Dane Ortlund acknowledges that N.T. Wright is one of our strongest writers who has been instrumental for his own development in understanding the Bible. He acknowledges that he has learned much from Wright but concludes: “The problems with this book, unlike the majority of Wright’s other books, so outweigh the good things that the net effect of reading it is spiritually dangerous. Many college students will read this book for their understanding of the crucifixion. I wish they wouldn’t.”
The reasons for his concerns include:
1) False dichotomies -This is a problem with other books of his, but here the false dichotomies are so fundamental to his argument, and so frequently rehearsed, that they become not only grating but structurally weakening. The entire book is built on artificial either/ors when a nuanced both/and would be far more true to the facts and convincing.
2) Caricatures – Wright unfairly caricatures the conservative evangelicals’ view of (a) heaven and hell and (b) God’s holiness, wrath and divine judgment on sin.
3) Doctrinal vagueness – Wright is unclear on how the cross does what it does, Continue reading “Critical Review of N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began”
Related Post: Short Comment on N.T. Wright’s Narrative Model
Two false dichotomies:
1) “Pauline” versus “Reformed”
It has been convenient for some New Perspective on Paul (NPP) scholars to pose a false dichotomy between being “Pauline” and being “Reformed”. This dichotomy is misleading because it refuses to acknowledge that Reformed theologians, as children of Martin Luther and John Calvin, are imbue with a profound desire is to think Paul’s thoughts after him when they insist that justification by faith alone and union with Christ is the central and teaching of Pauline soteriology (regardless of whether their critics agree with their theological insight). Likewise, the Reformed critique of NPP arises from a deep concern to uphold the integrity and coherence of Pauline soteriology.
2) “Narrative reading of Scripture” versus “Doctrinal, thematic reading of Scripture.”
N.T. Wright criticizes conservative scholars for formulating doctrines without grounding them on the “biblical story” of God’s advancing kingdom that results in human liberation and final completion of creation because of Christus Victor. Continue reading “On being a Reformed, Pauline and Narrative Theologian.”
Supplementary Reading #1 on Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Penal Substitution as the Heart of Christ’s Work on Atonement on the Cross
N.T. Wright’s Non-Traditional Theory of Substitutionary Atonement
Christ’s Victory Through Penal Substitutionary Death
The theory of penal substitution is the heart and soul of an evangelical view of the atonement. I am not claiming that it is the only truth about the atonement taught in the scriptures. Nor am I claiming that penal substitution is emphasized in every piece of literature, or that every author articulates clearly penal substitution. I am claiming that penal substitution functions as the anchor and foundation for all other dimensions of the atonement when the scriptures are considered as a canonical whole. I define penal substitution as follows: The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy his justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested.
The riches of what God has accomplished in Christ for his people are not exhausted by penal substitution. The multifaceted character of the atonement must be recognized to do justice the canonical witness. God’s people are impoverished if Christ’s triumph over evil powers at the cross is slighted, or Christ’s exemplary love is shoved to the side, or the healing bestowed on believers by Christ’s cross and resurrection is downplayed. While not denying the wide-ranging character of Christ’s atonement, I am arguing that penal substitution is foundational and the heart of the atonement. Continue reading “Penal Substitution as Anchor and Foundation of Other Dimensions of the Atonement”
Related Post: On Being a Reformed, Pauline and Narrative Theologian
Answers to questions on my earlier post on N.T. Wright’s Non-traditional Substitutionary Atonement from a reader:
Question 1: Should we abandon or improve on N.T. Wright narrative model?
I agree in principle with NTW that theology should be anchored in biblical history and history of salvation. Notice I deliberate go beyond using just a generic “narrative’ model to emphasize “biblical history” which is both a record of God’s mighty acts in history, and revealed interpretation through his prophets and apostles? Naturally, this salvation history is not a list of abstract theological propositions (which NTW loves to criticize), but a divine narrative fleshed out in the primeval history of Genesis, the history of Israel, the ministry of Jesus and the apostolic ministry in the early church.
My problem with NTW is his tendency to rule out the theological implication/interpretation that was first given in embryonic form by the apostles, and developed more fully later in creeds and confessions, etc. as NTW charges the latter for being abstract. Continue reading “Short Comment on N.T. Wright’s Narrative Model”
N.T. Wright’s Sweet-Sour Cuisine
Reading N.T. Wright (NTW) is like eating delicious Sichuan cuisine – a unique blend of sweet and sour flavors enhanced by hot and spicy pepper that only a master chef could produce. We begin by savoring the sweet flavors.
First, NTW provides a skillfully crafted narrative of the history of God’s salvation from Adam, through the tragic history of Israel until the coming of the messiah. NTW suggests that Adam in Genesis and Israel in biblical history were entrusted with a “covenant of vocation” to be image bearers of God’s glory on earth. The failure of the first Adam brought the Fall. Israel was to resume this mission as the new Adam to reverse the consequences of the Fall by her obedience to the Torah. Instead, Israel’s apostasy resulted in the exile. NTW emphasizes that the mission of the messiah and the cross must be anchored in this tragic history. NTW’s vision of the “covenant of vocation” emphasizes that God’s redemption involves the restoration of creation is an important corrective of some forms of popular Christianity which narrowly view salvation as saving souls which NTW denigrates as a platonized, paganized version of escaping from fallen earth to go to heaven. Continue reading “N.T. Wright’s Non-Traditional Theory of Substitutionary Atonement”
N.T. Wright commends an eschatology that is supported by three fundamental structures of hope: 1) the goodness of creation, 2) the reality of evil in God’s permissive will and 3) God’s work of redemption as a re-creation. His vision of the future is comprehensively explored through six biblical images:
1. Seedtime and Harvest [1 Cor. 15]
2. The Victorious Battle [1 Cor. 15]
3. Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing Earth [Phil. 3:20-21]
4. God will be all in all [1 Co.r 15:28]
5. New birth [Rom. 8], and
6. The marriage of heaven and earth [Rev. 21-22]
[Source: N.T.Wright, Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection & the Mission of the Church (Harper Collins, 2008)
Wright’s eschatology marches towards an exciting grand finale when there will be a union of the new heavens and the new earth, “the final accomplishment of God’s great design, to defeat and abolish death forever—which can only mean the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay.” [p. 105] He emphasizes there will be both continuity and discontinuity between the old and new creation. Continue reading “Critiquing N.T. Wright’s Eschatology: Why the Huffs and Puffs?”
It is good that one of my readers points out that we need to appreciate N.T. Wright’s writings as a needed correction of popular Christian thinking where the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ is little mentioned. I agree with her concerns, although I think the weekly Lord’s Supper of the local Brethren churches often refers to Jesus Christ. In any case, I appreciate the reminder. Actually, I debated whether to include the beginning and the end of Horton’s review, where he writes of his appreciation of Wright’s needed correction for popular (a)theology. However, as the post needs to be brief, I left it to the reader to read the appreciative parts from the review itself.
Anyone familiar with Wright knows he’s a master storyteller. In that regard, The Day the Revolution Began may be his best, especially for a popular audience. But more than a good narrator, Wright is steeped in the world of Jesus and Paul, bringing decades of scholarship to the task. Still more, the story he tells is vital for us to hear; he exposes the wider redemptive-historical canvas that challenges tendencies to domesticate the gospel to a platonized eschatology focused on the salvation of the individual believer from this world rather than the redemption of all believers with this world…
Even if its provocations strike one as reactionary at times, they should be allowed to strike home nonetheless. If they’re sometimes overcorrections, perhaps they may be allowed at least to correct our distortions, exaggerations, and reductions. Continue reading “Second Thoughts on N.T. Wright’s Second Thoughts on Heaven”
It comes as no surprise to me when Scott McKnight adds a punch when he gives an unqualified recommendation of NT Wright latest book, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. McKnight writes,
One glaring weakness Wright observes with fierce clarity — that most atonement theories both build on one another in a kind of inner-dogmatic history discussion and at the same time ignore what Jesus said and did about atonement. Here are his important words:
Right away we meet something very peculiar. You might suppose that if Christian theologians were going to trace the meaning of Jesus’s death, they would begin with Jesus himself. Mostly, they do not. I possess many books on the “atonement.” Few give much attention to the gospels. None, as far as I recall, starts with Jesus himself. [Ahem, sir.] They may sooner or later highlight one famous saying, Mark 10:45 (“The son of man . . . came to be the servant, to give his life ‘as a ransom for many’”), but they do not normally go much beyond that. They seldom if ever link the meaning of Jesus’s death with Jesus’s announcement of God’s kingdom coming “on earth as in heaven.” They seldom highlight the fact that Jesus chose to go to Jerusalem and (so it seems) force some kind of a showdown with the authorities not on the Day of Atonement, not at the Festival of Tabernacles, the Festival of Dedication, or any other special day on the sacred calendar, laden with meaning as they were, but at Passover (170).
Once again seminary students are led to believe that the “Mc-‘Knight’ in W(b)right armor” has come to the rescue in ridding tradition of its theological distortions, in this case, the reductionist and crude theory of penal atonement.
However, students who are better informed about the depth and richness of the Reformation covenant tradition would take issues with the caricatures of the “Knight in W(b)right armor.” Continue reading “N. T. Wright Reconsiders the Meaning of Jesus’s Death: An Appreciative but Critical Review”
Students entering the seminary are often told that systematic theology should be rooted in biblical theology, and biblical theology in turn is grounded in biblical exegesis of Scripture. After all, Scripture is the source of Christian theology. It is suggested that the biblical interpretation and the theological enterprise follow three separate and distinct phases:
1) Exegesis: Linguistic analysis of the biblical texts, using Greek and Hebrew lexical tools to arrive at a reasonable and coherent meaning of a biblical passage in its original context.
2) Biblical theology: “Sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting…expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline.” Donald Hagner in George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, revised ed. (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 20.
3) Systematic theology: Organizes and synthesizes key ideas of the bible in their logical relations in dialogue with philosophy and Christian theological tradition.
John Murray wrote that ‘Systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.’ [Collected Writings, vol.4, (Banner of Truth, 1982), p. 19]. It may be concluded that the systematic theologian relies on the spadework done by biblical scholars in the exegetical vineyard. Continue reading “No Exegesis Without Theology; No Theology Without Exegesis”