Friday, April 23, 2010

Wheaton Wright Conference and T4G Conference

It was inevitably that someone was going to make a juxtaposition of the recent conferences at Wheaton engaging with N.T. Wright and Together for the Gospel in Louisville on the unadjusted Gospel. Over at CT, Brian McCracken has an article on the Wrightians and the Neo-Reformed. Sadly, I'm not so optimistic about a possible rapprochement or unity between the two. The differences are just too radical and run deep. In fact, both have some defficiencies at the ecclesial level. For instance, I cannot buy into Wright's "nothing ever justifies schism" as long as I live believe in the marks of the Church like apostolicity and holiness, but neither can I digest the ecclessiological solipsism of T4G as long as John 17 remains in the canon. So don't expect a joint conference any time soon.


DeeCee said...
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DeeCee said...

Completely agreed -- both sides have great things to say but for an evangelical, "missional," catholic, and Reformed Christian... there are things I can't accept from both sides, too.

By the way, please keep up the good work Euangelion! As far as I know you're one of the few oases out there for people like me who feel caught between the two spheres.

Case in point: I recently used a lot of N.T. Wright's insight on post-exilic Israel in a sermon in which I also talked about justification and imputation -- I felt like I was breaking kosher laws or something!

Why CAN'T we try to read post-exilic OT and New Testament as a Jew in its time would or should... or engage and utilize critical and historical biblical scholarship... or care about social justice... while at the same time also emphasize evangelism and the Reformation doctrines of grace, covenant, divine election, and justification by faith alone? It's downright ridiculous that many of us are made to feel like we can only choose one side or the other, or that something must be wrong with us if we're listening to both sides!

Andrew Cowan said...

Dr. Bird,

I'm afraid that Wright's statement that "Nothing justifies schism" is one of those that will be (and already has been) easily misinterpreted without the broader context in which he placed it. Here is a transcription of his comments:

"Nothing justifies schism. Schism is what happens when some bits of the church decide to do their own thing and to ignore the rest of the body of Christ. The problem comes, of course, when the people who are doing that are actually running an entire denomination or part thereof, and then others discern that it is those people who have done that, who are the schismatics, but...both sides often call the other one schismatic, and then there is a real difficulty of discernment. And because we are all sinful, frequently the issues are not clear cut."

Following this, Wright turns to 1 Corinthians and goes on to describe how there are some things over which Christians must agree to disagree while living together in church (adiaphora, e.g., food laws) and others on which no compromise is possible and people must be removed from the church (e.g., sexual ethics; cf. 1 Cor 5).

Thus, it seems to me that Wright considers the term "schism" to be one that applies only to a group that is departing from the true church, and that he would affirm that the church should separate itself from those who are clearly departing from the church on some non-negotiable issue. In fact, this is exactly how he has used the language of "schism" with respect to the American Episcopals who have ignored the leadership of the broader Anglican Communion: "There are many in America who are trying to have their cake and eat it, who are doing the schismatic thing and then accusing those who object of being schismatic" ( Thus, when he says, "Nothing justifies schism," I don't think he means that there are no circumstances under which the church ought to separate from some aberrant/sub-apostolic/unholy group that wants to claim to belong; I think he means that there is no excuse for ever departing from the true church and thus causing schism. This seems more consistent with the broader context of his statement and the way he uses the terms in his personal dealings with issues of ecclesial separation.

uno extranjero y peregrino said...

Yes Andrew, but this 'sexual ethics on which no compromise is possible' is exactly the reason why the Anglican global south are so angry at the European and North American Anglicans, and why this group of American Episcopals has split off (emphasized by the fact that the American Episcopals have expressly ignored Rowan Williams' moratorium on ordaining practicing gays and lesbians and ordained another one). I like Wright, and I understand that he is living near the center of all of this controversy and so has to be careful with his words, but his own comments justified the "schism" and questioned his own willingness to dialogue to the ends of the earth on issues that are clearly not adiaphora.

uno extranjero y peregrino said...

...and unfortunately Grant LeMarquand, the moderator of the conference, would probably have been hurt and confused by Wright's words (expressly condemning schism but then implicitly justifying their schism), considering that he is part of this break-away group of American Episcopals.

Anonymous said...

I like you, Mike, am not holding my breath...tho in the end, at least from this vantage point, much of the fault will rest at the Neo-Ref's doorstep...IMO

Andrew Cowan said...

uno ex. y per.,

I am certain that you know way more about Anglican/Episcopal politics than I do, but in the article I cited, it looks to me like the group to whom Wright is referring as "schismatics" are the American pro-homosexual bishop group. Here is the fuller quote:

"For Kenneth Kearon to accuse Rowan Williams of fostering schism is quite extraordinary. That is like someone in a house that is on fire accusing the firemen of ruining the book collection because they have sprayed water on it. It is quite clear that the split is coming from those in the American church who are insisting on doing something that the Lambeth Conference and the rest of the Communion had asked them not to do. To accuse Rowan Williams of fomenting schism is really projecting onto Rowan the schismatic actions which happened in 2003 when the Americans first gave acquiesence to Gene Robinson at their General Convention and then went ahead and consecrated him. In October 2003, the Primates said clearly that if this action goes ahead it will tear the fabric of the communion at its deepest level. The Americans went ahead and did it. All that has happened subsequently is the rest of the Communion saying we really hope you did not mean that but if you did, have you thought through the consequences? There are many in America who are trying to have their cake and eat it, who are doing the schismatic thing and then accusing those who object of being schismatic. That is the bizarre thing."

Thus, I don't think that he was referring to the split-off group of American Episcopals as schimatics, but rather to those who are departing from the church through the schismatic activity of ignoring biblical sexual ethics by consecrating Gene Robinson as a bishop. As to Wright's opinion on the split-off groups in America and Canada, I know that he had some critical words about the group that put on GAFCON, but I don't think he did or would call this group schismatic (see

uno extranjero y peregrino said...


I should have been a little more precise... I was referring more to your first three paragraphs, involving the comments at the Conference last weekend, than your quote from the other source.

In the context of that other article: yes, you are correct. In the context of the Conference he was a lot less clear, and it almost appeared that he was coming to the defense of the uber-liberal Anglicans and looking down on those (like LeMarquand) who have broken away. He did comment that the trouble comes when those in authority appear to be the schismatic ones, but he was very ambiguous in terms of whether or not this was actually his view of the matter.

Maybe he was going lighter on the uber-liberals because he was at an evangelical conference...but it sounded to me like he was avoiding a concrete answer to the question of when and whether schism (probably meant in terms of 'leaving a heretical church') is ever justified by playing around with the word "schism."

John Thomson said...

Andrew, when I come across him online, is always careful in his judgements.

That being said, I suspect Wright is likely to be much more generous in his definition of Christian than an admittedly parochial independent such as I am likely to be. However, while my sympathies more naturally lie with T4G, I worry that they are in danger of being elitist with Reformed rather than Evangelical being the functional rubric.

I like Mike's comment:

'but neither can I digest the ecclessiological solipsism of T4G as long as John 17 remains in the canon.'

Arguably, T4G is also a solecism; we are in fact together by the gospel.

John Thomson said...



When are you going to start a blog and give us the benefit of your insights? A serious request.


David W. Congdon said...


In agreement with Andrew, Wright's statement was misinterpreted by Brett McCracken. The statement that "nothing justifies schism" is straight from the Reformers. The Protestant Reformation was not schism, because they were not splitting from the church; on the contrary, as they saw things, they alone were continuing the church, and the Roman Catholics were no longer part of the body of Christ. Unjustifiable schism only occurs when there is a division within the Christian church over matters of adiaphora. If there is a serious difference over essential matters of faith, then division is both justifiable and necessary. I'm not necessarily advocating a view here, only pointing out that Wright's comment is standard Protestant orthodoxy.