Theology: April 2007 Archives

I have mixed feelings about N.T. Wright's work in theology and biblical studies. I think he's committed a great deal of excellent thought, and I think much of what he has to say has great apologetical value, particularly in response to radical and even somewhat mainstream Jesus revisionism (although I think there's some unhelpful revisionism in his own work). In theology in particular, I think he's majored on the minors and minored on the majors to a great extent. See my post from a couple days ago for D.A. Carson's in-depth interaction with Wright, which I think is right on. Whatever criticisms anyone might offer against Wright, it's very clear that his scholarly work is well-researched and responsible in most respects, and he deserves great recognition and respect for that.

But I'm disappointed to find that some of his public writing isn't in that same category. Richard Dawkins loses all rationality in his recent book critiquing theism and sounds like the internet atheist with no background in philosophy who confidently asserts philosophical howler after philosophical howler. So too it seems N.T. Wright can weigh in on politics in a way that doesn't speak well for his ability to maintain high standards in disciplines that aren't his specialty. He penned this piece in The Telegraph [hat tip: Mark Goodacre], which includes the following criticism of Tony Blair and George W. Bush:

With the disastrous escapade in Iraq, there was a sense of horror that the two world leaders who were most overtly Christian - Bush and Blair - should be lured into such a disastrous parody or caricature of the Christian imperialist, going around the world beating up Johnny foreigner and the infidel.

It's a shame someone like Wright could stoop to such a sophomoric portrayal of the motivation for invading Iraq. I wouldn't complain if he represented Blair and Bush fairly and then expressed disagreement with their reasoning. I'd disagree, but I wouldn't compare him with the likes of Dawkins.

Bush and Blair have both consistently affirmed Islam as a good religion (which is consistent with believing it to be wrong, as long as they simply mean that Muslims can be good citizens, which is exactly what they mean). Describing it as "a disastrous parody or caricature of the Christian imperialist, going around the world beating up Johnny foreigner and the infidel" is just disingenous and morally below the belt. It's drastically unfair to the reasons they gave to justify the invasion, and thus his own choice of words seems to apply to his own characterization of their actions. His description is indeed a caricature, a pretty childish one.

Even if some of the critics are right in their attribution of motives to these leaders, it still wouldn't be true that they did it simply to beat up on foreigners or to persecute infidels. Even if it's about Western interests in oil, revenge against Saddam Hussein, establishing Western control over the Middle East for self-interested reasons, and so on, that doesn't amount to wanting to beat up on people just because they're foreigners or members of another religion.

This doesn't lower my respect for Wright's academic work, of course, and I happen to know enough people in philosophy who say as ridiculous and petty things as this and yet somehow manage to put forward very intelligent and responsible academic work in their specialty. I do have to say, though, that it disappoints me to see someone with such respect as a teacher in the church making such indefensible and immoral statements about people he seems to view as fellow Christians.

D.A. Carson has reviewed N.T. Wright's new book on evil and God's justice. You can read the review here. Carson has authored what is hands-down my favorite book on evil from a biblical (as opposed to philosophical) perspective. I'm currently reading through the second edition of that book, but you can read my review of the first edition here. I have read his review of Wright, and it's definitely worth reading whether you've looked at Wright on this issue or not. Beware that it's ten pages long, so reserve some time for it.

For more discussion of Wright, who has been getting some play in the Christian blogosphere lately, see

  • Jollyblogger's post on the penal substitution discussion in the UK (where it's clear that Wright affirms penal substitution and denounces some who are denying it, from Wright's quotes in this article).
  • Adrian Warnock's discussion of Wright's critique of both sides in the UK debate
  • Justin Taylor's post on the Carson review
  • Jollyblogger's followup on Wright and penal substitution
  • Justin Taylor's discussion of Wright's defense of Steve Chalke, whom he amazingly doesn't think denies penal substitution
  • But perhaps the best thing to do is to read what Wright has to say about the penal substitution debate and then to examine the other posts in the light of Wright's own carefully prepared thoughts.
  • Update: Justin Taylor has some choice quotes from Wright very clearly defending something that most people would count as penal substitution (and that Wright himself clearly does count as penal substitution, given some of his above-mentioned quotes against those he does believe to deny it). Perhaps Wink would quibble here on whether Wright's view is truly substitutionary. I suspect Wright would accept substitution and union on that issue. But it's very clearly penal, and that's the main issue under debate here.
  • Update 2: Alastair Roberts has some helpful distinctions between different models of the atonement. One position worth considering is that none of them is wrong, but what would be wrong would be denying any of them. (Or perhaps most of them are correct, and it would be wrong to deny any of those number.) Heresy, of course, is another matter. Being wrong does not always line up with being heretical, and I'm not sure I've thought about this long enough to have a sure view on that.

MeredithKlineFestschrift_op_207x331.jpgTheologian and biblical scholar Meredith Kline died last night, according to Justin Taylor. It seems he had been sick for a while, and he died peacefully. I actually know two of his grandsons, who were both (at different times) part of our congregation in Syracuse when they were in college, but I haven't really been in touch with either since they graduated except at a couple weddings.

I've never had the opportunity to read anything directly by Kline, but I've regularly seen his name in footnotes on all manner of subjects, and his work has influenced a number of people I have read, particularly in understanding the significance of the covenant treaty form of Deuteronomy and in furthering the framework interpretation of Genesis 1. His theopedia entry is currently uneditable, or I would have updated it, but it does have some nice information about his contributions to biblical theology and Old Testament studies, with a few links to further sources.

Update: Some tributes.

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