N.T. Wright On Paul

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that N.T. Wright is one of the most important theologians and Christian scholars alive today. I started “getting into” him because of his work on the Resurrection, and later discovered his work on Paul, which I find to be absolutely fascinating and rings true to me at every word (though that doesn’t mean much given my deep ignorance of all things biblical and theological).

Wright’s work on Paul stretches out over many thousands of pages, so it was a bit of a challenge to find a summary on his thesis on Paul, until I found this document (PDF) on the unofficial N.T. Wright Page (a great resource). Again, I find this to be absolutely fascinating and true, and worth reading for anybody interested about Paul and the question of justification (and if you aren’t, what are you doing here?).

The reason I point this out is not just because it’s interesting, but because it seems to me to confirm what I wrote about earlier, which is that, after hacking through many weeds, we find that the New Testament, the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and most Protestant accounts, or accounts that most Protestants wouldn’t disagree with, actually agree on justification. Again, I am an ignoramus (I really mean that), so I may be wrong. But I really do increasingly believe that, at its heart, the Reformation was all one big misunderstanding. (How can a simple misunderstanding lead to such a dramatic event? Well, the prince of this world is the father of lies and division.)

EDIT: While googling around I found this dashed-off answer by N.T. Wright to the “Why not Catholic?” question. He has a lot of good shots at us, which we should take with joy and humility (yes, we’ve been behind on this whole Bible stuff). I particularly appreciated this:

To say “Wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome” is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair. Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick from time to time.

Boy, that weird, big, half-broken, dusty ocean liner, why, that sounds a lot like….the Body of Christ. I think of Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital and I think of how in World War II all of the “good” ships were repurposed for military purposes and so the hospital ships were these barely-seaworthy clanking wrecks. Yep, that’s the barque of Peter alright.

Also I want to read more Wright on Mary.



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  • I think the whole “selling sacraments” thing might have had something to do with the misunderstanding.

    • Yeah.

    • Dagnabbit_42


      But it puzzles me: Why should it be, that such intelligent men as N.T. Wright are unable to distinguish between failure of constitutive principle and failure of practice?

      Of course nobody should sell sacraments. Just like no clergyman should sexually abuse children…and just like no bishop should deny the sacrificial character of the Eucharist or ordain an openly, actively homosexual bishop, or attempt to ordain a woman, or support legalized abortion.

      But the fact that these sacrileges and crimes have been done by various Catholic clergy and Anglican/Episcopalian clergy says nothing whatsoever about whether the Catholic Church is the church Jesus intended all Christians to remain in communion with, or whether the Anglican communion is, in God’s eyes, a valid alternative, or whether Anglican clergy are validly ordained, or how Jesus intended to organize His kahol, His ecclesia.

      N.T. Wright’s answer suggests that he is ignoring such questions out of existence and opting to focus on issues which are merely cosmetic by comparison.

      By that, I don’t of course mean that it doesn’t matter when a clergyman sells sacraments or supports legalized abortion. Such sins cry out to Heaven, but if Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares is true, we can expect such behavior even in His church. So, such sins, coming from inside an ecclesial community, do nothing to prove one way or the other whether that community is “The Church.”

      So either a smart guy like N.T. Wright is not getting the nature of the question, or there’s some reason he doesn’t think that question is relevant.

  • NT Wright does not make someone Catholic but it does make someone reinterpret the Reformation. if you say Luther was wrong on justification then you cannot look at the Reformation the same way. Luther was not fighting for truth at the expense of unity. He was destroying unity for the sake of his own heresy. A very different narrative.

    • Yeppp…

    • Jonny

      Wright’s analysis of the Reformation goes more like this: “Rome was getting some important things really wrong, and Luther had some sense of it, but didn’t quite understand it either; he too was limited by the Latin translations of scripture available and a lack of knowledge about the first century world common in the medieval period, just like his Roman opposition. And, when you get right down to it, he just wasn’t the theologian that, say, John Calvin was. Still, he had a point, and Rome failed to listen, just as it failed to listen to Jan Hus before him.”

      So yes, Luther got Justification wrong according to Wright, and yes, a better sense of ecclesiology on all sides of the Reformation might have spared us all some headaches. Even so, I doubt Wright would be jumping on the bandwagon to condemn Luther as a heretic.

      Edit: Perhaps it’s best to read him in his own words- http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2007/11/19/trevin-wax-interview-with-nt-wright-full-transcript/ . You can skip down to the bit where he answers the question, “You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching?”

      • The statement you link is interesting. Wright basically says Catholics have justification correct right now. He says they didn’t believe in justification by grace in the 16th century. He is wrong about that. Still leaving that aside he sees the Holy Spirit having led the Catholic church to the truth. They have the true gospel. So why split? Can a schism be justified over secondary doctrinal issues?

        He asks why Catholics don’t accept him at the Eucharist. They do. He just has to join the historical church of Jesus. Why is he suggesting Galatians 2 is calling us to some weak unity? Unity means being one community. It means having one leader. It means holding to one faith. If the historical church has the true gospel then why not just do that?