Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A thought about NT Wright

Have been trying to get to grips with Tom Wright's thinking over the last few months. It has been helpful and stimulating to read his two books:
  • The challenge of Jesus - outlining his views of the gospel's message
  • What St Paul really said - outlining his take on Paul's theology

In response to the second, John Piper's book, The Future of Justification is very helpful. However, as with many critiques, the focus is on justification. What struck me, is that there is danger in Wright's redefinition of faith too.
  1. As I understand it, Wright’s view of faith means that although he accepts Christ’s cross work achieved forgiveness for his covenant people, he implies that this is personally received not because of faith per se, but because an individual is already a member of God’s people – it seems because God has made them such by his Spirit and call.
  2. Faith no longer therefore includes a sense of reliance on Christ for mercy and not on one’s own morality. And so as long as one has believed in Jesus as Lord, a sense of self-reliance for salvation, whether moral or not, seems neither here nor there. In particular, in-line with Wright’s view of covenantal nomism in first century Judaism, faith might not then be seen to be enough. Moreover, rather than holding judgement to be a time where the works of the believer testify to their faith, a lack of concern about self-reliance and a certain confusion over the nature of judgement by works, could easily encourage people to see their works as a supplement to faith in meriting acceptance.

Given the fact that these are the very dangers that threatened the Jewish Christians with judgement in Romans 2 (they believed in one sense, but not with humble repentance), we conclude that Wright’s views unintentionally have a very dangerous consequence indeed. Most succinctly, he redefines faith in a manner that does not rely on Christ as opposed to one's own morality for salvation. And by doing so, he does not teach a works-based gospel per se, but he does allow one. Moreover, when one understands justification by faith in traditional terms, his desire elsewhere to separate it from the gospel itself only further encourages the problem - for it prevents this reliance on 'works' from being seen as a gospel issue.