Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why is N.T. Wright speaking at Redeemer?

I like Tim Keller. His passion for urban church planting has served as both model and inspiration for a new generation of church planters. His commitment to biblical exposition and clarity in the Gospel are an encouraging alternative to the doctrinal carelessness which prevails in far too many churches. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which Dr. Keller serves as senior minister, is a theologically conservative member of the PCA and fully affirms the Westminster Confession of Faith. For these reasons I am confused, indeed concerned why N.T. Wright has been invited to speak at Redeemer Presbyterian.

N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham is the most effective spokesperson for what is termed "The New Perspective on Paul" (NPP). To be extremely brief Dr. Wright denies the doctrine justification by faith alone. He also denies the doctrine of imputation whereby our sins were imputed to Christ as His righteousness is imputed to us through His work on the cross (Rom 5). Wright argues that the church has been wrong on these central doctrines. Now, however, he and few others equally enlightened scholars are here to help us understand what the Bible really says.

These are not small matters. It would be one thing if Redeemer had invited a premillenialist to speak or someone who believes in an old earth (or young earth). But they have invited a man who has fundamentally redefined the Gospel and the doctrine of justification. They have invited a man to speak who denies that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to the believer. These are not peripheral doctrines.

Now, some may say, "It is good to hear various views. N.T. Wright is an important biblical scholar. It's a good oportunity to engage in meaningful discussion." But we must remember that the church is not a lecture hall or university. We do not gather to entertain various "opinions" on the Gospel and justification. We are called to proclaim and defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Dr. Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California puts it well:

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.

I fear that Redeemer's invitation to N.T. Wright will be seen as an endorsement, at least at some level, of his views. But if not an endorsement Wright's appearance will likely suggest that redefining the Gospel and justification is not that big a problem. It will give his views a veneer of acceptability from one of the most influential Reformed churches in the country. It is not, in my opinion a good idea.


Orlando said...

Have you read Wright? Have you read Justification? Wright doesn't deny justification by faith alone...and he further articulates "righteousness by imputation". You do a disservice with your general and inaccurate statements. Read Wright.

Todd Pruitt said...


It seems that you are the one who needs to read Wright. He absolutely denies justification by faith alone. This is one of the central features of the NPP. What is more he denies the imputation of Christ's righteousness to sinners.

These are some of the reasons why he has been so enthusiastically embraced by the emergent movement.

Wright would be very surprised by your assessment of his positions.

Justification is not a very good book. He takes cheap shots at men like Piper. You ought to read Piper's book "The Future of Justification" which is a systematic and biblical dismantling of the NPP view of justification.

curtis klope said...

The New Perspective isn't really new. Wright would say that it is actually an OLD way of reading the text, ie more historically accurrate. And that our current understanding is actually newer...

Todd Pruitt said...

You are correct. The NPP sees the historic reformational understanding of justification as having missed the point because they didn't understand 2nd Temple Judaism. This is based in large part upon E.P. Sander's work. However, there has been some very impressive work since Sanders that has shown his conclusions about 2TJ to be inaccurate.

curtis klope said...


So, to get down to the root of the issue then, what you really have a problem with is the new (old) understanding of 2nd Temple Judaism.

I admit I haven't read everything about what has been proposed about 2nd Temple Judaism, however, I think this makes it pretty clear that NY Wright is not some evil doer, trying to lead people astray.

He's merely re-reading the Bible, in light of new historical data, and attempting to reconcile the two. If you disagree with the interpretation of the historical data, that's your prerogative. But, I don't think it warrants the vitriol that Wright receives.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Todd Pruitt said...


You and I probably will disagree about the degree to which Wright recasts the gospel, "the rigteousness of God", justification, and imputation.

Wright concludes with Sanders that 2nd Temple Judaism was a religion of grace and that therefore we have completely misread Paul. But the historical data simply does not support this.

So while I appreciate Wright's work on the historical resurrection of Christ, his redefining of justification and other central doctrines of the faith cause we great concern. I do not want his views to be embraced within the body of Christ.

curtis klope said...

"Wright concludes with Sanders that 2nd Temple Judaism was a religion of grace and that therefore we have completely misread Paul. But the historical data simply does not support this."

Anything you can point me to, online or off, that fleshes out more about what you're talking about here? Specifically about how the historical data doesn't support this?

Because my understanding of this topic, was that Sanders, Wright, etc. have come to the conclusions that they have ENTIRELY based on the historical data that they've seen?

So I'm curious as to what the disagree historical sources are? I'm honestly trying to understand it all more, so I'd love to read up more on where the historical disagreement is coming from.


Harley A. said...

Todd, would you say that the covenant theology prevalent among our Presbyterian brothers uniquely opens them up to Wright’s arguments? Based on my limited knowledge, it is in Presbyterian circles where this is gaining the meager foothold it has.

threegirldad said...


Not speaking for Todd, but I recommend this article as just one example of the sort of reference you asked about.

Todd Pruitt said...

Indeed. That is an excellent response by Dr. Waters. Also, Cornelis Venema's book "The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ" is outstanding. Dr. Venema dismantles the NPP. Another important ressponse to the NPP is Guy Waters' book "Justification and the New Perspective on Paul."

There are other books as well. I highly recommend Piper's "The Future of Justification" and "By Faith Alone" edited by Johnson and Waters.

Casey Taylor said...

I find it curious that someone can "appreciate Wright's work on the historical Jesus and resurrection" and yet find his theological positions to be problematic when those positions are grounded in the methodology and conclusions of the aforementioned work. Sounds like having your cake and eating it, too.

Todd Pruitt said...


It's called discernment. I'm sure you've heard of it. He's right about the historicity of the resurrection. He's wrong about justification and imputation.