Tom Wright Posts
November 4, 2011 by Matthew Mason
Jason Goroncy has posted Tom Wright’s inaugural lecture as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Andrews: ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’.
It’s vintage Wright, calling for, and exhibiting more ‘right-brain’, that is to say, creative and imaginative, NT exegesis that sees the big story, not just the details of portions of the text. He argues that the Gospels are known at one level, but unknown at another, and offers his own proposal for the master narrative: how God became King through the “proper and fitting, if highly surprising and subversive” fulfilment of Israel’s Scriptures in the “public career and fate” of Jesus of Nazareth.0 Comments
December 6, 2010 by Matthew Mason
By way of adding to our current Wrightfest, here are a few quotations on initial justification that I culled a few years back from his Romans commentary in order to comment on a friend’s blog.
In considering Wright’s understanding of justification, it’s important to grasp that he has argued strongly (e.g., in The Climax of the Covenant) for what he calls an incorporative Christology, whereby the Messiah represents and ‘sums up’ his people, so that what is true of him is true of them. Thus, union with Christ (and the consequent receipt of benefits such as justification, adoption, etc) is pretty central to his understanding. In this, he is very close to Luther, and to Reformed theologians such as Calvin, Ursinus, Vermigli, Zanchi, Turretin, Owen, Witsius, and Ames. (Note, I’m not here saying that Wright’s understanding is exactly the same as these).
As far as Wright’s view of justification goes, the following from his Romans commentary are instructive. They are not necessarily the best, nor the only comments that he makes. Rather they are a representative sampling, drawn from obvious places in Romans to comment on justification. Of course, in order to present a complete account of his view of justification, it would also be necessary to quote him on final justification and to consider how he relates initial to final justification.
On Rom 3:24:
‘This “justification” takes place in the present time, rather than in the future as in 2:1-11. This particular “justification” is the surprising anticipation of the final verdict spoken of in that passage, and carries both the lawcourt meaning…and the covenantal meaning…these two, being, as we have already explained, dovetailed together in Paul. It is God’s declaration that those who believe are in the right; their sins have been dealt with; they are God’s true covenant people, God’s renewed humanity.’ (Romans, 471)
‘The first question at issue, then – the aspect of God’s righteousness that might seem to have been called into question and is now demonstrated after all – is God’s proper dealing with sins – i.e., punishment. Whatever Paul is saying in the first half of v. 25, it must be such as to lead to the conclusion that now, at last, God has punished sins as they deserved….[Then, on God as being both just and the justifier:] God, as both the covenant God and the “righteous judge” of the lawcourt metaphor, displays “righteousness,” not simply through dealing with sins as they deserved, but also, in his summing up of the case, through finding in favor of this category of people. We must remind ourselves again that this declaration, this decision of the judge, is what constitutes these people as “righteous.” The word is primarily forensic/covenantal and only secondarily (what we would call) “ethical.” God’s justifying activity is the declaration that his people are “in the right,” in other words, announcing the verdict in their favor. Calling them “righteous,” as one must on this basis, should not be misunderstood to mean that God has after all recognized that they possess ethical characteristics that have commended themselves, caused their sins to be overlooked, and persuaded the judge that they deserved a favorable verdict. To say that they are “righteous” means that the judge has found in their favor; or, translating back into covenantal categories, that the covenant God has declared them to be the covenant people.
The point, anyway, is that the display of God’s righteousness in the death of Jesus is the basis for God’s justifying declaration of this category of people.’ (Romans, 473)
Interestingly, although Wright thinks that the final phrase in v. 26 doesn’t denote our faith in Christ, his comments on this make clear his adherence to justification by faith alone, as well as his adherence to Jesus’ death as the ground of our justification:
In other words, is Paul referring to the Christ’s “faith in Jesus” (as NIV), or, as in v. 22, to Jesus’ own “faith(fulness)”?
It could in principle be the former. Paul has already referred to Christian faith in 3:22…He is about to mount an argument in 3:27-31 in which the faith of Christians is central. But he normally speaks of the object of Christian faith not as Jesus, but as God….Granted the importance of Jesus’ faithfulness in the argument of this passage, stated proleptically in 3:22, it is more likely that what he means here, stated still in condensed form, is that God justifies the one whose status rests on the faithful death of Jesus. Even there, of course, the notion of the believer’s own faith is not absent, since it is this faith that precipitates God’s announcement of the verdict in the present time. But the basis for this faith is precisely the faithfulness of Jesus seen as the manifestation of the covenant faithfulness of God. (Romans, 473f)
Here, it appears, is a place where Wright seems to view faith as instrumental in receiving justification, pace my comments on one of Gerald’s earlier posts: faith ‘precipitates God’s announcement of the verdict.’
Finally, on Romans 5:19:
With audible overtones of Isa 53:11, [Paul] declares that, as Adam’s disobedience gave “the many” the status of being “sinners”…so Christ’s obedience has given “the many” the status of being “righteous.” Jesus, whisper the Isaianic echoes, is the servant of YHWH, whose obedient death has accomplished YHWH’s saving purpose. He has “established” or “set up” his people with a new status.
To be a “sinner” is, to be sure, more than a mere status. It involves committing actual sins. but it is the status that interests Paul here. Likewise, to be “righteous,” as will be apparent in the next chapter, is more than simply status, but again it is the status that matters here. Justification, rooted in the cross and anticipating the verdict of the last day, gives people a new status, ahead of the performance of appropriate deeds. (Romans, 529)
December 3, 2010 by Matthew Mason
John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, has a post from the episcopal horse’s mouth (or, laptop), further outlining his views on justification, basis, exegesis, tradition, etc, etc, etc.1 Comment
November 29, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
As noted in my previous post, I think a lot of the confusion regarding Wright arises from a failure to fully embrace the fact that he is using the term dikaioo (and its cognates) differently. This difference in semantics gives the appearance, I believe, of more distance between Wright and his critics than is warranted. So when trying to compare and contrast Wright and the Reformed paradigm I wonder if it wouldn’t be more productive to drop these terms altogether, and instead utilize neutral terms that gets to the substance of what each theologian means.
When it comes to substance (not semantics), there are four basic questions that every evangelical soteriological system generally addresses. Of course, these are distinctly Reformed questions, and Wright doesn’t frame his soteriology in Reformed categories, so perhaps my methodology here is a bit of a reverse anachronism. But in as much as Wright self-identifies as an evangelical, it’s appropriate to assess his soteriology in light of historic evangelical concerns. I’m better on Calvin than Wright, but here’s how I think they both would answer these questions.
1) What is the ultimate ground of our initial acceptance before God?
For Wright, the ultimate ground of our initial acceptance before God is the atoning work of Christ—his death and resurrection. Wright’s covenantal focus gives his view of the atonement a unique twist, but basically he affirms penal substitution. Christ died in our place—the divine curse for sin is poured out on Christ and thus the way is cleared for all to participate in the blessings of the covenant (or something like that). He doesn’t affirm double imputation as understood by later Reformed theologians, but he does maintain that through Christ’s atoning work the believer has a righteous status before God.
For Calvin, the ground of our initial acceptance is the cross-work of Christ and the imputation of a righteous status based upon this cross-work. (I”m not convinced Calvin affirms the imputation of Christ’s legal obedience as understood by later Reformed theologians.) From what I can tell, Wright and Calvin are pretty much in-line regarding the ground of acceptance—the cross work of Christ, and maybe even the imputation (perhaps not Wright’s word of choice) of a righteous status.
2) What is the proper human response for appropriating this initial acceptance—i.e., what must a person do to “get in,” as it were?
Here’s where I think Wright gets a bit murky. From what I’ve been able to piece together, Wright doesn’t seem to think that any human response at all is required for “getting in.” For Wright the royal proclamation of Christ’s death, resurrection and Lordship (what Wright means by “gospel”) is itself the means by which a person “gets in.” This royal proclamation contains within itself the power to “save” those who hear it. He writes, “The message about Jesus and his cross and resurrection…is announced to them; through this means God works by his Spirit upon their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share in its common life…” (What Saint Paul Really Said, 116). And again, “The [announcement of Christ’s death, resurrection and Lordship] carries its own power to save people, and to dethrone the idols to which they have been bound….[this announcement] itself creates the Church (Saint Paul, 151).”
But for me, the question still remains as to what human response is required in Wright’s view, if any, to move a person from outside to inside. One might be tempted to think Wright views “faith”—specifically faith in the royal proclamation—as the necessary human response for appropriating the blessings of the covenant, but not so. Wright is pretty clear that faith is not a means of “getting in.” He writes, “Faith…is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into the God’s family or for staying there once in” (Saint Paul, 160). For Wright, faith is not a means of “getting in” but rather is evidence that one is already in. So is there any response needed from the human side that is necessary for getting into God’s family? I haven’t yet found it in Wright. Wright’s articulation here seems radically monergistic—as though the royal proclamation is a magic dust that gets sprinkled over people and “poof!”—they are part of the people of God. There is an irony here, because Wright is often accused by Reformed theologians of opening the door to semi-Pelagianism. But given the above, I just can’t see it. If anything, I don’t think Wright gives enough attention to the human response. If anyone has a better understanding of Wright and can provide more clarity here, I would appreciate it.
For his part, Calvin is pretty clear that faith is the necessary human response for securing the blessings of salvation—i.e., “getting in.” We find mercy and God’s help, “if, indeed, with firm faith we embrace this mercy and rest in it with steadfast hope” (Institutes 3.2.1). So this seems like a pretty major difference between the Calvin and Wright, but one that, if anything, makes Wright more of a monergist than Calvin!
3) What is the ultimate ground of our final acceptance before God at the judgment?
From what I can gather, both Calvin and Wright would argue that the basis of our ultimate acceptance at the judgment is the same as the basis of our initial acceptance at our conversion – the redemptive cross-work of Christ. Wright would agree with Calvin, who writes in reference to the final judgment, “Therefore if one seeks the first cause that opens for the saints the door to God’s Kingdom, and hence gives them a permanent standing-ground in it, at once we answer: Because the Lord by his own mercy has adopted them once for all, and keeps them continually” (Institutes, 3.17.6). In other words, the basis for the believer’s acceptance before God at the judgment is the same as the basis for the believer’s acceptance at conversion . It’s not as though for Wright (or Calvin), one is saved initially by Christ’s redemptive work, but then must “make good” on this in order to stand at the judgment. This will become clearer below.
4) What is the necessary human response for appropriating this final acceptance at the judgment? (i.e., How do works relate to the judgment?)
Here is where Wright is most misunderstood, and thus the target of much misguided criticism. Wright certainly believes that a life of good works is the necessary fruit of all who are true members of God’s family, just as faith is a necessary fruit of all who are true members of God’s family. But Wright wouldn’t suggest that works somehow “earn” or “secure” one’s possession of eternal life at the final judgment. Just as faith is not a means of “getting in,” in an initial sense, so too works are not a means of “getting in” an ultimate sense. Both faith and works are the fruit of being in, not the cause. Pointing out that Wright affirms a final justification on the basis of works misses the point. For Wright, the final judgment is not about getting in, but about declaring who is in fact already in. The judgment is a public vindication of God’s previously private judgment. It is in this sense that Wright is comfortable talking about Spirit-wrought works “vindicating” the believer at the judgment. For Wright, the reason good works are are a source of vindication is because such works show that one is already “in Christ.” If I read Wright correctly, we are “in” at the final judgment because the royal proclamation has had its way with us; the inevitable result of this royal proclamation in us is a life of both faith and good works (a very Reformed idea!). At the judgment, God publicly declares who is in fact already in, based on the evidential good works wrought by the effect of the “royal proclamation.” So the final judgment for Wright is not about works “getting us in” but about God declaring who is already in. (The big deal that was made at ETS this year about Wright modifying his language from “on the basis of” to “according to” only underscores the point that Wright has not been understood. If you feel better about Wright because he is now using the phrase “according to” then you didn’t really understand him in the first place. From Wright’s perspective, and how he understands what is happening at the judgment, there really isn’t much difference.)
Interestingly, Calvin has more of a merit theology than Wright. Calvin is willing (all be it hesitantly) to talk about eternal life as a “reward” given to good works, but only in as much as one’s works have been justified and cleansed through the blood of Christ. “It is no absurdity that man is so justified by faith that not only is he himself righteous but his works are also accounted righteous above their worth” (Institutes 3.17.9, see all of 3.18). For Calvin, works are a “secondary” cause of being received positively at the judgment.
Ultimately, I don’t think Wright and Calvin are really all that different at this point. For both Wright and Calvin, works don’t “earn” or “acquire” eternal life in themselves, but rather are the necessary fruit of all who are true members of God’s family—the membership badges, as Wright calls them. For both Wright and Calvin, works function more in an evidential, rather than instrumental, role. If anything, Calvin’s discussion of judgment and works could be construed in slightly more Augustinian/synergistic terms, since Calvin views the judgment as more about “getting in” and Wright views it more about “declaring who is already in.”
So there you have it. If I’m reading Wright correctly, I don’t think substantively that he is all that different than Calvin when it comes to his basic soteriological framework. Semantically yes, but substantively no. The major place where Wright parts company with later Reformed theologians is (as noted above) his denial that faith is a means of “getting in” and of double imputation. Perhaps it bears noting that I don’t tend to follow Wright in all of these matters. I’m not sure he’ s using the terms “justification” and “righteousness” in the best ways, and I’m certainly in favor of the way Calvin (and Augustine) talk about faith as a means of appropriating salvation. But I am fairly confident that Wright isn’t a semi-pelagian who thinks that somehow we earn salvation through good works.
November 27, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
I’m no expert on Wright, but I have read a good deal of his work as it relates to justification. And generally, I think much of the criticism leveled against him misses the mark, chiefly because his critics fail to deal with him on his own semantic terms. Simply put, Wright doesn’t use the term “justified” in the same way that more traditional Protestants do. For Wright, justification is not about getting saved, but about declaring who is already saved. Or in Wright’s terms, it’s not about getting in, but about declaring who is already in. So when Wright says that we are justified at the judgment on the basis of/according to Spirit-wrought works, he doesn’t mean that we are saved at the final judgment by such works. He means that our position within the covenant (already previously determined) is made evident at the judgment based upon God’s work in our lives. Substantively, I don’t find this any different than Piper or Calvin or any other theologian who ascribes to works a vindicating, rather than instrumental, role at the judgment. Andrew Cowan makes this clear in a recent post on Justin Taylor’s blog. It’s worth reading the whole piece, but here’s the salient part:
Wright’s understanding of the function of Spirit-inspired works in final justification is identical to his understanding of the function of faith in present justification. Just as Spirit-produced faith is the initial sign that God has made one a member of his covenant people, so in final justification, Spirit-produced good works serve as the sign that one was truly a member of God’s covenant people from the point of one’s conversion on. When Wright has said that good works are the “basis” of the believer’s final justification, he has meant that Spirit-inspired works serve as the evidence that one truly is a covenant member. They are the “basis” for final justification the same way that a paternity test may serve as the “basis” for the verdict in a paternity lawsuit. A paternity test does not make one a father; it demonstrates that one was a child’s father all along. So also, Spirit-inspired works do not make one a covenant member in Wright’s view; they demonstrate that one has been a covenant member all along. The assertion that Wright understands Spirit-inspired works to be the believer’s “righteousness” in final justification misconstrues both his understanding of the meaning of “righteousness” language and his understanding of the question under consideration in the divine courtroom.
Now it’s necessary at some point to have a discussion about the way the terms “justified” and “righteousness” are used in Scripture (and thus the best way to use these terms theologically), but that’s not the same thing as having a discussion regarding the substance of one’s position. Just because Wright is not using the term “justified” in the traditional sense, does not mean that he is necessarily jettisoning the substance of Reformation soteriology. Two sides of a debate can largely agree in substance, yet strongly disagree in semantics. Or they may both disagree in substance and semantics. But until each side takes the other on their own semantic terms, they will never be able to get to the substance of the other’s position. A brief example from church history to illustrate my point…
During the great Arian controversy, the term homousia (one substance) was used by Athanasius and the (largely Western) pro-Nicene party to defend the full deity of Christ. But for many of the eastern Fathers, the term homousia had a different nuance, one that did not readily allow for a real distinction between persons. Thus to deploy the term homousia in the Eastern context was to till the soil for Sabellianism, a heresy they were particularly leery of. Consequently, as the Arian controversy ebbed and flowed many of the eastern Fathers were lumped in with the Arians because of their refusal to adopt the (then) controversial term. But the differences between the pro-Nicene party and these “semi-Arians” were only semantics. Both sides meant the same thing, they just couldn’t agree on how to say it. Wisely, Athanasius saw that the semi-Arians were substantively correct, even if reticent to adopt the Nicene formula (given their Eastern context). Athanasius worked toward reconciliation, arguing that the substance of one’s position was more important than any particular terms that were used. Holding out an olive branch, Athanasius insisted that the semi-Arians be regarded as orthodox. He then bent over backward to show the semi-Arians that the Nicene deployment of homousia was the best way to dispel the Arian threat. Eventually, the semi-Arians were brought into the Nicene fold.
But imagined what would have happened if both sides had insisted on retaining their respective understandings of homousia. Athanasius and the pro-Nicene party would have continued to issue anathemas against the substantively orthodox, yet semantically hertrodox, Eastern Fathers. And for their part, the Eastern Fathers would have continued to view Nicaea as a largely western/Latin capitulation to Sabellianism. But Athanasius’ ability to see beyond the semantics enabled both sides to stop anathematizing the other and come to a real place of understanding, and ultimately, reconciliation.
In many ways, I’ve always felt that something similar needed to happen between Wright and his critics. And it looks that perhaps this may have finally happened at ETS. I hope so. I’m not suggesting the differences between Wright and his critics are merely semantics. But I am fairly certain, given what I’ve read of Wright thus far, that he is not as substantively different from traditional Reformation thought as his critics have made him out to be.4 Comments
October 5, 2010 by Jason Hood
Preparing for a talk on “Historicity: Christianity and other gospels” for a women’s group (not what I would have picked, but that’s the topic they wanted), I looked back through some works on Gnostic/semi-gnostic gospels. Very often one finds the beliefs that (1) these ancient texts have something to offer believers today, and (2), that they were unfairly eliminiated from the canon. The explicit or implicit corollary is that the bishops and other church leaders who helped rule out such texts were bad boys.
Apart from the historical difficulties in this sort of characterization, I find it impossible to be sympathetic with the skeptical approach. What pro-gnostic scholars appear to be advocating is something more akin to a liberal arts approach to spirituality; but what is often lost is that we cannot approach the ancients as if they were contemporary liberal arts students. I have no problem putting the Gospel of Judas in the hands of my well-educated folks, but in the ancient world bishops were simply protecting those who were illiterate, under-educated, and thus easily misled or confused.
It is almost impossible for those of us who are educated or well-read to put ourselves in the shoes of those who do not share that luxury. Most of my pastoral and theological peers (evangelical or otherwise) get very annoyed when they hear something along the lines of, “Just tell me what to do or what to believe.” And only slightly less annoyed when they say, “Just tell me what to read.” But we need a bit of sympathy, and we need to realize that people value the sort of leadership capable of helping us edit our inputs not out of laziness, but of the same sort of respect that leads people to listen to (say) tax experts.
The same is largely true today, even if many of my congregants are capable of picking up (say) the Gospel of Judas for a brief read, as I think they probably should be.
There are a range of issues a believer or congregation needs to deal with, and almost all the laity I know really value help in determining what is useful and what is not. (Some pastors are in this boat as well, and on a number of topics I count myself among them.) There is not enough time to read everything on a topic, nor is there time enough to read everything worthwhile.
Moreover, the practical implications of failing to come to the theological aid of laypersons can be tragic. Some gnostic literature discouraged fidelity in the face of persecution and made Christian distinctives like neighbor-love all the more difficult. Allowing or encouraging the use of that literature would have flown directly in the face of what NT and some other early Christian lit taught with regard to persecution, faithfulness, and love.
(And since we referenced him in playful parody recently, I should add that the single best thing one could recommend for a layperson on gnosticism is, I think, N. T. Wright’s Judas and the Gospel of Jesus. It’s not the best intro to gnosticism or even to Gospel of Judas, for instance, he’s a bit behind on Judas scholarship in light of April DeConick’s challenge to the view of Judas as a positive figure. But NTW does a wonderful job of contrasting the general beliefs and worldviews of the orthodox and the gnostics, identifying the former as bold and radical and the latter as sadly cynical, etc. Perhaps the best recommendation: I know laypeople who have read, understood, loved, and recommended this book to others.)1 Comment
September 19, 2010 by Jason Hood
For the joy of parody, and in something of the spirit of that great classic, Bultmann Reads Mother Goose, I offer the following:
Tom Wright Reads Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Clearly the writer is telling an Israel story, and here alludes to the Temple. This echoes other lines in early 2nd Nursery Literature, such as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard (the “storehouse” of the Temple) and the bone (resurrection life) which she sought for her dog (“Gentiles”). “But when she got there, the cupboard was bare and the poor little doggie had none.” The temple had nothing to offer the Gentiles, and they thus remained in their state of Adamic sin and decay.
So here, too, one should not be surprised to discover that the Temple and its “wall” are bankrupt. The next line, then, is not a shock, but an expectation:
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
Again, this is patently a forecast of the Temple’s destruction (and contra Crossan and Borg, an entirely possible historical forecasting). Doubtless this claim is intended to lead the reader to ponder the eschatological recreation of the Temple. Since Humpty stands for the Temple, he seems to be sharing in the divine identity, functioning as the locus of God’s presence, not outside of, but within creation.
Of course, this fall is an exile of sorts, the loss of God’s presence. The tension is palpable: how will humpty’s story not turn out dumpty? In other words, this line presupposes what I have called elsewhere the great metanarrative of humpty, not least the promise of resurrection.
But all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again.
So the Temple will be built again, but not by human hands. Many have undertaken to suggest that this passage runs counter to a belief in resurrection. But this atomistic reading of the text lacks imagination. Of course, it is the king himself who will put humpty together again, and this great act will complete the metanarrative.
After all, Humpty is the place where the Creator God is resident with his creation. But the human inability to recreate Humpty does not negate all human effort for creation, which should be done in light of the proleptic nature of the king’s restoration of Humpty and all creation.
Written in Durham Cathedral, dedicated to Rowan Williams’s left eyebrow.42 Comments
May 1, 2010 by Gerald Hiestand
Readers of this blog have already likely heard the news that Tom Wright has resigned as Bishop of Durham to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland (full story here). He explains his decision:
“This has been the hardest decision of my life. It has been an indescribable privilege to be Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Durham, to work with a superb team of colleagues, to take part in the work of God’s kingdom here in the north-east, and to represent the region and its churches in the House of Lords and in General Synod. I have loved the people, the place, the heritage and the work. But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop. I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear.”
Sad indeed. Not so much because Wright has chosen wrongly (God knows). But rather because our contemporary context has forced him to choose. I’ve no idea what life is like as a diocesan bishop, but if it’s anything like much of contemporary pastoral ministry, no doubt it involves a heavy amount of administrative work. The church has allowed modern life to push parish work in an increasingly administrative direction. Consequently, most pastors are sorely tempted to neglect the ministry of the Word and prayer to wait on tables; we’ve ceased to function as elders and have resigned ourselves to serving as deacons. Wright, who has always advocated for living within the tension that exists between the ecclesial and scholarly communities, shows just how hard it can be to straddle the fence in our modern context.
I don’t fault Wright for leaving the church. But I do fault the church for not making room for its pastors and bishops to function as robust scholars and theologians. Sad times are these when the only place a Christian theologian can flourish is outside the church.
Yet, by God’s grace, I have faith to believe a better day is dawning.0 Comments
September 9, 2009 by Gerald Hiestand
A few videos worth noting…
If you’re interested in hearing a Reformed Baptist critique of Tom Wright’s new book on justification, check out this panel discussion featuring Southern Baptist theologians Tom Schriener, Mark Seifrid, Brian Vickers and Denny Burke. (I think Burke is a Southern Baptist. Maybe not.) The panel is moderated by Al Mohler.
Wheaton College’s Center for Applied Christian Ethics recently hosted an amiable dialog between Francis Beckwith, recent revert to Catholicism, and Timothy George, the Dean of Beeson Divinity School, on the question, “Can one be both evangelical and Catholic?” Both men think so, and even claim to be both (though George’s catholicism has a little “c”). An interesting discussion.0 Comments
September 3, 2009 by Gerald Hiestand
In a response to Tom Wright’s book on justification, Gerald Bray chastises Wright for producing a book that has “let us down badly” and is “full of digressions, personal anecdotes which appear to have no purpose other than to win sympathy for the author, and random attacks against unnamed people who are supposed to be typical of popular modern Evangelicals.” In short, Bray didn’t care for the book.
Aside from the caustic tone of the review (and to be fair, Wright’s tone wasn’t always particularly charitable in his book), and a few mischaracterizations of Wright’s position (contra Bray, Wright doesn’t see Christ as a “plan B” after Israel’s failure), I agreed with much of what Bray wrote.
However, I didn’t find myself in much agreement with Bray’s concluding comments.
If anything is clear from Bishop Wright’s book, it is that it is impossible to serve two masters at the same time. Either one is a diocesan bishop or one is a serious scholar—having a day job in Auckland Castle and pottering around with scholarship in one’s spare time is not a viable option in today’s world. Bishop Wright pleads lack of time for what even he recognizes is the inadequacy of his response to Mr. Piper, but if that is so, he needs to reconsider his priorities. There is no shame in giving up scholarship, or in resigning a bishopric, when the pressures become too great, but doing a half-baked job in one is bound to lead to the suspicion that one is doing an equally half-baked job in the other, and that the long-suffering recipients of such treatment are ending up with the worst of both worlds….Let us hope and pray that he will see this for himself and decide whether he wants to be a bishop or a scholar—but not both. We would all be better off if he has the courage to take the right decision and choose one or the other, but best of all, he himself would be a happier and more productive man for it, and it is for him that our primary concern at this point must surely be (Churchman, 104).
Hmmm. Does Bray really mean to look down his nose on the pastor-theologian model? Bray spends the whole review complimenting Pastor Piper’s handling of the subject, and then, in an attempt to insult the scholarly capabilities of Wright, delivers an (unintended?) shot to Piper by insulting the pastor-theologian model en toto. What the right hand gives, the left hand takes away.
Bray prefaces his critique of the pastor-theologian model by stating that it is not a viable option in “today’s world.” Presumably, then, he appreciates the viability of the model for days gone by. And indeed, how could he not? Church history is filled with evidence to the positive: Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Wesley, Barth, et al. The list is nearly endless. But Bray raises a question worth considering: is such a model attainable in our contemporary context? Two thoughts here:
First, we haven’t really tried to find out. There is a dearth of intellectuals in the pastorate, and therefore it is difficult to assess accurately the viability of the model. Can a pastor realistically produce a book like’s McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, or Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (written before he became Bishop of Durham)? Maybe, maybe not. But it should be pointed out that not every academic scholar can produce this sort of magisterial work either. It’s a bit unfair to compare the two groups of theologians, simply in light of the sheer difference in numbers. If we had as many pastor-theologians attempting to do “serious scholarship” (as Bray calls it) as we do academic-theologians, we would better be able to assess the viability of the pastor-theologian model. So maybe time will tell.
Second, Bray is absolutely correct that the pastor-theologian cannot serve the two masters of pastoral ministry and academic scholarship. This is a point I’ve made elsewhere. But the SAET (at least) is not looking to do academic scholarship. Ecclesial scholarship marks a third way, and—properly understood—is not a competing master to the pastoral calling. Indeed, the two masters are one. It may be true that the contemporary pastor-theologian will not have the luxury or time (or even interest) to chase down the secondary literature with the same vigor as the academic scholar. Undoubtedly the organizational structure of parish ministry needs to shift in such a way that the pastoral office is once again freed up to do serious theological reflection. But regardless, the pastor-theologian brings to the theological task an important strength the academic scholar lacks: an ecclesial context. The Scriptures are not merely an historical document, dead words on a page and fodder only for historians and scholars. The Scriptures are the life-blood of the Church—the local church not least. The sword hilt of Scripture has been uniquely fashioned for the pastor’s grip. The sensitive academic-theologian can wield it with profit, but it’s natural home is in the Church. The whole thrust of contemporary orthodox scholarship has largely forgotten this vital truth. We can not move theological reflection and writing out of the context of the local church without consequence.0 Comments