Friday, December 30, 2005

Wright the Heresiarch

Chris Tilling has called attention to the invective polemics of a certain C. Matthew McMahon against Tom Wright on the website A Puritans Mind. The post in question can be read here (the whole string is quite a read). This is what McMahon had to say:

Wright is a heretic. A heresiarch. He will forever burn under God's righteous wrath and under the solemn and scornful gaze of the Lamb of God for all eternity if he does not change his theological views before he dies, or rather, his lack of good theology! He is a false teacher, and one of the most influential heretics of the century because he affected people at the seminary level - where pastors are trained and scholars born - and has infected a good number of churches, right down to the layman and youth of the day.

Well, what can I say:

First, I have long been cheesed off with how some of Wright’s critics speak about him. Actually, by the time I read McMahon’s ad hominem rantings I’d finished the cheese and moved onto the wine and crackers; and at the moment I’m in a cab with Ben Myers and Chris Tilling and we’re off to the Pink Pussy Cat to have a light drink (notice the inter-textual echoes of Blackadder series 4). I never ceased to be amazed at how many of those who purport to love the doctrines of grace seem to demonstrate so little grace in their character and conduct towards others.

Second, I’ve posted on several occasions about Wright and the NPP, see the my posts Musings on the New Perspective and Paul and Judaism. I also recommend Doug Green’s sober comments about Wright for a similar evaluation.

Third, several opponents of Wright read a few lines out of WSPRS (which is both his best and worst volume) and take him to task over that. This ignores the fact that Wright has made some effort to qualify his views in subsequent works (see especially his articles on Justification on the NT Wright Page). To prove that I’m no sycophant I’ve put my criticisms of Wright in print (CTR and forthcoming in TynBul), but as a critic I still think one can admire several facets of his studies and enjoy his writings.

Fourth, when people tell me that Wright denies the reformed doctrine of justification, I often ask them “which one?”. There was a diversity of views about justification among the Reformers and Puritans!!! Compare the Augsburg and Westminster Confessions or even Richard Baxter and John Owen, they do not say the exact same thing. Martin Bucer held to a “double justification”! Go figure that one out.

Fifth, of all the theological and moral villainies in this world, why does Wright get so much attention? I find that religious pluralism and world poverty are far more worthy foes with which to battle over.

Sixth, whatever his failings, Wright is an interpreter for the Reformed tradition and his scholarship is stimulating and rewarding for those of us who read it. He belongs in the Reformed camp (although many of us will not always like the camping gear he brings with him). As far as Reformed Theologians go, many went to Philadelphia to sit at the feet of Cornelius Van Til; and behold, one greater than Van Til is here!


Jim said...

Well I NEVER! Imagine my chagrin after reading what is otherwise an excellent post to discover that you have COMPLETELY ignored Zwingli in your discussion of REFORMED theology. I am forced to scold you publicly for this and remind you that Zwingli was the FIRST Reformed Theologian. Not the second- that was Calvin... FIRST.

Now I must go drink 3 entire bottles of Australian wine to drown the sorrow of my broken, shattered, annulled, crippled, despairing heart. Thanks.....


Matthew Montonini said...

You are right on (no pun intended!) with your comments. I am not sure why there is such invective against Wright. Moreover, if one wants to criticize, it can be done without being critical! There is absolutely no place for that kind of libel in Biblical scholarship or anywhere else for that matter.

Michael F. Bird said...

Jim, to make it up to you, feel free to join us at the Pink Pussy Cat. I would have included Zwingli if only I knew something that he disagreed with Calvin or Luther over pertaining to justification. Make sure the read wine is Wolf Blass, I'm about to defile my taste buds with a glass of French wine.

Michael Pahl said...

Hear, hear! Great post, Michael. Of course, as you know, I unreservedly endorse all your views on the NPP, past, present, and future, so you knew I'd say this... ;-)

Jim said...

No- it's not that Zwingli doesn't differ from Calvin- Calvin doesn't differ from Zwingli on that particular facet. Zwingli has priority chronologically as well as theologically. And, interestingly, the local Pink Pussycat (a real place) is quite rancid looking (from the outside- i've never been inside- afraid of the place!).

You'll have to - oh I don't know- provide me with a book or something to make up for your slight of our hero.

Ben Myers said...

"Make sure the red wine is Wolf Blass" -- only if you can't get your hands on a nice old bottle of Penfolds Grange.

Great post, Mike. But what's wrong with "religious pluralism"? Without it, people like this Puritan crackpot might one day have the political power to turn the world into a real Lake of Fire for the rest of us.

So I say: three cheers for religious pluralism!

Michael F. Bird said...

Ben, it depends what you mean by "pluralism". If you mean a society where everyone has the right to practice and propagate their religion I say "kosher baby". But if by pluralism you mean worship at the pantheon of pluriformity and pansexuality then I say, "Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not". Pluralism is often touted as tolerant and inclusive, on the condition though that you assent to the pluralistic premise that all truth-claims are community constructs and you don't say that naughty word "meta-narrative". If not, and the pluralists find out and you refuse to burn incense to the forementioned pantheon, then the pluralism police will come a knocking and they will get jihad on your buttocks. Being the christofascist that I am, I believe in the exclusive claims of the all inclusive saviour. But the day is coming and now already is when such viewpoints will not be tolerated even by the pluralists. When the Green's win power, you may one day see me and Peter Jensen tied to stakes in Aussie Stadium ready to be made food for the ravenous kitties from Toronga zoo for Bob Brown's annual "Christians vs. the Lions charity match"; all because we said: "Jesus is Lord and brooks no rivals". Maybe I'm paranoid (the ducks are watching me!), but pluralism is too quickly becoming public policy. Aussie Universities are thinking of banning proselytism, the Greens have proposed a bill in the NSW senate to stop Christian schools hiring only Christians, etc etc etc.

TheBlueRaja said...

Great post, Michael. I've posted a few times on Wright myself (see this , for example) and the outpouring of bitter indignation never ceases to amaze me. It proves how idolatrous loyalty to a particular systematic theology can be.

Chris Tilling said...

I’d finished the cheese and moved onto the wine and crackers; and at the moment I’m in a cab with Ben Myers and Chris Tilling and we’re off to the Pink Pussy Cat to have a light drink

Sounds nice, but a light drink?

I had to down a pint of domestos after reading his rantings.

Paulos said...

Great post, Michael!

Neo-Puritanism, an attitude as much as a doctrinal system, is the source of most hostility toward N. T. Wright's views here in the States. Measured critique of Wright, such as yours, is the proper response, for though Wright may be Wrong on some matters, he is also Right on much.

Ted Gossard said...

Michael, a great post with stimulating comments.

I try to steer clear of the heretic watchers. They're dangerous not only in the way they down servants of God but in the way they can infect servants of God with a like spirit. I've been there, done that.

Good thoughts on wine too.

Thanks, and a blessed new year,


Anonymous said...

Great post Michael! Scripturally balanced.

Keep up the good work, brother!

J. B. Hood said...


This is BAD NEWS! Leon Morris (and James Denney) going to hell!?? Man, my seminary will have to change its whole curriculum. N. B. also Doug Moo's NTW-ish comments on justification in his James commentary...he may be on his way to hell as well. We can only use 1/3 of the famous Carson, Moo, and Morris NT Intro, then. Hope we can figure out (through source criticism?) which third is godly and which is from hell.

T.B. Vick said...

Michael states:
"I never ceased to be amazed at how many of those who purport to love the doctrines of grace seem to demonstrate so little grace in their character and conduct towards others."

No kidding, Michael. These types of tirades really sadden me, especially when others, who are perhaps not Christian, see or read this type of thing.

Can't you just "feel the love of Christ" in McMahon's response?

Craig (mars-hill) said...

I don't think I'd ever call Wright a heresiarch...A pretty good writer perhaps, but not a heresiarch.

As far as red wine goes, can I suggest a bottle from the Matariki Winery based in the Gimblett Gravels of NZ.

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