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Archive for February, 2010

Recently the magazine Tabletalk published a series of essays against Calvinist theologian N. T. Wright. The black cover of this issue lets us know just how dangerous this man is.

But how dangerous is N. T. Wright? Well, he’s dangerous to some people, but not to others. Let’s see:

1. He believes in paedocommunion. He thinks baptism is enough to admit children to the table. There’s no particular essay on paedocommunion in this issue of Tabletalk, but you can be sure that it’s in the background. Paedocommunion is a much more churchy and less intellectualistic approach to the Kingdom than the writers in Tabletalk believe in.

2. He believes in theocracy. He thinks that it is of the essence of the Gospel that Jesus is King, and not just King of the Church but King of kings. God has been forgiving and justifying people ever since Adam, but now He’s made Jesus King and calls all societies to repent. This is completely rejected by the Klineans and pietists who dominate the “Reformed” world today. They are opposed to any idea of theocracy. For Wright, salvation is both individual and social, and the baptistic individualists who attack him completely disagree with this, especially John Piper, who as a baptist is not really into a covenantal view of society and salvation. It is no surprise that baptists and amillennialists, who think that God is only saving individuals and not societies, would be confused by traditional Calvinists like Wright.

3. He’s basically postmillennial. He thinks we have not yet arrived at the end of history. He doesn’t think everything has been settled, and that the Great Conversation needs to continue. He’s willing to be open to correction on lots of secondary issues. This is a problem for amillennialists, who naturally tend to think that everything has been settled and that any departure from their views is a move into serious error or heresy.

4. He’s a member of the Church of England. So, he believes in sung, liturgical worship. As far as the Ligonier types, most of them anyway, that’s a great evil. I know some of the men who wrote in this issue of Tabletalk, and believe me, they are strongly against weekly communion, singing psalms, and structured covenant-renewal worship. Two of these authors are pastors at First Presbyterian, Jackson, MS, and you can go to that website and see for yourself.

5. He’s a bishop. You’ll notice that all the people attacking him in this issue of Tabletalk are baptists or presbyterians. But Wright’s view of bishop is very low church: The bishop is nothing more than an ordinary minister who is regarded as first among equals. Wright is strongly opposed to any separate “office” of bishop. The “presiding minister” in the Confederation of Reformed and Evangelical Churches is pretty much the same as what Wright views as a bishop. Still, just hearing the word “bishop” makes some of these men react. I know some of these men, and they have an emotional revulsion when it comes to Episcopalians of any variety.

6. Wright joins with the original Calvinist reformation and views justification as forgiveness, and does not see any “imputation of active obedience” as part of it. This is a technical question that grew up a generation or two after the Reformation and that was an issue at the Westminster Assembly, and concerning which the Westminster Standards are deliberately silent. Many modern Calvinists believe that when we are united to Jesus in His resurrection, we receive all His righteousness plus His glorified power, and that is what gives us the power to obey and live as Christians. But we are pronounced innocent simply because of the cross. As far as I am concerned, this is correct. The Lord’s Supper shows forth Jesus’ death, not some kind of “imputed righteousness.” But whatever the case, anyone who thinks that “imputation of active obedience” is part of the essence of the Reformed faith is in error. The Reformed faith has always had people on both sides of this question.

7. The fact that Wright is an openly declared Calvinist is not an issue, of course, but you’d never know that from the way these men have written about him. Wright has never tried to be “above” the differences between Protestant and Catholic, as one of these writers falsely alleges. He’s completely Reformed and Calvinistic, and has said so many times.

8. Of course, Wright, like most English evangelicals, is in favor of women’s ordination. And he’s got some political views that I don’t agree with, though he’s an openly declared “small government man.” And of course, as a participant in the Great Conversation, there are a number of places where I disagree with Wright’s interpretation of a particular passage.

9. The final thing I’ll say about Wright is this: There is absolutely nothing in anything N. T. Wright has ever written that even in the slightest compromises the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Anyone who says otherwise is just ignorant.

10. So, the question for us is this: Is N. T. Wright dangerous to US? I don’t think so. He’s a fine evangelical and Reformed scholar who has much to say, and we should not be afraid to listen, and disagree sometimes or often.

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Back in March 2008, I wrote a series of three posts here on how Paul employs Scripture in Romans 3. One of the key bits under focus was the phrase “the righteousness of God,” since Rom 3 is essentially the New Testament epicenter for the term.

In those posts (read them for more detail), I showed that throughout the chapter, Paul is alluding to and citing Old Testament passages where God’s righteousness is mentioned. And the meaning of “Your righteousness” or equivalent could be described as God’s faithfulness to His commitments, His verity (truthfulness), commitment to the salvation of His people. (Thus the general reading of “covenant faithfulness” is a pretty good way to sum up.)

The question arises, though: what about 2 Corinthians 5.21? “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This verse has long been employed as proof of “the great exchange” – Christ takes our sin, and gives us His righteousness.

Now, those familiar with my writings will know that I have absolutely no problem with the first part of that equation – certainly Christ bears our sin on the cross. And there is also a sense in which Christ’s righteousness becomes ours, but the shape of that is a bit different from what is usually meant by “the great exchange” reading. (I.e. it’s usually taken to mean that Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us.)

But 2 Corinthians 5.21 is not a general statement about the “how” of salvation.This is demonstrated by the immediately preceding and succeeding context. Paul is speaking of his role as an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor 5.20). It is through these ambassadors that God makes His appeal; and it is in this role as a minister of reconciliation that Paul is speaking to the Corinthians, which is why in the verses that immediately follow he goes to such lengths to vindicate his ministry (6.1-13). (more…)

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