Not the last word?

No, I don't agree with everything NT Wright says. Let's get that out of the way. Are some things helpful, though? Yes. Here is a sampling:

On the coherence of Scripture, contra rationalists and the overly-systemazing:
"Many of the accusations [from academia]... of flat contradiction [within Scripture] arise not from historical study proper but from the imposition on the texts of categories from much later Western thought (from, for instance, the sixteenth or the nineteenth century). Obvious examples include the idea that a book which teaches 'justification by faith' cannot also teach 'final judgment according to works,'... or that the proclamation of Jesus as 'Messiah' (a Jewish category) is somehow in tension with announcing him as 'Lord' (a Gentile category, supposedly)..... Just because some Western theologians cannot see how certain categories fit coherently together, that doesn't mean that those categories didn't fit in the first century." (pg 52).

This addresses the tendency of some to read too quickly and easily their doctrinal assumptions into texts. "We know it can't mean what it looks like, because that would mean..."

On the relationship between Old and New Covenants in Scripture:
"Heavy-handed schemes such as those of Marcion (the God of the Old Testament is a different God to that of the New) and the theologically cognate ones of some Reformers (a strict antithesis between law and gospel pressed into meaning that, as Luther once said despite his general awareness that things were not quite so simple, 'Moses knows nothing of Christ') do no justice to the sophisticated early Christian sense of continuing to live under the wholescripture, albeit in this multi-layered manner." (pg 57)

Here my point, with Wright, is that there is grace in the OT and law in the NT. The Law/Gospel divide is helpful at certain points of doctrine and/or, but messes you up if you make it an over-arching grid.

But Wright's main point is that Scripture's authority is the authority of God through Scripture. Here he gives away too much:
"Rather than moving toward something like the dynamic concept we are expounding, both the Reformers and their opponents were understanding 'authority' primarily in terms of 'the place where you could go to find an authoritative ruling.' This was quite natural, seeing that this was one of the main menaings of 'authority' at that time. But it does not help us very much in addressing the questions we have raised in this book, which have to do with the way in which scripture carries the dynamic, saving power of God." (pg 75)

This is just a nice, academic way of saying that the pre-modern idea of authority is nonsense and doesn't even deserve rebuttal - we all know it's crazy, so just forget it.

But I still believe it. Wright cannot just wave his hand dismissively at this idea, that the Bible is the final court of appeal for any dispute among Christians. The Spirit and the community interpret, yes, but the Spirit will not and the Church may not contradict Scripture. Wright leaves the door open for that to happen.

In some ways like Karl Barth, NT Wright rejects the liberal view in its outright rejection of authority, but doesn't get close of enough to an "under Scripture" for my comfort. Still, his ideas on the full-orbed Gospel as God's Kingdom are very helpful...

1 comment:

  1. You have touched on one of the things that sometimes drives me around the bend with Wright. He can and does write many helpful things, but then in the same book or article he writes things that seem to erode the strength of what he has written.

    If scripture does not have authority as the final court of appeal, what ground does anything else he just affirmed stand upon? Yet, it seems that he does not realize this at all.

    While this does not remove the usefulness of what he says in the other areas, it certainly annoys me when he does this.