Wright Questions Please!

Over the next week or two I hope to follow up my talk on Wright’s understanding of Jesus with talks on his understanding of Paul. Within those talks I will particularly focus on Wright’s understanding of justification. My aim is to preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright by exploring his theology on its own terms. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary responding to the critics.

I intend to conclude this series of talks with a talk responding to any burning questions that people might have regarding Wright’s work on Jesus and Paul, or even about the man himself. If anyone has such questions please send them to me. If you have encountered a particular criticism of Wright and you are not sure how best to answer it, if there is an aspect of his thought that simply puzzles you, if you want clarification of his position on a particular matter, please leave your question. You can write them in the comments of this post or my audio posts, or send them to my e-mail address. I will try to answer the best questions in my final talk. The best questions will be searching, relevant, helpful and of interest to a number of listeners. Critics of Wright are especially welcome.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, N.T. Wright, NT Theology, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Wright Questions Please!

  1. Andrew says:

    Alright… here are a few things that I have long wondered about Wright’s theology.

    What does Wright think the word “faith” means? Why is it important for us to have “faith” (ie what purpose does our faith serve)?

    How Wright reconciles his seemingly contrary ideas of an ecclesiological justification by faith and an escatological judgement by works is unclear to me. One obvious way of reconciling the two ideas is to say that there is no connection between church membership and final judgement – eg God used Israel and the church as his tool for his temporal purposes; whereas final judgement is unrelated and is about moral goodness so whether a person happens to be a member of the church is irrelevant at final judgement. It seems that would reconcile the two, but he seems strongly against such a non-historical view of salvation. So, as a question: What is the connection between Justification by Faith and Judgement by Works in Wright’s thought? Also: Given that Paul firmly believes in a final judgement by works, why would Paul say that Church membership is by a completely different criteria – “faith”?

    Wright, in his NPP reading of Paul sees the condemnations of “works” as referring to Torah and not human effort before God. Given that in his reading, the New Testament no longer contains any statements saying human effort before God is worthless, and given he admits to a final judgement by works: why then does he still think that the idea that human effort can merit salvation is incompatible with New Testament Christianity? His reading of the NT is left with nothing but positive statements on the value of works, and teachings of a final judgement according to works, yet he seems absolutely determined to avoid the obvious conclusion that the NT teaches salvation by good works – why?

    Wright argues that Jesus’ death was done by the Jews for political reasons – ie for his being an anti-revolutionary. Yet the synoptics consistently note that the plots against him are a result of his anti-Torah teachings. What would Wright say in response to that observation?

    Regarding “Righteousness of God” in Paul. Wright’s reading seems to me to be answering a question no one would have been asking. Is he wanting us to think that the Israelites of Paul’s time were seriously doubting God’s faithfulness to such a degree that one of the most important aspects of God’s actions through Jesus was that it vindicated God as faithful to his covenant? Is there really any evidence to suggest that the Israelites were in serious doubt about God’s faithfulness? Aren’t they more likely to have been in doubt about their own righteousness as a nation before God (and thus blamed themselves for their nation’s troubles), rather than blaming God for unfaithfulness?

  2. Al says:

    Andrew,

    Good questions. A number of them will be answered within my talks on Paul. I will try to answer some of the others in my final talk.

  3. Lane Keister says:

    I’ll have a go at it, Al. Here’s my concern. You have said that NTW has imputation, but that it is just by another way. You quote his works as saying things like “What’s true of Christ is true of us,” and that you can imputation through union with Christ, but that it doesn’t come through the same channels. Here is my question: how is saying those things any different from what the Romans Catholic church would be willing to affirm? They say that what’s true of Christ is true of us. Further, they say that we become united to Christ. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections 1987-1995, especially 1987-1988.

  4. John Dekker says:

    preemptively address most of the criticisms that are levelled against Wright

    Pre-emptively? A bit late for that, don’t you think?😛

  5. Dana Ames says:

    Hi Alastair. Wright claims not to be a supercessionist, but I’m not sure how that is so. It could be that he simply doesn’t want to address that issue except as he already has; I don’t know. Any light you can shed on this would be appreciated.

    Six years ago I departed from an evangelical tradition (the extreme of which is typified by the so-called “Christion Zionist” movement in the US) that has left residual warnings of doom in my brain if I even entertain the thought that God may not be continuing to bless Jewish people just because they’re “the Jews”. I’d like to lay this thing to rest if possible.

    Thanks-
    Dana

  6. Daniel Nairn says:

    I’ll certainly be looking out for your talks on Wright’s Pauline work. Right now, I’m in the process of trying to lead some folks in my church through an NPP reading of the book of Romans. On top of that, I just bought an ipod and love playing with my new toy.

    I’d be interested in some clarification on Wright’s understanding of atonement. Sometimes he sounds to be very explicitly advocating a Christus Victor postition, yet at the same time he does not shy away from propitiation language (although it seems to be a secondary concern). My understanding of Wright is not developed enough to offer an intelligent critique – this is just an area of his thought in which I have not been able to fully comprehend.

  7. Al says:

    Lane, Dana & Daniel,

    Good questions. I will try to address them in my talk. Any more questions are welcome.

  8. benjamin says:

    I am wondering about Bishop Wright’s understanding of this final judgement. Is it possible for a formerly justified Christian to not be eschatologically justified in the end? Is apostasy possible?

  9. Al,

    I know I’ve brought this up to you before, so its nothing new, but I’m still interested in what you might think: given Wright’s view of the meaning of Jesus’ message of the kingdom vis a vis the Zealot agenda (that is, Jesus was nonviolent), how is it that Wright is not a pacifist? If the community of God’s people is marked by its nonviolence, how could it participate in the violence of the state (and, if it takes the non-violent Jesus as normative for all people, how can it even approve of it from a distance)?

  10. ryan says:

    re:andrew’s comment above.

    i believe Alan Storkey’s book (jesus and politics)speaks to this, but i haven’t read it yet. Wright has nice blurb on the back of it, and from my flipping through the book, it seems Wright’s thought is important to Storkey’s.

  11. Al says:

    Andrew,

    I might answer your question in the comments here — I have not yet decided — as it is not directly relevant to Wright’s more general thought on Jesus and Paul. Wright hasn’t said a whole lot about pacifism, but he has a number of suggestive comments here and there in his works.

    In lieu of a full response, I will suggest that the answer has something to do with the power that has been committed to the Church as the colony of Christ — the king-in-waiting. The power of the sword does not belong to the Church, but has been given to the state. As the state legitimately wields the power of the sword, Christians can participate in such judgment. However, the kingdom itself is not to be furthered by such action. Christ’s victory will take a different form.

    In opposing the Zealots’ vision of kingdom initiation Jesus was not necessarily advocating as broad a position of non-violence as some would suggest.

    I would agree with Ryan that you are probably best reading people like Storkey and O’Donovan, who have engaged with Wright and have been influenced by and influenced him (O’Donovan particularly). But as you already know O’Donovan far, far better than I do that recommendation is a little redundant!

  12. Ryan/Al,

    I checked out Storkey’s book, and I don’t think he’s quite as amiable to Wright/O’Donovan as you might think. (If my memory serves me) I checked p320n38 and he explicitly said that the Anabaptists have done better than the Calvinists/Reformed in thinking about church-state relations especially with regard to use of power. He also has two of Yoder’s books in the bibliography The Christian Witness to the State, and The Politics of Jesus (albiet, he has O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations in there too).

    But I haven’t read the whole book, so I will refrain from a complete judgment.

    Al, if you don’t answer the question in depth on this occasion, I would look forward to hearing you expand a bit more on your second and third paragraphs above.

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