N. T. Wright on Christology and Monotheism


Johnny Walker and Scot McKnight have posted about Tom Wright’s treatment of monotheism and Christology in his new two-volume work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I’ve been reading it, and unsurprisingly it takes a long time to work through nearly 1,700 pages. I will probably blog about it in chunks in the end.

I meant to mention a while back that James White, an apologist, took pains to depict mainstream New Testament scholarship – even that produced by Christians – as untrustworthy, focusing on examples like Jimmy Dunn and myself! There is probably little that needs to be said in response, other than that scholarly works are probably not best interacted with in audiobook form, and making up your mind first and then evaluating scholarship based in whether it does or does not confirm your preconceptions seems liable to lead to self-deception rather than learning.

But returning to N. T. Wright’s statements to the effect that Paul viewed Jesus as the one in and as whom God had come to Israel, I wonder what it would mean to flesh out (pun intended) the implications of those words. Can that language fit Jesus being God’s supreme agent? Can it fit Nicene and Chalcedonian Christology? Is Wright trying to get as close as he can to traditional Christological language without being thoroughly anachronistic? Or is he trying to be as faithful as he can to Paul without offending conservative Christians in the process? How do you understand the things that Wright has to say on this topic?

  • http://meafar.blogspot.com/ Bob MacDonald

    Thinking on these things is not exactly a slam-dunk. I may have mentioned Boyarin’s Gospel and the Memra – but I suppose that is something you have read.

  • leighcopeland

    Please flesh out your question. I’m reading PFG and I would like to do so with your questions in mind. Will some see a tension between ‘agent’ and ‘embodiment’? So far my impression is that yes, he doesn’t want to be anachronistic; but no he’s not concerned that he might ‘offend’ conservative Christians. I’m glad you will be working through PFG; one reviewer expects this book to set the agenda for the conversation on justification for the next 10 years. I don’t know whether I will have made it through my first reading of he entire series in the next 10 years or before I die, but I don’t think I will be much distracted by commentators who ignore the larger narrative and stick to traditional systematics.

  • Evan Hershman

    I only made it halfway through the book. In the end, as always when I read Wright, his tedious bashing of other scholars and insinuations of hidden agendas on the part of those he disagrees with got to me.

    • http://meafar.blogspot.com/ Bob MacDonald

      I find his criticism on the phrase ‘in Christ’ to be accurate (chapter 1 fn 45 online here).

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    I have not begun to read Wright’s latest book. But my guess is that he holds to a high Christology that is consistent with the ancient creeds. However, if he never clarifies that in his 1,700-page series, then we might need to ask Wright some specific questions about his view of Paul’s Christology that are not addressed in his scholarship.

  • newenglandsun

    I stopped reading James White a long while ago. I had to decide – shall I try and assassinate a peasant and “big whoop” or should I go after a king instead? So I started reading more and more quality scholars.

  • Jaco van Zyl

    The problem with NT Wright’s treatment of NT Christology is that it’s a mishmash of functionality and ontology, all fused together, to declare Jesus is YHWH. At times he seems to get it almost right (functionality) at other times he plays the divine identity card…See some of it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/11/05/what-did-it-mean-to-call-jesus-god-nt-wright/.

    What can I say about James White? *sigh* He debated Shabir Ally in 2013 here in South Africa. At one point he called James Dunn “some scholar who sits in a dark room, thinking about something to write just for the sake of getting something publised.” Says the Calvinist dude who doesn’t even have an accredited PhD…

  • Xavier

    It’s interesting that, in private correspondence, Wright calls James Dunn “a spent force”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      In private correspondence to whom? In what context? Why should such a statement by him matter, whether private or public? And could he have been referring to recent health issues Jimmy has faced?

      • Xavier

        It was in the context of his recent book on Paul where he maintains that he has “split the Shema”. Something Dunn, and yourself, disagree with him on.

      • Xavier

        Furthermore, Wright seems to contradict himself when he
        writes that “…what Paul the apostle—or someone else before him—has done with this famous prayer is utterly breathtaking…It is a measure of the dramatic shift that has come over contemporary New Testament scholarship in the last generation that this conclusion, which was hardly even noticed 30 or 40 years ago, now seems unavoidable and central to our understanding of Paul’s christology…the Shema is the REDEFINED… the real SHOCK is of course simply the expansion of the Shema to include Jesus within it… A small step for the language; a GIANT leap for the theology… And that fresh theology…finds its riches and densest expression in Paul’s RADICAL REVISION of the Shema.” Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Ch. 9: The One God of Israel Freshly Revealed. [CAPS mine.]

        Yet, in one of his previous books Wright says that “the
        answer Jesus gave [in Mar 12.29] was thoroughly NON-CONTROVERSIAL, quoting the most famous of Jewish prayers…The Shema…[that] was as central to Judaism then as it is NOW…” Jesus and the Victory of God, Volume 2, pp. 304-305.

        • Jaco van Zyl

          Xavier, I have found Wright to be very inconsistent. In his Christological explanations he haphazardly fluctuates between functionality and ontology, only to arrive at ontological identity with God. I’ve read from other sources too that he has become increasingly condescending toward established, yet controversial, theologians. It would be unwise to think that Wright is above criticism. I think many of his hermeneutical and logical flaws deserve to be highlighted. His soteriology is compelling but his Christology is a mess.


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