Friday, 1 February 2008

An interview with N T Wright - with commentary; what is the "New Perspective"?

On the 15th of November, 2007, Trevin Wax interviewed controversial Anglican bishop and theologian Dr. Tom Wright at Asbury seminary in the USA.

The audio recording of the interview is here:

A full transcript is here:

The issues surrounding the "New Perspective(s)" are of fundamental importance. They have also generated a great deal of controversy, and influenced a lot of pastors, particularly in American seminaries, and on the Internet through the blogs of Dr. Wright's supporters. These issues, though, are not well understood by most Christians, and even by some involved in the discussions. Many Christians who have read something of Wright haven't done so with a comprehensive understanding of the issues. Wright has a whole system of thought and theology, and unless you understand it you are likely to miss the nuances of what he is saying. Many Christians have, being unfamiliar with the New Perspectives, picked up one of his popular commentaries and not noticed those differences - reading Wright through the lens of their own point of view - except for being puzzled by a few stark statements here and there that don't seem to fit in.

There's plenty of good material available covering these things. What I want to do in a series of blog posts is provide a commentary on this interview that will make some of the issues clear. I'm not making it a primary aim to interact with Wright, though of course I will, but to explain to "the man in the pew" what Wright stands for. Though I am very appreciative of his work in a number of other areas. I am, on the distinguishing issues of the "New Perspective", a deeply concerned critic of Wright and his theology.

This interview will be a good candidate for going through slowly because it is fairly wide-ranging and had the aim of bringing clarity to some of the controversial issues. For now, I'll just quote Wax's introduction to the interview and we'll launch out into it next time.

N.T. Wright is a British New Testament scholar whom Christianity Today has described as one of the top five theologians in the world today. After serving three years as the canon theologian of Westminster Abbey, Wright became the Bishop of Durham in 2003 – the fourth highest ranking position of authority in the Church of England.

Tom Wright has spent his life studying the history surrounding the New Testament and early Christianity. He has written several widely-acclaimed books on the historical Jesus as well as many on the Apostle Paul and the New Testament epistles.

Wright has received both praise and criticism for his work. Anne Rice , the author of the Interview with a Vampire series, has credited Wright's work on the historical Jesus with bringing her back to her Christian faith. Reformed theologian J.I. Packer has described Wright as "brilliant" and "one of God's best gifts to our decaying Western Church."

As Bishop of Durham, Wright has been a lightning rod for controversy from both conservatives who take offense with his political views and from liberals who reject his traditional views on homosexuality.

As a New Testament scholar, Wright has faced criticism from both sides of the theological aisle. Liberal scholars, such as those who make up the infamous "Jesus Seminar" decry Wright's work on the historical Jesus as much too conservative and traditional. Conservative scholars appreciate his strong defense of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity such as the bodily resurrection of Christ.

But many conservatives of the Reformed persuasion are perplexed by Wright's views on the doctrine of justification and the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Several well-known theologians, such as D.A. Carson, Mark Seifrid, Guy Waters, and now pastor John Piper , have written extensively to refute the "New Perspective on Paul" that Wright advocates.

In our interview with N.T. Wright, we will ask questions that will help illuminate the current discussions within Reformed circles on the legitimacy of Wright's exegesis of the New Testament texts.

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