This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trevin Wax Interviews N. T. Wright at Asbury Seminary

Trevin Wax, a student at Southern Baptist Seminary, recently recorded an interview with Bishop N.T. Wright when the Bishop lectured at Asbury Seminary. Read the full transcript or listen to the audio version of this interview.

HT: JMC

13 comments:

jgb said...

I thought this was a wonderful interview. Trevin asked many questions that I think have been on the mind of many American evangelicals.

Dr. Caneday, did you find anything particularly noteworthy in the interview?

A. B. Caneday said...

JGB,

Upon my first read of Trevin's interview, it seems that he asked N. T. Wright many, perhaps most, of the questions that one would want to ask after reading John Piper's The Future of Justification. For example, Trevin asks him to summarize the good news. Wright summarizes the good news fairly and biblically, but probably not to the liking or preference of many. Wright does not focus his definition of the gospel upon the redemption of humans, but instead speaks of salvation of humans as "the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself." He refers to Romans 1:3-4 for his identification of the gospel itself. To be fair to Wright, it seems that his concern, ironically against the claims that some want to make, is a more God-focused definition of the good news than a human-focused definition. Wright says, Yes, God redeems fallen humans through Jesus Christ, but this redemption is an aspect of a larger objective, namely, God's dominion through the lordship of Jesus Christ. Does this render Wright wrong or defective or inadequate? Hardly. It is inconceivable, as one who has taught Scripture for many years, to pretend that I would define the gospel exactly the same way as Wright does or even as John Piper does. My attempt to define the gospel would entail a blending of the best of both Wright and Piper.

Concerning Trevin's question about justification by faith, it is difficult to take issue with Wright's response when he says, "And then justification by faith says, that verdict too is anticipated in the present. And when somebody believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if their moral life has been a mess, even if they’re not from the right family, they didn’t go to the right school, they have no money in their pockets… God says, “You are my beloved child. With you I am well pleased.” The verdict of the future is brought forward into the present on the basis of faith and faith alone, and faith is the result of God’s grace through the gospel of Jesus crucified and risen."

I do take issue with Wright in his response to Trevin's question concerning Justification Present and Future. Wright says, "People have often said, “Your idea…” (pointing to me) “…that future salvation will be based on the whole life led.” I say, Excuse me. I didn’t write Romans 2:1-16! Romans 2:1-16 is Romans 2:1-16. The evangelical tradition has screened out Romans 2 because it didn’t know what it was there for." I am in basic agreement with his understanding of Romans 2:1-16. I reject the view that interprets Paul as raising a "hypothetical claim" (see Lee Irons' essay or abstract).

Yet, I take issue with Wright when he contends that "future salvation will be based on the whole life led." Elsewhere, ironically (given his insistence that salvation and justification are not to be regarded as equated expressions), he says, "Paul has . . . spoken in Romans 2 about the final justification of God's people on the basis of their whole life." Perhaps N. T. is not quite as careful as he ought to be, even by his own standard. After saying "the word 'salvation' and the word 'justification' are not interchangeable," he seems to interchange them. Thus, he equivocates with regard to the meanings of the two terms even after insisting upon distinguishing the two terms. Such equivocation, it seems, is quite easy to do, for even Wright does it after pointing out the fact in others.

Also, I still take issue with him with regard to what I consider a poor way of depicting what Paul is saying in Romans 2:1-16. I do not think it is either correct or helpful to say that Romans 2 speaks of future salvation or future justification "base on the whole life led." My issue with this is that it tends to confound the basis and means of salvation. I grant the benefit of the doubt to N. T. that he is not using "based on" in the same sense that he does when he speaks of our salvation "based on" Christ's death. Nevertheless, benefit of the doubt granted, I think we can do better than confuse our readers or auditors.

These are the core items from the interview on which I would offer comments. Nothing I have said above is new, fresh, or different from things I've said before, at least I don't think so.

Your thoughts?

jgb said...

Dr Caneday,

Like you, I give Wright the benefit of the doubt on certain semantic issues like the ones you have pointed out. I would rather him be more specific/careful with his terms so that I would not have to give him this benefit.

I was disappointed to hear him say that he hasn't formally begun writing the next volume in his Christian Origins series which will be dedicated to Paul. However, upon further consideration, perhaps it is best that he hasn't started it because now he will be able to take things he has learned from men like Piper into account more.

I was excited to hear about a sequel to Simply Christian. I had no idea that such a book was in the works.

I don't mean to pull us off-topic, but I read Lee Iron's abstract regarding Romans 2 and it reminded me that Michael Bird presented his own paper on this topic at ETS. Are you familiar with Michael and his work? If so, could you give me your assessment of it? I have been reading his blog and I am thinking of picking up his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective. It looks very interesting.

In regards to Wright's view of the gospel, I read this paper recently and though it wasn't rigorous I thought it was helpful. Any thoughts?

I look forward to your reply!

A. B. Caneday said...

JGB,

I was also disappointed to hear Wright say that he has not yet formally begun to write his next volume in his series on Christian Origins. Yet, I am not surprised, given the fullness of his schedule. He is an exceedingly busy man.

I do know Michael Bird. I was unable to attend the ETS conference this year. I arrived in San Diego on Thursday, November 15, but I devoted my attention to the presentation taht I would make the next day at a forum on "the faithfulness of Christ," moderated by Michael Bird. So, I was unable to hear Micheal's paper at ETS. I have purchased his book, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective. It arrived today. I have had time only to thumb through the book without taking note of anything other than the outline.

I have read the paper that you linked--"The Gospel: The Return of the King" by Derrick Olliff. I find it helpful. I agree with what Derrick has to say in it. One thing that I appreciate about Derrick's approach, over against N. T. Wright's approach, is his more measured presentation. For example, he is careful when he says, "We should therefore see that the gospel is not, “You will be saved if you repent and believe in Jesus.” This conditional is a consequence of the gospel, but it would be significantly reductionistic to say that this equals the gospel. The gospel is far more objective and broader in scope than this. First, it is more objective because the gospel is not a conditional. It is first and foremost an historical fact. God made certain promises in the OT regarding His return to His people, His kingly reign, and the incorporation of the gentiles into the covenant, and the gospel is the proclamation that those promises have been fulfilled — Jesus is Lord (i.e., 'Our God reigns,' Is. 52:7).

"Second, the gospel is broader in scope because it is not just about the possibility of salvation coming to individuals. It is first of all about the arrival of God’s kingdom, Christ’s coronation as King of heaven and earth, and His victory over the ultimate enemy – sin and death. It is because of this universal, all encompassing, victorious kingship that we can then talk about some specifics such as the salvation of individuals. But we cannot reduce the kingdom to those specifics. Moreover, even when talking about salvation, we should see that the gospel is first of all about salvation in a “communal” sense. For example, the fact of a specific gentile’s salvation is an application of the broad gospel truth that God has brought salvation to the gentiles and incorporated them as fellow heirs into the same body (Eph. 2:11-22). But if we were to say that the gospel is “you [an individual] can be saved,” we would have truncated a general and historical fact down to a specific, individualized conditional."


Observe how he avoids hyperbole and uses the expession "it is not just about the possibility of salvation coming to individuals. . . ." In theological discussion, we ought to avoid hyperbole in favor of employing qualifiers that underscore the truth of what we believe is an aspect of a larger and greater whole. I regularly make the same point that Derrick does, when I teach the Scriptures. Invariably, I make the point that the good news in Jesus Christ is not only about the redemption of humans; it is also about God's redemption of his whole created order as an eternal habitation for redeemed humanity.

Lee Irons posted a new blog entry yesterday--"Wright on God and Politics." Though I disagree with Irons concerning Romans 2, I am inclined to think that many need to hear his cautions in this blog entry, with a few qualifications thrown in. There is no necessary, immediate, or direct correlation between Wright's work in theology and the political bent that he embraces. Yet, as I reflect upon Wright's work, I do wonder if his hyperbolizing makes room for his political bent. Hyperbolic rhetoric concerning things theological has readily induced many to embrace radicalized politics. I fear that this is a proclivity that we all must seek to avoid. Hyperbole needs to be used with caution, especially in doing theology and exegesis.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

I like Wright and some of the things he has opened my eyes to. That is that a crucial part of the gospel is that "Jesus is Lord". Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the fact that the atonement becomes 'sub-biblical' in his theology. But how can that be said in light of 1 Corinthians 15? Part of the objective proclamation, a very important one at that, seems to be that Christ died for our sins.

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I agree. The sacrificial death of Christ on behalf of our sins in keeping with Scripture is surely central to the good news. It is hard to understand how any NT scholar would subordinate Christ's death, burial, and resurrection as though these were not of the essence of the good news.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Ardel,

In a previous post you said, "It is inconceivable, as one who has taught Scripture for many years, to pretend that I would define the gospel exactly the same way as Wright does or even as John Piper does. My attempt to define the gospel would entail a blending of the best of both Wright and Piper." I have recently thought the same. It's comforting to know other people see things that way as well. Nevertheless, would you be able to tell me what you think the full gospel is?

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I'll have to respond later. Sorry about the delay.

jgb said...

Dr. Caneday,

I recently discovered that you had presented at ETS. I wonder if you might post your paper (or perhaps some audio) for your blog readers to peruse?

More generally, I would like to know what was your favorite ETS presentation and why.

I read Lee's post on Wright's politics, and I also listened to the audio from the debate between John Barclay and Wright but not yet all of Wright's "God in Public" presentation.

I am quite familiar with many of Wright's books and online articles, but I can't say I have gotten much of his politics in there along the way (at least not any controversial enough to criticize that I can remember). That being the case, I was surprised by Lee's statement, "Wright's theology and Wright's politics are a package deal. If you like his theology, but you aren't too keen on his anti-American politics, then you might want to go back and rethink the theology." That's a bit hard for me to swallow at this point (of course the "God in Public" audio may change my mind), and as far as Lee's blog post goes the claim seems baseless. Did his statement here strike you that way? I wish he had provided more evidence for his assertion as I think he is claiming too much here.

Lee says, "...he defines the kingdom of God so that the accent falls on saving the world, the creation, while the salvation of 'individual souls' gets subordinated," and then quotes a passage from the audio. I think the key section of Lee's quotation of Wright that would give that impression is, "[God's] whole agenda of dealing with sin and its effects and consequences was never about rescuing individual souls from the world but about saving humans so that they could become part of his project of saving the world." I think Lee has misunderstood Wright's aim here as I don't think Wright is "subordinating" the salvation of individual souls. However, I can't fault Lee much because I think this statement could be easily misunderstood because of a small nuance, namely the phrase "from the world." Having read Wright for several years now I have heard him comment again and again about the goodness of God's creation and His plans to restore it unto himself through Christ. The implication of that truth being that how we as humans "use" creation really matters. Wright's efforts in this regard have explicitly been to counter "Left Behind" or "it's all going to burn anyway" theology which essentially denies the goodness of creation and God's plan for it through Christ. Wright therefore often makes plain that our hope is not salvation "from the world," but God's glory filling the earth and the ultimate renewal of all creation (new heavens and earth) including ourselves (new Jesus-like bodies). Further, Wright even makes plain that he thinks God's plan for creation and His plan for "individual souls" are on par with one another. He says, "Equally too, yes, Jesus did die for our sins..."

Lee says, "Third, Wright argues that the death, resurrection, and lordship of Christ inaugurated the eschaton, thereby entrusting to earthly rulers the duty of anticipating the new creation here and now, what he calls 'restorative justice.'" I trust that Lee is not taking issue with the inauguration of the eschaton as I feel that is solidly supported from Scripture. Therefore it appears he is taking issue with the implication of the inauguration of the eschaton being that earthly rules have been entrusted the duty of anticipating the new creation here and now. I'm not exactly sure what is objectionable about this. I am under the impression that it is the responsibility of every person to follow Jesus and anticipate the consummation of his historical plan of salvation - rulers being (perhaps a special) part of that group. I don't see Wright saying anything more here than, "Our civic rulers ideally need to be followers of Jesus, but even if they aren't we should still hold them to Christian standards as best we can." This dovetails with Lee's next point.

He says, "...the church’s role is to remind the earthly rulers of their obligation to enact Jesus’ victory here and now and to call the earthly rulers to account when they fall short." Again, I don't see what is objectionable here. The church's role is to remind (indeed call) everyone of their responsibility to follow Jesus and enact His victory here and now (His victory is the only reason salvation is available in the first place).

Lee continues, "Wright views the kingdom of God as not really being about the salvation of the elect on the basis of the atoning death of Christ applied to sinners through effectual calling in the context of the preaching of the gospel. Though personal salvation is included, it is only a means to the end of helping God finish his project of restoring creation." I think Lee simply hasn't proven this point. I realize that Wright's statements in the audio may appear somewhat lopsided, but at the same time the Kingdom of God is larger than my personal salvation. This is a crucial point that I think Wright is correct to hit home time and again. Most evangelicals don't suffer from too much focus on the redemption of all creation (including the rest of humanity) through Christ and our part in it. However, I dare say that many suffer from an over individualized view of the Kingdom of God, and I think that is exactly what Wright has in mind when he is making these points. Context is very important here, and I think Lee may be missing this a bit.

Lee says, "[Wright] is wrong in his over-realized eschatology which assumes that the new creation is advancing quite publicly even prior to the eschaton in the physical creation, in society, and in the political realm." As we live in this already-but-not-yet age I think there is great room for debate about how the Kingdom of God can be manifested by those who call Jesus King. I don't think Wright "assumes that the new creation is advancing quite publicly." Rather, I think Wright is calling followers of Jesus to advance the new creation publicly because it shouldn't be simply confined to private life.

Lee says of Wright's "over-realized eschatology," "This is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ teaching concerning the hidden nature of the kingdom in its present pre-eschatological phase." As with other points Lee is simply asserting this position and not supporting it exegetically. Perhaps his post was not the place to support it, but I would expect a link or citation otherwise. I know that Wright's conclusions (right or wrong) on this matter are exegetically based which he explains in his larger works.

Lee continues, "[Wright] denigrates the spiritual, largely non-public, hidden-from-view activities of God’s Spirit in effectually calling the elect, justifying them by imputing the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ to them, and progressively sanctifying them in Christ-like character and personal obedience." From what I know of Wright he believes such "hidden-from-view activities" are essential to any non-hidden activity. Wright's presentation here was "God in Public." One can't expect Wright to address "hidden-from-view activities" when that simply isn't the matter at hand. As Wright (and others) has said before (loose paraphrase), "One can't say everything at once."

Lee says, "Wright sacralizes the city of man so that it loses its character as part of God’s common-grace, non-holy order for the provision of a temporary field upon which the operations of soteric grace may be played out via the gospel mission of the church." I don't see how Wright has sacralized the city of man. It seems to me that Wright isn't trying to make the government a primary agency through with the Kingdom is advanced for that is the church's job. Rather I think he wants the church to be involved in public life so that it may shape, in as much as it can, the outcome of public policy that affects the lives of millions.

Lee says, "...as ordained by God civil rulers are merely given to promote temporal justice, to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens. They are not agents of the eschatological kingdom. They are not means of bringing in the eschaton." Again, I don't think Wright's aim is to make civil rulers "agents of the eschatological kingdom." Rather, I think his aim is for the church to make sure that the civil ruler's temporal justice is true, that their protection of life is without prejudice, that their liberty is for all, etc. Wright's cites Wilberforce in his presentation. Wilberforce's work flowed from a Kingdom focused agenda to stop slavery. His aim wasn't to make the English government agents of the Kingdom. Rather it was to make sure that their rule was not antithetical to the Kingdom.

I have more thoughts on this matter, but I don't want to belabor the point. I find it somewhat frustrating that comments are not open on Lee's blog, as it seems more appropriate to interact directly with him on this matter. However, I am ever eager to hear your opinion on this matter, Dr. Caneday.

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I'm sorry about my delay. Whew! I'm too busy.

You asked me, "would you be able to tell me what you think the full gospel is?"

When I returned to your question, I realized that you asked a huge question. May I plead inability to provide a response that will satisfy the magnitude of your question. Given the fact that thousands of books have been written on the subject, I openly confess my utter inability to proved you with a explanation or elaboration upon what I "think the full gospel is?"

If I may, instead, I would like to offer a few observations concerning how I would like to see both N. T. Wright and John Piper strengthen and expand upon what they say concerning the gospel.

Where N. T. Wright is rather strong and full, concerning the renewal and restoration of God's creation as the eternal habitation of the redeemed, I think that John Piper's presentation is weak and malnourished. Wright is strong in how the gospel of Jesus Christ runs contrary to Platonism and to neo-Platonism. He regularly comments on the errors of many church hymns, especially those that came out of the Victorian era, concerning the eternal abode of God's redeemed people. Recently, during his sermon on November 18 in San Diego at the worship service hosted by the Institute for Biblical Research, Wright commented upon the last verse of Charles Wesley's hymn, Rejoice, the Lord is King, which we had sung shortly before he preached. Here is the offending verse.

Rejoice in glorious hope!
Jesus the Judge shall come,
and take his servants up
to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear
th'archangel's voice; the trump of God
shall sound, rejoice!


For thirty years I have been saying the same thing that N. T. Wright is saying concerning our eternal abode. It is not ethereal. It is tangible. It is on earth.

John Piper, however, in my hearing (and I'm a member of Bethlehem Baptist Church), speaks of our eternal abode in the same vein as Charles Wesley and most others. If he believes that we shall inhabit this earth renewed, John does not make much of it, to use a phrase he loves to use.

Given the rightness of Wright's assertions concerning the renewed earth as our eternal abode, Wright, it seems to me has a view of Christ's death that is fuller and more expansive than Piper has, or at least articulates. Piper, as with so many, does not simply emphasize Christ's death with regard to humans (the elect), he focuses almost exclusively on this, magnificent and glorious as it is. Wright, however, because he endeavors to emphasize that which is not anywhere near adequately preached from Christian pulpits, namely the renewing of this earth twisted and contorted by sin and the curse, shifts his emphasis, if not his focus, to speak of the effects of Christ's death for the cosmos.

North American evangelicalism has been severely injured by the excesses and wrong-headedness of Fundamentalism and of Dispensationalism. The implicit neo-Platonism of Fundamentalism has done irreparable damage to the preaching of God's Word concerning the believer's hope that includes the liberation of creation from its bondage to decay along with our own bodily resurrection (Rom 8:22-25). At many Christian funerals I weep, not merely out of grief over the loss of a loved one or a beloved friend, but over the neo-Platonizing of our eternal abode. I am anguished over how pagan so many funerals are that should be thoroughly Christian.

Also, the Israel-fixation of Dispensationalism has done severe injury to our Christian hope with its teaching that the church is not God's eschatological redeemed people but that ethnic Israel is. Consequently, their ethnic-Israel-eschatological-fixation does serious damage to the proclamation of our hope of inheriting this earth renewed. The earth is not the inheritance of Israelites. The earth is the inheritance of Abraham and his seed (Rom 4:13-14). Dispensationalists have insisted that the Jews are God's earthly people and that the church is God's heavenly people. They are correct only in the restricted sense, a sense that they do not actually mean, namely, that Israel was God's people as the earthly shadow and foreshadow of God's redeemed humanity.

N. T. Wright is correcting these blunders. If it seems that he is overcorrecting, it may be because correction often looks like overcorrection. I wish, however, that John Piper would join Wright in this endeavor to correct these errors that have plagued North American evangelicalism.

I could also wish that N. T. Wright would join John Piper in preaching a clearer sound concerning justification, that justification principally entails God's declaration of righteousness. Yet, how I wish that John would join Wright to preach that justification truly is God's verdict of the Last Day brought forward to the cross in Christ Jesus, for the cross of Christ is the place where God has issued his verdict of judgment (John 3:19). God's verdict of the Last Day is now proclaimed already whenever the gospel is faithfully preached. Why not preach the gospel as faithfully as possible?

I wish we could and would all be even-handed and balanced in our theological proclamations. Regrettably, we are not. If one could take the best of John Piper and the best of N. T. Wright and blend them together, it would be wonderful. Until both and all the rest of us, too, are chastened fully by the Word of God, we are obligated by love for God, for his Word, for Christ and the gospel, and for fellow Christians to bear patiently with the shortcomings of one another.

I trust that this offers some insight into my concerns whereupon your question touches.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Ardel,

I am thinking that these are the types of things I will write about in my thesis for my M.Div. However, I am not the greatest reader in the world. Where is the best place to start to really understand Wright? His For Everyone series perhaps?

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Oh yes, and I meant to ask you what some other good books are on the gospel which would be helpful to consult, not just Wright?