulties of understanding are paradigm difficulties. One could compare it to a Dutch speaker who continually picks up on the errors of those who speak other dialects, regional languages and other related languages such as Flemish, Brabantic, Zeelandic or Afrikaans and fails to realize that these dialects and languages need to be understood, to a significant degree, on their own terms.

Once it is appreciated that the grammar and vocabulary of Wright’s system works differently and that these need to be understood on their own terms, understanding him really isn’t that hard. However, lingering difficulties may exist as the close relationship between the language that the critic is more accustomed to and the language of Wright’s theology may occasionally mislead him into treating Wright’s language as if it were the same.

Wright’s critics are the grammaticians of Reformed language. They police the way in which the Reformed language should and should not be used. They often seek to standardize Reformed usage and eliminate some unhelpful dialects that persist. There are good reasons why such people find it especially hard to understand what Wright is saying.

I believe that Wright is generally one of the clearest writers I have ever read. He is acknowledged by almost everyone to be an incredibly gifted communicator, so it would surprise me if his thought was that hard to understand for the person who went about it the right way.

Wright goes wrong when he disagrees with Jesus and Paul on their perspicuous and far more expert assessment of STJ plus the clear treatment in the Gospels of the way in which the various Judaic schools used the Taanach. Jesus even gives us a critique on Jewish systematics to show that they had travelled in a diametrical direction from that of revealed Scripture. Paul did not build his theology on STJ. He built it, as the New Testament clearly testifies, on the revelation of Christ through the Older Testment in conformity with Jesus own method of revealing himself in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus and in the declaration “Moses spoke of me”.

Tim,

Wright claims to be representing the analysis of Jesus and Paul in his treatment of 2TJ. Wright shows how Jesus and Paul were deeply critical of the theology of many of their contemporaries (the Pharisees and Judaizers in particular), arguing that these parties missed the point of the Law and distracted attention away from the things that really mattered, leading people dangerously astray. Their almost talismanic use of the Torah is exposed for what it is and the primacy of faith is stressed against them as the thing that God is really looking for.

Wright does not see Paul’s theology as having been built on general theologies in 2TJ. Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.

I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.

“Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.” Perhaps in Wright’s understanding, but not in Paul’s. Paul, following Jesus, along with James, and John soundly condemn all STJ. If, indeed, the Old Covenant was abolished, so much more so the lowly aberrations that exuded from that Covenant. There was nothing redeemable in STJ for Paul to recast and Paul knew it. The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom was, as the prophets said it would be, “a new thing” not the reworking of something old. Jesus makes this plain in his analogy of the wine skins.
“I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.”
That is your privelege to believe, it is of no consequence to me. Wright is looking for an hermeneutic that gives greater flexibility to definitions of Christianity in keeping with his place in evangelical ecumenism. His basic question is “How can Christian be most broadly defined in order that Cathoiics, Liberals and Protestants may sit at the same table of academic relavency?” The answer is to put thoughts in Paul’s head that are not there, thoughts that Paul himself called “dung”.

Why is NT Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?…

As one who appreciates N.T. Wrights works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see…

[...] Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by So Many of His Reformed Critics? by Alistair “Adversaria” - an exploration into the possible psychology of the Reformed rush to judgments [...]

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do”

That kinda destroys the idea that Jesus thought all of 2TJ was worthless and to be destroyed.

I also think that you can put however much oomph into “radical recasting” that your dispute becomes one merely of words. Jesus ressurection body was a radical recasting of his fleshly body. Was it ‘the same’? Well, not is one sense, but yes in another…

Paul,

I’m not sure whether your comment is in response to me or not. However, I imagine that we are pretty much in agreement here. There is both significant continuity and discontinuity, something that is well illustrated by the example of resurrection that you give.

It was to Tim Price, actually.

Oh, 100th post!

Pduggie,
Please don’t stop with the first verse of Matthew 23. Please read on and see if, by the time Jesus finished his indictment against Judaism as he knew that there was anything left of it that he wished to have retrieved. Verse four sets the tone, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Jesus has already told his disciples that his burden is easy and light, quite different from that which the Pharisees would not bother to lift with their finger, that burden that barred their disciples from heaven and salvation. Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Jesus opens the gates of heaven for his disciples, but the teaching of Judaism did exactly the opposite precisely because they “travel[ed] (v.15) across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he be[came] a proselyte, [they] made him twice as much a child of hell as [them]selves.” In light of this, I would say that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to observe the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is simply a deference to civil authority (the seat of Moses). Nothing more. That ended in A.D. 70.

Alastair,
There is a place in debate to air issues like the motives and dispositions of critics of Tom Wright, but I suggest you focus a post on the substantive issues that the Reformed critics have with NT Wright — like does he teach imputation? does he teach forensic justification? What I find is that, while he sometimes pokes Reformers in the eye about both of these, mostly it is rhetoric of the via negativa sort. Careful readings of his Romans commentary convinces me that there is an element of imputation in Wright and he clearly sees justification as forensic, if also much more covenantal/relational.

Thanks for the comments, Scot. I have discussed a number of these issues in the past. I am also in the process of writing up a lengthy treatment of Wright’s doctrine of final justification, in which I engage with some of the concerns and criticisms raised by his Reformed critics.

Scot, you can also find some more detailed discussions of Wright’s position on imputation and justification in the comments above, particularly in my interaction with Lane Keister.

WOW! Finally somebody nailed it. I am particularly disturbed the theological arrogance of aforementioned Reformed scholars who appear to me to believe themselves to be the gatekeepers of truth. N.T. Wright is indeed tough to “skim” and you really need some patience to digest his work. I learned that in seminary while working on a Jesus paper for a course.

Frankly, there is not a theologian who has ever lived, whether it’s Wright, Warfield, Augustine, or even (*gasp*) Jonathan Edwards, who is so intelligent that they can elucidate the wideness, richness, and depth of all that God truly is.

this page has a googlewack on it

pokes solemnibus

[...] Some guy I don’t know on Bad Criticism of N.T. Wright - right on the money! [...]

The reformed community has been quite fair to N.T Wright. He has written a number of great resources and seems to have stood very solid among Anglicans, but he does take an aberrant position on justification. Where in any of his writings has he fully embraced justification by faith alone? You will be hard pressed to find it, because he does not hold to it. He certainly does not stand with J.C Ryle or even his own 39 Articles. He is very clear that all who are baptised are considered justified. N.T Wright is very easy to understand if you take the time to read his material.

Stephen,
I have read just about everything that Wright has ever written. He affirms his agreement with Luther’s basic point in JBFA on a number of occasions. He has explicitly stated that he agrees with the 39 Articles in responding to Wrightsaid discussion list questions. His position on the relationship between Baptism and justification is far more nuanced than you present. I humbly suggest that it is you who need to reread Wright.

I will hopefully be posting a podcast that is relevant to this subject in the next week or so.

[...] with the Canadian government. Via. ———————– A long post on NT Wright and why his critics misunderstand them. There is also a lot of comments and discussion [...]



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[...] Alastair has some excellent thoughts on why many Reformed folks do not get NTW:  http://alastair.adversaria.co.uk/?p=309 [...]

A fantastic post, for which you will be savaged by the Knights of Reformed Orthodoxy.

Two additions:

1) Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of lalrger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

2) Anti-COE/RCC bias. In other words, there’s no badge of membership :-) quite like overall disgust at all things catholic and/or CofE. Puritans don’t do well with Bishops.

Your assessment will be called arrogant, but it is on target. Bravo.

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[...] Alastair at Adversaria has written a detailed, important and comprehensive post on Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics? It’s a monster of good post that you must read if you are interested in Bishop Wright’s contribution to theology and the judgement of many in the reformed community that Wright is a heretic on many different doctrines. [...]

Alastair,

Wow, this is one of the best things I have read on the Internet in sometime. It is articulate, measured and accurate.

While it may not be “charitable” it is not mean spirited which is more than can be said for most of the nonsense written about Wright. I don’t know how you could charitably speak the truth in this situation.

I applaud your courage.

God Bless,

Rod

I disagree. The post is quite charitable. What is lacking is not charity but congeniality, which under present circumstances is simply not in high demand.

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Excellent post Al, I find myself agreeing with almost everything you’ve written.

I appreciate your comments, actually, though I deeply disagree with some of them. I agree fully that many in the Reformed camp think that they can understand NTW reading just WSPRS. That would be a big mistake. It seems to me that the bulk of what NTW is trying to say is to be found in the COQG series and in _Romans_, even though none of these works have any systematic treatment of justification. I’m sure that that is part of the reason that WSPRS gets so much attention: it does have a reasonably thorough treatment of what NTW believes about justification.

Having focused first on what we agree on, I must now move on to disagreement. our first five reasons are, I hope, not meant to be applied to Lig Duncan and Guy waters. Neither can be called in the least lazy, as it is evident that they have read widely and thoroughly in NTW’s works. Especially number 5 is really irrelevant, even it is true. Why would Lig’s arrogance mean that he misunderstands NTW, if he is arrogant (which, as I know him personally, can vouch is simply not the case: he is in fact one of the most humble men I know: I’ve met Waters as well, and ditto). Or are you intending that Duncan and Waters fit with all of these reasons?

Theological romanticism? You do realize that we in the PCA (for instance) take *vows* stating that the WCF contains the system of doctrine taught in holy Scripture, and that we will defend that system of doctrine. The PCA further argues that the WCF is fully in line with the ancient creeds of the church. So defense of the WCF simply cannot be equated with romanticism. It is simply our oath.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see number 7 at all. Doug wilson, for instance, is not afraid of differing from everyone else in the world. He is not afraid to put his neck out for people to hack at. He is no hero of mine. But Wilson attacks general evangelicalism with absolute glee. He gets plenty of flack for that, but doesn’t change his mind based on that.

Number 8 seems to dismiss purity of doctrine as a concern of the church. What you think of as our trying to preserve the status quo is what we think of as preserving pure doctrine. And we are listening, thank you very much, to NTW. I have listened to him for years. I too have read all his major works, and find much that is profitable there, though thinking him outside the bounds of the WCF, especially on justification. You are using a label that none of us who disagree with NTW on justification would use for ourselves. The shoe does not fit.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin? We have made respect and charity of discourse an idol in our society. That is why I won’t touch the P&P Together document with a 10′ pole. I believe quite firmly in not misrepresenting someone’s position. I take rather great lengths to avoid doing so. But battle does not equal misunderstanding. Calvin and Luther fought tooth and nail for what I believe was the truth. Surely you must see that battle does equal misrepresentation.

As for number 10, I disagree completely. The Reformers themselves were absolutely *saturated* with the patristic scholars. I read patristics all the time, as do most of my best friends in the PCA. That is plain and simply false that we cannot understand premodern ways of thinking. If there are some who do not understand premodern ways of thinking, it is because of the Enlightenment, ***NOT*** because of the Reformation.

As to postmodernism, I (for instance) went to a very postmodern school. I listened for three years to their absolute drivel about there being no absolute truth, and all that. Rubbish. They can’t even think straight, or they woud have recognized that the statement “there is no such thing as absolute truth” kills itself, since it must be absolutely true in order to work! And I’m sorry, but logic is biblical, not modern.

As to 11, which critics are you thinking of? It will not do to put away some of NTW’s best critics such as Waters and Richard Phillips, just because some *others* do not understand Wright. You cannot tar and feather some by tarring and feathering others. And I believe that it is quite healthy to be questioning whether or not NTW is even on the right page with regard to Paul. I see quite enough of what you’re talking about on the side that defends NTW! I’ve dealt with it ad nauseum first hand. People will not even answer my scholarly arguments. Instead, they will fasten on the tiniest detail in what I say, and object to that, rather than the substance of my critique. Sometimes it drives me nearly batty. I see that a paradigm straight-jacket has been imposed on fans of NTW, and anything that disagrees with that is attacked with just as much vehemence as NTW’s critics. With most of these critiques of yours, I could turn them around and level them at NTW’s supporters, most of whom *will not* read the Reformers themselves, and the great treatises on justification, such as those by John Owen, James Buchanan, Anthony Burgess, and William Pemble. I’m sorry, but many of NTW’s supporters lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers. I have in fact experienced from NTW’s supporters *everything* you are talking about.

Good heavens, man, what’s in the water over there? I got through about point #4 and I realized something: I could mimic almost all of these diagnoses to describe what it’s been like to get some postmodern thought (philosophical) a fair hearing. Of course, there is the high probability that I am a very poor communicator and ambassador. I fear that some of Wright’s “fans” might also suffer from this weakness.

Oh, and sorry. Another BHT voice here to ensure that some of those who would benefit from the soul-searching your post encourages will instead dismiss it. I hope I’m wrong about that. Live long and prosper, Al.

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.” Links?

Michael (comment 2),

Your additions are helpful. I get the impression that the first one in particular is an important factor in D.A. Carson’s approach to Wright. Listen to 19:30 to 22:00 of this lecture, for a sense of what I mean by this claim.

Number 9 seems to forget the kind of language that Calvin and Luther used of their opponents. If you think that we lack charity, then what of Luther and Calvin?

I’ve no choice but to conclude that Calvin and Luther were the personification of “charity”.

#8 is a slam-dunk.

To Matthew I give this link for why it is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that NPP advocates themselves have read the Reformers.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nppdebate/message/426

For evidence of his followers, I don’t know if you are a member of Wrightsaid, but if you are, then go back in the archives to the discussions I had with Wright supporters. Look for my early posts, and the responses it got. Pretty solid evidence. Loads of people in that debate were lambasting the Reformers without quoting them at all in many cases, or extremely rarely in other cases.

In response to Kent, why is charity to be made an idol in this debate? There are those of us who think (based on careful reading, I might add) that central issues are at stake regarding justification. Misrepresentation is bad. But I have been misrepresented. So have Richard Phillips, Lig Duncan, and many others who critique NTW. Why are all the scholastic boo-boos on one side of this thing? Why is it *only* the critics of NTW that are uncharitable? This is definitely a case of the splinter/log thing that Jesus was talking about.

Even the apostle John, the so-called “apostle of love,” when Cerinthus the heretic walked into the bath, ran out, saying that they should not be under the same roof as the heretic, God save us, etc. When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it. I will fight with scholarly weapons, knowing my enemy thoroughly. I can attest that I read NTW with an open mind, in the sense that I was willing to read him to see what he said about himself. I did not base any of my opinions on what other people said, since, when I was reading him, I wasn’t involved in *any* of the conversations. I have come to my own conclusions. and number 8 is the farthest thing from a slam-dunk. It is only a slam-dunk to those who are predisposed to see it as such in the PCA and other such denoms.

To Al, are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

[...] Alastair Roberts reflects on Tom Wright and the misrepresentations of his work within the Reformed community. As a former Anglican, it’s hard for me to understand why Wright is perceived to be such a threat, particularly on the topic of justification. Anglicanism embraces a diversity of positions on justification and has even reached agreement. albeit unofficially, with the Catholic Church: Salvation and the Church. Hence the exegetical studies of Wright are received by Anglicans (at least most of them) without too much anxiety. [...]

Lane, I’d like to see some of the work of the many Wright supporters who “lambaste the Reformation without having read any of the Reformers.”

Wright himself has been ewtremly (and naively) harsh on Luther, while admitting at the same time he has not read the German reformer for 20 years.

Anyway, it was great to read another of those posts where pro-NPP/NTW convince themselves their opponents are just lazy/traditionalist/anti-intellectual etc, etc. Not exactly new, but so far it has prevented much honest debate and reconsideration of NTW’s views, so you should continue this way.

I hear the sound of cymbals clashing…

Trackback Pontifications

Lane, I appreciate the response and I cannot remember whether or not I was a member of Wrightsaid that early so I might have to check the archives. I wonder if we are not communicating clearly? When I read your comment what I understood was that there are Wright supporters who are unashamed reformer bashers. People who take quotes from the reformers and tear them apart. When I read the post that you linked, I didn’t read anything remotely like that at all. It appeared to me that the reformers weren’t invited to the “conversation” about Paul’s language on justification like when you mentioned Sander’s book contains only one referece to Luther. Could it be that Luther’s works don’t have much to say about Palestinian Judaism instead of that these guys haven’t read Luther? I really don’t see that as a big deal but maybe I’m being obtuse.

Let me ask a more clear question: To lambaste the Reformers — does this mean openly criticize the reformers and their works or does it mean that one doesn’t seek the opinion of the reformers in research and publication?

Thanks for the clarifying question, Matthew. What I mean is that NPP advocates often make these blanket statements about what the Reformation teaches (NTW’s classic is proto-Pelagianism as something against which the Reformers argued, whereas Paul is not reacting against that in 2TJ: it was semi-Pelagianism, which makes a huge difference in terms of the language being used), without quoting any of the Reformers. So my post on that debate page (which you are welcome to join, btw) went to show that the NPP advocates do not quote the Reformers, when it is manifestly the Reformational understanding of Paul that they are attacking. Carl Trueman makes this point crystal clear here:

http://www.crcchico.com/covenant/trueman.html

Dunn’s response was not in the least convincing as to Trueman’s main point, which was that Dunn didn’t quote Luther, while saying that Luther was wrong.

So, while NPP advocates spend all their time researching Paul and 2TJ literature, they forget to learn what their opponents (the Reformers) actually teach. See the excellent comment by Jean-Martin above. So I am not talking about quotations from the Reformers which are misinterpreted, since such quotations do not exist in the extant writings of the NPP advocates.

Luther has plenty to say about Jews (most of it highly non-complimentary). the problem here is that the NPP says that the Reformation read Paul wrong. This goes all the way back to Stendahl’s article, which says that Paul didn’t have this introspective inward-looking struggle that Luther had. But if you are going to say that the Reformation was wrong, then it had better be the real Reformation that you are rejecting.

Same old, same old. Go back some years and read what Barth’s supporters were saying about his critics. There’s nothing new under the sun!

Thanks for the clarification, Lane. I’ll politely decline the invitation to the debate page, though. You guys are clearly more advanced than I am and what little I could contribute would probably be just a whole lot of questions.

On the contrary, we have a hard time getting people to talk at all. While it is true that there are some decent scholars on that debate group, in order to keep the discussions going, we need more people who have questions. So join up! Though I understand if you still wish to decline.

Lane,

Let me begin by making clear that I do not believe that only Wright’s critics have these problems. None of us are immune and, as you point out, I think that it is fair to say that many of Wright’s supporters have caricatured the teaching of the Reformation. I believe that Wright himself has done this on a number of occasions and I have posted on the subject in the past.

It should be recognized that, in many situations, the caricatures arise from involvement in and subsequent reactions against traditions that had ended up caricaturing themselves. Wright was in Reformed circles for a number of years. However, he reacted against the Reformed tradition. I get the impression that he found it hidebound, introverted and narrow (from this interview, among other places).

In fairness, I think that many of us can relate to the experience that Wright recounts. When you have been brought up to believe that the Reformed faith is generally a completed edifice and trained to believe that you must read a particular set of Puritan writers (for example) to get the right answers it should not be surprising if you react against this when you start to find that the Bible opens up ‘new horizons’ that were obscured in these authors. Wright cut his theological teeth on Banner of Truth books like Berkhof’s systematic theology, a theology which he later came to regard as ‘sterile’ (NTPG, 132, fn16). Wright’s increasing conviction that God had more truth to break out of His Word was at odds with a theological milieu whose primarily focus was defending traditional positions and that was reluctant to move beyond the theology and language of the seventeenth century.

I can easily relate to Wright’s experience. The only reason that I can still appreciate the Reformed faith is through my exposure to Reformed theologians who are prepared to think new thoughts and have not idealized past theological generations. I am not at all unacquainted with the works of the Puritans (my father has republished dozens of Puritan works and has countless Puritan books in his library, so I have grown up around the Puritans) and have studied Calvin in detail. However, whilst I retain an appreciation for many of their theological concerns and pastoral insight, I confess that I find them less and less helpful in understanding Scripture.

I have no intention of identifying the exact factors underlying each individual critic’s misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Wright. However, I believe that some of the first five factors are present in Duncan and Waters, who both seriously misrepresent Wright in my estimation. I think that theological arrogance (which is not always accompanied by personal arrogance, at least not in my experience) is a factor here. It is quite present in Duncan and Carson in particular. They dismiss Wright too quickly because they are not open enough to admitting that the Reformed tradition might actually have gotten it wrong in certain areas.

The dismissive and superior tone is maintained even when it is obvious that Wright and the NPP have scored points against the tradition. For example, how many of the leading Reformed critics of Wright would defend the understanding of the Judaizers that one finds in the Reformers? Reading the critics, one will soon realize that they appreciate that they cannot go back to a pre-Sanders world. Nevertheless, the rhetoric all too often suggests that the Reformers are thoroughly vindicated and whatever is new in the NPP is to be rejected.

A greater humility of tone would go a long way. If they were willing to admit that, yes, the Reformers did often read debates with the Roman Catholics into the text and misread Paul to a degree as a result, a claim that we are not justified in denying the presence of a form of merit theology altogether would receive a better hearing. As it is, it is hard not to get the impression of a tradition that suffers from theological self-righteousness and an inability or unwillingness to admit its own errors and sins. An openness to learn from gifted theologians in other traditions and to admit the shortcomings of our own can really help to oil the wheels of debate.

As regards your disagreement with my claims regarding theological romanticism, there is an important difference between upholding the system of doctrine of Westminster and believing that it cannot be surpassed by a richer and fuller expression of the Christian faith. There is a difference between acknowledging and seeking to preserve the theological achievements of our forefathers and a refusal to move beyond them.

My comments regarding Doug Wilson are based around some of the posts in his series ‘N.T. Wrights and Wrongs’. Start reading them from the bottom up. A significant number of them sink to a level of nit-picking that is quite ridiculous. One must ask the reason for such things. I stand by my earlier interpretation as the best that I have encountered so far. It was interesting noticing the reaction in the blogosphere when Wilson started posting on Wright last year. Those who had studied Wright and appreciated him were irritated with the hairsplitting, hypercritical approach that Wilson was adopted. However, there was a noticeable thawing of attitudes to Wilson within other parts of the blogosphere. The differences that Wilson claimed that he had with Wright were petty, but it was the fact that he made so much of them that people appreciated.

Regarding number 8, I certainly believe that purity of doctrine ought to be a concern of the church. However, purity of doctrine is not the same thing as maintenance of the status quo. The status quo is all too often the greatest enemy of purity of doctrine. It is the ‘good’ that would hold us back from the ‘better’.

Orthodoxy is always an unfinished task, continually calling the Church to move beyond its present understanding to something deeper and richer. The problem is that Reformed people all too often think of purity of doctrine as something that we already have and occasionally need to recover, rather than as something that we must continually strive for, correcting the weaknesses of previous ages and being aware of the presence of weaknesses in our own understanding. I am well aware of the rhetoric of semper Reformanda, but all too often it rings hollow in the contemporary climate.

I firmly believe that the elevation of the Westminster Confession now stands in the way of the movement towards pure doctrine that it once advanced. It is like an old shoe that is forced on a foot that is too big. The mindset that purity of doctrine will merely entail the repristination of seventeenth (or sixteenth) century doctrine, and have no significant movements beyond the position of our forefathers, is widespread.

Number 9. Battle does not equal misrepresentation. That is a strange reading of my point. Battle, however, is often a factor underlying misrepresentation. For example, Barth was seriously misrepresented by Van Til largely because Van Til adopted such an antithetical approach towards Barth. Antithetical thinking is extremely important. We should be prepared to make enemies. I have made these points at length in the past.

The problem comes when the antithesis is misplaced. Reformed people are far too accustomed to thinking antithetically, when they could be thinking ‘perspectivally’, for example. Frame’s ‘Machen’s Warrior Children’ article is important evidence here. The problem comes when every issue becomes a matter of either/or and all or nothing. I have no problem synthesizing the concerns of Wright with those of the Reformers. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

So what about Luther and Calvin? I do not think that they are good examples to follow in this area. They were men and, like all men, they had feet of clay. Whilst there were occasions when they were perfectly right to fight for the truth, there were other occasions when it is a shame that the irenical spirit of Reformers such as Bucer was not more widespread.

As regards number 10, I don’t agree with you. Study of the patristics has not been the Reformed churches’ forte since the Reformation, although you are certainly right to point out that the early Reformers read a lot of them. What you do see in the Reformers is a movement away from premodern ways of thinking. Whilst they read the patristics, the Reformed churches became increasingly dismissive of patristic exegesis, for example, and manifested an incipient modernism in many areas of its thought.

I don’t want this to become a debate about postmodernism, but from what you describe it does not appear that you have much of a grasp of what postmodernist scholars really say. What you are speaking of may well be just pop postmodernism or modern relativism. Incidentally, the idea that there is no absolute truth is not as easily refuted as you expect. It is a second-order statement about first-order statements. Your refutation relies on equivocation. The claim being made is more subtle than you seem to recognize.

I am not going to say which critics I am thinking of in number 11. I will just say that I am not referring to any of the big name critics, but to the many critics that further distort the already distorted picture of Wright found in the writings of the more scholarly critics.

I don’t believe that Waters and Phillips are remotely deserving of being regarded as some of Wright’s best critics. Having read both of them (and listened to Guy Waters lecture) I believe that both of them badly misunderstand and misrepresent Wright in various areas. I am far from alone in this conviction.

Let me reiterate that this has nothing to do with questioning Wright. You haven’t read my post very carefully if that is the idea that you end up with. I have no problem with people questioning whether Wright is ‘on the right page with regard to Paul’. What I do have a problem with is his being misrepresented in the process.

Lane, I have been a participant in or witness of many of the debates in which you have engaged with those in favour of Wright. The impression that I have been left with is that you are more concerned with attacking those who appreciate Wright than dialoguing with them. It was not without reason that you were removed from the Wrightsaid list a while back. We are quite happy to answer questions about Wright, but we are not interested in just being continually attacked by someone who manifests deep misunderstandings of Wright and seems determined to believe the worst.

As regards your ‘scholarly arguments’, there was engagement with them on many occasions on the Wrightsaid list. The big problem was your tone. You justified this by referring to the tone of Calvin and Luther. As I have pointed out above, I believe that Calvin and Luther are not good examples to follow in this area.

I agree that some of Wright’s supporters will not read the Reformers themselves. In the case of many of them, I don’t see why they should be expected to. Many of the people that you engaged with on the Wrightsaid list, for example, were not from the Reformed tradition. Some of Wright’s supporters have made false statements about the Reformers and this is, of course, quite unjustified. As I pointed out at the beginning of this comment, I am not denying that many of these factors (and other ones besides) play in the way in which some of Wright’s supporters (and Wright himself at times) treat the Reformers. One thing that I have noticed, however, is that the heat level of the rhetoric has generally been raised by the critics of Wright, rather than his supporters.

The big difference between those who appreciate Wright and Wright’s opponents is that few if any of the appreciators of Wright are trying to drive people who hold traditional Reformed positions out of church office. The charges of heresy are almost all coming from one side.

Lane,

You ask:

…are you really and seriously calling D.A. Carson lazy?

No. Read me more carefully and you will see that I am not saying that each and every factor that I identify applies to every individual critic.

Maybe, I’m lazy, stupid or impatient, but this post is too long. I suggest shortening it.

You would, wouldn’t you Peter! :)

As I see it, the two main points of difference between us lie firstly in the area of progressivism. There are those who say that theology is always progressing, and sometimes they say it without qualification. Then there are those who say that only those areas which are not essential are open to progressing. This is probably where I would put myself. After all, do we hold to the creeds, or do we not? The problem here is that progression is actually often regression. This is what I see with NTW’s doctrine of justification. When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them? What if, thinking that we have progressed beyond the level of these writers in some areas, we have actually regressed in other areas? I think Muller’s four volume set on the Post-Reformed Dogmatics is really revealing here. You seem to allow for a great deal more latitude in progression than I would. There are certain things that have been hammered out in the fires of great controversies. Justification is one of those, and should not be touched. My forebears in the Reformed faith fought and died for those truths. I will not dishonor their memory by refusing to step up to the plate when they are attacked.

Let’s set the record straight about the Wrightsaid group. First of all, the whole discussion got started with the post by Jason Fry, which was unbelievably condescending to views which I hold. He even used the word “sickening.” I took exception to that. Then Mark Horne lit into me with condescending rhetoric as well (for which he later apologized, by the way, and Jason and I made up as well: hence your statement that I am unwilling to dialogue is quite simply false). Just read those first couple of rounds, and you will see that this is true. As I have said before, I deeply appreciate many of the things that Wright has said, especially in RSG, which I think is a masterpiece, and beyond a doubt his best work, notwithstanding a very few quibbles that I have with it.

A further misunderstanding that you obviously have of me is that my tone was a problem. I get heated when I argue, but that is a far cry in my own mind from being overbearing. I think that this statement of mine is more than justified by looking at John Shakespeare’s defense of me. Rance Darity didn’t have any problems crossing swords with me, and getting heated, though it wasn’t personal.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. I do not have “deep misunderstandings of Wright.” Kindly give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that I know what I am talking about: I am giving you that benefit. “Seems determined to think the worst” is also wide of the mark here: I think that NTW is wrong when it comes to justification. That doesn’t mean I think he’s wrong in every other area of theology. You seem to forget that I was the only person on that group arguing for my position, with about ten to twenty people arguing against me. When one’s arguments (not me personally) are being attacked by that many people, then I don’t really have time to go through all the ways in which I agree with that person. I have to go straight to the nub of the issue.

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric? How do you think that comes across to one of my persuaion who knows enough to know that he just slammed my entire tradition? We’re supposed to sit quietly and let him do that?

Furthermore, those discussion evinced a majority of speaking on my part that had to do with substance, not with rhetoric. I deny utterly any claims to the contrary. I was concerned to argue the points at issue. I won’t deny that I got heated at times, when I saw stupid arguments, or personal slams against myself, saying that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Those are irritating comments, I must admit. And I am not necessarily proud of everything I said on that group, either. But there was certainly provocation.

About postmodernism. One cannot resort to “second-level” statements in order to save the statement. In order for it to be a second-level statement, would it not then have to allow for exceptions? If the statement is making an absolute claim, then it is a ridiculous statement. Furthermore, what I have been talking about is rife in the scholarly world, not just in popular relativism. My entire school, full of Ph.D’s were saying this, and reading Derrida and others associated with it in the process. Again, please pay me the compliment of assuming that I know what I am talking about. We can disagree, but let’s not imply that the other person is ignorant.

With regard to the antitheses, I believe that they are not misplaced. John Shakespeare agrees with me here, as does Rance Darity, guys who have read deeply into NTW’s works. NTW is not compatible with Reformed theology. You can’t look at chapter 11 of the WCF, for instance, then look at NTW, and say that they can be made to fit each other.

You can say all you want to about Waters and Phillips, but there are many of us who believe that they have in fact understood Wright very well. Besides, what virtue can there be in a theology that some of the brightest minds in the PCA can’t seem to understand? Is NTW really that difficult to understand? If he is, then I would suggest that he is not really a good scholar. My definition of a good scholar is someone who can take the most difficult concepts, and make them understandable to a Joe on the street. If he can’t do that, but has to resort to category twisting, and redefinitions of words, and jargon, then maybe he isn’t such a great scholar, no matter how much he has read. Much reading does not a scholar make, as I have to constantly remind myself.

I heartily agree with you, by the way, on the tone of many people in the Reformed world. It saddens me that so many people are arrogant. You will probably think that I am arrogant. I hope I am not, but am rather arguing issues, rather than tooting my own horn. I have struggled all my life with my tone of voice. I come across sometimes as arrogant when I’m sure that I am not. It is just that I am so certain during those times of what I believe. It is, though, one of the severest limitations on the medium of typed words as opposed to being in person. Tone is often assumed to be something that it is not.

But let’s suppose that the Reformed world is completely stuck up arrogant. That still has *nothing* to do with whether or not the Reformed world is right when it criticizes NTW. And that’s the real issue, as I see it. Are you sure that you are not attributing to arrogance what is really confidence that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong?

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Oh wait, now I see. You meant the first of imonk’s two factors, not the first factor in your post. I gotcha.

Lane, you wrote:

But Al, you said that the first factor applied to Carson. the first factor is laziness. How then are you not calling Carson lazy? You went out of the generalizations of the post to say that Carson was connected with reason number 1.

Re-read my comment. I was referring to Michael Spencer’s additions (in the second comment after the post) to the factors that I listed. His first addition read:

1. Wright’s previous foray in the Reformed Camp. As a 21 year old, Wright contributed to a BOT volume called The Grace of God in the Gospel. His departure from those safe bondaries into the world of larger scholarship is a betrayal, and so he has earned special ire from the critics.

It was this that I was referring to in the case of Carson. This fact can be borne out if you listen to the section of the lecture that I linked to.

I corrected myself, if you look at the comment right before yours.

Lance,

At the risk of you thinking that I am condescending, I think you are missing a couple of related points.

The problem with the “intellectual arrogance” that Alastair is talking about is that it doesn’t allow a person to reevaluate what he believes. Many modern Reformed people assume that theology reached its perfection during the Reformation. The obvious corollary is that anything new is wrong.

You even said as much regarding justification. Just because you limit what you think the Reformers got perfectly right doesn’t mean that you are free from this “intellectual arrogance.” It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught.

If what they taught is true, it is true because it is true. It is not true because they said it.

Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history.

You said that people died for doctrinal truth. People also died in England over the “English Reformation.” Does that make their cause righteous? For that matter Joseph Smith died for his “faith.”

You said, “When it comes to the essentials of the Reformed faith, I will fight, and I will be completely and utterly unashamed about doing it.”

This strikes me as odd. Is it not the essentials of Christianity that we should be committed to? Apparently to you Reformed faith is equivalent to true Christianity. This is “intellectual arrogance.”

You said, “When one looks at the theological acumen of writers like Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius, Turretin, do we really have the chronological snobbery to say that we have progressed beyond them?”

Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right?

Isaac Newton was a brilliant man. His contribution to the field of physics was enormous. But Einstein gave us an even more accurate description of how the world works.

The world works the same way that it did in the time of Newton, but a high school student has a better understanding of how it works than he did.

Was Newton wrong? No he was just limited in his information and tools. Most of what he said is still true. It is just true in a different way than he realized.

Why should it be any different when it comes to understanding God? Or the Bible? Even though the canon is closed, we have much more (and better) information than the Reformers had.

Lane,

Sorry. I typed your name wrong.

Rod

Lane,

Please forgive me if I respond to your points quickly. I don’t have the time to get embroiled in a lengthy debate.

I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways.

I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more.

I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. It is for this reason that I believe that it deserves especial attention.

I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.

In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.

You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).

Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology. When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing.

On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient.

Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.

It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.

Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.

I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.

As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.

Rod, thanks for your input here.

I would disagree that just because I think the Reformation is right means that I cannot be re-evaluating what the Reformers said. I evaluate all the time. Just because I think they’re right about most things doesn’t mean I think they’re right about all things. I disagree with Calvin, my personal hero, on occasion.

BOQ It just means that you don’t extend it to everything they taught. EOQ

And I’m doing that how? You extended my comment *way* beyond its scope. I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification. I think the Reformers are right on justification, and I think that the NPP is wrong. How does that make me intellectually arrogant? If anything, I am being humble (irony of the statement notwithstanding), since I am thinking that I am not better than my forebears necessarily, and I should not abandon without good cause what my forebears have taught. I don’t see good cause to abandon the Reformation on justification. NTW has not convinced me.

I think that the WCF could be better, especially wrt the Holy Spirit (a more personal approach would seem to be required). But I *do not* believe what the WCF says simply because it was they who said it. I believe what the WCF says because I believe that that is what Scripture says.

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance. Then I should just throw out my vows, shouldn’t I? I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

BOQ Do you not see that it is also chronological snobbery to say that they got everything perfectly right? EOQ

Of course I realize that. I read modern theology, too, you know. But saying that the Reformers got everything perfectly right is precisely *not* what I am claiming. I am claiming that they were perfectly right on justification. Do not extend my statements to make them say something they didn’t.

We have better manuscript evidence. But we don’t have better brains. We don’t necessarily have worse brains either. But we have a limitation that the Reformers did not have: the fragmentation of knowledge. We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal. Computers will not make up for this, though they can lessen the problem.

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

BOQ Why should anything be off limits to fresh inquiry? What’s the risk? If it is true, it will withstand scrutiny. If it needs to be refined, it doesn’t repudiate all of church history. EOQ

Refined is one thing: wholesale repudiation is quite another. Nothing is off limits to inquiry. But that is not what you are implying. You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church. If that is true, then why not question the Christological formulations of the early church? Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church. We have more information, but not more knowledge. Some of them knew the apostles first-hand. I am not chronologically snobbish. But NTW is. Just look at what he quotes. There are the early church fathers, no medieval theology, and no Reformation theology quoted in his works. The early church and the moderns is all he quotes. Now that is chronologically snobbish. I try to read commentators (for instance) from every age of the church, not just modern, and not just reformed. I read liberal and conservative. I read scholarly and not-so-scholarly (I own and regularly use over 900 commentaries). Who is really chronologically snobbish here?

BOQ
I think that you are right to point to the fact that we differ over ‘progressivism’. I do not believe that progress is inevitable, or that all theological change is for the better (far from it), but I do believe that the Church matures over time. Maturation is inescapable. We must change. However, we can mature in negative or positive ways. EOQ

This I could live with, as long as it is understood that the church has nailed down an awful lot of essential things to the Christian faith.

BOQ
I believe that it would be tragic if we had not progressed beyond Musculus, Bullinger, Hyperius and Turretin. I do not say this to dismiss them. Quite the opposite. I regard such men as theological giants. However, I wonder what the point of theological giants is if we can’t, by standing on their shoulders, see further than them. EOQ

If we could stand on their shoulders, we could see quite a ways. But hardly anyone that I know of is even looking at them, let alone standing on them.

BOQ
I do not regard the Reformation nor Puritanism as bad things at all. However, I do not believe that they can ever be the final word. I think that there are many areas in which the Reformation and Puritanism can be improved upon. EOQ

I agree. But justification is not one of them.

BOQ
I also believe that the world that we face is very different and that a reversion to such stages of the Church’s growth would be a negative step. EOQ

Reversion? Who is reversioning? People such as myself would say that we are standing on their shoulders, not modifying the shoulder.

BOQ
Whilst we do have to learn the lessons that the men of God from the past teach us, we have to progress to something more. EOQ

I agree to an extent. The problem is that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past, if we aren’t reading the writers of the past, which NTW is not doing.

BOQ
I believe that, as a result of its battles with certain errors in the past, the Reformed tradition has misplaced its centre of gravity (see this post for an explanation of what I mean). We need to redress the balance and I believe that Wright can be of help here. I firmly believe that Wright does not betray the concerns for which many of our Reformed forebears died (and killed, just so that we don’t forget). EOQ

I equally as firmly believe that NTW has denied the Reformation understanding of justification.

BOQ
Whilst Wright differs from the form of the doctrine of justification expressed by Westminster, I do not believe that his doctrine is in opposition to Westminster. EOQ

Imputation is at the very heart of justification. Read Buchanan on this. Without it, justification falls to the ground, and the church along with it, as Luther would say. I would root imputation in union with Christ as Gaffin does (he was my teacher). But NTW would not say that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has anything to do with Christ’s being obedient to the law and earning our salvation. He only has these vague statements about “what’s Christ’s is ours.” That is not nearly good enough. There has to be holiness in standing before an infinitely holy God. Therein lies our need to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. NTW systematically does violence to the NT in those passages that the Reformers have exegeted as having to do with imputation. He says that they don’t mean what the Reformation has said they mean.

BOQ
In many respects, Wright provides us with a tertium quid, which does not fit neatly into the various categories that we usually use to categorize justification doctrines. EOQ

But we know what happens with compromise, don’t we? It pleases no one. How can NTW and others of the NPP approach Rome on this (which hasn’t moved for centuries, since they have by no means repudiated Trent), without leaving the Reformation?

BOQ
I am not willing to get into a long discussion on the ins and outs of the Wrightsaid group situation. I will just point out a few things. You are not the only one who has had condescending language thrown at beliefs that hold them. I do not excuse it in the slightest (it is inexcusable), but it is something that we must all learn to deal with. Besides, you gave as good as you got. I never had any problem with dialoguing with you (and I think that I speak for many others here). EOQ

Likewise.

BOQ
What I did have problem with your tone, an issue that I raised with you at the time. The tone that you adopted was polemical from the outset of a number of discussions. EOQ

Jesus got rather polemical too, you know. Calling Pharisees “white-washed tombs” isn’t the most complimentary thing one could say. Polemics are not bad in and of themselves.

BOQ
Rather than graciously raising honest questions for discussion you threw accusations at people. EOQ

Excuse me? What accusations?

BOQ
That does not go down well. Whilst some might enjoy such debates, the style of debate is hardly Christian.EOQ

See my comment on Jesus Christ above.

BOQ
In claiming that you misunderstand Wright in important respects I am basing my claim on my reading of your posts in the past. I am not presuming that you must misunderstand Wright. EOQ

I didn’t say that you were presuming. I was saying that you are wrong to say that I don’t understand NTW. I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

BOQ
If I felt that there were a doubt I would be prepared to give you the benefit of it. In saying that you were determined to believe the worst I am referring to the tendency to begin discussions with accusations, rather than honest questions.EOQ

I didn’t usually begin discussions with questions for the very simple reason that I had already read NTW! I did ask some questions about what others were saying. But if I limit my conversation to questions, then my critiques would never have seen the light of day.

BOQ
You say:

So when the NPP advocates say that the Reformation is wrong, they shouldn’t be expected to read the Reformers? You are screaming bloody murder because people who say that NTW is wrong aren’t reading him! Tu quoque.

You aren’t saying anything here that I haven’t said in the past (see this post, for example).EOQ

I’m glad to see you say that. But if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

BOQ
Lane, I believe that you raised many important questions on the Wrightsaid group. EOQ

Thank you.

BOQ
That is what made your tone all the more regrettable. EOQ

We must all wear kid gloves when discussing absolutely vital things of the Christian faith? You need to re-read those posts of mine. If you were to put a more charitable read on them, you would discover that I was arguing far more often about substance than about rhetoric. No one ever did answer my argument about 4QMMT, by the way.

BOQ
As I argued in my post, Wright badly needs some insightful, informed and gracious critics who will pinpoint some of the weaknesses of his theology.EOQ

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

BOQ
When good questions are couched in aggressive rhetoric you should not be surprised if they do not gain a proper hearing. EOQ

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

BOQ
On the subject of postmodernism, as I said, I don’t wish to get into a protracted debate. As a second-order statement about first-order statements there is nothing inconsistent about the claim. This is the way that it is generally used. It is the denial of the universal perspective. Whilst one might still want to take issue with this, the common argument that you mention is not sufficient. EOQ

This is merely a restatement of your position. It adds nothing. I have argued that it makes a categorical statement. As such, it must be subject to its own claim.

BOQ
Moving on to antitheses. Since when did John Shakespeare and Rance Darity become authorities on Wright’s compatibility with Reformed theology? With all due respect to John and Rance, they are anabaptists, not Reformed. Far more credible and balanced, to my mind, is the voice of someone like Doug Green, an OT professor at Westminster.EOQ

But Doug Green is *no* expert on the Reformation, either. He doesn’t read systematics at all, by his own admission. He is not qualified to be the spokesperson on the relationship between NTW and the Reformation. I should know. I had him as a professor. He was a great professor of OT, don’t get me wrong. I learned an enormous amount from him. But he is wrong about NTW and his relationship to the Reformed faith.

BOQ
It seems to me that people like John and Rance overemphasize the differences between Wright and the Reformed tradition. EOQ

You would say this!

BOQ
It seems to me that many of those who appreciate Wright within the Reformed tradition go too far in minimizing them. EOQ

I couldn’t agree with you more. Part of this is in reaction to the vociferousness of NTW’s critics, of course.

BOQ
I don’t believe that Wright’s own theology could fit within the language of the WCF. EOQ

I also agree here. But I would go a bit further to say that Wright’s own theology could not fit within the theology of the WCF, not just the language.

BOQ
However, I recognize that many Presbyterians have appropriated elements of Wright’s thoughts in ways that are not incompatible with the language of the WCF.EOQ

I myself have done so. But not on justification.

BOQ
Personally, I believe that the time has come for Presbyterians to move beyond the WCF to something better. EOQ

The WCF may be revised some day, who knows? But the substance of the wCF is correct. Why the need to go on to something new and better all the time? This betrays a restless attitude towards God’s truth. We have the canon, and it is closed. We are not going to get more revelation from God until Christ comes back. God’s Word doesn’t change, even if culture does. Therefore, the church needs to find new ways to appropriate *old truths* to new situations.

BOQ
This ought not to be an outright rejection of the WCF, but a progression to something better. EOQ

I like this, except for the word “progression.” Some slight modifications perhaps. But nothing wholesale is necessary.

BOQ
Wright is saying something that is at the same time quite different and quite similar to the WCF. I believe that he provides us with some ways in which we can move forward.EOQ

This statement does not make sense to me. You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

BOQ
I don’t believe that the widespread misunderstanding of Wright in Reformed circles is in any way proof that he is a bad scholar. The post above gives a different set of reasons. I am convinced that the fault lies primarily on the side of the critics. Whilst there is ambiguity in places within Wright, I have yet to find many areas of ambiguity that cannot be easily cleared up. As regards redefinitions of words, I would ask you to justify Reformed theological terminology (or Paul — one of the two, you take your pick) given the fact that Paul habitually uses words in a sense that differs sharply from the sense of the WCF and the sense that is common in Reformed theology. EOQ

I disagree quite strongly with this estimation of terminology. NTW has said this, but has not proved it. I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

BOQ
Wright argues that we need to return to biblical meanings of certain terms and he is accused of redefinition. This seems strange to me.EOQ

But that is just the point: NTW is *not* returning to more biblical terminology. Hence, he is redefining terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of arrogance, the attitude that I struggle with is when the notion that the WCF is right is elevated to the level of a presupposition that is taken to every debate. There is nothing wrong with approaching the issues with an open mind, carefully examining the cases being made and making an informed conclusion that the WCF is in fact right after all.EOQ

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm. But your suggestion is what I would argue is *precisely* what I am doing! I want to see if these things be so. I am a Berean.

Lane,

You said,

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

Quality comments by Rod and Al regarding progression. Progression by its very definition means to move forward. I think that progressing in the area of theology means to better understand God. It’s not snobbery to seek a better understanding of Jesus, Paul, God, or the Bible. This is always reforming. We may have insights due to our unique place in history that our parents generation never had. That’s not to say we are above them as they had insights that we don’t. I think this is, very simply, what Wright is trying to do: come to the Bible honestly and try to discover its true meaning. How can you say that certain areas of the Theology are not to be touched? On the contrary we should wrapping our hands around all areas and testing and reforming our beliefs whether they were “hammered out” as you say in the 2nd, 4th, 16th, 17th, or 21st centuries. Let’s not check any doctrines off the list as “perfectly right” when there are quality arguments made by quality people out there with different views. Where the arguments (within Christian theology) are easily defeated such as Mary as a coredemptrix or something to that effect, let’s call our belief perfectly right in that area. Tell me that you think Wright is probably wrong or even that it is a high probability that he is wrong. But don’t tell me there isn’t a decent, if small, chance he is right, based on the quality of his argument.

Thanks,

Sorry that I goofed up with the blockquote tag. I hope you can make sense out of what I wrote.

OK. Let me try this again.

Lane,

You said,

I am not claiming that they were right on everything. I am claiming that they were right on justification.

This is what I said you were saying. My point is that to assume as a starting point (a priori) that they got justification exactly right is no different in kind than to say that they got everything exactly right (a priori). It is only different in degree.

Believing that they got justification right after examining the evidence (a postiori) is not intellectual arrogance.

You said,

According to you, if I believe that Reformed Christianity equals the truest and best form of Christianity, that is arrogance.

That is not what I said. To say, “I believe that the Reformed view is the best expression of Christianity” is very different from saying, “Reformed Christianity is true Christianity.” You may not see the distinction, but it significant.

This second view is why so many Reformed people are quick to label as heresy any departure from Reformed theology.

You said,

I took a vow that states that I believe the wCF to contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. According to you, that vow is arrogant.

If that is the exact wording of the vow, it is most certainly arrogant. It is one thing to say that it is the best expression of the teaching of Scripture. To say that it is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture is way beyond arrogance. It is hubris.

You said,

We are so fragmented today that we have a hard time integrating all of the information at our disposal.

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the issue. Besides, I’m not ready to grant your assumption. This sounds like an intellectual nostalgia to return to a simpler time.

You said,

I deny utterly that we have such new information that will overturn the Reformers’ understanding of justification.

Do you deny that it is possible ever to have such information? Do you reject the possibility a priori?

You said,

You seem tome to be implying that all theology is rootlessly in flux all the time, and that nothing can ever be nailed down with certainty in any age of the church.

No. You are reading that into what I said. Why do you (and those who think like you do) have to make everything into a binary, black and white choice? Why does it have to be “rootlessly in flux” or “never to be revisited”?

I can understand the discomfort that might come from reevaluating long-held doctrines. But that doesn’t require that everything be in a state of constant flux.

You said,

Then you will tell me that we know more than the early church.

Of course we know more than the early Church. We know that the earth is a sphere that spins on its own axis and revolves around the sun. We know that heaven is not “up.” We know that time is not absolute. We know that light behaves both as a wave and as a stream of particles. We know that the Septuagint departs in several places from the Masoretic text. We know that Christ will not return for at least 2,000 years after his ascension.

Lane,

You said,

I don’t take the WCF as a presupposition without having examined it thoroughly before I took my oath. But now that I have taken that oath, the WCF does become a presupposition, though not a grounding presupposition. It is the normed norm, not the norming norm.

This is a perfect expression of intellectual arrogance. “I examined this once, and I decided that this is the way it is. From now on I take it as an article of faith.”

[...] Alastair’s post nails it. [...]

Can you point us to where someone has outlined how (as opposed to why) the “Reformed Critics of NTW” have misrepresented and misunderstood him? Such an outline might go something like: Reformed Critic Mr. So-n-so says that NTW teaches ‘X,’ and to that effect quotes the following passage. However, it turns out NTW teaches no such thing as ‘X’ but rather teaches ‘Y’ and when we consider the quoted passage in light of this other passage, this becomes clearer.
…you know, something like that.
You hint that such a thing could be done, and I’d like to see some of it somewhere. Where can I find it?

I echo Baus’ comment - it’d be great to see something really clear on where & how NTW is misrepresented, as well as why these are misrepresentations.
Seems to me the nub of the issue is here, not in much of the above debate: we’re all lazy, we all think we’re right, etc… we’re all sinners, aren’t we?
I read Al’s original post hoping it would be what Baus & I are asking for. Perhaps Al could write another post substituting ‘how’ for ‘why’ in this title (and removing the ‘?’). It might be a big ask, but it seems muh more useful than this one - meaning no offence, and not to deny the usefulness of the above discussion.

Baus and Andrew,

There are a number of such responses. Here are a representative few:

1. My response to Ligon Duncan. This is an older and somewhat uneven post; I would like to believe that I could significantly improve upon it if I rewrote it now. It also does not address some of Duncan’s most serious charges against Wright (charges that also distort Wright beyond recognition) that can be found in this article.

2. Tim Gallant responds to Guy Waters.

3. Daniel Kirk responds to Douglas Kelly.

4. Joel Garver examines some Reformed concerns with Wright and points to reasons why many of them are unjustified. A more careful reading of Wright would lead us to a more charitable assessment of his position, even if we end up disagreeing with him.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that critics of Wright such as Waters, Duncan and Carson have broken the ninth commandment and make wild allegations, many of which are demonstrably false. Frankly, I have decided not to continue to write responses to such critics, because I don’t believe that their most serious criticisms are actually worthy of engagement. I continue to listen to them and read them, but if I had to respond to all of their misrepresentations I would be wasting my time.

I doubt that they are really interested in listening anyway. The fact that many of the gross misrepresentations persist even though they have been responded to on a number of occasions makes me believe that writing responses is a waste of time. Let them believe what they want to believe.

That said, within the next month I have been asked to give a day conference on the subject of Wright’s theology. One of my talks will deal with the substance of the debates surrounding him and the focus will be on how, rather than why, Wright is misunderstood. Perhaps I will post an altered version of my notes for that talk up here.

Al, you should definitely post your notes for your upcoming conference talks. And find a way to podcast …

To Rod, if you are going to label an entire denomination as arrogant (by its formulation of oath), then we really don’t have a lot to say to each other. Your definition of arrogance would fit NTW far better than the PCA. He has said that he came to his conclusions about Paul and the Law, and that he’s never going back. That’s pretty arrogant, don’t you think? He goes against centuries of church interpretation, and he is the eschatological exegete in his own mind. Your definition of arrogance backfires pretty severely. I see the PCA oath as acknowledging our forebears in the faith as giants of the faith, not some mind-numbing commitment to a human document. I have never said that it closes down discussion. But I have come to the conclusion (***after*** all my reading!!!!!!!) that the WCF is right and NTW is wrong on justification. I have already admitted that I don’t think the WCF is perfect. Therefore, I am not arrogant. You have way too broad a definition of arrogance, Rod. I simply cannot go there.

What about the entire paradigm of progress? Is that not in itself arrogant? I am not saying that progress is necessarily bad. There certainly ahs been progress in textual criticism. The Dead Sea Scrolls are very helpful, and shed additional light on things. But even these things didn’t alter fundamental Biblical truths once for all delivered by God. Sure, there are always more passages that could become clear. But I make a distinction between essentials of the Christian faith and non-essentials. The church has hammered out the essentials. That’s done. The creeds tell us where orthodoxy lies. But don’t tell me the PCA is arrogant and NTW isn’t.

And Rod, to say that there is only a difference in degree between saying that the WCF is right on justification and that it is right on everything is ridiculous. You’re forcing a Procrustean bed on my claims, and I won’t allow it. The WCF is right on justification, and to my knowledge, on just about everything else that it says. But it is a fallible document. I am not using it in this discussion of NTW as a fundamental presupposition that is used to force out a priori all disagreement. NTW is not Presbyterian! As a matter of fact, I was reading NTW at the same time as (and actually mostly before) my ordination examination of the wCF. So I *couldn’t* have been using the WCF as a Procrustean bed for NTW’s theology. And Rod, since you don’t know me, you shouldn’t even be talking about my methods and my journey towards my conclusions.

Al, thanks for those pointers - v helpful. If you do get a chance to either stick your notes up, or (even better) make MP3s available to download, I for one would be very interested both in your overview of NTW’s theology & summary of where and how he is being misunderstood.

Gaines and Andrew,

Yes, I will try to post something. In all likelihood my notes will be far more extensive than my talks, so I will probably post my expanded thoughts here.

You all seem to be following this debate closer than I am. We live in an age where communicating is easy, and we have the advantage (over, e.g., Arminius) that Wright is actually alive and breathing. As I said, I don’t follow the debate closely — but about what percentage of those who have written against Wright have also engaged him in conversation over his beliefs? Where can I read something from, for example, J. Ligon Duncan or Guy Waters that contains a description of their conversations with Wright directly in verbal or written dialog? I’m very interested in reading about their interaction with him.

Thanks you so much for helping me out!

What a brilliant article. Yes, some of the Reformed are just stupid…that makes me laugh… HA!

Doug,

To my knowledge neither Duncan nor Waters have personally engaged with Wright, even though there have been opportunities for them to do so (AAPC 2005 being a good example). Both Duncan and Waters seem to have been quite reluctant to take the opportunities to interact with the targets of their critiques, whether of the FV or NPP. Some FV proponents went so far as to contact Waters offering to help to clarify their views, but the offers were not taken up.

Carson has known Wright personally for decades, since they were in university. I get the impression (though it is only an impression) that Carson’s relationship with Wright has soured quite a bit over the years and there is a sense of betrayal to be felt (listen to 19:30-22:00 of this lecture for an idea of what I am referring to).

As ever Al, not too keen on the idea that NTW is ‘misunderstood’. I understand what you mean by it; people are sloppy in understanding Wright. But it makes things very subjective because you can always claim that anyone who doesn’t appreciate NTW is misunderstanding him and this is just epistemological bullying. Few have the opportunity to read the complete works of NT and thus much “honing” must be done. I dislike this epistemological hierarchy which becomes set up: the more you know of NTW’s work, the more you understand it. That’s not the right way to approach the text…

if the NPP is rejecting an imaginary Reformation, then the NPP isn’t rejecting the real reformation at all, and everyone should be able to get along. Right?

Jon,

I don’t think that that is true. Whilst some people might identify all lack of appreciation for Wright with misunderstanding (I don’t know who), I don’t believe that I do. There are points in Wright’s critics when it is clear that they understand him and yet decide to disagree with him. I am more than happy to admit that.

I know the difference between misunderstanding and lack of appreciation. What I am referring to here is not some mere ’subjective’ judgment. There are demonstrable and serious misrepresentations in the critiques given to us by men such as Carson, Waters and Duncan. This has been pointed to by many people. Wright himself has responded to some of Carson’s.

In addition I don’t believe that it is necessary to read all of Wright in order to understand him. Nor do I hold to some hierarchy in this respect. I know people who have only read a few of Wright’s books who understand him better on certain points than someone like Lane, who claims to have read most of what Wright has written.

What I do believe is that it is necessary to study Wright carefully, sympathetically and in considerable depth before you have the right to put yourself forward as an authority on his thought. The standard required of someone who wants to condemn him as a gospel-denying heretic should be, if anything, considerably higher.

Sloppy readings of Wright:

One critic wrote a lengthy web article ’showing’ that Wright ‘denied imputation’. The article stressed how important it was to only consider the righteousness that we have by imputation.

What the article would have done better to say was that Wright seems to deny that a status of moral merit, OTHER THAN FORGIVEN SIN, is necessary for a declaration of righteousness in justifcation.

Imputed active obedience solves a problem that Wright denies exists. Critics of Wright focus on the lack of ‘imputation’ in Wright’s model, but fail to notice that Wright thinks everything we need for justification was accomplished on the cross.

Paul,

I am not sure that I completely agree with your reading of Wright on this point. Wright teaches that we share in the Messiah’s faithfulness by faith, which seems to be saying something more. He also argues that all that the Messiah has is ours. Christ does not merely clear all of our debits; He gives us a new credit balance. Christ does not merely wipe the slate clean; He brings in new creation.

But do we need a new creation for justification? I can accept that wright puts received moral uprightness PRIOR to justifiation in the call or in regeneration. But he seems to say (see the fake interview from Kunalians) that ‘justification’ needs only an objective dealing with sin (atonement).

Wright says that all that stuff happens, but it isn’t part of his account of justification.

Paul,

Sorry, I misread you, although I still don’t think that I entirely agree. Wright teaches that the atonement makes justification possible — as you said he does not believe that the transfer of moral merit is also required. The idea that righteousness equals perfect obedience to the Law is not present in Wright. Righteousness is right relationship with God and can exist even when sins have been committed, provided that those sins have been atoned for. There is no need for the imputation of active obedience (which is not to say that we merely have our debts cancelled). However, I don’t believe that that means that he teaches that forgiveness of sins is all that justification consists of.

The justification that Jesus Himself received, for example, was not a forgiveness of sins but a vindication, which is something more. We don’t just have Christ dying for our sins; He is also raised for our justification. For Wright this justification is not merely about the forgiveness of sins, but about membership in the family promised to Abraham.

Lane,

In response to your earlier comments.

I agree that the Church has nailed down many essential things to the Christian faith. However, I believe that there is a lot more latitude for rethinking than you seem to. In general what the Church has nailed down are boundaries, guarding against certain erroneous positions. We theologize within those boundaries. There are many orthodox ways of understanding the Trinity and many orthodox ways of understanding justification. In passing, I also believe that we should be very careful that we don’t give the Reformed tradition the same weight as the catholic tradition of the Church.

One thing that you realize when you start reading the early Reformed is that there was a lot of diversity in their understanding of issues such of justification and a huge diversity in their reading of Romans. Musculus advocates paedocommunion. Bullinger holds an understanding of election that many would see as FV or worse today. He also has interesting views about the Law and covenant. In Bucer, to take another example, one will find a number of interesting diversions from certain popular readings of Romans and Galatians (for example the reading of expressions such as ‘the righteousness of God’ and the ‘works of the Law’). Such examples could be multiplied.

I believe that we can learn a lot from studying the Reformers. However, I believe that in many respects, particularly exegetically, they have less and less to teach us. They have done an awful lot to bring us to the place that we are, but they have been surpassed in many areas by those who followed after them. It is like reading Newton after Einstein. One does not denigrate Newton by claiming that he has been surpassed; one simply recognizes that all of our limited formulations can be improved upon. Wright will be surpassed by many in the future and has been surpassed by some already. Wright himself has admitted that a significant percentage of what he has put forward is probably wrong, but he does not know which part. This, incidentally, exposes the unfairness of your claims about Wright’s view of his importance as a theologian.

You claim that the Reformation and Puritan view of justification cannot be improved upon. I beg to differ. For starters there are dozens of Protestant and Reformed views of justification. There has been significant diversity on such issues in all periods of the Reformed churches’ history. I believe that a number of the doctrines of justification that the Reformers and the Puritans put forward are inadequate in various respects.

I believe that careful analysis of their work will make clear that it was their concern to rule out certain understandings of the doctrine as impermissible. This becomes clearer when one appreciates the wide range of understandings of justification that were present in early Protestantism, some of which closely resemble Catholic views (Peter Leithart has done quite a bit of study on this). One begins to recognize what exactly it is about certain Roman Catholic views that the Reformers are objecting to. As the diversity of views of justification begins to diminish somewhat one notices that the early Reformers’ formulations fall foul of many of the new distinctions. The Reformers’ successors largely presume that the root concerns demand the distinctions, but this is not necessarily the case.

I believe that there are ways of thinking about justification that do justice to the root concerns of the Reformers, whilst clearly departing from traditional Reformed formulations and I believe that Wright has provided us with some ways of moving towards such positions. For example, the doctrine of imputation is important to the Reformers because it guards against the error of basing our justification upon an impersonal infused righteousness. However, I don’t believe that it is the only way of guarding against such an error. I believe that the concerns that underlie the Reformed doctrine of justification are to be retained, but I also believe that most of the traditional formulations can easily be improved upon.

I find your claim that we aren’t learning the lessons of the past a bit unfair. Wright may not read as many of your favourite dead theologians as you think he should do, but much of this has to do with the fact that he operates in a very different milieu from the one that you do. Many thinking Christians just don’t find the Puritans as helpful as you do. Given the fact that he is an Anglican you should not be surprised if Wright doesn’t give that much attention to your pet theologians as you would like him to. Perhaps he reads Anglicans instead. Besides, I would like to see your proof that Wright isn’t reading the writers of the past.

Wright hardly cuts himself off from the voices of Church history. It just seems to me that he reads different ones and also that he interacts with certain traditional positions by interacting by leading modern advocates of those positions. Besides, no one is claiming that historical theology is Wright’s forte. Learning the lessons of the past is not primarily something that we do individually, but something that we do in dialogue with others within the body of Christ. Frankly, I believe that Wright would be wasting his time if he focused on reading the Reformers’ commentaries. I am pleased when he focuses on his area of gifting. I am disappointed when he makes unhelpful pronouncements on issues outside of the area of his expertise, such as contemporary politics and historical theology.

Another important point that you must appreciate is that there are plenty of people who enjoy Wright who do listen firsthand to the voices of the past. There is no one man movement here. People critically appropriate Wright and relate his thought to the previous thinking that has occurred within their tradition. There are people who have studied the Puritans and Reformed history who actually find Wright very helpful in progressing their thinking.

On the issue of imputation, I really, truly and honestly fail to see what all the fuss is about. Wright’s view gives us everything that imputation gives us. What is wrong with the position put forward in a statement like this? What does it take from us that the doctrine of imputation gives us?—

The first of these [the status of being ‘in Christ’] is particularly important, and is the theme of verse 9, which sums up a good deal that he says at more length in Romans and Galatians. Paul draws out the contrast, the same contrast he’s been talking about throughout the passage, between those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant people because they possess, and try to keep, the Jewish law, the Torah, and those who are regarded as members of God’s covenant family because of what the Messiah has done. In 2:8 he described the Messiah’s achievement as his ‘obedience, even unto death’; here he describes it as his ‘faithfulness’; but the two mean substantially the same thing. And the way we share in ‘the Messiah’s faithfulness’ is by our ‘faith’. Our belief that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world, and our loyalty to him, are the sign and badge that we have a credit balance consisting simply of him, over against all the debits we could ever have from anywhere else. This is Paul’s famous doctrine of ‘justification by faith’, which continues to be a comfort and a challenge to millions around the world.

I believe that the concerns that underlie the doctrine of imputation are important. However, I don’t believe that imputation is necessary in order to preserve them. It seems to me that Wright gives us a possible alternative.

In the quote above Wright clearly teaches that we share in the ‘Messiah’s faithfulness’, which he identifies as Christ’s obedience unto death. What is it that you think that Wright is missing? I think that the fuss over imputation is one of the silliest things about the whole present debate. Wright certainly rejects the terminology, but retains the key elements of the substance.

On the issue of polemics, there is a time and a place. We should all be prepared to employ polemics on the right occasion. However, the example of Jesus does not give a carte blanche to polemicists. I am certainly not alone in believing that you employed polemics in quite the wrong place. As I have pointed out before, there was a reason that you got thrown off the Wrightsaid list, a place where many contradictory points of view have been able to co-exist in dialogue.

You write:—

I have a relatively high IQ, and have read NTW for many years. I have always had excellent reading comprehension. Where we differ has more to do with NTW’s implications for the Reformed world, not so much on what the man himself said (though you give considerably more probability to NTW’s compatability with the Reformed world than I would).

I don’t really think that IQ is the issue here. I know many smart people who don’t get and seemingly can’t get Wright, no matter how hard they try. As I pointed out in my post, a sharp mind that has brought a particular way of thinking to a high degree of consistency is often less able to understand a new position than someone who has never developed such a depth of consistency in their thinking. Some people who have high IQs have deep, but narrow minds, that are increasingly unable to entertain new ways of thinking that run against the grain of their habitual ways of thinking. Reading comprehension is one thing, reading comprehension across sharply differing paradigms is another. Often highly intelligent people are also unimaginative people, which can make it hard for them to comprehend radically different ways of thinking. I also believe that we do have significant differences in our reading of Wright (imputation being a case in point).

You ask:

…if you admit that NTW doesn’t always address himself to the scholarly Reformed world, then what assurance do we have that he has understood it? He has admitted to not reading the Reformers. And yet, he has said on several occasions that the Reformation was wrong in interpreting Paul in such and such a way.

I don’t take Wright’s word for everything that he says. Most of Wright’s readers do have the power of independent thought and a significant number of them have read the Reformers in depth for themselves. They can arrive at their own assessment of the accuracy of Wright’s statements. I have read a lot of Calvin and I think that some of what Wright claims is unfair when applied to Calvin. However, I believe that a number of Wright’s claims are true. Calvin does, for example, often tend to read the discussions with the Roman Catholics into the text.

You write:

I agree about insightful and informed critiques. But must we always be gracious? He is not very gracious toward the Reformed tradition. Why should he expect the Reformed tradition to be gracious in return?

Because we claim to be Christians.

I am not surprised when they don’t gain a hearing in an audience predisposed to attack my ideas. So be it. I don’t mind. But for those who are sitting on the fence, wondering about whether NTW is right or wrong on justification, tone is of lesser importance to substance. It is not irrelevant, but it is of lesser importance.

It might be worthwhile to try a different tone for a while and see what happens. You are speaking to brothers and sisters in Christ, people for whom our Lord died. You tone often gives the impression that you love polemics more than you love your neighbour, that you want to win the argument more than you want to win your brother.

On Wright’s compatibility with the WCF, I believe that Wright is compatible with what I regard as the root concerns of the WCF’s doctrine of justification. I do not believe that those root concerns necessitate the position that Westminster gives us though.

I believe that the desire to move forward to new formulations of the truth is not a sign of a ‘restless attitude towards God’s truth’. Quite the opposite. The desire to move forward can be an indication that our desire is fixed on God’s Truth and we are not going to content ourselves with something less. All of our theological formulations are merely signposts that point beyond themselves. They are witnesses to the Truth and seek to reflect that Truth as best they can. However, as our hearts are drawn towards the Truth, we will start to develop a restless attitude towards our theological formulations insofar as they arrest our movement towards the Truth at a particular point. Our formulations can always reflect God’s Truth more accurately.

You said earlier that NTW’s thought could not be made to fit with the language of the WCF. Is NTW different from the wCF or isn’t he?

Yes and no. There is both similarity and difference. We must do justice to both and not overemphasize one to the neglect of the other. One could argue that Wright’s doctrine of justification could be accommodated to the Westminster Confession to a large extent, just as Wright is willing to accommodate himself to the language of the 39 Articles on justification. I am pretty sure that, if Wright were operating within a confessionally Reformed context, he would be prepared to accommodate himself to traditional language on imputation, whilst making clear that he thought that Paul speaks about things differently.

I have an army of Reformed scholars who have carefully argued that their terminology is what Scripture means. I don’t have to argue this. It’s been done already.

Sorry, I’m far from persuaded.

Thanks Al,
I appreciate your concise argumentation both online and in person. I also find it helpful when you do discuss these issues in a positive way rather than in the usual negative evangelical mistrusting approach. Hope your summer has been good so far. Looking forwards to uni again?

Thanks Jon,

Yes, I am looking forward to returning to uni. I am not enjoying my present work very much, although that should change in a few days’ time. However, in other respects the summer has gone very well.

As regards more positive approaches, I confess that I prefer them too. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to express my frustration and I blog about it. As I have been reading Waters on the FV and relistening to lectures from Wright and his critics while I have been working, I have a lot of frustration at the moment. On such occasions I often put things in a way that I would not in my calmer moments, even though I would not disagree with the points that I have made above. In retrospect I do regret a number of my past posts and regret that I did not put things in a more balanced manner in the post above. It was written quickly and posted without as much thought as I could have given.

Unfortunately posts that are more negative in tone seem to draw the greatest response (as the number of comments above proves) and often people from different parties seem to understand and employ them in a manner quite alien to my intentions. Some from other traditions use it to dismiss Reformed scholarship. Some Wright supporters use it to mock Wright’s critics. A number of those critical of Wright totally misread it as well (this post being a good example). I see the situation that I describe in my post as incredibly tragic and believe that it shows a venerable theological tradition in a very poor light.

Al, I’m not going to answer everything you said, because I’ve answered it already, and I would just be repeating myself. But I will say one or two things.

Firstly, regarding imputation. I am absolutely dumbfounded and rather disappointed that you think the debate over imputation is silly. That has *always* been the heart of the Reformers’ doctrine of justification. The entire OT has the shape of needing to obey the law to live. Christ obeyed the law, and we live. It’s as simple as that. His obedience to the law is what is credited to our account. NTW will not say that, and did not say that in your quotation. NTW would argue that obeying the law is not and has never been the way to perfect righteousness for anyone. He would quote the sacrificial system as evidence for this (which is a non-sequitur).

For evidence that imputation is absolutely irrevocably central to justification in the minds of the Reformers, go to the following places: Calvin’s Inst. 2.7.2, especially Turretin’s Institutes 2.646-656, Bavinck’s RD 3.102, Owen’s works, vol 5, pp 223-240, Hodge, volume 3, pp 144-150, Dabney, ST, pp 328-331, Pelikan’s Christian Tradition, volume 4, pp 149-151, Witsius, ECBGM, I, pp 402-403, Reymond’s ST, pp. 745-747, James P. Boyce’s Abstracts, pp 396-398, Berkhof, pp 523-524, Buchanan’s work on Justification, pp 314-339, Cunningham’s Historical Theology, vol 2, pp 45-56, Pemble’s Justificaion of a Sinner, pp 69-134, Murray, RAA, pp 123-124, Ursinus’s Commentary, pp 326-328, Murray’s works, volume 2, pp. 213-215, Packer, in New Bible Dictionary, pg 639, and just look at the title in Bunyan’s works, volume 1, pp 300-330, Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin for a conclusive argument on Romans 5, Strong’s ST, pg 862, Haldane on Romans, pg 177, Edwards, BT works, vol 1, pp 622-654, especially pp. 628, 635-636, WCF chapter 11, Heidelberg Catechism, question 60. Now I suggest that you *seriously* revise your statement after reading these relatively short quotations. I have been at pains to make sure that most of them are only a few pages. I have referenced 16th-20th century works, Puritan and Continental, Presbyterian and Independent, even Baptist.

Secondly, about being gracious: you did not answer my challenge. NTW lambastes the Reformational understanding of justification. He uses highly inflammatory language. You claim that we should be gracious because we are Christians. what about him? Of course, we should be gracious to our brothers. But if we are gracious to wolves, we will wind up with fat, contented wolves and no sheep. You seem to completely forget Jesus’ own harshest of harsh words to the Pharisees! Did that portion of Scripture simply drop out of the canon? See Douglas Wilson’s great book _The Serrated Edge_ for a great exegetical defense of what I’m talking about. *Graciousness does not equal Christianity.*

Lane,

When I claimed that I thought that the debate over imputation was silly, I was not claiming that the concerns underlying the doctrine of imputation are silly. Far from it. What I was claiming was that the claims that Wright is the great enemy of imputation are silly and have little basis.

I will acknowledge that Wright does not hold to the imputation of Christ’s ‘active obedience’ as classically understood, but this can hardly be called heresy. The Westminster Confession (11.1) does not even teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and deliberately leaves the question open as a number of the divines themselves denied it.

Wright does believe that the death of Christ for our sins is the necessary condition for our being declared righteous and he believes that in union with Christ we share His justified status. So I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

In fact, one could even argue that Wright holds to a form of the imputation of active obedience as well. God does not merely pardon our sins and accept us as righteous; God views us as the true humanity in Christ. Christ lived as the true Adam and in Him we are regarded by God as those who have fulfilled His pattern for humanity.

Of course, Wright sees the Law playing a very different role in his account to the one that it plays in classic Reformed theology. I readily acknowledge this, but still don’t see why this is such a big issue. In Wright’s account of the Law it is, in some sense the pattern for true humanity, a pattern that is fulfilled by and in Christ, so his view isn’t even as far removed as it might originally appear.

I really don’t believe that Wright lambasts the Reformational understanding of justification. Some have put forward strange readings of statements in WSPRS, suggesting that Wright presents the Reformed doctrine as if it were a fart joke (the reference being to Wright’s statement that righteousness is not some sort of substance or gas that can be passed over from the judge to the defendent). I just don’t have time or patience to respond to such readings. Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). However, I do not believe could fairly be said to ‘lambast’ the Reformed doctrine of imputation. It should also be remembered that many of the positions that he dialogues with are popular evangelical misconceptions rather than traditional Reformed doctrine. Wright’s language simply is not that inflammatory to those who are prepared to listen carefully. To be honest, I am surprised at how graciously he has responded to people who have grossly misrepresented him with evangelicalism.

I am quite aware of the attitude that Jesus had to the Pharisees and the attitude that Paul had to Peter, and so on. However, there is a time and a place and I don’t think that you are careful enough in this area. It is easy to shoot first and ask questions later. Even supposing that Wright is a heretic, many of us have many differences with him and don’t appreciate when it is presumed that we hold all of his views and can be personally attacked as if we held them ourselves. If you can’t clearly identify your target and throw straight you shouldn’t be playing with serrated edges.

And read what NTW says about the Reformation in WSPRS, and you will realize that his rhetoric is unbelievably condescending and arrogant. I actually believe that the whole title of that book is arrogant. He is the eschatological exegete who will tell us what Paul *really* said, in contradistinction to all those morons who came before Wright. Has this never struck any of NTW’s supporters? What I am saying here is that NTW and his supporters constantly cry foul when we use inflammatory language. What then about NTW’s rhetoric?

For the record, Lane, Wright did not name the book, his publisher did. Wright doesn’t even like the name (just as he doesn’t like the title of his recent book, The Last Word). As I said in my previous comment, if you can’t get your facts right, we would all appreciate if you would keep the serrated edge sheathed.

Al, I want to encourage you to keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to me, and a model of how to deal with controversy on the Internet (and that I need as many such models as I can get is undoubtable!). I greatly appreciate your theological work and the provocative ways you approach many old issues, shedding fresh light on them.

I look forward to hopefully meeting you next year when, by the grace of God, I actually do get to come to Edinburgh and begin my graduate studies.

You were probably listening to my debate with Daniel Kirk on this about Chad Van Dixhorn’s work on the WCF. Suffice it to say that Chad does *not* ultimately take the direction on WCF 11.1 (as explained by LC 70) that Daniel Kirk does. They listen to the first part of what he says without listening to the rest. Ultimately, Chad believes that question 70 (which most assuredly does teach the imputation of Christ’s active obedience) should be allowed to influence our reading of chapter 11. The Westminster standards *do* teach the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the believer.

With regard to the serrated edge, I have spent four or five years deeply researching NTW’s work before I said a word about it. So I did in fact ask questions first, and then started my shooting. I am not a rash person, as you seem to think. I am a scholar who reads widely.

WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

I trust that I have never said that you hold to all of NTW’s ideas. I have never said it. So don’t attribute to me what I didn’t say. It doesn’t look good when you accuse me of doing that.

And I am not attacking people, but ideas.

With regard to the title of NTW’s book, I have two things to say. First, I didn’t know that the publisher had entitled it. So I see your point up to a point. But two, NTW could have refused to have it published under that title. He is responsible for how he comes across. He can’t push that responsibility over on to a publisher, and neither can you.

BOQ
Wright disagrees with the idea of imputation as a transfer of the ‘righteousness of God’ to us and argues that the way we should see our sharing in Christ’s righteousness is not quite as many tend to see it (not a transfer from one ‘account’ to another, but a matter of being seen in His vindication). EOQ

And this is precisely where all the quotes I gave earlier, which you conveniently forgot to mention or interact with, would disagree with NTW. If someone doesn’t hold to imputation in the Reformation sense, as given in all those quotations, then he has justification wrong. One can’t just try to get around critics, as NTW tries all the time, by stating something that sounds the same, but isn’t. This is why you misunderstand NTW’s position vis-a-vis the Reformation. It is not I who misunderstands NTW, but you.

At least you admit that NTW does not agree with the transfer of accounts. I read him that way too. And refusing to acknowledge that language, especially in Romans 4, is what makes NTW wrong on this, and incompatible with Reformed theology.

Further, you are guilty of a non-sequitur when you say that it cannot be a matter of transfer of accounts, but can only be a matter of being seen in His vindication. Read the Edwards treatise, especially, and you will see that it is not either/or there. We are give by imputation the righteousness of Christ’s law-keeping precisely because we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection by faith. We become married to Him, and as His spouse, have a legal right to everything that belongs to Christ, all His merits. So we are seen and united to Christ in His vindication, and in the process have His merits transferred to our account. Why can’t it be both, pray?

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Lane, you write:
WRT imputation, if imputation is not related to the law and the obedience to it given by Christ (and how could one separate the positive and the negative aspects of law-keeping? You can’t just have passive obedience. The law is a whole entity; obedience to it also means active obedience: even in Christ’s passive suffering, He says that He laid down His own life actively), then you don’t have imputation *at all*.

Well, I think there could be other ways of approaching the obedience of Christ. Especially in light of the text: Rom.3:21 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law..” Before dismissing Wright, I would encourage you to look at how obedience to the Father “apart from the law” may have primacy and may answer your concerns. I would encourage you to read Rich Lusk’s response to OPC report on this point before jumping to conclusions. It may be helpful. Here it is:
http://www.trinity-pres.net/essays/opc-justification-reply-2.pdf

Wow! You certainly got a lot of comments on this one. I found your post very interesting. I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about N.T. Wright, except that my Reformed Pastor really likes his commentaries. These days, while I am reading blogs, I find very little comment about what N.T. Wright actually says but a whole lot concerning his worth as a theologian. Some seem to love him unconditionally; some seem to hate him unconditionally.

You’ve piqued my interest.

Thanks,
Renee

To Troy, are you assuming that Romans 3:21 refers the “without the law” to Christ’s obedience and righteousness? Most Reformed authors would refer that “without the law” to our way of appropriating Christ’s righteousness. This demonstrated as being in accord with the context by verses 27-28.

Lane:

Imputation is irrevocably central to the reformed formulation of Justification because the reformed formulation stipulates that you need the merit of lawkeeping to be justified.

Wright doesn’t stipulate that, so he doesnt need the merit of lawkeeping for justification. I suppose that’s why some people say Wright is soft on sin, though he isn’t.

What Al is saying though is that there are OTHER parts of wrights theology that carry the loads that you want justification and imputation to bear. I suspect there are those aspects, though I’ll admit its not clear to me, though I’m working on it. More later

Lane,

I would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology.

Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification.

For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology.

As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false.

As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position.

As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.

There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132)

Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language.

But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these.

Just in case any of you are wanting any more discussion of this issue (!!), there is further discussion of this post taking place on the Derek Webb board.

BOQI would really like to see you engage more with Wright on his own terms, rather than on the terms provided by Reformed confessionalism. It seems to me that you have studied Wright extensively, but that you have failed to truly imaginatively inhabit his perspective on the key issues in this discussion. Rather you have explored them in depth from an outside position, through the lenses of traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

BOQ
It just means that he won’t tick all your boxes. Read him on his own terms and you will see that he covers the same bases but does it in different ways to those that you are accustomed to. EOQ

I have read him, and he does not cover the same bases.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

BOQ
You should not expect Wright to settle your concerns at this point as his understanding of the work of Christ is cashed out in terms of different categories. EOQ

Look, NTW can say whatever he wants. He is not Presbyterian. He is not bound to the Westminster standards. But that is not the issue. My problem is with people who say that he isn’t saying anything really different from Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy. He is. And therefore, those who profess to hold to Presbyterian and Reformed orthodoxy may not hold to NTW’s beliefs on justification.

BOQ
For Wright Christ fulfils Israel’s vocation and embodies true humanity. Israel’s vocation is largely defined by the Law and the Torah provides the blueprint for true humanity in many respects, but in a different way to the ones that most Reformed theologians think in terms of. The relationship between sin and the Torah is also conceived of differently. I would like to see you engage with this and not just foist alien categories and questions onto Wright’s theology. EOQ

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible. You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level. Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

BOQ
I would like to see you take back some of your earlier statements on this. You really did make some ridiculous charges and get a lot of mileage out of a charge that is basically false. EOQ

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically. I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

BOQ
As regards the relationship between Wright’s view and that of the Reformation, I am not saying that they are saying the same thing. It is quite obvious that they are not. What I am arguing (and Wright’s argues too) is that they are covering the same bases in different ways. The doctrine of imputation is deemed to be important because it protects certain truths. Wright claims that he protects those truths in different ways. You claim that he does not hold to imputation, but this is to fail to engage with his position. EOQ

To claim that NTW doesn’t hold to imputation has nothing to do with whether I engaged his position or not. That is wholly irrelevant to that precise logical question. You may claim that I didn’t engage his position correctly. But you are simply wrong to claim that I am not engaging him at all when I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation. When I say that he doesn’t hold to imputation, I mean that he doesn’t hold to the Reformed doctrine of it, which even you must admit. What I have tried to argue (through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so) is simply that the Reformed view of imputation is part of an irreducible complexity (to borrow a phrase from Michael Behe) with regard to justification. I have also tried the tack of practical holiness: we must needs have a *perfect* righteousness to stand before the infinitely holy God. This is proved by the fact that the OT Israelites needed a Mediator. They couldn’t stand in God’s presence directly. Not even Moses could look directly at God, since he was a sinner. Isaiah’s call narrative is another case in point. In justification, a court-room decision *in God’s presence* is made. We must have a perfect righteousness in order to be acquitted, otherwise God is not just. That is why we need Christ’s perfect righteousness, since we cannot procure a perfect righteousness for ourselves. This can only happen by imputation. It is not enough to have our sins forgiven. As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness. That is not the point of the passage, since the proof-text is brought in to prove imputation, not any direction in reverse. If anything, we would have to say that in Romans 4, Forgiveness is part of imputation, if we wanted to subsume one to the other. No, rather, they are the flip side of the same coin. NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness. The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

BOQ
The real transfer is a transfer of the person into a new relationship. EOQ

This is true, but so is the other.

BOQ
This transfer of relationship results in Christ’s account becoming ours, rather than in a transfer of resources from one account to another separate one.EOQ

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

BOQ
There is an imputation of righteousness for Wright. However, imputation does not create a new situation by means of transfer from one account to another. Rather imputation is simply a reckoning of what is actually the case. EOQ

This is simply not imputation. In imputation something new and different happens. It is not the declaration of what is already the case. The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification. I know this from personal correspondence with him, and many talks with him on the phone. I think you picked the wrong theologian to throw at me. What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ. I am no more claiming a separate discrete structure for imputation than Gaffin does. My position is identical with Gaffin. But Gaffin does not support Wright here. Because Gaffin supports the traditional Reformed understanding of imputation. Gaffin is merely at pains to locate imputation and justification within the realm of union with Christ. He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that. Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. Gaffin would argue that imputation does involve any kind of legal fiction. As would I. But Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

BOQ
Gaffin says simply quite similar here, in this quote from Resurrection and Redemption:

At the same time, however, various considerations already adduced point to the conclusion that Paul does not view the justification of the sinner (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) as an act having a discrete structure of its own. Rather, as with Christ’s resurrection, the act of being raised with Christ in its constitutive, transforming character is at the same time judicially declarative; that is, the act of being joined to Christ is conceived of imputatively. In this sense the enlivening action of resurrection (incorporation) is itself a forensically constitutive declaration.

This does not at all mean that Paul qualifies the synthetic character of the justification of the ungodly. The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established. If anything, this outlook which makes justification exponential of existential union with the resurrected Christ serves to keep clear what preoccupation with the idea of imputation can easily obscure, namely, that the justification of the ungodly is not arbitrary but according to truth: it is synthetic with respect to the believer only because it is analytic with respect to Christ (as resurrected). Not justification by faith but union with the resurrected Christ by faith (of which union, to be sure, the justifying aspect stands out perhaps the most prominently) is the central motif of Paul’s applied soteriology. (132) EOQ

BOQ
Moving on, you write:

To the extent that Christ is God, then it is God’s righteousness which is imputed to us. It is not the righteousness of the Father, the judge. He rightly lambastes this view, which I have *never* seen even in popular discussions of justification! So who is his target?

Wright is primarily pointing out what the text is saying. He is not claiming that anyone actually holds to the position in question. He is showing how he believes that the language of righteousness operates and shows how the common understanding of imputation is incompatible with this form of righteousness language. EOQ

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

(me)
But if Christ is God, then Luther’s understanding of Romans 1:17 is right. It is God’s righteousness (understood specifically as the Son’s righteousness) that is imputed to us. I think that NTW is just simply confused here. I am still debating whether or not his confusion on this issue is indicative of Christological problems in his theology or not.

BOQ
Within Paul’s theology the term ‘God’ is generally reserved for the Father, although Paul clearly holds to the deity of Christ. If Paul had been speaking about the righteousness of Christ he would probably have employed other language. Besides, you position rests on a whole lot of assumptions beyond the believe that Christ is God. EOQ

I was not actually claiming that that was my sole ground of belief. It was perhaps poorly worded. What I was saying is that belief that Jesus is God is necessary (though not sufficient) for this understanding of imputation in justification.

BOQ
I am frankly surprised that someone who has read as much Wright as you have is coming up with claims like these. EOQ

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy? I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

“And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem.”

I wonder if Lane’s prolixity on internet forumns in indicative of a mental aberration. I wonder if Lane’s prolixity is an indication he’s neclecting his pastoral duties. I’m not claiming he has these problems, I’m just wondering out loud about them.

Listen to yourself sometime Lane.

Or listen to an excellent series of talks from Marion Clark on speaking the truth in love. They were very convicting to me. Clark would probably say I’m ill advised to make these kinds of sarcastic responses, but I’m trying a serrated clarkian approach

Lane,

Let’s assume that you are 100% right in everything you say. It is obvious that you are not persuading anyone. Your arguments, even your “best arguments,” are simply alienating people. From a practical perspective, it might be time to let it go–or to preach to the choir of those who have sworn their allegiance to the WCF.

Rod

Lane,

This is going to have to be my final response to your comments. I stand by my earlier claims that you have misunderstood Wright. You have not presented me with any convincing reason to change my mind on this assessment (and I am listening to what you have to say). You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. Once that has taken place there is the exceedingly difficult task of translating his theological proposal into the language game of the WCF. The problem is that some of Wright’s proposals cannot be expressed in the theological vocabulary that Westminster offers us. It is that act of translation that has been short-circuited in your approach. Only after this has been done can we establish whether Wright’s position is out of bounds or not.

Here is really one of the nubs of the issue. You seem to think that studying someone’s theology from the outside automatically guarantees misunderstanding. I firmly and resolutely disagree. By your argument, we should shouldn’t study Hinduism without giving it a really sympathetic reading, and inhabiting their world for a time, and being quite open to whether or not their claims are true or not. Otherwise, by your claim, we are automatically misunderstanding Hinduism. Ravi Zacharias has some powerful words on that score…

You misunderstand me. To study someone’s theology from the inside does not necessity any sort of willingness to accept its truth. Rather, it is an act of the imagination whereby the reader tries looking at the world through a different set of eyes. To understand Wright’s theology you need to have an appreciation of the way that Wright’s own mind works. Why does Wright find his position persuasive? Why does he find his earlier ‘Banner of Truth’-type Reformed position unpersuasive? The person who truly understands Wright should be able to represent the reasoning underlying his position in a manner that Wright himself would acknowledge to be his own.

This is not merely a mastery of the way that Wright uses his terms; it is an imaginative sharing of his theological vision. One tries to look at the world through Wright’s eyes, even if one believes that Wright’s eyesight is distorted. This is a ‘sympathetic’ reading inasmuch as it is an attempt to imaginatively share the feelings and vision of another. It need not be a ‘sympathetic’ reading in the sense that would imply that this vision is one that you believe to be right or one that you would be willing to share.

I believe that we won’t truly understand any position (Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.) until we give it the first type of sympathetic reading. Whilst I do not believe that a sympathetic reading is sufficient for the true understanding of a position (we need a critical reading as well), I do believe that it is necessary. I believe that Hinduism is a false religion and I would not bring an open mind to my study of it. However, I would seek to give a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
Wright frames things quite differently from the traditional Reformed confessions. EOQ

No kidding! Did you think I didn’t recognize this?

BOQ
However, this does not mean that he does not recognize and uphold the same concerns. EOQ

I agree in principle with this idea. Just because he doesn’t use the precise language doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that he is saying something different. If I were to say otherwise, I would be committing the word-concept fallacy. However, that has never been my claim. My claim is not based on his wording, but on his theology as a whole: it is incompatible with Reformed theology.

As I said before, you have not given Wright a sympathetic reading, nor have you made a genuine attempt to translate his claims into language that can be processed by the WCF. Consequently, I believe that your judgment concerning his theology is ill-founded (even were it right). The cause of your misunderstanding is not, I believe, a lack of intelligence. Rather, I believe that it is more likely a failure of theological imagination or the unjustifiable unwillingness to grant Wright a sympathetic reading.

BOQ
You may not find some of his approaches convincing in their use of Scripture, but I have yet to see you prove that he fails to cover an important base in his treatment of justification. EOQ

I may not have proved it to your satisfaction. But then you would *never* be convinced anyway, no matter how logical my argument.

That is not true. I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously.

BOQ
For Wright the Law simply does not play the same role as it does in traditional Reformed theology. EOQ

And as I see it, this is his main problem. Time after time when I read him, I keep on thinking, “He only really holds to the third use of the law in traditional Reformed categories.”

You have made far too facile a translation of Wright’s theology into Reformed categories here. The translation is far, far more complex — if it is possible at all. The Law for Reformed theology is generally understood more in terms of a supra-historical universal standard that is applied to history at some later stage. The Law tends to be understood as the obedience that God requires. For Wright the Law is something quite different. It is a particular thing, given to a particular nation at a particular moment in history. For Wright the Law is also narrative and, significantly, covenant. The Law is the charter of Israel’s existence.

If you understand Wright’s view of the Law you should recognize that to ask him about the three uses of the Law is much like a Chinese man talking to you in his language and expecting you to understand him. This does not mean that there is no way that something similar to the three uses of the Law couldn’t be asserted in Wright’s language. It is just to say that you are expecting Wright to speak a foreign language that is now only spoken in very isolated pockets of the Christian Church. This is not fair.

I actually believe that there are ways in which Wright could affirm something similar to the three uses of the Law in terms of his theology. The Law certainly has a pedagogical purpose in Wright’s theology. On one important level it is the blueprint for authentic human existence and in God’s redemptive-historical purposes it also puts a spotlight on human sin. The Law bears witness to Christ in typology and prophecy, leading the people of God to Him by revealing the problem and witnessing to the solution. The Law is also fulfilled in the faithful life of the Christian. These do not exactly correspond to the traditional understanding of the role of the Law, but we must remember that there is equivocation here in our use of the terminology of Law.

I am on a study committee of my Presbytery to determine whether or not NTW’s views are compatible with the Westminster Standards. Quite frankly, I don’t have time to do much more than that. I have no choice but to compare him to our standards. I have been at extreme pains to determine whether it is merely the wording or whether it is something deeper. And I have come to the conclusion that it is something deeper that doesn’t fit with the Standards. You haven’t even remotely convinced me that NTW is compatible.

The differences between Wright and the confession are certainly not on the level of wording alone. It is misleading to say that it is. Many of the concepts and categories of thought that Wright works in terms of are not found in the confession. However — and this point is crucial — the concepts that one finds in Wright’s theology, whilst different from those of the confession are not for that reason necessarily contrary to the key concepts of the confession. They accomplish the same end through differing means. Wright’s affirmations can also be accommodated to the alien language of the confession in various respects, through an act of careful translation.

You admit that his view of law is different from the Standards. Now, is that a matter of substance, or mere wording? One’s view of the law affects how one views the Adamic pre-fall situation, which in turn (via Romans 5) affects how we view the covenant of grace in Christ, which in turn affects justification on an architectonic level.

The difference is not one of mere wording. The difference is like any difference between languages. The word for ‘dog’ in different languages does not always denote and connote exactly the same things, although there will be significant overlap. You cannot usually use the word for ‘dog’ in a foreign language in exactly the same way as one uses the word in English. Translation is a task that involves careful accommodation and negotiation and a degree of meaning will always be lost in the process. However, linguistic and conceptual differences need not entail radical substantial differences.

In the end I think that, in substance, Wright’s theology is quite Reformed in many respects. I also believe that, once one has appropriated his linguistic and conceptual tools, one will appreciate that they grant one a far greater grasp of the substance of Paul’s theology than Reformed theology has done so far. He does not deny the substance that has been previously recognized but gives us ways to get a purchase on substance that we had not truly grasped before.

Furthermore, surely you are not going to tell me that his view of the law is the only thing that is different in substance. When the Westminster Standards places justification firmly in the realm of soteriology, and NTW says that it is *not* primarily a matter of soteriology, are you going to tell me that there is no substantial difference? If NTW redefines justification, so as to move it onto different ground than the Westminster Standards, then what musical chair does he replace the Reformed doctrine of justification with? Union with Christ is not the same thing, as I have abundantly proved. Union with Christ is the basis on which justification occurs.

Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. As regards union with Christ, Wright distinguishes this from justification. What he argues is that union with Christ is the basis on which God reckons righteousness to us. Union with Christ is not identified as the reckoning righteous, but as that which provides the basis. I don’t see the great difference here.

BOQ
As regards the title of Wright’s book, I really don’t think that he had an awful lot of choice and I don’t think that he would be the type to make a big fuss about it anyway. EOQ

But now you are venturing out of the realm of fact, now aren’t you? The fact is that the publisher chose the title. It is *not* necessarily fact that NTW had no choice in the matter. Are you expecting me to believe that he didn’t have any choice about the title of his own book? That’s plain and simple balderdash! If he doesn’t like to make a big fuss about it, that’s his fault. And you can’t expect me to believe that, anyway. A man that concerned with how he’s coming across to other people would not be concerned about his book title? Come on.

I was trying to give a possible explanation. I know for a fact that Wright is not the only theologian to have had his book titled against his wishes. At a recent SBL conference that one of my lecturers in St. Andrews attended he said that Wright gave reasons why he disliked the title that the publishers had given to the US edition of his recent book on Scripture. Bart Ehrman, who was speaking in the same session as Wright, said the same thing about his book Misquoting Jesus.

Whether making a fuss would have made a difference is beyond my knowledge. Wright does not seem to be the person to make such a fuss. The impression that I get is that the choice of the title is not always under the writer’s control. Perhaps Wright didn’t fight to rename his book because he didn’t expect to be taken to task for it by cantankerous and uncharitable people and thought that he would prefer to retain good relations with his publisher than have his own way on this issue. The fact of the matter is that you have made an embarrassingly big deal out of an assumption that you have failed to demonstrate.

My “charges” as you put it were not based solely on the book title. They were based on his actual Auburn Avenue Lectures, to which I have listened attentively twice. In those lectures, NTW says that he came to this certain reading of Paul, and that now, he would never go back on it. He has arrived theologically.

This is, as usual, a very uncharitable reading. I am sure that Wright is just saying that he has made up his mind on some important central issues in his reading of Paul and no longer holds them in question. I am sure that all of us have done this to some extent. There are certain questions that I have settled in my mind and don’t plan to return to. I have carefully weighed the various sides of the arguments and come to a conclusion. This does not mind that I think that I have arrived theologically. I have come to be persuaded that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity and am never going to go back on that. Does that imply an arrogant feeling of having arrived on my part? Wright has made clear that he does not believe that every detail of his picture is correct, but he is not going to change the basic sketch.

I get the impression that if Wright had expressed an openness to totally rethink his position, critics would claim that he was the type who would never have the courage to make up his mind, the type of person who was always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.

I don’t know how he can logically make that claim, when he says elsewhere that anyone who claims to understand Paul is almost by definition mistaken. I actually disagree with both sides of that contradiction. I retract my statements to the extent that they were based on the title of the book, but not with regard to his lectures. I still find him arrogant, and viewing himself as the eschatological exegete.

Maybe you need to spend some more time thinking about it. It is not hard to reconcile the two statements. The idea that Wright regards himself as the ‘eschatological exegete’ is bizarre in the extreme.

…through the discussion of the law earlier, and in quoting the positions of the Reformers, which you still haven’t engaged: what’s up with that? This is one of the things that frustrated me about the Wrightsaid group: they wouldn’t engage my best arguments, even after repeated appeals to them to do so…

Well, I have read at least a dozen of the sources that you listed in the past and was not going to go through them again. Besides, whilst it is reasonable to expect me to be familiar with Reformed understandings of justification if I claim that Wright is compatible with the Reformed tradition, it is totally unreasonable to expect anyone to read 100+ pages of text in order to answer your comment.

I am acquainted with the position of the Reformers and their successors. However, my claim is still that you are failing to treat Wright on his own terms. Reading the Reformers is not going to settle anything. You must have the careful sympathetic reading before the critical reading can take place. Furthermore, there is the task of translation, which you haven’t really undertaken.

Your further comments neglect the fact that imputation of active obedience is far from the consensus of the Reformed tradition. The Reformed tradition is not as monolithic on the issues of justification and imputation as you suggest. Dabney and Hodge disagree, Calvin and many of his successors disagree, there were differing views among the Westminster divines, etc.

As Romans 4:1-8 conclusively prove, forgiveness and imputation of righteousness are the flip sides of the coin of justification. That’s why Paul quotes Psalm 32 (which is about forgiveness) in proof of his thesis that God imputes righteousness without works. We cannot subsume imputation into forgiveness.

Wright doesn’t deny that justification involves forgiveness and the imputation of righteousness in Romans 4. God forgives our sins and reckons us righteous because in Christ we are righteous. I don’t believe that Wright does subsume imputation into forgiveness.

NTW only acknowledges one side of that coin: forgiveness.

I don’t think that that is true. Wright does not see the declaration of righteousness as being based upon the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. However, he does hold that in Christ we possess everything that is Christ’s, including the glory that the Father gave to Him as a result of His faithful fulfilling of His vocation.

Wright argues that God includes us in the verdict of righteous that He made at Christ’s resurrection. If we are included in Christ’s vindication then we are counted as if we lived the righteous life that gave rise to that vindication. Consequently, one can argue that Wright believes in a form of the doctrine of the imputation of active obedience as a part of his doctrine of justification. The difference between his view and the common understanding is that the imputation is logically subsequent or contemporaneous with our participation in Christ’s verdict for Wright, whilst it is logically prior for the more common understanding.

The courtroom setting doesn’t work the way NTW says it does. Rather, God grants to us the righteousness that Christ earned throughout His whole life, as well as laying on Christ the sins that we committed (and our sin nature, which is itself sinful). That is the reason why NTW does not cover the same bases. In his theology, there is no perfect righteousness in which we can stand right now and be not only acquitted, but received as sons, guaranteed eternal life.

Wright believes that we share the verdict that is cast over Christ as a result of His faithful life (which he would not speak of as ‘earning’ righteousness, as if righteousness were some sort of brownie points). The verdict that is ours is one that involves us being regarded in Christ as those who are the true humanity and members of the Israel that has fulfilled its vocation. He also believes that Christ bears both our sins and our sinful nature (he is strong on this point). We are accepted as sons as God reckons us in Christ and we are guaranteed eternal life in Him. It seems to me that Wright can be seen to cover the same bases if we read him carefully and think through his position on its own terms.

BOQ
As regards the issue of account transfer, I was referring to Wright’s view. I was not claiming an either/or. However, your marriage analogy supports Wright’s position well. The ‘transfer’ that takes place is not from one account to another; no such transfer need take place. EOQ

But this is not my position! My position is precisely that there *is* a transfer from one account (Christ’s) to another (ours). Stop misquoting me!

I was not misquoting you; you are misunderstanding me. I know full well what you are and were saying. My point is that the marriage analogy that you gave is a good way to illustrate the fact that no transfer from one account to another is necessary for imputation to take place. If we are transferred into Christ’s body all that is His becomes our, with no transfer between accounts at all; we have a shared account. Participation rather than extrinsic transfer is a more healthy and biblical way of thinking.

But in order for us to acquire Christ’s account, our own account must be cashed out. To do that, we must have our own sinful (that is why it is *not* the same account!) account closed out by having the infinite balance of Christ’s account transferred to us. Only in that process can we simultaneously have access to Christ’s account.

No, I don’t think that it is the only way. The imputation of our sins (or debts to keep with the analogy) to Christ takes place when Christ comes to share the account of rebellious humanity at the cross and pays off the debt completely. There is no transfer of funds. Christ unites Himself to sinful humanity in His coming and exhausts their debt in His death.

The Gaffin quote does not support what you think it does. I sat under Gaffin for five classes, and believe you me, Gaffin does not support NTW’s theology either on imputation or on justification.

I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this.

What Gaffin is saying is simply this: justification and imputation are based on union with the resurrected Christ.

So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?

He (and I) would say that the central soteric benefit of being a believer is faith-union with the resurrected Lord Jesus, and that justification is *one* of the many benefits that comes with that.

Is Wright denying this?

Gaffin is not saying anywhere in this quote that imputation is a declaration of what is actually the case. …Gaffin is *not* saying that imputation doesn’t change anything.

Gaffin is saying that our vital relationship with Christ makes Christ’s righteousness ours, along with all of His other blessings. Our being reckoned righteousness rests on Christ’s own ‘resurrection-approved righteousness’ which is ours by virtue of the union. Gaffin points out that it is reckoned ours because it is ours (“The justifying aspect of being raised with Christ does not rest on the believer’s subjective enlivening and transformation (also involved, to be sure, in the experience of being joined to Christ), but on the resurrection-approved righteousness of Christ which is his (and is thus reckoned his) by virtue of the vital union established”). It was in precisely this sense that I meant that imputation does not change anything. It is merely a reckoning of what is in fact the case by virtue of the union established.

Gaffin may believe that it is not technically inappropriate to speak of the event of our being united with Christ as an imputation that changes things (in the sense that I have used the word) and thus as an act of transfer, but this would merely be a debate about terminology. In substance he is saying the same thing as Wright here. He may have gone back on the position since, but in this quote Gaffin is not teaching anything opposed to what Wright himself teaches.

How can you say that he is not claiming that anyone actually holds this position, and then say in the very next sentence that he is attacking the common understanding of imputation? Did you miss that rather obvious contradiction in your writing? How can it be common if no one holds to it, or if he is not claiming necessarily that anyone holds to it?

There is no contradiction. What Wright is saying is that the common view of imputation is incompatible with what he claims to be the biblical way that righteousness language works. He brings forward ridiculous examples that no one would hold to in order to illustrate this incompatibility.

I am perhaps surprised that someone who has read as widely in NTW as you have simply dismisses these claims without even checking them out. Have you read NTW reading him for his Christology, to see if he holds to Chalcedonian orthodoxy?

Yes. I have.

I think the question can be asked. And quite frankly, I wasn’t claiming that he had this problem. I was wondering out loud if it might be a problem. If you had read the statement a little more carefully, then you would not have made such a comment.

What I was objecting to was the number of assumptions that you were reading in. Wright does not share these assumptions. To even suggest that those beliefs are not shared because he compromises some foundational truth of Christianity that he strongly claims to hold is terribly premature, to say the least. There are far more immediate explanations that one needs to test before one resorts to putting one of the worst possible constructions on his statements.

In conclusion, Lane, I have extended you the courtesy of responding to your comments in detail. I have listened to what you have to say and have been unpersuaded. I do not have the time, energy or will to continue this dialogue any further at the moment, so this is my final comment. Thank you for your time and effort. I hope that God will bless you in your continued studies. I sincerely hope that you will come to an accurate assessment of Wright. If he is a heretic then I trust that you will be able to recognize that and carefully identify and warn us of his errors. If he is not, I trust that you will be given the courage to clear up confusion and exonerate him of false charges.

[...] The commenting continues beneath the Wright post. I have just written one of the longest comments I have ever written in my life. [...]

Indeed, you have been courteous in replying to my long-winded cantankerous comments. For that I thank you. We aren’t convincing each other of a single thing, and so I also will not continue beyond this last comment. And it will be quite selective.

BOQ
You have not judged Wright’s theology on its intrinsic merits. Rather, you have consistently read it through the lens of the WCF and other documents, expecting Wright’s theology to play according to the rules of an alien language game.

I am not arguing that using the WCF as a standard of judgment is inappropriate. What I am arguing is that Wright must first be understood on his own terms. EOQ

What you fail to appreciate is that I already Wright before I had any oath or binding committment to the Westminster Standards. In fact, I was not very familiar with them before I read most of Wright’s works. And so, i was actually able to do the very thing you seem to think I haven’t done: read him on his own terms. The problem here is that you cannot enter into my mind to find out the path that took me from there to rejecting *some* of his theology. But I deny utterly that I haven’t given him a fair reading. I view that claim as utterly absurd, and you are in no position to read my mind to say whether I have given him a fair reading or not. For you, the evidence consists completely in whether I come to the same conclusions as you have! I think that that would be the only way to convince you that I had given him a fair reading. So we are at an impasse there. I might add that Gaffin himself, in private communication, has said that he uniformly appreciated my posts on the debate page regarding NTW’s theology. Apparently, he agrees with my critiques. Gaffin is quite the scholar, and quite the gentleman, and that is why many have thought that he was too easy on NTW, especially in the Auburn Avenue lectures. Many people have thought that they teach basically the same things, as you also seem to think. His newest book will forever disabuse you of that notion, I trust.

BOQ
I would be prepared to take your objections more seriously if I were actually persuaded that you understood Wright on his own terms. Persuade me that you can give a sympathetic reading of Wright’s doctrine of justification and then I might begin to take your critical reading more seriously. EOQ

As I have said before, I really don’t think that this is possible, since the only way to convince you that I understood NTW would be to come to your conclusions.

BOQ
So is Wright. Wright is not confessionally constrained, but he can be seen to affirm that our union with Christ’s own justified status is the imputative aspect of union with Christ. That is what Gaffin is saying, isn’t it?
EOQ

That is certainly not what Gaffin is saying. He would never equate union with imputation. He would say that union is the basis on which imputation can take place. It is what prevents the transfer from being a legal fiction. But it is not equal to imputation.

BOQ
Wright claims that the soteriological and the ecclesiological cannot be set at odds with each other as they belong firmly together (although he did this to an extent himself in some of his older formulations). He writes: ‘Membership in this family cannot be played off against forgiveness of sins: the two belong together.’ He makes clear that he does not deny the substance of what other people have seen under the category of soteriology. EOQ

He says that, yes, but that doesn’t mean that he is consistently applying it. It shows his inconsistency in the very formula that he gives that justification is matter not so much of soteriology, as of ecclesiology. How is that not playing one off against the other?

BOQ
I know this, but I don’t think that the substance of what is being said is substantially different at all. I think that if you read Wright more carefully you would appreciate this. EOQ

And I know for a fact that Gaffin himself would disagree with you. That’s all for me. I’m done. It has been extremely interesting and in many ways enlightening as well. Debate is something I love. I wish people were not so afraid of it. These comments about tone are off, for the most part. The Jewish rabbis themselves would call other rabbis empty-heads, even their best friends, right in the middle of debate. It has been in that spirit in which I have wished to debate. I have never meant anything as a personal attack, and if you, or anyone else have gotten that impression, then I apologize. I have always meant to attack ideas. Intention is often better than performance, however. Peace.

wow … long discussion. O.O now that we know we won’t be settling these issues, lets all just go anglican! ^^/ … imho, reformed circles in general have a fatal problem with understanding teh vitatlity of teh church–teh sacraments, teh liturgy, teh prayers …. btw, nice post!

Some of my earlier comments had problems with double blockquotes. Consequently it looks as if some of Lane’s words are mine. Whilst whose words are whose should generally be relatively obvious, I hope that this hasn’t caused any confusion. I have adjusted my last comment to try to address this problem, but am aware that it might have affected other earlier comments, which I have not checked.

Berek,

I quite understand where you are coming from on this one, although I have no intention to go Anglican just yet. It seems to me that it might just be a case of exchanging one set of fatal problems for another.

[...] For example: the minute you become a Calvinist or Lutheran you begin to spot heresy everywhere, because it is easy to find believers Doing Something, even yourself. This pernicious bug is so common it pops up not only in explicit thought but even in the way phrases are turned. The Christian side of the internet features many long, complicated arguments over whether such and such a person is a works person or not. It’s all quite nuanced. There are Christians who spend their lives at it. There are categories within categories. I’m not sure if I’m a semi-palagian or a semi-semi-pelagian. I can’t figure out why it matters, though, since whatever God wants to happen to me is what will happen. [...]

An excellent post. I’m not sure I follow all the theological fine points that you get into with your commenters; some of that is way over my head. But I’m sure that N. T. Wright does not deserve what he is getting from his Reformed critics.

I was hoping for a post with more substance. It seems your “reasons” are really just empty ad hominems. If you’re interested, I discussed your article here.

Nate,

I have responded in the comments of your post.

An astute theologian, such as Mr. Wright ought to write, and to speak, so as to be understood with a reasonable application of effort.
My only other problem with Mr. Wright is that I shouldn’t have to drop the price of a small house on all his books and lectures in order to be able find out that he isn’t a heretic.

Ray,

I actually don’t believe that Wright is all that hard to understand, though I can understand why some find him confusing. Wright only becomes hard to understand for those who try to interpret him within an alien theological framework. The difficulty is that many of Wright’s Reformed critics seem to find it incredibly hard to think outside of traditional Reformed categories. There are plenty of lay people in pews who seem to be able to get a better grasp on what Wright is saying than leading Reformed critics like Ligon Duncan.

The difficulties of understanding are paradigm difficulties. One could compare it to a Dutch speaker who continually picks up on the errors of those who speak other dialects, regional languages and other related languages such as Flemish, Brabantic, Zeelandic or Afrikaans and fails to realize that these dialects and languages need to be understood, to a significant degree, on their own terms.

Once it is appreciated that the grammar and vocabulary of Wright’s system works differently and that these need to be understood on their own terms, understanding him really isn’t that hard. However, lingering difficulties may exist as the close relationship between the language that the critic is more accustomed to and the language of Wright’s theology may occasionally mislead him into treating Wright’s language as if it were the same.

Wright’s critics are the grammaticians of Reformed language. They police the way in which the Reformed language should and should not be used. They often seek to standardize Reformed usage and eliminate some unhelpful dialects that persist. There are good reasons why such people find it especially hard to understand what Wright is saying.

I believe that Wright is generally one of the clearest writers I have ever read. He is acknowledged by almost everyone to be an incredibly gifted communicator, so it would surprise me if his thought was that hard to understand for the person who went about it the right way.

Wright goes wrong when he disagrees with Jesus and Paul on their perspicuous and far more expert assessment of STJ plus the clear treatment in the Gospels of the way in which the various Judaic schools used the Taanach. Jesus even gives us a critique on Jewish systematics to show that they had travelled in a diametrical direction from that of revealed Scripture. Paul did not build his theology on STJ. He built it, as the New Testament clearly testifies, on the revelation of Christ through the Older Testment in conformity with Jesus own method of revealing himself in Luke 24 on the road to Emmaus and in the declaration “Moses spoke of me”.

Tim,

Wright claims to be representing the analysis of Jesus and Paul in his treatment of 2TJ. Wright shows how Jesus and Paul were deeply critical of the theology of many of their contemporaries (the Pharisees and Judaizers in particular), arguing that these parties missed the point of the Law and distracted attention away from the things that really mattered, leading people dangerously astray. Their almost talismanic use of the Torah is exposed for what it is and the primacy of faith is stressed against them as the thing that God is really looking for.

Wright does not see Paul’s theology as having been built on general theologies in 2TJ. Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.

I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.

“Paul radically recast Judaism around Jesus Christ in Wright’s understanding.” Perhaps in Wright’s understanding, but not in Paul’s. Paul, following Jesus, along with James, and John soundly condemn all STJ. If, indeed, the Old Covenant was abolished, so much more so the lowly aberrations that exuded from that Covenant. There was nothing redeemable in STJ for Paul to recast and Paul knew it. The establishment of Christ’s Kingdom was, as the prophets said it would be, “a new thing” not the reworking of something old. Jesus makes this plain in his analogy of the wine skins.
“I would like to know the exact sections of Wright’s writings that you are responding to here. I’m afraid that I find it hard to believe that you have studied Wright’s own writings on the subject in any real depth.”
That is your privelege to believe, it is of no consequence to me. Wright is looking for an hermeneutic that gives greater flexibility to definitions of Christianity in keeping with his place in evangelical ecumenism. His basic question is “How can Christian be most broadly defined in order that Cathoiics, Liberals and Protestants may sit at the same table of academic relavency?” The answer is to put thoughts in Paul’s head that are not there, thoughts that Paul himself called “dung”.

Why is NT Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by so many of his Reformed Critics?…

As one who appreciates N.T. Wrights works, I am often challenged to explain the widespread opposition to him among Reformed theologians. I have often claimed that Wright has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood by his Reformed critics. Many see…

[...] Why is Wright Misrepresented and Misunderstood by So Many of His Reformed Critics? by Alistair “Adversaria” - an exploration into the possible psychology of the Reformed rush to judgments [...]

“The scribes and the Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat. All things therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do, but don’t do their works; for they say, and don’t do”

That kinda destroys the idea that Jesus thought all of 2TJ was worthless and to be destroyed.

I also think that you can put however much oomph into “radical recasting” that your dispute becomes one merely of words. Jesus ressurection body was a radical recasting of his fleshly body. Was it ‘the same’? Well, not is one sense, but yes in another…

Paul,

I’m not sure whether your comment is in response to me or not. However, I imagine that we are pretty much in agreement here. There is both significant continuity and discontinuity, something that is well illustrated by the example of resurrection that you give.

It was to Tim Price, actually.

Oh, 100th post!

Pduggie,
Please don’t stop with the first verse of Matthew 23. Please read on and see if, by the time Jesus finished his indictment against Judaism as he knew that there was anything left of it that he wished to have retrieved. Verse four sets the tone, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” Jesus has already told his disciples that his burden is easy and light, quite different from that which the Pharisees would not bother to lift with their finger, that burden that barred their disciples from heaven and salvation. Matthew 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Jesus opens the gates of heaven for his disciples, but the teaching of Judaism did exactly the opposite precisely because they “travel[ed] (v.15) across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he be[came] a proselyte, [they] made him twice as much a child of hell as [them]selves.” In light of this, I would say that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples to observe the authority of the scribes and Pharisees is simply a deference to civil authority (the seat of Moses). Nothing more. That ended in A.D. 70.

Alastair,
There is a place in debate to air issues like the motives and dispositions of critics of Tom Wright, but I suggest you focus a post on the substantive issues that the Reformed critics have with NT Wright — like does he teach imputation? does he teach forensic justification? What I find is that, while he sometimes pokes Reformers in the eye about both of these, mostly it is rhetoric of the via negativa sort. Careful readings of his Romans commentary convinces me that there is an element of imputation in Wright and he clearly sees justification as forensic, if also much more covenantal/relational.

Thanks for the comments, Scot. I have discussed a number of these issues in the past. I am also in the process of writing up a lengthy treatment of Wright’s doctrine of final justification, in which I engage with some of the concerns and criticisms raised by his Reformed critics.

Scot, you can also find some more detailed discussions of Wright’s position on imputation and justification in the comments above, particularly in my interaction with Lane Keister.

WOW! Finally somebody nailed it. I am particularly disturbed the theological arrogance of aforementioned Reformed scholars who appear to me to believe themselves to be the gatekeepers of truth. N.T. Wright is indeed tough to “skim” and you really need some patience to digest his work. I learned that in seminary while working on a Jesus paper for a course.

Frankly, there is not a theologian who has ever lived, whether it’s Wright, Warfield, Augustine, or even (*gasp*) Jonathan Edwards, who is so intelligent that they can elucidate the wideness, richness, and depth of all that God truly is.

this page has a googlewack on it

pokes solemnibus

[...] Some guy I don’t know on Bad Criticism of N.T. Wright - right on the money! [...]

The reformed community has been quite fair to N.T Wright. He has written a number of great resources and seems to have stood very solid among Anglicans, but he does take an aberrant position on justification. Where in any of his writings has he fully embraced justification by faith alone? You will be hard pressed to find it, because he does not hold to it. He certainly does not stand with J.C Ryle or even his own 39 Articles. He is very clear that all who are baptised are considered justified. N.T Wright is very easy to understand if you take the time to read his material.

Stephen,
I have read just about everything that Wright has ever written. He affirms his agreement with Luther’s basic point in JBFA on a number of occasions. He has explicitly stated that he agrees with the 39 Articles in responding to Wrightsaid discussion list questions. His position on the relationship between Baptism and justification is far more nuanced than you present. I humbly suggest that it is you who need to reread Wright.

I will hopefully be posting a podcast that is relevant to this subject in the next week or so.

[...] with the Canadian government. Via. ———————– A long post on NT Wright and why his critics misunderstand them. There is also a lot of comments and discussion [...]



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