Sounding the Alarm: N. T. Wright and Evangelical Theology -- By: Travis Tamerius

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:2 (Spring 2002)
Article: Sounding the Alarm: N. T. Wright and Evangelical Theology
Author: Travis Tamerius

Sounding the Alarm: N. T. Wright and Evangelical Theology

Travis Tamerius

Evacuating A Burning Paradigm?

One of the perks of a public school education is the instruction received in disaster preparation. Along with learning the alphabet, state capitals, and the table of chemical elements, a student is drilled in survival. All hazards are considered and all precautions taken. If the building is on fire or under threat of an explosive, you walk single-file along a designated path to the nearest exit. In the event of a tornado, you remain in the hallway, burrowed up against a locker, with your head tucked between your knees and beneath your arms. Rarely does a tornado touch down, rarely does the school catch fire; and yet, the posture of preparation serves a good purpose.

The reader of N.T. Wright would be wise to remember his or her schoolboy education. There is smoke in the hallowed halls of evangelicalism and it may well be time to evacuate some burning theological paradigms. To some, the call to line up at the door will suggest a false alarm: “The only thing you are smelling is a British theologian smoking a pipe in the teacher’s lounge.” The argument goes: how could there be any new paradigms for understanding historical Christianity? At best, such an assertion smacks of chronocentricity, the naïve suggestion that something unusually significant is happening in our own day and age; at worst, it betrays incredible hubris.

Thus, the smoke is cleared with a wave of the hand, and the British guest is kindly reminded of the “No Smoking” sign.

To others, however, where there is smoke, there is fire. Consider the assessment of Alister McGrath, himself somewhat akin to an evangelical fire marshal. McGrath contends that Wright, his fellow Anglican churchman and former Oxford colleague, has “lobbed a hand grenade into the world of traditional evangelical theology.”1 In particular, when it comes to reading the Apostle Paul on justification, the works of the law and the nature of Christ’s death, “if Wright is correct, Martin Luther is wrong.”2

That is a rather seismic if-then. In Protestant hagiography, Luther is the one who recovered the gospel for a darkened Europe. He prosecuted Rome for her infidelities. He unshackled the people from superstition, blind ritual and unchristian traditionalism. He gave us back our Bibles. He let God be God and grace be grace. He set the benchmark for recognizing true churches: justification by faith—the article by which the church stands or falls. Frame the conditional sta...

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