NT WRIGHT AND MY EX

Have you ever gone home from church and asked yourself if what the pastor said was correct? If you haven’t, it’s about time you did…

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I’m not suggesting rebellion or ungodly complaints or division. But in our times, we need to constantly be sure that what we are being led to think and believe is really true, and there’s nothing un-Godly about that. Neither am I suggesting a witch hunt. If you wanted to detect and answer all false teaching and teachers in the world, you  would be employed full-time for the rest of your life, and still not get it done. So I’m not on a quest here to root out all false teachings: instead this post is something of a case-study in faulty theology, ambiguity, and compromise with the world.

No, NT wright has had nothing to do with my ex-girlfriend: the “ex” I’m speaking of in my title is my ex-pastor.

It’s not as if the pastor is a bad one. On the contrary, the seats of the church are very comfy, and seldom left to cool down. The coffee is most welcoming, as are the snacks. The sound system is terrific and expensive, and the band sounds just wonderful. There’s just one little problem: some of the theology is suspect. And that theology, I’ve noticed over the course of several years, is veiled and shrouded-intentionally. Shrouded…it is.

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My ex thinks that NT Wright, a celebrity in the Church of England and a scholar, is a brilliant man and likes to quote him. Intrigued, I decided to do a little research on Wright’s teachings. However, as Todd Friel has said so aptly on “Wretched Radio”, it’s very difficult to pin down exactly what NT Wright does believe. When you read his writings or listen to him speak, you are often waiting and waiting for an answer to the given question or subject, and never actually feel like you got one. He has a way with words which makes you almost swoon with wonder at his eloquence, his hypnotic Hugh Grant-like voice and accent, his vocabulary and his power over the language. But in the middle of it all, what is he actually saying? What does he believe?

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SOME PLUSES?

I have to say at the outset that in my short spell of research on this scholar I learned that he has a reputation in some circles for actually defending key doctrines such as the resurrection. If true, this is highly commendable. And when I wanted to know what he thought about gay marriage I discovered that he was not afraid to state (almost plainly enough for people to understand what he was saying) that God made two genders for the purpose of marriage. That is, God made one for the other, and that’s how it’s been throughout history. Nature itself attests to this (10). To me, that’s an impressively Biblical view in this world of compromise. Having said that, Wright’s ambiguity makes me wonder. In an interview for Atlantic magazine, he said:

“There are many places where people are quite upbeat, and where Christian leaders are seeing God doing great things in their communities. And there is fear, because some huge cultural imperatives can’t fit with the Church’s traditional teaching.

Green: What cultural imperatives are you talking about?

Wright: Well, one would name the LGBT agenda. For 2,000 years, Christian, Jews, and Muslims—Muslims for less than 2,000 years, but you know what I mean—have just said, That’s not what we think a human life is all about. Suddenly, we have a cultural imperative [to embrace LGBT identity] coming in the last 30 years or so. That’s quite an extraordinary thing (note 5).

It’s almost as if Wright is here wanting to not offend the leftist interviewer, and telling her that Christians, Jews and Muslims decided for themselves that these lifestyles were wrong: “…that’s not what we think…” Where is his reference to Scripture? Where is his reference to what God thinks? Where is his stand, on either side?

On some other “key issues” I found some question marks, and one or two very serious ones.

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CREATION

I’m aware that at least half of the Church has caved to the world on the subject of origins and creation. But I have not, as any regular reader of my blog will know. So when I came upon the following quote, it was for me an enormous alarm bell. Any professing Christian who wants to fit evolution into his faith is, as far as I am concerned, compromising with the world and calling God a liar. With that in mind, here’s what Wright wrote about the first humans:

“The way I see it is that there were many hominids or similar creatures, part of the long slow process of God’s good creation. And at a particular time God called a particular pair for a particular task:  to look after his creation and make it flourish in a whole new way. Actually, this fits with the scientific evidence according to which there were some significant changes in the hominid population and lifestyle around 6000 years ago, though I wouldn’t myself put too much weight on that.” 1.

This is not at all a representation of Scripture. It’s adding to Scripture and calling God the Father a liar, and calling the Son of God a liar, who said:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female?” (Matthew 19:4).

Jesus Christ said that the Creator made them. He, not some evolutionary process, made them male and female; and it was “at the beginning”, not millions or billions of years after it.

If you want to placate “science” (but actually this is evolutionism, not testable science) then you have to be an atheist, because the majority of scientists-especially those who teach evolution, will say that there is no God. If there is a God, they will say, there is no way of knowing. They will tell you that resurrection is impossible and unscientific. Let’s be consistent, shall we?

INERRANCY

On the subject of inerrancy, Wright is singularly ambiguous:

“…many who call themselves “inerrantists” manage to avoid the real challenge at its heart, that is, Jesus’ announcing that in and through his work God really was “becoming king” over the world in a whole new way” (2).

How can Jesus “become” king in any sense at all? He is called in Revelation, “Lord of lords, and King of kings”. You don’t “become” king of kings and lord of lords except in some theology where Christ is not the eternal Son of God,  where he was not one with the Father before the world began, and where there is no trinity. But Paul said:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy (Colossians 1:15-18).

Asked about the accusation that he’s against the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture, he says:

“I don’t think I’ve ever said “I am not an inerrantist.”

Yet in the next paragraph, declares:

“So I don’t call myself an “inerrantist” (3).

If you want to call Adam and Eve just another pair of hominids, you are not an inerrantist.

An article in “Banner of Truth” discusses Wright’s view of inerrancy, and Wright seems to believe that inerrancy is an invention of the Protestant church designed to compete with the Catholic church:

As far as inerrancy is concerned, Wright would not call himself an inerrantist and views the debate on inerrancy and inspiration to be an American preoccupation:

(Wright) “…the insistence on an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it”. From Simply Christian (183) (6).

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KINGDOM NOW

Wright believes that Genesis and the story of Adam is:

“…about a justification through which humans are “put right” in order to get the original project back on track, so that we might be “putting-right” people for the world.”

On the contrary, God is calling people out of this world. Jesus said:

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place (John 18:36 NIV).

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it (John 17:14-16).

Wright, as some observers note, seems to subscribe to “Kingdom Now” theology, in which we Christians are here to put the world right: that’s our duty. I say “good luck with that”, and Jesus Christ said that He will return to put the world right (Matthew 24). It’s His job, not ours.  Christine Sine has written, “N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and New Testament theologian, is probably one of the best at articulating a theology that the brings together kingdom of God and social justice understanding”. Sine says that Wright unites the kingdom of God with social justice. “My question is, who decides what social justice is? Democrats? Liberals? A unified, congregational, compromise of decisions of differing factions?” (4).

In an article in “Banner of Truth”, Rachel Miller says Wright thinks Paul didn’t seem to care about origins, and that he appears to subscribe to Kingdom Now theology:

Wright truly does believe that the cosmos is more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become way too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos:

(Wright) “…to insist, in other words, that what happens eventually to individual humans is the most important thing in the world – may be to make a mistake similar to the one made by the Jewish people in the first century”

Wright counsels us,

“To focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all” ,  Surprised by Hope (164 ebook) 6

Is Wright here questioning a two-thousand year history of preaching salvation? Hasn’t he read what Jesus Christ said:

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (John 5:24 NKJV).

Shouldn’t then our focus be on who and not what? God will take care of the creation: our commission is to reach out to individuals for their salvation from sin (Matthew 28: 19-20).

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POLITICS AND CRAZY EVANGELICALS

Wright seems to have been one of those taking an anti-Trump stance, as if the alternative-Democrats funding world-wide abortion and promoting trans-genderism and globalism is somehow better. In an interview with the Atlantic magazine, he was asked briefly about his view of politics in America. He more or less declares here that anyone calling themselves “evangelical” and yet supporting Donald Trump is an embarrassment to the Church and “crazy”:

Emma Green: Do you worry that the strong association between Christianity and politics in the United States—and specifically the alignment between the religious right, evangelicals, and the Republican Party—will permanently shape the image of Christianity?

N. T. Wright: Part of the problem here is the word evangelical. I know a lot of people who have basically abandoned it since the whole [Donald] Trump phenomenon. In England, people are a bit embarrassed about the word. But I’ve taken the view that the word evangelical is far too good a word to let the crazy guys have it all to themselves…” (5).

Well I for one am a very proud deplorable and crazy evangelical.

JUSTIFICATION BY IMPUTATION

N. T. Wright explains why he denies that God imputes righteousness to us through his Son:

“If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths or conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.” N. T. Wright, What Paul Really Said, pg. 98 (7)

An article by Thomas Shreiner quotes Wright on imputation:

It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus ‘obeyed the law’ and so obtained ‘righteousness’ which could be reckoned to those who believe in him. …It is not the ‘righteousness’ of Jesus Christ which is ‘reckoned’ to the believer. It is his death and resurrection.”
N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 232

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This is what scripture says about Abraham’s faith, even before Christ died and rose:

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Paul explained the significance of faith:

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[ So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Galatians 3:7-9).

Paul states in Philippians:

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:9).

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17).

So while Christ paid for our sins on the cross, we have to have faith in the Son of God, and to believe what God has done and what He has said about His Son. Faith credits us with God’s righteousness.

I noticed in the course of my research that defenders of Wright criticise Reformed theology. Many of Wright’s critics are Reformist and Calvinist in their beliefs, such as John McArthur. They attack Wright’s views on justification as some sort of self-righteousness, because any other view than the Reformist one: that God gives faith to whoever he wants without their say-so and withholds it from others, is to them false teaching. So to my mind they are both wrong, because Christ said that he would draw ALL men to himself (John 12:32), not just a few, and at the same time, it is true that no-one can be saved without the imputed sacrifice of Christ. Yes, we cannot ever be righteous enough to save ourselves or to please God, but no, there is no salvation apart from God’s grace in imputing his son’s righteousness to us. It seems like this is an either-or argument between Reformists and Wright. They are both wrong!

Calvinists, clearly offended by Wright’s view on imputation and justification, seem to go all the way to thinking that Wright is teaching another gospel. Here is an excerpt from an interview RC Sproul had with Michael Horton discussing the theology of N.T. Wright.

[Q] Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?

[A] J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds–but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation. So, in answer to your question, yes–in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel (9).

Perhaps a little irony here is that my ex, that is, my ex-pastor, who teaches that Wright is a “brilliant man”, is from the Reformed tradition himself. It’s getting harder and harder to pin anyone down these days.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to know about N.T. Wright’s theology.  But as I said, if you want to tackle all false teachings, and all false teachers, you will be employed full-time for the rest of your life.

NOTES

1, 2, 3: FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH RELIGIONNEWS.COM https://religionnews.com/2014/06/02/n-t-wright-bible-isnt-inerrantist/

4 https://sojo.net/articles/nt-wright-social-justice-and-gospel

5 N. T. Wright on American Evangelicals and Trump – The Atlantic DEC 1st 2019

6 Nearly Everything Wrong with N. T. Wright Summed Up in One Chapter Heading | Banner of Truth UK

(Jan 2018).

7 from a blog: N. T. Wright vs. Michael Reeves on Imputation. | Monergism

8 Wright Is Wrong on Imputation by Thomas Schreiner (ligonier.org)

9 The Bottom Line: Why NT Wright Is Wrong (onceuponacross.blogspot.com)

10 Youtube video: “NT Wright on Gay Marriage”.

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