(Notes compiled by Dwayna Litz from Dr. Sidney Dyer)
How pleasantly myopic to view N. T. Wright’s perspective without the mirror of proper hermeneutics to remind us of the depravity of people apart from God’s grace. What an enchanting, universal perspective, absent the lens of mankind’s desperate need of a Savior.
A New Perspective on the Gospel
…Wright begins chapter 3 by telling his readers what the gospel is not. It is not "a system of how people get saved" (45). On this point, he is quite correct in pointing out that "the announcement of the gospel results in people being saved" (45). He then argues that the gospel is primarily the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Concerning Paul’s calling he states that
"Paul’s new vocation involved him not so much in the enjoyment and propagation of a new religious experience, as in the announcement of what he saw as a public fact: that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead by Israel’s God; that he had thereby been vindicated as Israel’s Messiah; that, surprising though it might seem, he was therefore the Lord of the whole world." (p. 40)
Paul emphasized the Lordship of Jesus as an inseparable element in his proclamation of the gospel. What is disturbing is that Wright does not explain how this proclamation results in the salvation of sinners. Wright correctly points out that the title Christ refers to Jesus’ office as King. He then states that "it would do no harm from time to time to translate Iesous Christos not as ‘Jesus Christ’, nor even ‘Jesus the Messiah’, but as ‘King Jesus’ (52). What Wright fails to point out is that the name Jesus means Jehovah saves. Thus, the Lord’s office as King and role as Savior are expressed in the words Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Paul refers to Jesus as Savior seven times in the New Testament (Acts 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20; 2 Tim 1:10; Ti 1:4, 2:13, 3:6), as well as saying that He is Lord.
Wright does admit that there are other important elements to the gospel than the mere proclamation that Jesus is Lord. For example, he places the cross at the center of Paul’s gospel:
"The cross was for Paul the symbol, as it was the means, of the liberating victory of the one true God, the creator of the world, over all the enslaving powers that have usurped his authority. That is why it is at the heart of ‘the gospel’ (p. 47).
Notice that Wright presents the cross as the means by which God took back His authority from enslaving powers. This fits with his definition of the gospel as the proclamation that Jesus is Lord…
A New Perspective on Punishment for Sin
…A major problem with Wright is that, if he does hold to Christ’s vicarious atonement, he believes Christ died for and will save all men. He argues that
"the covenant between God and Israel was always designed to be God’s means of saving the whole world. It was never supposed to be the means whereby God would have a private little group of people who would be saved while the rest of the world went to hell (whatever you might mean by that)" (163)…
A New Perspective on Righteousness
…Wright wants Evangelicals and Catholics to share his interpretation of "the righteousness of God" in order to remove the major difference between them. He seeks to do this in his discussions on the use of the phrase in Philippians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Romans 3: 21-22, Romans 10:2-4, and Romans 1:17. Each time he argues that Paul is not referring to imputed righteousness…
A New Perspective on Justification by Faith
…In his treatment of the book of Galatians, he argues that Paul did not write a polemic against salvation by works. He believes that the law and circumcision are "the badges of Jewish race" (120). According to him,
"circumcision is not a ‘moral’ issue; it does not have to do with moral effect, or earning salvation by good deeds. Nor can we simply treat it as a ritual, then designate all religious ritual as cryptoPelagian good works, and so smuggle Pelagius into Galatia as the arch-opponent after all" (121).
He understands the law in Galatians to be "the national charter of the Jewish race" (122). In other words, it distinguishes the Jews from other nations. What Wright argues is that Paul is not teaching that men are justified by grace rather than works, but that men do not have to become Jews in order to demonstrate that they are Christians. Thus, according to him, ”justification, in Galatians, is the doctrine which insists that all who share faith in Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their racial differences" (122). But, the book of Galatians has been properly called "the battle-cry of the Reformation." It clearly demonstrates that salvation is not by works, as the Roman Catholics claim, but that it is by grace alone through faith alone, as the Reformers affirmed (cf Gal 2:15-16, 21; 3:10-22, 5:1-5).
Another text Wright deals with is Philippians 3:9 where Paul declares that he does not have his "own righteousness, which is from the law." He interprets this to mean that what Paul "is refusing in the first half of verse 9 is not a moralistic or self-help righteousness, but the status of orthodox Jewish covenant membership" (124). Concerning Romans 3:21-31, Wright claims that
"Paul has no thought of warding off a proto-Pelagianism, of which in any case his contemporaries were not guilty. He is here, as in Galatians and Philippians, declaring that there is no road into covenant membership on the grounds of Jewish racial privilege" (129).
Notice Wright’s remark about proto-Pelagianism. Throughout his book, he argues that the Reformers and their successors wrongly understood that Paul attacked a proto-Pelagianism in his epistles…
A New Perspective Which Must Be Rejected
…Wright hints at his ecumenical agenda in his discussion of the gospel. His view of the gospel appears to be part of an endeavor to shift the focal point away from what divides Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, thus bringing them into ecclesiastical communion. Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have no difficulty agreeing that Jesus is Lord. The area of disagreement involves Jesus as Savior. As already stated, Roman Catholics believe that Christ is sacrificed anew in the Mass and that partaking of the elements grants atonement. This is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death.
Wright argues that the phrase "the righteousness of God" refers to God’s covenant faithfulness and that it never refers to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
The most disturbing material in Wright’s book is that which sets forth his view of justification. His effort to take the doctrine out of the realm of soteriology and to put it in the realm of ecclesiology is undoubtedly motivated by his desire to tear down what divides Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. His view of justification is an attack on the very heart of the gospel. Paul warned of the danger of preaching another gospel in Galatians 1:8, "But if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached, let him be accursed." Paul, by using the words "any other gospel" (emphasis added), shows that he is attacking all other forms of the gospel, including therefore a proto-Pelagianism in the book of Galatians. It is against the backdrop of this attack that the true doctrine of justification shines so brightly and clearly. An unbeliever stands guilty before God as a criminal charged with a capital offense. He can only escape the judgment he deserves by believing in Christ who lived a righteous life and died an atoning death for sinners. Men are not waiting to stand before God as members of one of two disputing parties in a civil lawsuit who are hoping that God will find in their favor.
Wright’s view of justification is an attempt to reverse the Reformation. We must resist such attempts. The issue is one of life and death – eternal life and eternal death. When theological professors and pastors abandon the biblical and confessional doctrine of justification, they sacrifice the gospel and the souls of men…
Dr. Sidney D. Dyer is Associate Professor of Greek and New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. [Source: Banner of Truth ]