N.T. Wright

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:

“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”

I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:

I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.

Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.

But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?

First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. “I and many others find Wright’s overall project to be fruitful, despite having disagreements with him at points.” I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.

Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.

Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some questionable theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), his theological vision will be narrow, and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe (to borrow from Lewis). Those of us who appreciate Wright prefer to open the wardrobe and see Narnia in all its beauty.”

Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into  a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.

Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.

Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.

The New Perspective on Philippians 4:4

The New Perspective on Philippians 4:4

Well, not really. But anything attached to N.T. Wright these days is defined as new. In reality, it isn’t. It simply is unique in our individualistic culture. In Philippians 4, Wright offers a fresh way to avoid a look at Philippians 4:4 that has become a clear case of the internalizing cliche of modern Christians.

Paul tells the Philippians that in the middle of their conflicts they are to rejoice in the Lord, and again to rejoice. Now, context is everything. In Paul’s world and culture this rejoicing “would have meant (what we would call) public celebration. The world all around, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth and elsewhere used to organize great festivals, games, and shows to celebrate their gods and their cities, not least the new ‘god,’ Caesar himself.”[1] Why shouldn’t the followers of King Jesus celebrate exuberantly? N.T. Wright says that the “celebration of Jesus as Lord encourages and strengthens loyalty and obedience to him.”[2]

Paul places this command as top priority. We begin the process of healing from or dealing with conflicts by celebrating the Lordship of Jesus! The word “chairo” has been translated as “celebrate.” Our first act in the midst of conflict, no matter how complex or devastating it may appear is to simply celebrate the fact that Christ is Lord. Why is this important? It’s important because the pagan cultures understood that their gods did not intervene in such trivial affairs among the people. Their gods were too high and too distant to deal with his mere creation. Paul says emphatically, “not our God!” Our God is so near that he became man. The reason he is a sympathetic high-priest is because he became like us. In conflict, we can trust in Jesus as the Lord who is over all our church affairs and who desires to see conflicts turned into opportunities for renewal and refreshment in the body. Jesus was Lord over Euodia and Syntyche’s affairs and our affairs. We are then to celebrate that all our relationships in the Church are guided and watched by a faithful and just King.

Celebrate in the Lord in the middle of conflict!

R.C. Sproul, in his famous Holiness of God series, references the idea that when something is repeated in the Bible, it is there for emphasis. The Spirit knows that we have a natural tendency to think that God is not interested in our day-to-day affairs. We keep his Lordship over only a few issues of tremendous importance like a new job, or whom to marry, etc. But a conflict with a fellow, redeemed parishioner, why would God care about that? Paul says, I command you to celebrate his Lordship over all things, including the dispute between two sisters in the Church, and again celebrate. This is true joy!

 

[1] Wright. Philippians commentary

[2] Ibid.

N.T. Wright’s Plea for the Psalms

N.T. Wright’s Plea for the Psalms

Professor N.T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms is now available. The introduction is quite captivating. His personal plea is for a return to the Psalms. The Psalms are “full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope.” a But they psalms have been neglected. They have been used occasionally as a fill-in for worship services making its titanic role minuscule. Wright observes that popular worship songs sprinkle a few phrases occasionally, but overall, the “steady rhythm and deep soul-searching of the Psalms themselves” have been displaced. b This is not to say that churches should only sing Psalms. I personally believe it is unwise to neglect the beautiful theology of the Church put into music. Wright says, “by all means write new songs. Each generation must do that. But to neglect the church’s original hymnbook is, to put it bluntly, crazy.” c. Crazy indeed.

 

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Not a Collection of Isolated Individuals

Not a Collection of Isolated Individuals

“The church isn’t simply a collection of isolated individuals … we need to learn again the lesson that a hand is no less a hand for being part of a larger whole, an entire body. The foot is not diminished in its freedom to be a foot by being part of a body which also contains eyes and ears. In fact, hands and feet are most free to be themselves when they coordinate properly with eyes, ears, and everything else. Cutting them off in an effort to make them truly free, truly themselves, would be truly disastrous.”
― N.T. WrightSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Not something to be exploited…

The well known hymn of Philippians two has been the source of great consternation to the Pauline scholars. What precisely is Paul saying when he says –as our ESV renders– “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” N.T. Wright notes in the Climax of the Covenant that Jesus did not abandon his divinity in order to become human, rather that verse six should be translated as “who, being in the form of God, did not regard this divine equality as something to be used for his own advantage, but rather emptied himself… (83)”

The Fundamental Mission (N.T. Wright)

His (Jesus) fundamental mission–the reason for his coming into the world–was to accomplish the task which was marked out for Israel, namely, to undo the sin of Adam. In order to achieve this goal, he became human. –N.T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 61

Preaching and the Prodigal Son

I often sit at my desk on Monday morning after a tiring and refreshing Sunday, and say to myself “Here I go again!” I just finished preaching and leading a liturgical service the day before, fellowshiped in the afternoon, and on Monday morning I am ready to begin that process all over again. I hear many pastors take Mondays off, but on Mondays I am on. I am motivated to find the best resources, the best applications to feed my congregation the following Sunday.

Preaching through Luke this Lenten Season has been part of this motivation. Luke has become dear to me. His attention to details, his emphasis on the Word-authority of Jesus, and his unique description in chapter 15 make Luke unique among the Gospel writers. What is in chapter 15? Chapter 15 describes–among many other things–the lostness of the son, and the found-ness of the Father. The Father finds what He lost; the Son lost what He had, and the elder brother belittled the feast of the found one.

Preaching through this section is filled with remarkable challenges. What to emphasize? What is central to this text? Father or sons? Or both? How is Jesus connecting the lostness of Israel to this text? What is the significance of the feast imageries in the reception of the prodigal son? What does repentance look like? In what way is the Father’s profound forgiveness like our heavenly Father’s forgiveness? How is the elder brother’s reaction much like ours? How is his reaction much like the Jews of the first century? Suffice to say, these are only initial questions to pose in this ocean of beauty and grace.

Once again I am confronted with the glorious task of savoring this text as much as it is possible before I can give my parishioners a sample of it as well. May this sermon do justice to this remarkable and rich passage of Holy Scriptures.

Should Reformed People Read N.T. Wright?

It doesn’t happen quite often, but once in a while when I recommend a book or a quote by N.T. Wright on facebook, I will receive a question that goes something like this:

“Do you approve of N.T. Wright? Do you think it’s fruitful to endorse N.T. Wright? Or don’t you know that N.T. denies Justification by faith alone?”

I addressed the first question on facebook and I thought I’d make it available here. My response goes like this:

I think the question ought to be more nuanced. In other words, humans and their ideas, especially new humans recreated by God, ought to be analyzed more carefully and charitably. As a pastor I recommend Wright to my parishioners with the same enthusiasm I would recommend C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Martin Luther. I have disagreements with all of them, but charity allows me to communicate with these great thinkers and gain from what they offer, while expressing sometimes strong disagreements on some of their contributions.

Yes, Reformed people, in fact, Christians of all stripes should read Professor Wright. His profound insights, his vision for a renewed humanity in Christ, his invaluable defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and his commitment to the historical, Biblical Jesus make him one of the most gifted teachers and scholars of our time and The Jesus Seminar’s worst nightmare.

But what about justification? Shouldn’t we stand for the principal article of the Church? And by standing shouldn’t we reject anyone who denies it?

First, N.T. Wright has written and clarified many of his statements. He stated again and again that he does not deny justification by faith alone. I take him at his word. “But hasn’t he been unclear?” To those who think so, he will always be. To me and many others, I take his project to be fruitful, though not always agreeing. I find Kevin J. Vanhoozer’s humorous, but yet serious points on the Wright vs. Piper debate to be very helpful, and from what I hear from reliable sources, Wright agrees and finds Vanhoozer’s attempt to bridge the two paradigms extremely beneficial.

Secondly, the Reformation did not settle every issue. There are contemporary issues that still must be handled within our context. The Reformers did not exhaust the fullness of justification. There is indeed a robustly corporate view of justification that the Reformers–rightly preoccupied with Romish theological abuse–simply did not address explicitly in the 16th century. In this sense, Wright needs to be read and listened to attentively.

Thirdly, when one poses the question of whether we should eliminate such an author from our library because he is wrong on an issue, no matter how important the issue may be, he is betraying the charitable nature of the Christian vision and our personal libraries. Of course, he may choose to avoid Wright, and other authors who also had some skeptical theological presuppositions (like C.S. Lewis), however, his theological vision will be widely narrow and his ability to articulate a vision of the world will stop at the wardrobe, while we prefer to open it up and see Narnia in all its beauty.

Finally, the West’s over-emphasis on the individual is tragic. The individual matters, but Adam himself knew that the individual is not alone. Just as the Trinity is not alone, so too man needs to be a part of something greater. “Community” is not just a buzzword no matter how often hipster Christian groups use it. In its biblical sense, community is the essence of the Christian experience. Paul’s vision was highly ecclesiastical. The individual who divorces from the community loses his ability to be truly human. He breathes and eats as a human, but his breathing and eating desecrates God’s intention to incorporate him into  a multitude. N.T. Wright offers immeasurable contributions on this subject.

Naturally, there is the possibility of over-emphasizing community, but that hardly seems to be the problem in our day. The reality is if you stress the community you get the individual, if you stress the individual you don’t get the community.

Should we read N.T. Wright? Yes. Read him often with the eyes of discernment. But again, discernment is the Christian’s best friend in any human activity.

Translation of Luke 13:31-35

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson is from St. Luke 13:31-35. Here is my translation of this text:

31 -In that same hour, some Pharisees came up, saying to Him: “Go away and leave this place. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 – And He said to them: Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am going to expel (exorcise) demons and cure people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my agenda.

33 – Nevertheless it is necessary that I journey today and tomorrow, and on the following day; for it cannot happen that a prophet perish except[1] in Jerusalem.[2]

34 – Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You are the one killing the prophets and stoning the ones sent to you! How often did I want to bring you together[3], like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused to do so.

35 – Look, your house is left to you desolate,[4] and I say to you, you will not see Me until you are prepared to say, ‘Blessed is the One coming in the name of the Lord.’


[1] N.T. Wright translates it this way in his The Kingdom New Testament.

[2] Or “outside” Jerusalem. The idea, however, is that this is the only appointed place for Jesus to die.

[3] “Collect” or “gather”

[4] It has been abandoned. The glory has departed.

Third Sunday of Easter; Luke 24:13-35: Resurrection Perplexity and Gospel Confirmation

AUDIO

Introduction: People of God, in this gospel lesson we see the end of history breaking in in the middle of history in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman. Amen.

Sermon: On this third Sunday of Easter, we are confronted and challenged by a strange conversation. The context of this conversation is the empty tomb. The women have come to apply spices to the body of Jesus. The Jewish Sabbath prohibited them from doing this, so they came on the first day. Notice right from the beginning that there is a movement. The Jewish world is passing away, and the new world is emerging. In Luke, the women are perplexed. As they are wondering what may have happened to the body of our Lord, the Bible tells us that two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. This is not the first time the angels appear. They appeared to bring glad tidings of the birth of our Lord and they appear again to bring glad tidings of the new birth of our Lord from the dead. More