What about N. T. Wright?



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  • What about N. T. Wright?

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    N. T. Wright is the most prolific biblical scholar in a generation as expressed by many. Some say he is the most important apologist for the Christian faith since C. S. Lewis. He has written the most extensive series of popular commentaries on the New Testament since William Barclay. And, in case three careers sound like too few, he is also a church leader, having served as Bishop of Durham, England, before his current teaching post at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

    Wright speaks with people who come from a wide spectrum of agendas. He has written point-counterpoint books with liberals like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. He and Reformed pastor John Piper traded book-length counter arguments that have kept bloggers busily arguing for years. Bart Ehrman, whom I work with on a daily basis, said, "He's a very bright and learned scholar—deeply read, widely knowledgeable, and rigorous. And I disagree with about everything he says." A strange paradox indeed, coming from a Ehrman.

    For around twenty years now, a “new” approach to reading Paul’s polemics with Judaism has been making waves in the field of New Testament studies, and gradually making in roads into evangelical circles. Actually, there is not just one approach but a group of approaches that are part of this movement. At the heart of the new perspectives’ critique of both Protestant and Catholic interpretations of Paul is the charge that Reformation-era theologians read Paul via a medieval framework that obscured the categories of first-century Judaism, resulting in a complete misunderstanding of his teaching on justification.

    Protestant ideas of “the righteousness of God,” “imputation,” and even the definition of justification itself – all these have been invented or misunderstood by the Lutheran and Catholic traditions of interpretation. In a nutshell, the new perspective (as set forth by Wright) suggests that: (1) the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a religion of self-righteousness that taught salvation by merit; (2) Paul’s argument with the Judaizers was not about a “works-righteousness” view of salvation, over against the Christian view of salvation by grace; (3) Instead, Paul’s concern was for the status of Gentiles in the church; (4) So justification is more about ecclesiology than soteriology, more about who is part of the covenant community and what are its boundary markers than about how a person stands before God.

    Thus the new perspective on Paul purports to help us (1) better understand Paul and the early church in their original context, (2) vindicate Paul and early Christianity from the charge of anti-Semitism; (3) slip the Gordian knot of theological impasse between Catholic and Protestant interpreters of Paul; and (4) articulate an understanding of justification that has inherent social dimensions and thus secure a better theological foundation for social justice and ecumenism among evangelical interpreters of the Scriptures; among other things. It is N.T. Wright who has most prominently contributed to the propagation of this view in this problematic evangelical arena. As John Piper was quoted in saying in 2007, N. T. Wright is preaching another gospel.

    Rev. Phil Johnson of Ligonier Ministries wrote a well thought out and articulate summary on Wright's deviations. He states aptly that, "...the New Perspective on Paul is not a new perspective at all, but a recycling and repackaging of several serious errors that have already proved their spiritual bankruptcy. May God raise up men who will take the Word of God and the problem of sin seriously, and refute this error for the heresy I am convinced it is." http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articl...spective-paul/

  • #2
    This is over my head, but I hope to learn more. Any more details would be helpful.


    • #3
      Wow. Like Ligonier said, "May God raise up men who will take the Word of God and the problem of sin seriously, and refute this error for the heresy I am convinced it is."


      • #4
        To clarify the post a little better, varying authors since the early 1900's have brought up the charge that Paul was misread by those in the tradition of Martin Luther and other Protestant Reformers. The Reformation perspective understands Paul to be arguing against a legalistic Jewish culture that seeks to earn their salvation through works. Yet, it wasn't until E.P. Sanders' in his 1977 book, "Paul and Palestinian Judaism," that scholars began to pay much attention to the issue. In his book Sanders argues that the Judaism of Paul's day has been wrongly criticized as a religion of "works-salvation" by those in the Protestant tradition. Its adherents call for a rethinking of Paul and a greater understanding of him in light of what the NPP claims are the true beliefs of first century Judaism. The more popular scholars associated with the NPP are E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N.T. Wright. Dunn was the first to coin the term "The New Perspective" in a 1983 Manson Memorial Lecture, "The New Perspective on Paul and the Law" later coined as the New Perspectivism (NPP).

        To explain further, the proponents of New Perspectivism usually argue that Paul, before conversion, was more of a zealout for his nation (Israel) and their special place in God's plan than a devout Jew who was trying to earn his salvation. This is important, because if true, this means that Paul was not fighting legalism and that much Protestant Pauline scholarship following upon Luther has been wrong.

        Advocates of the NPP say that it was not their works that helped them attain salvation, but it was their "nationalistic boundary markers" (i.e. circumcision, food laws, Sabbath, etc.) that kept them within the people of God. Thus, the works, along with the boundary markers were used to keep themselves within the boundary of God's people. Paul was not fighting legalism, but was instead fighting the works and national pride that separated the Jews from the Gentiles. One could distinguish who was a Jew or Gentile by seeing who followed these laws. Specifically, this set up the boundaries of identifying who were and were not God's people. It is proposed within the New Perspective that Paul came to do away with these "boundary markers" so that Jew and Gentile would be unified and so that the Abrahamic covenant could be actualized (Gen 12:2-3, where all nations are blessed). Thus, it is argued, when Paul criticized the Jews for adhering to "works of the law," he was referring to these "boundary markers" rather than a system of works-righteousness, as is presumed in the traditional understanding of Paul's arguments.

        N.T. Wright has been the most outspoken regarding the redefinition of the doctrine of justification, imputed righteousness, and the idea of "exile" within first century Judaism. Anyone wishing to understand the New Perspective should understand and be familiar with his writings as he is the most widely read of any NPP writer. While this whole study might seem insignificant, the results are fairly immense in shaping what the Good News really means.


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