“At Least He Gets Jesus”

Questions About N T Wright

Or maybe not. For years people have said to me, “Well, Wright isn’t very good on justification but he’s solid on the resurrection and the deity of Christ.” The implication of this argument is that Wright is a well-placed, influential member of the Church of England with access to mainstream media, who serves as a voice for some aspects of orthodoxy. After all, each Easter, when the mainstream media launches its now annual attack on the resurrection, we can usually expect to see N. T. Wright on television defending the resurrection.  Therefore, it is suggested, those of us who’ve been critical of his interpretation of Paul should not be so critical because he at least defends some basics of Christian orthodoxy.

It’s also been suggested to me over the years that this minimalist approach to Christian truth is sufficient for our age, that we can’t really expect a figure like Wright to submit to Reformed idiosyncrasies (such as justification defined as free acceptance with God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through faith and salvation defined as deliverance from divine wrath) since he’s committed to catholic truth about Christ.

What if Wright isn’t committed to catholic truth? What if, via his theory of exile and return, he has not only radically re-interpreted Paul but also re-interpreted the person of Christ? Rachel Miller writes:

Wright has redefined what it means to say that Jesus is God. From the general consideration of Jesus’s work to the specifics events of his life, death, and resurrection, Wright has fought against what he sees as errors in the church’s understanding.

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  1. As I said on her blog, I had to read Wright for myself since I heard the same thing “he gets Jesus right,” so I read How God Became King. Very little in there was helpful, the 1st and 3rd books were nothing but bashing ‘western thought’ and promoting his socialist agenda. Reading the book satisfied my curiosity of what he had to say and I thought it’d be good but, it wasn’t.

  2. Yes, saw this article on the Aquila Report yesterday. Wright has been a huge concern to me, because I am close to someone who is really impressionable to his teachings, as he was introduced to Wright’s work in school. Of course it’s not “just” a justification issue…because that changes the whole way we look at God, the world, and man. Wright has also been outspoken on the issue of the historicity of Adam. Also, his views on the sufficiency of Scripture are sketchy if we all have to be experts at second temple Judaism to “get it.” And then there’s the confusing of the two kingdoms, which has led to Wright’s social/political gospelizing (Is that a word? I’m just a housewife theologian, so it’s okay for me to make up words).

  3. Scott,

    I am one of those who think that Wright is sometimes wrongly maligned – but that fact doesn’t make him sound. Wright’s critical-realism leads to very significant problems. Five or six years ago, Professor Gaffin pointed out to me what still strikes me as a jarring misrepresentation of Jesus by N.T. Wright. On page 609 of “Jesus and the Victory of God” Wright asserts (speaking of Jesus):

    “As such, he must have known that he might have been deeply mistaken. The aims and goals which we must postulate if we are to make sense of his praxis, stories and symbols must have involved him in what we might call a great Pascalian wager, staking all on his vocation and vision. It was, after all, a huge gamble.”

    I defy any exegete to try and demonstrate from Scripture that Jesus wasn’t certain about who He was and what He was accomplishing through His life and death. Furthermore, if Jesus wasn’t certain about who He was yet accepted worship and told people that their eternal destinies depended on how they responded to his words wouldn’t that mean that Jesus was sinning?

    The idea that Jesus was involved in some sort of huge gamble is not orthodoxy. Any Christian who meditates on the assertion that Jesus “must have known that he might have been deeply mistaken” should be utterly appalled.

    Best wishes,


  4. I should have included at least one Scripture reference. Here is John 13:1-4 in the ESV:

    “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.”

    Try changing “knew” and “knowing” to “guessed” and “gambled” and see how silly that reads.

  5. Dear Trent,

    You wrote so little that I may be misunderstanding you. Please correct me if I have done so.

    You seem to be confusing “knowing everything” and “knowing truly”. In the Incarnation, the Second person of the Trinity laid aside his prerogatives. This means that Jesus, as to His human nature, did not always know everything. Jesus Himself makes this point in Matthew 24:36: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

    But notice that Jesus freely acknowledged that He did not know “that day and hour.” There is nothing sinful about not knowing. There is something very sinful about claiming to know when you don’t.

    Furthermore, there are explicit texts, such as the one I cited from John 13 unequivocally tell us that Jesus knew He had come from God and was going to God. You can multiply such texts out numerous times throughout the gospel records.


    • Sorry, I was not clear I was agreeing with you that he knew he was the Son of God, second person of the trinity, just pointing out a few other stories showing that He knew this.

  6. Many thanks to Rachel for superior reporting- again!

    Sadly, my first thought after reading Wright’s comments on Jesus was, “Why should I worship this person?”

    Some people criticize the ancient ecumenical creeds for being arid or stale (which they aren’t, of course). But to read N. T. Wright is to be robbed of a deep, reverential love for the divine Savior. At least that was my reaction. Power here, deliverance from exile there, inclusion for all – So what, if this man is not fully human and fully divine, a Perfect One who shares my humanity and is the perfect sacrifice for my sin?

    N. T. Wright can mouth the creeds all he wants while rethinking the very concept of God. Let him speculate on about Jesus flirting with the lunatic fringe. The Jesus he seems to be moving toward is no blessed Savior but is more like a really good administrator.

    Can you imagine the heavenly choir in the book of Revelation adoring the Jesus of N. T. Wright?

  7. Shouldn’t every true Christian revolt be disgusted at Wright’s view of Jesus? I do mean a visceral reaction. You know that this is not the Biblical Jesus. This is not the Savior you worship. This is not the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, through alone we know the Father.

    Remember that Pliny reported to the Emperor Trajan early in the second century that Christians in their worship “sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” A pagan Roman official nineteen hundred years ago “got it” better than a twenty-first century Christian theologian.

  8. I’m not defending Wright, but I cannot help wondering if a large part of how/why he has gotten so off-track is because he does not appear to truly know or understand the positions he speaks out against. For example, almost never does he accurately articulate the historic, confessional Reformed faith. He almost always presents caricatures of it. Does Wright truly understand historic, confessional, Reformed Christianity? It does not seem like he does.

    Also, on the one hand, I do question whether the blog post you linked is completely on target with Wright’s views. In “Jesus and the Victory of God”, there are several instances where Wright seems to clearly be saying that Jesus was/is Yahweh, the God of Israel; he basically says Jesus and Yahweh are identical or synonymous. BUT…on the other hand, several of the quotes in the blog post very clearly seem to be endorsing views that are heterodox. Having read much of Wright’s work, I understand that he often is not intending to be precise with what he says and that he often speaks out of his dry, tongue-in-cheek, English wit. Several of the quotes quoted in the blog post are probably just that: imprecise and a product of his dry, English wit.

    But I still found quite a few of those quotes to be very troubling–quotes that I see no way to explain away. Time will tell where all of this ends up leading Wright. Let’s pray that he turns from his erroneous views.

    • Bradley can’t he say that Jesus is God/Yahweh and deny that the historic understanding of God/Yahweh is correct? This is the great problem with his rather high-handed stance toward catholic (universal) Christian teaching. If only the church had the opportunity to consult with him before framing her creeds and confessions.

      • Absolutely. I do think Wright is on a slippery slope. But I don’t think any of this is surprising. Wright seems to be doing the same thing with Jesus that he did with Paul: re-evaluating historic Protestant theology (or a caricature thereof) in order to get a more “historical” understanding of Scripture.

        Wright definitely seems off-base in his Christology; he’s on a slippery slope. I just don’t think he means that Jesus is “God” in the same way that many flaming liberal Anglicans do. That was pretty much what I was getting at.

    • It seems to me Wright doesn’t care if he makes straw men, it makes it easier for him or perhaps he is woefully ignorant of the fact that American evangelicalism isn’t the 2nd generation to the Reformers. He looks at the shallow state of some parts of evangelicalism and projects it back on the Reformers.
      What do you mean ‘English wit?’ Is there some cultural barrier here where the English can’t somehow articulate their views so ‘we misunderstand him’ as apparently everyone who disagrees with him does because we’re all American?

      • At times, he says things to make a point. He exaggerates, over-emphasizes, etc. In a word, he’s snarky. And it definitely seems as though he means to be snarky. Saying things to get a reaction, etc. Reformed theologians generally tend to write clearly and precisely. They want what they are saying to be clearly understood, so they try to make communicate in a way that clearly conveys what they are saying. NTW does not write like most Reformed theologians. I think he is often misunderstood, but that is largely his own fault. In technical theological writings he does not “play by the rules”, so to speak. He’s unclear, snarky, etc. People rightly expect him to write in a clear, precise, straightforward way. But that is not how he writes most of the time.

        In my opinion, the NTW controversy was/is so drawn out and nasty not just because of what he teaches, but also because of the way he teaches it.

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