N. T. Wright Is Still Wrong

I merely want to focus our attention on what I think is the most detrimental theological claim advanced in this book. Wright polemicizes by arguing that we should change the famous line “justification by faith” to “justification by loyalty.” He reasons, “If pistis [faith] can mean ‘loyalty’ as well as ‘faith,’ might one express Paul’s most famous doctrine as ‘justification by loyalty’?” (p. 411). It’s not really a question. This is a claim made throughout the entire book, but it’s a claim that is theologically detrimental. If “loyalty” entails faith and (good) works, then “justification” would be by faith and (good) works. But, one’s gut instinct might be to say, “Wait a minute, isn’t justification ‘apart from works of the law’ or ‘acts of loyalty’?” Not quite, Wright says. He argues that the Reformed tradition has long held “the wrong framework” when considering Paul’s famous “doctrine of justification” (p. 408). He insists that we “miss what Paul’s ‘justification’ is really all about.” How? By holding to “a moralistic framework,” one that asks, with Luther, “How can I find a gracious God?” and then searches frantically for “a store [of merit or righteousness], amassed by someone else on our behalf” (p. 408). Apparently, then, the Reformed tradition is filled with a bunch of frenzied moralists who only care about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and encountering God as a gracious Father rather than as a condemning Judge. And that’s “moralistic”? I have to disagree. Read more»

David Briones, “Book Review: Paul by N.T. Wright” Tabletalk May 11, 2018.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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15 comments

  1. I appreciate this critique, but I think Wright’s re-formulation of “justification by loyalty” is far worse than “theologically detrimental.” In my view, it falls under the apostolic anathema of “another gospel.”

  2. N.T. Wright’s interpretation of Paul and his view that the reformation doctrine of justification is the result of an aberrant phycosis on Luther’s part is the theological and historical equivalent of fake news. I think he protesth too much. He should be dismissed out of hand and be condemned as the heretic he is by formal synodical declaration.

    • Is “phycosis” a typo? Perhaps you meant “phytosis”? E.g., killer tomatoes?

      Definition of phytosis. plural phytoses \-ōˌsēz\ : an infection with or a disease caused by parasitic plants.

  3. N.T. Wright’s reformulation of the faith is such a cold piece of business, it never ceases to disgust me. The fact that he continues to spread his venomous heresies in the Church, without censure, is a sad indictment on it’s doctrinal decay.

  4. It is hard to imagine peddling N.T. Wright’s “justification by loyalty” to the prophet Isaiah after he “saw the LORD high and exalted, seated on a throne” (Isaiah 6).

    All he had was the atoning work of the cross, given in type by the burning coal–and fully expressed in Isaiah 53.

    I think the reason we are so susceptible to erroneous teaching about justification and faith is because we do not regard God as holy.

    A view of the holiness of God (given by the Holy Spirit illuminating the Scriptures to our minds) would knock all heresy and self-righteous wind out of us.

    The cross of Christ was all Isaiah had. It is all we have.

  5. From Broines’ book review:

    “… According to Wright, the primary task of the biographer is to search for “the man behind the texts” (p. xi). He sets out to accomplish this first by getting “inside the mind, the understanding, the ambition (if that’s the right word) of Paul the Apostle, known earlier as Saul of Tarsus. What motivated him, in his heart of hearts?” (p. 2, emphasis added). Then, second, since Paul’s “mind” was not a blank slate when he encountered Christ, “and since he was bent on Jewish obedience to ancient codes, even enforcing that obedience with violence,” Wright also asks, “Why did all that change? What exactly happened on the road to Damascus?” (p. 2, emphasis added). These two questions—what motivated Paul, and what caused his radical shift in loyalty on the road to Damascus—set the tone for Wright’s biography…”

    Sounds like Wright is coming straight from Schleiermacher.

  6. Wright is still uber wrong but, it’s kind of funny how he is inching closer it seems. By thay I do not mean comprising or that faith by works is close to faith alone, only that Wright is changing is terminology to sound more orthodox. It is unfortunate he keeps vacilliating.

    • I read a friend’s copy of Tom Holland’s earlier “Contours” and he also engages with Wright there. I’m gald to see that he has developed this work further.
      Tom Holland the NT Scholar, by the way, is not to be confused with Tom Holland the secular historian, who can be a valuable resource in other contexts.

  7. This reminds me of those horrible “investigative” (did Jesus have a wife?) type of documentaries on the History Channel or A & E (always missing the mark by a mile and a half!)…” Wright also asks, “Why did all that change? What exactly happened on the road to Damascus?” (p. 2, emphasis added). These two questions—what motivated Paul, and what caused his radical shift in loyalty on the road to Damascus—set the tone for Wright’s biography. “

    • Wright moves into the area of speculation. And upon some of his conclusions develops theology.
      when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity, and neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their curiosity in vain speculation…

      He who considers these things with due attention, will easily disregard vague speculations, which attract giddy minds and lovers of novelty.
      Calvin, John. Institutes: Christian Religion

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