“Just call me Tom.”
These were the first words I heard from the highly esteemed New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright. I liked him immediately. How could you not, given his proven scholarship coupled with humility delivered with that deep baritone British accented voice?
After several people pointed out to me the similarities of my interpretation of Romans 9 to that of the good Anglican Bishop, I decided it was high time to do some further study. I had certainly heard of N. T. Wright over the years and have read a quote here or there, but he was not someone in my normal circle of influence.
I ask, as did Trevon Wax (of TGC), “why a Southern Baptist minister like myself would … read books by an Anglican Bishop (who happens to be the main evangelical proponent of a controversial “New Perspective on Paul?”
This so-called “New Perspective” is ironically anything but new. In fact, the whole premise is that in order to understand Paul we have to understand the first century Jewish culture rightly. Wright explains it well in his own response to John Piper’s critique in this clip:
For me this has always been basic hermeneutics. “What it means” never contradicts “what it meant.”
As Dr. Vance Havner put it, “You can’t preach it like it is, if you don’t believe it like it was.” This is Hermeneutics 101.
Trevon Wax, in his own assessment of Wright, states:
“First, I think it goes without saying that we should seek to read with discernment, no matter what book we hold in our hands (or on our Kindle!). A major part of growing in wisdom and knowledge is properly cultivating the discipline of discernment, and one cannot put the gift of discernment to good use unless he or she occasionally reads books from authors with opposing viewpoints.
Second, authors who may be wrong in some ways may be reliable and even helpful in other areas. We can benefit from their works as long as we read carefully.
Take, for example, another Anglican: C.S. Lewis. Lewis was wrong on many things. He believed Jesus was mistaken about the timing of his Second Coming. His view of the atonement is an odd amalgamation of right ideas with wrong details. He was an inclusivist (remember The Last Battle?). And his Anglo-Catholic sensibilities are credited with bringing countless Protestants back to Rome.
For evangelicals, these are big strikes against Lewis. There are more than three strikes, and yet we still consider him part of the team and love to watch him play ball. Why? Because even if Lewis was wrong in some areas, he was gloriously right in others.
The same is true of someone like G.K. Chesterton, the church fathers, or N.T. Wright. I disagree with Wright in a number of places (his definition of God’s righteousness is reductionistic; he wrongly denies the theological category of “imputation”; he affirms penal substitution but fails to emphasize it as much as Scripture does; he reduces “works of the law” to ethnic exclusivity; and he’s an Anglican while I’m a Baptist, which leads to a long list of ecclesiological differences).
I find myself agreeing with much of what Wax states this assessment of Wright; however, given my soteriological differences with Wax (he is an Amyraldian), I do find Wright’s approach to biblical interpretation (and thus many of his conclusions) very helpful in supporting my perspective.
For example, watch this YouTube video clip of Wright’s explanation of the concept of biblical predestination and its relation to Romans 9 and see if it does not sound familiar to those of you who already know my perspective:
Looks like I’ve got some reading to do:
ADDED: I just came upon this jewel from Wright: “Now at last we see where his sharp-edged, and often controversial, ‘doctrine of election’ in Romans 9 was going. This was never an abstract ‘doctrine of predestination’, attempting to plumb the mysteries of why some people (in general, without reference to Israel) hear and believe the gospel and others do not. Paul never encourages speculation of that sort. Rather, it was a way of saying, very specifically, that the fact of Israel’s election (starting with the choice and call of Abraham) had always been there to deal with the sin of the world; that Israel’s election had always involved Israel being narrowed down, not just to Isaac and then to Jacob, but to a hypoleimma, a ‘remnant’, a ‘seed’; and that this ‘remnant’ itself would be narrowed down to a single point, to the Messiah himself, who would himself be ‘cast away’ so that the world might be redeemed. The point of ‘election’ was not to choose or call a people who would somehow mysteriously escape either the grim entail of Adam’s sin or the results it brought in its train. It was not – as in some low-grade proposals! – about God simply choosing a people to be his close friends. The point was to choose and call a people through whom the sin of humankind, and its results for the whole creation, might be brought to the point where they could at last be defeated, condemned, overcome. Hence the line that runs, in Romans, from 3.24–26 to 8.3–4 and on to 10.3–4, backed up by the summaries in 5.6–11 and 5.12–21. Here is the faithfulness of the Messiah, which discloses, unveils, apocalypticizes, the righteousness of God, God’s covenant faithfulness.”
Listen to today’s podcast for more on NT Wright and his interactions with John Piper: CLICK HERE
Also listen to the last episode where I read some of NT Wright’s work along with that of the late great Herschel Hobbs: CLICK HERE