Gerald Bray Critiques N. T. Wright

In a strongly-worded editorial in The Churchman. (HT: Marty Foord).

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  1. “It is a sad outcome, and one that is unworthy of a man who has so many gifts to offer to the church. Let us hope and pray that he will see this for himself and decide whether he wants to be a bishop or a scholar—but not both.”
    -From the material in the article, neither choice would be a good decision.

    -The name E.P. Sanders came up. I remember coming across an article of his in a book about Rabbinical Judaism by Jacob Neusner.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Hopefully this work will begin the demise of Wright’s wrong teaching on justification. If his view was so clear you wouldn’t think he would have had such a difficult time responding to critics.

    Very well stated by Brey. Perhaps he should be on the lookout for Wright’s next book as I am sure he will be stringently criticized for daring to criticize the learned Bishop!

  3. Bray’s remark about Wright’s disciples ” seem to come mainly from the ranks of those who have not studied the subject in any depths ” -certainly describes Wright’s parrots in the ranks of the Federal Vision.

  4. The above mentioned disiciples of the good bishop are throwing a real temper tantrum over at Justin Taylor’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ blog

  5. The comments of Bray’s are disappointing to say the least. If he was going to disagree with Wright at least he should have got wright’s thesis right. Even reading Wright’s book might have helped.

  6. Bray is right. Tom Wright has to choose between scholarship and the church. The book is remarkably sloppy in its historical claims. Exegetically, speaking generally, I find Wright to be occasionally interesting and mostly disappointing and often flatly wrong and wrongheaded. His grand thesis far too often overwhelms particular texts. In that respect he’s practically Hegelian! He never let a particular text get in the way of a good thesis.

  7. SG
    Wright ,along with the Federal Visionists frequently pull that rabbit out of the hat . Reminds me of what Maxwell Smart use to say, ” Ah, yes-the old ‘no one really understands me ‘ routine’.

  8. Scott, you described precisely my sentiments about Wright, to wit, a thesis or objective overwhelming a text or exegetical point. I am no Wright-reader or scholar. Several years ago, I carefully read about an 8-10-eight stack of print-outs from varied solid sources on, about and, in a few instances, by Wright. I couldn’t get to a “big idea” from the texts, to wit, Second Temple Judaism as a governing hermeneutical tool for Pauline exegesis. I just could not adopt the beginning, grand thesis.

    I find it better to camp in the Reformers themselves, e.g. Luther’s 58 volumes, which I am working. Also, time for a complete retour of all of Calvin’s writings–have done that. Also, a vigourous push through the Parker Society series, 55 volumes of the English Reformers.

    Somehow and someway, I think, this has acted as a prophylactic re: Wright. As you succintly noted, the “greand thesis” overwhelms the texts. To be fair, I need to do more reading of works by Wright, but, for example, he does not compare to Calvin or Thomas Becon in his 670-page Catechism (for his 6-year old son and two teen daughters).

    Again, thanks for you work on the FV-situation.


  9. I was slightly disappointed by Bray’s review.

    Piper’s book was excellent. It was irenic but yet offered a pentrating critique with a pastor’s sensitivities. Wright’s repsonse was not rude though I thought.

    Wright’s main beef seems to be that people respond more to the fact that he is “beyond the pale” than they do to his work. One of the main points he made in “justification” was that the “big picture” is central to his (Wright’s) work. To his big picture he has gotten piecemeal critiques.

    I also thought that Dr Bray’s remarks about a “plan B” after Israel’s failure were not reflecting of what Wright said, specifically on p. 126 of justification.

    Wright is not saying that the traditional insights about justification are wrong, but that they are not Paul’s main point.

    He also points out that Luther and Calvin were doing what he is trying to do – challenge tradition!

  10. Charles,

    Revisionists always cloak themselves in the mantle of the Reformation but what if what Tom Wright is ignorantly doing is actually taking us back to the very thing from which Luther and Calvin set us free? How does that constitute “progress”?

  11. I don’t think he’s exactly moving back to medieval catholicism.

    I would concur with him (Wright) that agreement or disagreement with traditional doctrine is neither here nor there. What matters is whether or not he’s true to the Scriptures. And Wright has received a lot more criticism on the degree of divergence (from the norm) of his work than on his exegesis.

  12. Bray does criticize his exegeis! Letting the one great theme that Wright sees everywhere overwhelm particular texts is not good exegesis, is it?

    I don’t find Wright to be a compelling or even technically insightful biblical exegete at all. Only his devotees find him interesting on that score and that is typically because they don’t seem to know the tradition very well.

    As to where Wright it taking us we shall have to disagree. The end result of his reading of Paul is exactly to go back to the medieval view of justification. That’s the perversity of it all.

  13. I’d be interested in seeing more in depth criticism of Wright’s exegesis. One of the strong points of Piper’s book was that he made some very specific challenges to things Wright had said.

    I would certainly not call myself a devotee of Wright. I’m still going through his material. But I have found it fresh and in many ways insightful. As with anyone’s work there are strengths and weaknesses. I still find “pistis Christou” a tough sell, as Moises Silva has well pointed out. I also think his readings of “miqsat ma’aseh hatorah” are a bit strained. I’d like to see what Joseph Fitzmyer would have said (20 years ago maybe) to Wright here! On the other hand I think his reading of Phil 2:12 is quite good. And yes, any reading of Paul that purports to situate him more comfortably in his Jewsih matrix is worth a read, albeit with the usual healthy grain of salt.

    To my ears there’s just too much “I don’t like N T Wright” and too little interaction with him specifically.

  14. Charles,

    I’ve heard this critique for years from Wright’s defenders. How much interaction is enough. I’ve posted lists of responses to NTW in this space only to have defenders cry: That doesn’t count! What if Wright’s exegesis doesn’t warrant response? Doesn’t one have to assume or prove that it is in order to justify the claim: You must reply to this?

    Why is this a one-way street? Where is Wright’s thoughtful, fair, careful reply to his critics?

    Mike Horton interacted extensively with NTW and others in one of his recent WJKP volumes and not a word from NTW as far as I know.

    Just to take a couple of examples from Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry Steve Baugh interacted with Wright and so did Mike Horton.

    Further, one has to deal with the methodological problems raised by Wright’s approach before one can begin to deal with particular verses. Those verses are read in a context. No question that one has to read Paul against his Jewish background but deciding how that works is a huge enterprise, as Wright himself has acknowledged.

    Here are some responses that I’ve noted or posted here:

    * Guy Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul.
    * Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation
    * R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
    * Don Carson et al, ed. Justification and Variegated Nomism (2 vols)
    * Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul
    * Seyoon Kim, Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel.
    * Peter Stulmacher and Donald Hagner, Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective

  15. Scott,

    Having just discovered this site I cannot claim to have reviewed the blog citations. But I will!

    However I own and have read 5 out of those 7 books (got to buy yours and Horton’s!). The references to Wright are usually glancing blows here and there. “Wright and Dunn this…”, “The problem with Wright and Sanders here is that…”. Westerholm engages him somewhat. Kim and Stuhlmacher almost not at all. Guy Waters does devote a chapter to him. In the 2 volume set by Carson there is almost no mention of him in the whole of volume 1, in which the idea of covenantal nomism is explored in Jewish writings and scriptures. This is where Wright lays his building blocks – and there is essentially no mention of him! I did think that Silva and Gathercole made some good points in volume 2, albeit not addressing him specifically to any extent.

    Piper was right on in his observation that Wright is a unique mix of scholarship and popular appeal. And Piper engaged him head one, albeit from a single angle. By pressing hard on some very specific points I think Piper exposed some significant gaps in Wright’s grand scheme. I would love to see a full-orbed examination of Wright (not the “new perspective”, which is a non-entity) from a conservative evangelical stance. But I cannot tell that it has been done.

  16. Scott,

    Thanks for the referral to “Helm’s Deep”. His critique of Wright is quite insightful. Like Piper, he has indentified some very specific problems and addressed them directly. I am anxious to see his next 2 posts on Wright in this “series”.

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