I typically do not run into folks that have had extensive experience with N.T. Wright outside of more academic circles. Even among many Reformed brethren, people’s familiarity with Wright is scant. Recently, Jason Byassee wrote about Wright’s influence for Christianity Today pointing out that some lavish Wright with unmitigated praise. In Byassee’s article, Surprised by N.T. Wright, Byassee referred to Wright as “the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation.” Depending on your definition of “scholarship” Wright’s work will be appraised with “variegated” opinions.
My purpose here is pastoral not so much polemical. Wright’s views have been sufficiently challenged and, in my opinion where it counts most, refuted. From a pastoral perspective, N.T. Wright’s work has wreaked havoc in the church, at least that has been my personal perspective and experience. During a short perusal through John Piper’s well known interaction with Wright, Piper was quick to point out that he does not regard Wright as a false teacher, at least not in the keeping with Gal. 1.6-9, for his views on Justification. I always wondered if this was a hasty pronouncement on Piper’s part. You have to understand that, from my perspective, Second Temple Judaism and the deductions made by Wright and E.P. Sanders led to the adoption of heresy and apostasy by several former friends of mine. Once the foundation of Justification was weakened and revised so that finally it had almost no resemblance to the Reformed doctrine of Justification via Luther, Owen, Calvin and others, other traditions suddenly became viable ecclesiastical options. So the slippery slope commenced in my local church experience. Those who had an affinity with Wright quickly moved away from what they ultimately deemed to be non-historic contemporary Evangelicalism to more “historic” tradition such as Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome. In fact, I saw what I can only describe now as the synthesis between the Orthodox views in forensic Justification and the overheated Ecclesiology of the New Paul Perspective (NPP) to create an unholy departure from Reformed and biblical soteriology. Several individuals influenced by Biola University, Eastern
Orthodox professor John Mark Reynolds, and NPP on soteriology through NPP proponents such Wright and James Dunn, finally gave up on the contemporary Evangelical world only to be totally disenchanted by Orthodox liturgy and dead religion. The result? Deism, Agnosticism, and Atheism. All of the thousands upon thousands of pages by Wright’s voluminous and at times verbose books could not hold their attention for long. The truth is that from a pastoral perspective, I see Wright’s writings as mainly dangerous, confusing and contrary to what Scripture teaches about the most fundamental truths dealing with sinful man’s standing before God. Let me just say, in total disagreement with Wright, that this article, that is justification; has everything to do with soteriology not ecclesiology as he has often suggested. Ecclesiology only becomes important after we grasp that. People have accused Wright of many things, of taking away what he gives, of confusing categories, returning back to Rome, teaching justification by works etc. I heard D.A. Carson once lecture about the fact that N.T. Wright could not articulate the gospel to a five year old if the child asked, saying, “I would have to get back to him on that.” When Byassee, presumably citing Wright, says that,
The Bible scholar’s goal is to massively revise the way we talk about the Christian faith,
then I feel that the words I have to describe Wright with are justified (pardon the pun):
2 Timothy 2:16–18 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.
We should not be surprised that, even in Bayssee’s quote above, ironically, Wright’s favorite NT author, Paul, totally disagrees with his obsession to “revise” things:
2 Timothy 2:2 2 The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 1:13 13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 4:6 6 In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.
Titus 1:5–9 5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. 7 For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not
quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, 8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
2 Timothy 1:14 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
1 Timothy 6:20 20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—
The opposite of this “pattern” (ὑποτύπωσις) is “revision.” Is it any wonder many are having their faith unsettled. In light of so many clear Pauline texts, we can only say that N.T.’s call for theological novelty is not quite Wright.
Emilio Ramos is the preaching pastor of Heritage Grace Community Church. Pastor Emilio is committed to the expository and exegetical teaching of the Word of God. Emilio is also the author of Convert, From Adam to Christ and the founder of redgracemedia.com- a media ministry devoted to the glory of God’s redemptive grace through Jesus Christ. He and his wife Trisha live in Dallas, TX.