N. T. Wright and Reformed Theology: Friends or Foes? -- By: Rich Lusk
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N. T. Wright and Reformed Theology: Friends or Foes?
This article will not attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis and defense of N. T. Wright. Indeed, Wright’s theological project is still incomplete so full evaluation is not yet possible.1 Rather, my much more modest goal is to offer a plea for Reformed theologians and pastors to give Wright a sustained and sympathetic reading. Several Reformed theologians have recently gone on record critiquing Wright particularly on the issue of justification.2 My hope is to clear the ground, and show why I think these critics have, in several key ways, misread and mischaracterized Wright’s theology. In fact, if we ignore Wright or fail to do the careful study needed to understand his work, we will be missing out on tremendous blessing.
Because of the controversy surrounding Wright, a few preliminary remarks are in order. First, Wright is occasionally (and understandably) prone to exaggerate the newness of his own proposals. In a way, he is like Chesterton at the beginning of Orthodoxy. Chesterton tells an autobiographical allegory about an English yachtsman who sets out on a voyage and, by a wonderful miscalculation, believes he has discovered a new island in the South Seas, when in reality he has ended up back in merry old England. Our sailor gets the joy of rediscovering his homeland! As Chesterton asks, “What could
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be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again?”3 This is what it is like for a Reformed Christian to read Wright: foreign yet familiar, exciting but safe. Wright’s theology is very traditional when all his cards are on the table. It really is, in its own way, “an elegant fundamentalism,” as John Dominic Crossan calls it. In a sense, his project is to help us rediscover what we already knew, though now with nuances, depth, and color that were not noticed before.
Second, and closely related, we note that when Wright contrasts his own interpretation of Paul with traditional Protestant readings, well-read Reformed believers may feel their positions have been caricatured (e.g., “legal fiction” and “timeless system of salvation” language). Wright would probably communicate better with traditional believers if these caricatures were avoided (though sadly, they probably do have some truth behind them) and he strove to critique other positions with greater precision.
Third, to call Wright a “N...
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