N.T. Wright Primer

Rarely a week passes without one of us being asked something like, “Why are so many giddy with excitement over N.T. Wright?” From a recent cover story in CT to a very popular site extolling all things Wright he is unquestionably the most prolific writer in the larger Protestant world. The sheer volume of his writing is amazing. What’s more he has proposed or restated a number of ideas that are outside the bounds of historically Protestant theology which raises caution flags for many people (and rightly so). Jim Hamilton has done us all a service in distilling the key perspectives of Wright into a manageable dialogue. Most Christians will never plunge the depths of Wright’s voluminous works but are most likely to encounter him in books like his popular Simply Christian. For that reason I am finishing a review of Simply Christian which should be ready to publish here in a week or two. Also of note, Hamilton has published a helpful review of Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God 

So can I recommend Wright to folks in my congregation or to readers of this blog? I have read his first book, his latest book and many in between and my answer is no. While there are nuggets that can be mined here and there, I have serious reservations about his articulation of key gospel truths which for all the witty prose still comes out jumbled and unclear after a fair reading.

15 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for linking us to this very accesible dialogue. Something I’ll be sure to pass on to people who want to familiarise themselves, without plunging “into”, Wright.

  2. Do you happen to have a link to the comment by Wright were he calls a man a “brother” who denies the resurrection of Christ?

  3. Thanks Colin, your blog is the best blog around on preaching…keep up the good work.

    Jonathan, I do remember the quote but I don’t have a reference. It came in an interview after Wright’s debate with John Dominic Crossan (of the Jesus Seminar) at New Orleans Baptist Seminary in March 2005. If anyone knows the source please provide it here.

    Could his embrace of a heretic as “brother” be due to his view that justification is the “great ecumenical doctrine”?

  4. It was in The Australian, and the original link is gone, but

    here is a link to where James White
    quotes it directly…

  5. Thanks Even So.

    The actual quote concerned another Jesus Seminar fellow, Marcus Borg. Wright said the following about his denial of the resurrection:

    “Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. I actually think that’s a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don’t want to say he isn’t a Christian.”

  6. Thanks! Let me know if you have the original source – I’m thinking of incorporating that into a future sermon and want to give the source if asked (not to mention I want to get it right).

  7. Thanks for an excellent article and an excellent log. Very stimulating and helpful. We need more of this discerning type of critiquing today.

  8. John,

    Thank you for the kind words. I have great concern that many are reading Wright without spitting out the bones which are many and significant.

    I’m also glad you’re blogging, your site has been a great encouragement.

    Warm blessings to you!

  9. Jonathan,

    Please be aware that there is a key qualifications on Borg’s belief of Jesus’ resurrection. He does not believe he was *bodily* raised, but I do believe that Borg thinks he was resurrected in some other sense (spiritually perhaps). Anyway, the point is that his beliefs are slightly more nuanced that it might first appear, as are Wright’s.

    You also might find this summary helpful as well:


  10. Justin,

    I’m very aware of Borg’s position. In fact, if I may speak candidly, he has not offered anything other than heretical tripe. Borg’s position is to essentially explain the resurrection in “spiritual” terms in the minds of Jesus’s followers. To be sure, the Jesus Seminar work that Borg helped to author states, “The body of Jesus probably decayed as do all corpses. The resurrection of Jesus was not something that happened on the first Easter Sunday; it was not an event that could have been captured by a video camera” (The Acts of Jesus, Harper Collins, 1998: 461-62). So in summary in case there is confusion: Borg’s position is out of bounds as far as the Scripture is concerned. I take the Apostle’s inspired judgment on the matter to be the final word (cf. 1 Cor. 15). Do you?

    I also find Hornes defense of Wright to be standard Wright-defense stuff. It is lines like this that confuse the issue of biblical authority: “the changing world of the changing reader demands that the church continually reenact the ancient story as Script-inspired and Spirit-inspired actors. Loyalty to the original playwright and composer demands faithful improvisation of the original script and score for a new audience and a new day” (Horne).

  11. Paul,

    Was your query directed at me or at Jonathan?

  12. Thanks, I have corrected #10 comment

  13. Paul,

    I really don’t know much about Borg – only that his view of the resurrection is a bit more nuanced than, “he doesn’t believe in the resurrection.”

    I do agree with the Apostle Paul, which means I don’t agree with Borg. Furthermore, I am thankful for Wright’s work opposing the Jesus Seminar, and I think he is correct in saying that if you lose the *bodily* resurrection of Jesus you basically lose everything else. But I digress.

    Which part of the piece you quoted do you think confuses the issue of biblical authority?

    I have been working through Wright’s “The Last Word” in which he takes up the issue of biblical authority. I don’t think I understand his view quite enough to provide a simple definition of “biblical authority,” but I am interested to know how you define it (or perhaps how other significant theologians define it). I am honestly quite new to the whole discussion, if you can call it that.

  14. Justin,

    You asked, “Which part of the piece you quoted do you think confuses the issue of biblical authority?”

    The bits about “spirit-inspired actors” and the like for starters. I think I understand what he’s getting at but is this biblical or even something the Bible calls the people of God to do? The only vessel spoken of as “inspired” is Scripture (2 Tim 3:16)…not even the authors of Scripture are called inspired (much less readers in the 21st Century). I think his use of clear terms confuses the issue. What does “faithful improvisation of the original script” even mean? But this is not about Horne or Horne’s defense of Wright (which he feels the need to do often).

    How do I define biblical authority? I’m not sure I would have anything significant to add that has not been said by recent able systematic theologians (Grudem, Reymond, Culver). I’m a typical boring inerrantist who believes God’s revelation is self-attesting, perfect, final, true down to the letter and even piece of a letter. I do not share the “high” reformed penchant for seeing the authority of Scripture as bound-up with the interpretation of the Church (this is what I read Wright saying…and Horne for that matter).

  15. I see your point about using “inspired” in a way different from the normal theological understanding.

    To be clear, Horne didn’t write the article. A fellow by the name of Travis Tamerius did.

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