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NT Wright

Wrong about sola scriptura

NT Wright

NT Wright (Anglican bishop, leading New Testament scholar, prolific author) has parked his Trojan Horse firmly inside the Reformation walls. Because he dresses like a local, and talks like a local, few have noticed him wandering freely around the Reformation camp removing one of the most significant weapons from the Reformation armoury: justification by faith alone (Sola fide).

He has removed it from the ordinary foot-soldiers through popular works (often under the name “Tom Wright”) as well as from those holding leadership in the Reformation camp, most recently with his 1700 page tome, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

Surprise! When you actually read Paul (says NT Wright, rather than cherry-picking a verse or two out of context, seen through Reformation lenses, and using them as proof texts in a sermon in which you have already decided what you want the Bible to say) you find that (so NT Wright insists) Paul was not questioning the importance of doing good works as part of being a follower of Jesus, but only observances such as circumcision and dietary laws.

Shock! Horror! Some of NT Wright’s writing sounds more like the Council of Trent than like Luther or Calvin.

With this realisation, of course, out goes the “accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour” paradigm (found where exactly in the scriptures?) and the magical “sinner’s prayer” model (found where exactly in the scriptures?). If this is a shock for you, check this out: Did Jesus preach the gospel?

Once you’ve accepted this, and handed over that particular Reformation weapon, now attention turns to the next link, the next weapon, in the Reformation camp, the next sola: sola scriptura (found where exactly in the scriptures?). Obviously a belief that leads to ever-increasing fragmentation over ever-increasing disagreements over what the Bible actually says, or means.

And the most unscriptural thing of all is the concept of “Sola Scriptura”. If the Bible is the word of God, “Sola Scriptura” is a mere human opinion about the Bible.

Either we decide about the Bible, or in the Bible Christ has decided about us.

Bishop NT Wright

I like the call for Chuck Norris to move over. A new (perspective) hero is here to set the world Wright:

1. N. T. Wright doesn’t parse nouns. They decline themselves before him.

2. When James Dunn came up with the New Perspective, it was already old to N. T. Wright.

3. N. T. Wright doesn’t baptize infants. He sprinkles the hell out of them.

4. Dead theologians sit around and read books about N. T. Wright.

5. The Trinity isn’t a mystery to N. T. Wright.

6. N. T. Wright doesn’t read books. He stares at them until he gets the information he wants.

7. N. T. Wright once preached all night in an upper room. No one fell asleep.

8. Instead of playing crossword puzzles during breakfast, N. T. Wright solves New Testament manuscript variances.

9. N. T. Wright knows the Adamic tongue. But he only uses it to order take out.

10. N. T. Wright makes purple the most masculine color.

11. N. T. Wright is actually the guy Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 12.

12. N.T. Wright is only bald because his hair got too scared of his brain.

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76 thoughts on “Wrong about sola scriptura”

  1. As a Lutheran, you will have to forgive me for finding NT Wright assertions about Paul’s theology of justification by grace alone somewhat laughable.

    That being said, our New Testament professor in seminary mentioned that the “solae” could be interpreted in a few ways.

    Sola is feminine singular or neuter plural form of Solus. And Sola is used in the Nominative Case, AND Accustive and Albative cases.

    The usual translation to English is Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone. But my professor suggested one could see ambiguity and translate them as Through scripture, Through Faith, Through Grace, Christ Alone.

    I am not a Latin scholar by any means, but to me this sounds like Luther, who would have appreciated dual meaning and centrality of Christ.

    As a Theologian, I would say it seems like NT has missed the reformer’s maint point: Christ alone is our salvation, not scripture, nor faith, nor good works.

      1. Hmmm. I can’t think of any grammatical case or number in which “sola” could be made to agree with “Christus/-um/-o”, as would seem to be required by this reading. Or have I missed the point?

  2. What was it Pope Francis said recently?

    “If one has the answers to all the questions — that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.”

    That’s pretty strong stuff… but I bet he’s right.

    As T.S. Eliot said (in Four Quartets): “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility. Humility is endless.”

    Thank you, Bosco, for all you do.

  3. There is, of course, only one place that the Bible uses the words “faith alone”:

    “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” – James 2:24

    How can you have “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide” when the Scriptura says “not by sola fide”?

    1. But in the Reformation, there is no emphasis on what James 2 is decrying, the faith alone that is dead. If faith doesn’t change one’s heart, if it doesn’t affect one’s works, how can that faith be said to be alive? Where is that faith? Is it in a private place deep within the heart, insulated from all reality? That cannot be said to be a living faith in the living God.

      Does a person who lives in total isolation in a faithful way need to do good works when there is nobody for whom to do those works? Again, the criticism of good works is not a criticism of doing good things because of one’s faith, but a criticism of doing good things for their own sake (see also: A Clockwork Orange.) One shouldn’t offer alms to the poor where there are no poor who need them in hopes of getting into heaven. Vain works and vain faith are both dead, both false.

      Scripture says that faith which doesn’t change absolutely everything has not yet been taken seriously enough, has been too restrained or compartmentalized, for the sake of some resistance, some resilient and vile love for the world as it is, rather than the Kingdom. Faith is enough because true faith changes everything. True faith does good works where they are needed and rejects the idea that other people’s suffering is not our problem. True faith dos not do good works to become justified in the eyes of God, but because it is impossible to not do good works when one knows that one is ever in the sight of God.

  4. I recall a discussion in my seminary days when the prof admitted that the sola scriptura that we so often spout should probably more rightly be prima scriptura.

  5. Jordan Greatbatch

    How they will get around that one Carlo is perhaps be like Luther and say that the book of James is “An Epistle Of Straw” and note worth taking notice of.

  6. I hope I didn’t say this already but I was struck by the way that Salkinson-Ginsberg translate the learning of Jesus in Hebrews back into Hebrew from the Greek

    וְאַף בִּהְיוֹתוֹ בֵן לֻמַּד בְּסִבְלֹתָיו לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל מְצַוֶּה
    It is not compact like the Greek – literally it reads:
    but even though he was son, he learned (same word as Talmud) through the bearing of his burdens to hear the voice of command.

    His obedience includes not just hearing (often translated obey by itself) but also the mitsvah of command. Obedience is mandated and mandatory. Who knows that the knowledge of both grace and faith might be made possible through a real obedience.

    It was reading the psalms that convinced me that faith alone was not going to be the reality that is necessary.

  7. Thanks, dear Bosco, for raising this important question. It seems that some who favour the old ‘sola Scriptura’ understanding – as being ‘the only way’; may have forgotten that ‘Christ Alone’ in the Christian way. He is, indeed, for christians, The Way, The Truth and The Life. The Bible is words about God. Christ is God Incarnate.

  8. Thanks so much for this wonderful chuckle, Bosco. One of my guilty pleasures when procrastinating is looking up new Chuck Norris “facts”: now I have a new hero to read about (my favourite is the “upper room” one). Are they open for more contributions?

    13. N.T. Wright experiences time in the aorist tense.

    14. When N.T. Wright translates the Bible, his version is simultaneously dynamically and formally equivalent. In all languages.

    15. N. T. Wright isn’t justified by faith. Faith is justified by N. T. Wright.

    16. Form criticism, when done correctly, shows that the original content of every parable of Jesus was, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like N. T. Wright.”

    17. Jesus looked upon a certain man and asked him, “What is your name.” The man replied, “N. T. Wright.” And Jesus did not dare to ask him any more questions.

    Or we could adapt the old joke about Cardinal Ratzinger:

    Three New Testament scholars — F. J. A. Hort, Rudolf Bultmann, and N. T. Wright — met at the pearly gates, all of them excited finally to have an interview with St. Paul to clear up the questions that had fascinated them throughout their careers.

    First in was F. J. A. Hort. Ten minutes later he came out again looking thoughtful and announced, “It turns out I have made some significant errors in my biblical scholarship, and I must spend a hundred years in Purgatory to make satisfaction.”

    Next in was Rudolf Bultmann. Thirty minutes later he came out again looking resigned and announced, “It turns out I have made some significant errors in my biblical scholarship, and I must spend a thousand years in Purgatory to make satisfaction.”

    Finally, in went N. T. Wright. Three hours later, St. Paul came out and announced, “It turns out I have made some significant errors in my biblical scholarship, and I must spend a million years in Purgatory to make satisfaction.”

    The first time I heard N. T. Wright speak was actually a YouTube video of his last speech at General Synod before retiring from his bishopric. It was enough to make me decide I needed to pay attention to this man: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUIgVHScayo

  9. Denominations in the Wesleyan tradition and others infuenced by Arminius have never been Scripture alone. (Although many of them don’t know this, :-))

  10. And on a more serious note… 🙂

    I attended a useful one-day conference last month on the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP). One of the take-homes was that NPP arose initially from a “New Perspective on Judaism” (NPJ), and it’s not at all clear that the NPJ necessarily leads to all the conclusions of the NPP.

    Throughout, however, I had in mind a passage from a letter, dated 1840, by one of my Anglican heroes, the Rev. Walter Farquhar Hook (1798-1875), sometime Vicar of Leeds and afterwards Dean of Chichester:

    “That the popular notion of Justification is wrong is clear from this, that it leads most persons to be afraid of their Bible. How very seldom we hear a sermon on Justification by works, and yet Justification by works is as much a doctrine of Scripture as Justification by faith. The fact is, that too many Protestants make Justification by faith only, which is an important doctrine of Scripture, to be the very foundation of Christianity; whereas the one thing necessary is mystical union with Christ. Let us beware how we displace Christ, and elect in His stead a doctrine concerning Christ. Scripture does not love definitions, but would the following statement meet your views? We are justified

    Freely by God.
    Meritoriously by Christ.
    Instrumentally internally by faith;
    externally by baptism.
    We lose it by sinning.
    We regain it by penance.
    We evidence it by good works.
    It is consummated in glory.”

    (W. R. W. Stephens, The Life and Letters of Walter Farquhar Hook, 6th edn, London: Bentley, 1881, p. 305)

  11. Hi Bosco and other commenters joining in the merry condemnation of the structure of Reformation theology

    How would you know when you had done enough good works to be sure of salvation?

      1. Hi Bosco
        It is the direction of YOUR post which I am questioning, not what NT Wright says (though I am happy to look him up). As the writer of this post highlighting the dismantling of the Reformation, may I ask again,”How would you know when you had done enough good works to be sure of salvation?”

        YOUR answer is important to me as it may be that I have been wrong in my own understanding of the Reformation and thus I seek from you, further enlightenment as I weigh up whether sola fide is correct!

        1. Thanks, Peter. I do think, if the question is valid, that it applies to NT Wright at least as much as to my post. I don’t think in terms of the certainty of salvation as quantifiable by a mathematical formula keeping track of my good works like some sort of calorie-counter app. As you review your Reformation understanding, the following morphing of your question applies: ”How would you know when your faith was of the type to be sure of salvation?” Blessings.

          1. I am sure my faith is of the type to be sure of salvation when I confess that Jesus is Lord.

            Are you saying that you are uncertain of your salvation?

          2. So, Peter, in your paradigm of the type of faith to be sure of salvation, how would you know when a Mormon’s confession that Jesus is Lord was enough to be sure of salvation? [To remorph your question more specifically]. Blessings

  12. “The fact is, that too many Protestants make Justification by faith only, which is an important doctrine of Scripture, to be the very foundation of Christianity; whereas the one thing necessary is mystical union with Christ.’ – Jesse –

    Spot on, Jesse. We all need to remember that God’s Word became flesh – in Jesus Christ; accessible today in the Eucharist! We read of Him in the Scriptures, we partake of Him in the Eucharist. How blest can we be?

  13. I’ve just read Hick, _The Metaphor of God Incarnate_. After the turgid reiteration of every crackpot theory about what “fully God and fully man” might have meant since Chalcedon, it comes to an interesting conclusion that rather affects the need for and implications of “sola”-anything…

    The parents gave me some NTW to be reading, “to keep me on the right track”, for my birthday. It might be an interesting comparison of theologies coming after Hick.

  14. Some critical comments from an Eastern Orthodox perspective:

    Concerning the article itself, though, I wonder how closely the author has read Wright, especially since the author is Catholic! Wright slams Catholics just as much as he slams imputation and praises the Orthodox. It’s important that we not overstate what Wright has written. Wright sees himself as a sola-scriptura, sola-fide affirming Protestant. However, he substantially reworks sola fide so that it does not include the imputation of Christ’s active obedience and also so that it anticipates a Final Judgment on the basis of works. Furthermore, Wright’s emphases can be carried forward to rework justification entirely in terms of participation and theosis, without eradicating the juridical element. This is what Michael Gorman has done. So I wouldn’t say that Wright himself denies sola fide (unless you consider imputation an integral part of what it means to affirm sola fide.) Rather, he provides a substantial amount of exegetical work which ultimately, sets the foundation for eradicating the Reformation doctrine on an exegetical basis- though Wright himself doesn’t want to take it that far.

    I also think it’s important to not act as if Protestantism is reducible to American evangelicalism. Wright is certainly not an American evangelical (hence the lack of emphasis on the “sinner’s prayer”)- he is a high-church Anglican. Likewise, you won’t find the sinner’s prayer talked about in traditional Reformed or Lutheran churches. This doesn’t mean they aren’t Protestant- it actually means they are more Protestant in the traditional sense. Let us not forget that the early Reformers fought the Anabaptists just as vigorously as they fought Rome!

    1. Thanks, Seraphim. Not sure I can make sense of all you are saying – especially are you suggesting that this blog post (what you are calling “the article”) is written by a Roman Catholic, or a catholic in the sense that you would call yourself “catholic”? Blessings.

      1. Sorry, I just got on this blog for the first time today- I briefly perused it and it seemed that you are Roman Catholic (that’s the sense in which I meant it.)

  15. Hi Bosco at 4.03 pm

    I look forward to your answer re my 2.30 pm question.

    The fuller promise from Paul, which I should have cited, is ‘if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.’ (Romans 10:9-10).

    If that is what a Mormon believes, she will be saved.

    I am aware, as you will be aware, that there is much debate about whether Mormonism is ‘Christian’. Fair enough too, as it is doubtful from a Christian perspective that Mormonism is Trinitarian; yet many Mormons stoutly affirm they are Christian. But on the day of judgment there will be Arians and Mormons who are saved, provided …

    1. So, Peter, the fact that Mormons believe God the Father is a physical being, married and having sex with God the Mother to create children of whom Jesus is the firstborn does not affect anything in your faith-alone perspective – all that is required: Jesus is Lord (tick) and raised from the dead (tick). So, for you, Muslims are not saved, Jews are not saved, etc. but Mormons are?

      If you are looking for my short answer to your 2:30pm question I would phrase it in the words I receive from Anastasija Jakovleva.


      1. Hi Bosco
        Paul’s statement makes reference to the God who is the God of Jesus Christ who is not the gods plural of Mormonism. So Mormons confessing Jesus is Lord etc are either making a false confession with respect to the one God who with Jesus is that Lord, or are not being true to their Mormon beliefs.

        I appreciate your answer to my question. Thank you. But it leads to another question, sincerely asked, if you are unhappy with the Reformation which is seminal for the life and theology of the Anglican church and appear happier with the Eastern Orthodox answer given in the video clip, of what advantage is Anglican theology to you?

        I remain an Anglican, you see, because I agree with the Reformers and disagree with aspects of the answer given in the video clip, which places more emphasis on salvation through works than the Reformers do.

        1. No, Peter, the Pauline statement that you gave us makes no mention of the words “the God who is the God of Jesus Christ”, you are bringing that understanding to your quoted text; and others (an Anglican scholar springs to mind) read Paul in the understanding that polytheism (henotheism) was still more part of first century Jewish thinking than we generally accept.

          Let’s not get distracted by that. Let’s focus on what is happening as I press you on the question you asked me, when morphed to, “How would you know when your faith was of the type to be sure of salvation?” You continually keep adding more and more bits. First confessing that Jesus is Lord was complete for you. Then believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead was added. Now belief in God has to be the God who is the God of Jesus Christ. This is wide-open-lake territory now. What defines God to be “the God of Jesus Christ” – what are the limits, what has to be in, what has to be out? [Notice we didn’t even pursue what “raised him from the dead” is limited to for you for its belief to be the type to be sure of salvation].

          So: How would you know when your faith was of the type to be sure of salvation?

          The issue may be more in your questions, just as with your new one. Firstly the (unlisted-by-you) Reformers did not agree with each other – so your “I agree with the Reformers” papers over some cavernous chasms. Secondly, I don’t believe you do agree with all the Reformers hold (anti-Semitism, torturing and killing other Christians, closing all the monasteries without distinction, etc) Thirdly, Reformers did not agree with all in Anglicanism (so agreeing with the Reformers leads to actually joining a church they founded). Being an Anglican does not preclude me from drawing on the whole of Christian wisdom, including the Orthodox and the Reformers. Like NT Wright, who disagrees with some very significant commonly-held (Anglican) Christian beliefs, it does not require me to align 100% behind any individual approach.


  16. In the first chapter of Wright’s new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, there’s mention in a footnote, #51 on p.18, of a single English word, “realization”. I mention it as it nicely cuts through much of the comments, remarks (snide and otherwise), and replies that try to deal to the (correct?) relationship in Paul between ‘faith’ and ‘works’, and especially the various ‘readings’ some seem to have of the Reformation debates and their supposed legacy.

    I also mention it as it seems to be a result of a brief exchange of material Wright and I had a few years ago, where I pointed out Paul’s use of the grammar of the NT baptismal catechism was able to be summed by this single word, “realise”, with notably its “double sense”: to “see-and-understand”; to “cash-out/put-into-effect”. Just so, faith + works = to realise. And what is to be realised? Christians’ union in Christ Jesus – and so all the consequences of this – by means of the Holy Spirit, whose reception is by faith in the promise(s) of God who is himself faithful. Thereafter, two Pauline prayers undergird each of the two senses of this “realization”: Eph 1:15ff for the first, and Eph 3:14ff for the second. Together, their realization avoids any sense of “cheap grace”.

    I mention all this in the hope contemplation of these two Scriptural prayers might forestall any further carping … and therefore serious misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation.

    PS Readers of this blog do not need to (yet) have their own copy of Wright’s latest book to appreciate this comment; ch.1 is available free on the Fortress Press website as a PDF download, which is where I first picked up on this nice wee realization (even if the postie has now delivered the real deal).

  17. Hi Bosco
    Response 1: Reformation theology

    I understand all your well made points about the Reformers disagreeing with each other and, in some case, propagating views no sane or charitable person would hold today (e.g. on Jews).

    Nevertheless your post above is not about separating the gold from the dross in the contributions of Reformation theology to theological understanding, nor an appreciation of the enduring value of the English Reformers in the life of the Anglican church. Rather it is a complete deconstruction of the Reformation theological project.

    Perhaps I could put a different question to you! Do you see anything of value in the Reformation (in general) and in the English Reformation (in particular)?

    Could I also make the point that your post above deconstructs the Reformation theological project in such a way that it reaches over to also have a swipe at evangelical Anglican life which in my experience deeply values what you dismiss with “out goes the “accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour” paradigm.” The point of “accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour” is not whether it meets the criteria of “found where exactly in the scriptures?”. The point is that it is a fair summation of the life of the Christian person lived in the light of the insights of the Reformation as to our life in Christ worked out sola fide, sola scriptura, etc.

    I wonder if you would think I was being particularly Anglican if I offered a sweeping deconstruction of Anglo-Catholic theology and reached beyond that to take a swipe at Anglicans who venerate the body of Christ in a tabernacle (a custom “found where exactly in the scriptures?”)?

    The Reformation is not beyond criticism. I suggest it is also not beyond a modicum of appreciation by us Anglicans who likely would not be Anglicans if not for the Reformation!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      I have already, in my responses to you, expressed my appreciation for what I can receive from the Reformation. I have also expressed my appreciation that I do not have to accept all that all the various Reformers taught.

      As to the practice of some “who venerate the body of Christ in a tabernacle” and your question, “found where exactly in the scriptures?” Again you miss the point. I am not aware of those doing so basing this on a sola-scriptura position.


      1. Hi Bosco
        The point of the teaching that the bread and wine of communion become the body and blood of Christ is that this is the teaching of Scripture, a serious-taking of the words, This is my body / This is my blood.

        Thus it is reasonable to expect from catholics teaching such things, even though they do not subscribe to a sola scriptura position per se, that associated application of this teaching, e.g. veneration of the sacraments in a tabernacle is found in scripture. That it is not directly found in scripture does not mean it is not potentially a reasonable teaching if, for instance, it expresses scriptural truth, is strongly implied by scripture, represents a summary of a number of strands of scriptural teaching and so forth.

        Thus I would not like to ‘swipe’ against it (even though I disagree with it). I can at least respect it as the implication of understanding the bread and wine to be the body and blood.

  18. Hi Bosco

    Response 2: Confession of Jesus as Lord

    I do not think we are in wide open lake territory when I acknowledge that an initial comment should have been more faithful to the Scripture it drew from.

    Nor, in the face of critique, are we in wide open lake territory when I offer deepening of the meaning and application of Scripture. The God Paul was referring to is quite clearly the God of Jesus Christ as no other God was in view as the one who raised Jesus from the dead. Further the language of ‘Lord’ in relation to Jesus in the writings of Paul is an appropriation of the language of ‘Lord’ used in the scriptures of Israel. Some scholars have tried to controvert that. If they are write then the whole Christian project is finished because it would mean a giant mistake had occurred in allowing any influence of Paul on the development of Christian understanding.

    I guess a way to explain the difference between us on these matters is whether the kind of interpretation I am offering of Romans 10 in the face of counter example (or, alternatively, if I had offered the Nicene Creed as an interpretation of the meaning of ‘Jesus is Lord’) represents a deficiency in Scripture or not.

    I think you are saying in the post above and in comments here that Scripture is found, again and again, to be deficient, hence the inadequacy of claims re Sola Scriptura.

    I think I am saying that Scripture is not inadequate in itself but in the face of bizarre claims about what it could mean, Scripture requires ministers of the Word to carefully lay out matters of meaning. The pertinent example is Romans 10:9-10 which is an adequate statement of the faith required of a Christian: recognition of Jesus as Lord, and of the resurrection of Christ from the dead by God. But when bizarre claims are made, e.g. by Mormons, that this confession is compatible with a bizarre understanding of who God is in the Pauline statement, work is needed to spell out the lack of shared assumptions in such claims.

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      “Deficiency” is not an absolute term in the manner you are using it. Nowhere have I said or suggested the Scriptures are deficient for the purpose that God intends the Scriptures to be used. You, not I, are introducing “deficiency” as a concept into this discussion.

      You continue to not answer my question, which is your original question morphed: ”How would you know when your faith was of the type to be sure of salvation?” Am I understanding your comment correctly that you are now including the faith needs to be consonant with that proclaimed by the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople in order for someone “to be sure of salvation” in your view?


  19. Hi Bosco
    I am not changing my position one iota in the sense that if I meet Fred in the street and he says he is unsure whether he has faith or not and I ask if Jesus is his Lord and does he believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and he replies affirmatively, then I stand with Paul and the promissory statement he made as an apostle writing holy scripture: Fred, you are saved.

    If Fred then tells me he is a Mormon believing the things you described above I would seek to make a time to talk through the implications of those beliefs, how they might (for instance) stand in the way of understanding who Jesus truly is, how misunderstanding the God of Jesus Christ will have consequences for his understanding of the gospel and thus may lead astray those to whom he seeks to share his faith, etc. Positively I would teach the importance of the Nicene creed for safeguarding a true understanding of Jesus, of God, of the Holy Spirit and thus of the true gospel.

    I am not aware that heresy is necessarily a reason for a person to become unsaved.

  20. Just one comment from me. If we had stayed in the 16th century Reformation mode, we may have missed out on today’s glorious pre-Advent Feast of ‘Christ The King (a post – Reformation feast recognising the primacy of Christ’s Lordship in the life of all Christians. Alleluia!

    At St. Michael’s this morning we were able to celebrate the sacramental Baptism of a new Life in Christ, and a common recitation of the Apostles Creed – preceded by readings from the Scriptures. This was followed by a wonderful Celebration of Christ among us in the Eucharist. A Day of rejoicing!

    That’s good enough for me

  21. As I’ve tried to follow this thread, it seems to me a degree of disingenuousness has crept in.

    The basic NT confession “Jesus is Lord”, is found in a number of places. Peter’s Rom 10 is one such; 1 Cor 12:1-3 is another; and most notably there’s Phil 2:6-11. The great thing about all of these is they begin to reveal what became formally the doctrine of the Trinity. Even 1 Cor 12 on its own has an implicit Trinitarianism: after laying the foundations for “spiritual matters” (v.1), vv.4-6 anticipate the formal structure of the next 3 chapters – v.4 = vv.7-11 re the Spirit; v.5 = 12-end re the Lord’s body who is served/does the serving, and where “Lord” almost invariably = Jesus the Son in Paul; then there’s the Hymn to Love; and ch.14 takes up 12:6 re “God” (and see the likes of Rahner’s “‘Theos’ in the New Testament”, in Thelogical Investigations 1, pp.79-148). Paul is nothing if not careful!

    Phil 2 is “where Christology began”, as Ralph Martin & Brain Dodd, eds, Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2 (WJKP, 1998), express it – to say nothing of Martin’s own magisterial “Carmen Christi”, now into its third edition, 1997. The delightful thing about Phil 2 is its bold assertion that the God of Isaiah, Yahweh, the Great I Am, is now ‘somehow’ inextricably identified by and with Jesus of Nazareth. Or to put it otherwise, this Jesus is ‘somehow’ on a par with Yahweh, for he is due all worship and honour by all of creation (Isa 45/Phil 2:10-11) – as the Book of Revelation will also really go to great lengths to declare. The point of referencing all these texts is to endorse utterly Peter’s main point re this NT confession, and to clearly show the nonsense of trying to compare Mormon ‘confession’ with those of the NT and subsequent Christian ones.

    One last textual matter. It is interesting and not unimportant to note the Spirit’s two-fold inspiration from a grammatical point of view: Jesus is objectively addressed as the Lord (1 Cor 12), while the Father is subjectively addressed (Rom 8, Gal 4) The asymmetry begins to reveal how the ‘three’ are internally related – again, down the track re historical theology; but not irrelevant for sheer faith matters.

    Christians may surely know they have been saved and are being saved and will be saved on the basis of the sheer faithfulness of this God and Father of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Lord, who has given us of his own Holy Spirit. Stet! Such is the ‘grammar’ of due faith, hope and love, a triad often used by Paul, and not unique to 1 Cor 13 at all. Or more ‘interpretatively’: “Christian salvation” is nothing but humans sharing/participating in the life and love and freedom of the Triune God, through the God-Man Jesus. I think Eastern Orthodox types really go to town at this point! But strangely, it might surprise some to know so did John Calvin by means of his theology of “union with Christ”! And so has another great Reformed theologian of the 20th C, Tom Torrance: see Myk Habets, Theosis in the Theology of Thomas Torrance (Ashgate, 2009). Nor, lastly, should we forget the recent Finnish School of interpretation of Martin Luther and their claim regarding his “union with Christ” ideas. Ps 36:9 comes to mind.

    1. Thanks, Bryden. I caution you again. Please take care with the approach you use in presenting comments for moderation. “Disingenuousness” is a loaded word directed at individuals. Your comment would have been just as good a presentation of your ideas without the first paragraph. Future comments from you will need to clearly lack ad hominems or they will not be considered.

      In his reply, Peter is not as quick as you are to judge as “nonsense” the teasing out of the confession by examining disputed edges of Christianity.


  22. G’day Bosco; and thanks for hosting this site, which attracts a goodly eclectic (I shall come again to that word) bunch of arguments, where often in the blogosphere things degenerate (if I may so say!) into a rather monochrome hue.

    Well; if certain folk conduct a form of argument that is “disingenuous”, and I wish to call that form out, I guess it might also apply to those individuals who have so performed this particular approach. If along the way I have slighted their knowledge of say either Wright’s oeuvre or the Reformation itself, then my apologies – but I was not aware I’d done that …

    As for the “edges of Christianity” – well, let’s see. If one were to engage in a debate about the eclectic subcultures of Christianity in say Latin America (deliberately chosen, for your sake), from forms of Pentecostalism to forms of Roman Catholicism, via all possible stops in between, then of course such a word as “nonsense” would be off site. I suspect the Lord of the Vineyard enjoys the grape varieties in all their variegated splendour in that part of His Vineyard. I also grant you it might be misplaced when trying to tease out the worth of the Gospel of Thomas, for example. For the parallels between it and the sayings of Q warrant a NT scholar’s pay-cheque – even if in the end calling it a ‘Gospel’ is probably misplaced, given it lacks the serious narrative framing and notably the Passion climax (more of that too shortly).

    But when it comes to Mormonism and trying to regard it as being anywhere near the edge of the Christian Faith, … At least the JWs have a venerable pedigree – even if it appears every bit as heretical as Arianism, and so decidedly on “the edge”.

    One last comment. I have to agree with Ron when he celebrates the 20th C feast of Christ the King. Post Reformation Liturgical Renewal has been a decided fruit of the past century – notwithstanding the strong Eucharistic logic of Cranmer’s own Liturgy. I hope that his parish similarly enjoys another 20th C invention next month with a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Not least as it affords a wonderful opportunity to introduce folk to the entire theological approach of one NT Wright. If I may be personal too: I astounded some parishioners a while back by giving a homily at just such a Christmas season service that lasted … 3 min, 45 secs. But then 9 Lessons and Carols is too good an opportunity to miss to invite Everyone to unite their story to His Story – even/especially in today’s postmodern context. That feature of Reformation theology, individual responsibility in the face of the Gospel of Jesus, is justly reinvented in today’s world.

    1. Thanks, Bryden, in your encouragement, and your understanding of my hopes for this site (produced in snippets and gaps in a full life and ministry), and my desire to have it be more light (ambiguity intentional) than heat. Blessings.

  23. Thanks for the nice pun too Bosco! And now for that light to be shed upon the questions, direct and/or implied, in some of my comments that may (or may not!) be directed in your direction (if the cap fits …).

  24. I’m not a very sophisticated theologian, and most of these debates about faith and works seem meaningless to me. After all, even Paul, the apostle of faith, says that what counts is ‘faith working through love’ and talks in Romans about ‘the obedience of faith’.

    It seems to me that most Roman Catholic theologians these days will readily agree that God loved us before we loved him, and that the ground of our security in God is not our feeble obedience but God’s grace. On the other hand, most responsible Protestant theologians will agree that if faith is genuine, it will inevitably be accompanied by works of love (after all, Ephesians 2:8-9 is immediately followed by Ephesians 2:10!).

    But to me, the simple test is this: do we believe that is is entirely legitimate for a person to put their faith in Christ and then cheerfully continue in sin? Of course not! If anything, Protestants tend to be much more legalistic than Catholics on this issue. And if we really believe that faith, to be genuine, must be accompanied by good works, the. What is all this hair-splitting about? I don’t understand it myself.

    1. Sorry to disagree with you, Tim, but you do appear to be sophisticated in your comment, and the debate is meaningful enough for you to express things simply and clearly 🙂 Blessings.

      1. Hah! Skewered!

        I guess what i meant by ‘meaningless’ was that I think most people who say they believe that we are justified by faith alone always agree in practice that everyone who has true faith is also bound to do good works. I believe in justification by faith (or better, ‘by grace through faith’) as strongly as anyone, but if someone were to ask me, “So, as long as I put my faith in Jesus, it doesn’t matter whether I actually obey him or not?” then of course I’m going to say, “Actually, it matters a great deal”. So it seems to me to be ‘meaningless’ to say ‘We believe you are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone’. If it’s not true faith unless it includes obedience, then aren’t we being a little – well, I almost said ‘disingenuous’, but I guess I’d better use the word ‘over-subtle’!!??

          1. What an epic thread! Tim’s references to the “obedience of faith” and “faith working through love” arise on the same day that I gave my “Counter Reformation” lecture to my Medieval and Reformation Church History class. One of my favourite tricks to play on my (mainly Protestant) students is to hand out a few excerpts from the decrees of the Council of Trent and watch their reactions as we read them out:

            “If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.”

            First the head scratching, then the inevitable question: “So what was Luther complaining about?” And then we read on and see just how precise the Council Fathers had to be, and how careful they were not to attribute false opinions to any named person or party. And then I introduce them to the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html), of which they have never heard.

            (I have a Jesuit seminarian in the course this year, who regularly adds very valuable comments — and whom I am relieved to have satisfied with my modicum of knowledge of some of the finer points of Catholic teaching. I also have a Pentecostal, who often asks, in some frustration, 1. how what we’re learning can be used from the pulpit, and 2. why Christians can’t just get beyond silly terminological differences. Good questions!)

          2. Thanks, Jesse. Yes, there clearly is energy around this topic. And one that may be worth picking up in another direction in the future. Thanks for your contributions which dovetail in nicely. Blessings.

  25. I have been reading along the comments developing on this post – because both the faith/works issue is one that I am very interested in (more from how it works in practice than in doctrine) and I am still trying to figure out NT/Tom Wright as an author/theologian.
    The two books of Wright that I have read so far are excellent but very much theology in the ‘sola scriptura’ tradition. I think Wright has found a new high ground for this tradition by bring us back to a whole reading of scripture, rescuing us from the perils of proof texting. And he achieves much through his scholarly translation work, extracting every last droplet of internal meaning.
    My caution with Wright is he does rely heavily on his own translation. (And he is not hugely upfront about the fact he presents his own translation in his bible commentaries – as a novice reader, it took a comment from a friend to realise that he uses a non-standard translation). This has value – but tremendous risks when it is the work of one person.
    But ultimately his theological approach is ‘sola scriptura’ – at least in the works I have read (and pursued). He draws very lightly on the wider social, cultural and political context of the writing and certainly doesn’t try to compare the writings to other contemporary literature or philosophy. Nor does he draw heavily on subsequent developments in thinking about our relationship with God and the world.
    So I am curious then to see where Wright has come to conclusion that the reformed church went fundamentally wrong in taking the ‘sola scriptura’ approach.
    I clicked the link to your quote, which I assume was Wright, to find it is only a rather obtuse comment in response to another post.
    So who exactly has declared the reformed church is ‘wrong’ about ‘sola scriptura’? All I can see here is that Wright has provided a deeper exposition of Pauline doctrine. Or maybe I am missing something (not being in the fan club – and never being convinced of the ‘sola scriptura’ approach in the first place).

    1. Thanks, David. I’m not sure whether you are making a particular point in your comment, or just adding some further thoughts. I think there are a variety of understandings of what sola scriptura actually means, and you are saying you are against it. Blessings.

      1. To clarify:
        My question is where has Wright come out and said ‘sola scriptura’ is wrong? I cannot find this in your post.
        On sola scriptura – yes, I am deliberately broadening the definition to reclaim it from the fundamentalists. No I am not against it. I am against it being done badly and narrowly. But then I would argue against any theological approach done badly and narrowly.
        The works that I have read of Wright do work from this approach extremely well and I have found edifying and enlightening.
        In the end it comes down to what you warrant as the primary evidence of God’s relationship with humanity (to borrow an expression from another field). If scripture is the primary evidential material, then you are by and large arguing ‘sola scriptura’. Although we must always be honest that we bring our own experience of God and life to every understanding and interpretation we make – so it is never really ‘sola’ in the sense of excluding all other evidence.

        1. Thanks, David. I’m not sure how you would find where “Wright [has] come out and said ‘sola scriptura’ is wrong” in my post, because as you point out, you cannot find this in my post.

          Your previous comment had that you were “never convinced of the ‘sola scriptura’ approach in the first place”. Now you are changing to your being “not against it.” But you appear to change the understanding of sola scriptura by removing the sola part of it.


          1. I think you are reading too much into the final comment on my first post.
            What I have said it is an approach to theology that I do not find convincing. But that falls short of being against it.
            And I don’t think I am removing the ‘sola’. If a theologian constructs their arguments about God using scripture as the main and only admissible source of evidence (with little more than token nods to other sources) then that is sola.
            My own preference for how I want to do theology is really a side issue.
            My point is Wright is a firm upholder of theology based primarily on arguing from and through scripture, without recourse to other forms of evidence.
            So where do you get the heading for your post “wrong about sola scriptura”?
            I honestly want to know the answer to this.

          2. Thanks, David.

            I think you are reading too much into my post’s heading.

            Also you are giving a different interpretation to sola scriptura than others are giving. It is helpful to see that there is not a universal understanding of what that term means.


    2. FYI David – and thanks for pitching in here – I have posted another comment on Anglican Down Under that cites Wright’s 2005 book on Scripture.

  26. I read many of Tom Wright’s books, and even became a member of his fans’ Yahoo group «What N.T. Wright Really Said». Although he could not really convince me with his interpretation of what «deeds» meant, I really appreciated a lot of his ideas, the first thereof being the demonstration of the resurrection of Christ.

    Nevertheless, most of Tom Wright’s ideas were new, some were beyond-Tridentine. And he used to assume his newness.

    I stopped reading Tom Wright when, after the whole scholarship of the queer theology, he still abode in the homophobic literalistic interpretation of the “clobber” passages. And all that, while he was advocating women’s ministry, based only on the resurrection account, but still sillying Paul’s new «nor male-and-female» paradigm.

    Now he’s accusing egalitarians of wishing something new, previously unseen. What about his own theology? It’s his own theology that has been tearing up Reformation theology, both “Catholic” and “protestant”.

    Tom Wright is dangerously smart.

    (Some details here and there.)

  27. ‘How would you know when you had done enough good works to be sure of salvation?’

    We don’t get to know that, per scriptura:

    ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’

  28. What a long and interesting conversation. I heard NTW at ISBL in St Andrews last June. My wife does not read the kinds of books I read. She does not need my fear, (like the Fear of Isaac), but she was very impressed (as was I) by his lecture on 600 years of Biblical Studies at St Andrews. NTW is wonderfully clear in his presentation.

    I have not read any of his books! (I saw his ‘Case for the Psalms’ yesterday but I would not part with $25 for a book that has that few pages and is typed in such large type. I wonder if he reasoned from the one verse: rule in the midst of your enemies. I may go back to the bookstore and find out – assuming there is an index for such a light book.)

    I have not read Wright, rightly or wrongly, for one reason. [I lie – I read the free chapter on Onesimus online – very good, I think – but I don’t want to stop thinking.] I had my fill of the earlier scholars from Britain in the previous generation, good scholars I am sure, but I had my fill of their populist writing, and especially of the formulas for salvation components in them, people like FF Bruce and John Stott – and lots of others – wonderful folks too but a different age – and with different sureties and different questions.

    My taste changed when I read the sharp wit of Jacques Ellul and the detailed work of Hans Kung and others of his RC contemporaries. Did I have any ‘blessed assurance’ after these? I think I wouldn’t have bothered reading them if my motive was fear of eternal damnation. (Fear I understand, I can assure you, but not fear of Hell, rather fear of the One who has such power). I am a tad surprised then that the frame of this thread returns to that question ‘enough good works to be sure of salvation’.

    Northrope Frye in the Great Code writes of not answering some questions but almost un-asking them – because an answer would consolidate the learning at the level of the question and prevent the development of fuller questions.

    How then do we refine our questions? In this case of ‘blessed assurance’, there is surely such assurance – but it cannot be tied to temporal assumptions about heaven. Heaven is where Christ, the Spirit, is. From heaven the Saviour came. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Salvation, Jeshua in Hebrew, has been seen on earth. ‘God with us’ is his name. What additional assurance is needed? Even if I were atheist, I think I would be happy to hear such news – as long as no one twisted my brain to get me to ‘believe’ something.

    But I think I would want to know what this so called God is like – and would I like what I see and would I want to be like this God? I recall the individual voice speaking, I will interpret, as spokesperson for the body of the nation, in Psalm 17:15:
    I in righteousness will gaze on your face
    I will be satisfied to awaken in your similitude.

    Perhaps we are still in the one day of creation (Herbert: Easter, there is but one and that one ever) and we are still being created in that image and likeness, in that similitude, from the word used for the formation of beasts after their own kind מִין (myn) Genesis 1.

    Thank you scholars and liturgists, for allowing me to listen in on your conversation.

    [The tension between the individual voice and the corporate voice in the psalms provides one sense in which the individual must speak but the speaking is on behalf of the people. One can hear this without going any further than Psalm 3 where the I of the psalm does not fail to bless the people in the last verse. A similar singular and plural lament is in Psalms 42-44.]

    1. I like your point about un-asking our questions. The asked question behind much of this discussion is “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And we are all so keen to jump in with a pat, Pauline-derived doctrinal answer. But look again at the Jesus narratives – there the question was asked repeatedly in different ways – and your comment made me realise the response was to un-ask the question.
      Mauri ora.

      1. Wow David! If ever we were to believe in providence: you now post admirably about “un-asking”; my recommendation to Bob of J-L M’s In the Self’s Place, which I composed BEFORE I saw your earlier comment (probably awaiting our dear host’s moderation!) is the greatest “un-asking” exercise I have ever encountered. DG!!

    2. I’m intrigued Bob by this rich comment of yours as you (sing or plur!) engage in this thread, not least by your reference to Jacques Ellul, for whom the western church should be very grateful given its industrial and post-industrial settings. As one who has tried to sit with the host of interpreters who have themselves wrestled with the Fear of Isaac, not least as it throws up the nature of a God who would both test and provide, may I suggest another Frenchman’s text for you: Jean-Luc Marion, In The Self’s Place: The Approach of Saint Augustine, translated by Jeffrey Kosky (Stanford, 2012). It’s probably the closest reading of the Confessions I’ve ever encountered. And when you’re done, enjoy his offer of “blessed assurance” – but there’s a catch in saying just that …! I guess the book might be worth more than NTW on the Psalms – though here too Augustine relishes playing with the Psalms! Enjoy!

      1. Thank you for this lead to Jean-Luc Marion. There is some of his work at the Uvic Library here. For interest to the current thread, I did relent and buy not one but 2 copies of NT Wright’s book. Then I reviewed it here. With some trepidation…

  29. Fascinating stuff Jesse (above, but without a Reply button). In your classroom deliberations, do you use Alister McGrath’s Justitia Dei (3rd ed 2005) as a resource? I ask, as it might shed some light on what Luther’s point was – among others. Thereafter, re the Lutheran-RCC Joint Declaration, Eberhard Jüngel’s Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith (2001) would sit uneasily with some of what you say; and so is another important resource.

    1. Thanks, Bryden. Unfortunately that kind of depth isn’t really possible. We only get to spend about 10 minutes on Trent! (It’s a history course, and I have 12 two-hour lectures in which to cover everything from Gregory the Great to the Thirty Years’ War and the English Restoration.) My limited goal is simply to make them aware of the issue, and to emphasize that many common Protestant vs. Catholic stereotypes are utterly inadequate (and should be banned from the pulpit and from catechetics): the Roman Catholic Church does not, and never has, taught “justification by works” (though to move beyond that basic statement would immediately move us into very deep waters).

      Honesty compels me to confess that I have never read a word of any of McGrath’s books. But one of our adjunct faculty, a Presbyterian pastor who teaches a whole course on Luther alone, was at pains to remind me of the existence of opposition to the Joint Declaration among eminent Lutheran exegetes and theologians. This is the great barrier of ecumenism: those working hardest to get within spitting distance of visible unity simply lack the authority to speak for their co-denominationalists.

      (By the way, what exactly have I said that Juengel would correct? I’m not aware of having advanced any controversial opinions of my own. My usual weasley modus operandi is to avoid revealing my own opinions and instead to quote authorities without endorsement. :))

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