A PCA Ruling Elder in NYC reviews Wright’s appearance and raises some of the same concerns that I raised about the wisdom of Redeemer inviting NTW to speak at Redeemer NYC.
Original Post 25 Mar 2010
He’s appearing under the auspices of the Center for Faith and Work (HT: Nick Batzig). This worries me in four ways. First, it seems to say, “Well, we may disagree on what the gospel is but there are other important areas where we can agree and so we should work together where we can.”
I’ve heard and read this sort of rationale. It would be applicable if a) we weren’t talking about a church-sponsored event and b) if we were talking about a matter in the common (not neutral) realm, i.e., were we talking about how we can work together with non-Christians toward a common social good, which wouldn’t regularly occur under the auspices of the visible institutional church. This doesn’t appear to be the case. The assumption here seems to be that Redeemer and Wright have a “common faith” on which we’ve agreed to disagree about the gospel and move on from there to putting to work the faith on which we do not fundamentally agree. This seems most confused and confusing.
If there is anything about which a church must be unapologetically clear and unequivocal it is the good news of Jesus Christ and the good news is not that we’re in by grace and we stay in through faith and works. The good news is not that in the resurrection of Christ God has vindicated himself and merely broken down the old ceremonial barriers between Jew and gentile. The truth is that the Rev Dr Wright has fundamentally re-defined what justification is. He has re-defined the good news such that it isn’t “the” good news any more, i.e., it’s not that Jesus has died as the substitute for elect sinners and that his suffering active obedience and his death have been imputed to all who believe in him and that he was raised on the third day for their righteousness with God.
The faith confessed by Redeemer NYC is unequivocal about what the gospel of justification is (WCF 11):
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
4. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.
5. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.
6. The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.
Second, the appearance of a notable critic of the Reformation faith seems to contradict the strong message sent from Redeemer NYC about the nature and importance of the gospel. The senior pastor of Redeemer NYC is a leading member, after all, of “the gospel coalition.” Given the uniqueness of its mission and role in bringing genuinely evangelical Christianity to arguably the most significant city in the USA, it’s been encouraging that, whatever other disagreements one might have about Redeemer’s approach to ministry, they’ve been unequivocal about the good news—at least it has seemed so to this outsider. Now, however, one has to wonder. It is not as if there haven’t been troubling signs in the past. There have been FV or NPP advocates in the Redeemer network. That fact has been hard to square with the notion that, “Well, at least Redeemer gets the gospel right” but one was willing to think that such facts were anomalies to be corrected. Perhaps they weren’t anomalies and they represent a new trend in the ministry of the Redeemer network of churches?
Third, inviting a notable, prominent, articulate advocate of a message that is not quite the gospel tends to make the the orthodox confession and proclamation of the gospel seem merely theoretical. This is how dead orthodoxy, i.e., doctrinal formalism starts. You see, the common and widespread misunderstanding persists that “dead orthodoxy” can only happen when people go through religious motions without genuine faith. This is better called “dead ritualism” and, to be sure, dead ritualism is a problem that cannot be denied. The whole history of redemption and the post-canonical history of the church reminds us of the danger of dead ritualism. There is, however, another sort of formalism: doctrinal formalism. It happens when individuals and congregations mouth the correct words but deny their substance by the way the faith is practiced. One sees this sort of dead formalism frequently in worship where the Reformed confession of the second commandment is formally honored but either ignored or actively transgressed. The subtle message is sent, “God is only friendly and kind. He’s your helper. You can do what you want in worship as long as it feels good.” That subtle message of course is powerful and a deadly lie. Reducing the biblical, orthodox, confession of the gospel to a mere theory to be disputed by prominent “evangelical” Anglican Bishops is nothing but dead formalism. I don’t care how vital and vigorous the other activities of a congregation are if the gospel is reduced to a mere theory to be held or rejected as one pleases.
Fourth, Can you imagine the Apostle Paul inviting someone, anyone, to speak at a congregation that one disagreed with Paul as to what the gospel really is? Are you kidding me? We don’t have to imagine at all. He wouldn’t even sit down to eat with his fellow Apostle, Peter who had implicitly contradicted the gospel by refusing to eat with the gentiles. He upbraided Peter for it and then recorded the event in Holy Scripture (by the inspiration of the Spirit) so that ministers would know better than to marginalize the gospel in favor of some other agenda, so that they would know the centrality of the gospel, and so that they would know to guard the its purity in their ministry.
We all err. The wonderful thing about grace is that we sinners can freely admit that we sin and err. We sinners redeemed by Christ’s unmerited favor do not have to be pretentious about being perfect. We are free, as Luther said, to “be a sinner.” Hitherto Redeemer NYC has been mostly clear about that. Here is an opportunity for Redeemer NYC to step up and demonstrate that freedom to be more than mere theory but to embody it in a corporate, institutional way and to say, “Hey, our desire to engage the culture got the better of us and we didn’t think through the implications of inviting an advocate of the NPP to speak under the auspices of the visible church with a confession of faith that is irreconcilable with Bishop Wright’s understanding of the gospel.”