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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Saturday, February 16, 2013

James White Dialogues with N. T. Wright: Unbelievable?

To hear the Unbelievable program with Justin Brierly of the U.K., click here:  Unbelievable?

I listened to this "debate" the other day hoping that James R. White would do justice to the biblical position.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed.  One could excuse White's poor performance because he only had seventy hours to prepare for the debate and was given short notice that he would be able to confront Tom Wright on the New Perspective on Paul issue.

First of all, Wright's argument is that 2,000 years of church history got it all wrong.  Although the Protestant Reformers did teach the doctrine of sola Scriptura, what they never meant was that innovative and revisionist theories can replace the rational revelation of God revealed in the logical propositions recorded in the inerrant, verbally inspired Scriptures.  Furthermore, Wright's accusation that Protestants are upset because they appeal to tradition is a red herring.  It's a rabbit trail.  The fact is that the doctrine of sola Scriptura does not mean we throw all tradition out the window.  It means that tradition is fallible and therefore to be tested and submitted to the authority of Scripture.  

Tom Wright is himself appealing to "tradition" by agreeing or allegedly agreeing with the doctrine of sola Scriptura, which is technically a Protestant tradition itself.  That tradition is drawn from a systematic exposition of Scripture and from the warrant of Scripture, the test of the validity and authority of any confession, creed or tradition of the church.  In fact, Wright should know this being the "good" Anglican that he "claims" to be.  The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are the confessional statement of Reformed Anglicanism and in Article VIII we learn that:



Article VIII: Of the Three Creeds

The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.

By implication then even the doctrine of sola Scriptura, being a "confessional" statement of the Protestant Reformation is  a "creed" which might also be called a "tradition."  Examining the Thirty-nine Articles, there are several statements about the authority of Scripture in relationship to the authority of traditions and the creeds:


Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
Another example is Article XVII which clearly places the doctrine of double predestination in the Scriptures and the promises of God recorded there.  Traditions are only acceptable if they are not "repugnant" to the Word of God:

Article XX:  Of the Authority of the Church

The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

The fact of the matter is that N. T. Wright's reading of the New Testament is an interpretation read into the text based on external evidences that he thinks he has found as a "key" to understanding the New Testament in regards to Paul's use of legal language and the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  The internal evidence of the text itself tells us nothing about the third temple and Judaism that would change anything that the church has previously understood the New Testament to be saying.  In fact, even the Roman Catholic Church has come to concede that the term "justify" in the Pauline usage is a legal term that means to "declare righteous."   (See Declared Righteous).

In the discussion on 2 Corinthians 5:21, Wright further condemns himself by completely agreeing with the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view.  This is ironic given that he "claims" to reject tradition.  The fact is 2 Corinthians 5:21 is in complete agreement with Romans and Galatians.  The doctrine of sola Scriptura advocates the perspicuity of Scripture and that Scripture is to be compared to Scripture when any text is difficult.  Scripture interprets Scripture and the plain passages give greater light to the more difficult passages.

Furthermore, as far as I can tell, Wright has nowhere given any support from the early church fathers to support his revisionist theology.  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer not only argued from Scripture but he clearly showed how his doctrine of the Lord's supper as Zwinglian and Calvinist was in fact the same view taught by the church fathers.  Anyone reading Cranmer's treatise on the Lord's supper can see this clearly.  Amazingly, after Wright denigrates the Protestant "traditions" and "confessions" he then appeals to synergism as being the position of the early church and Eastern Orthodoxy.  He uses double speak couched in scholarly jargon to disguise his dissimulation and equivocation.  Tom Wright cannot have it both ways.  He must either reject all tradition and just go with Scripture or he must admit that tradition does carry secondary authority just as creeds do.

Wright's claim that these are complicated issues is just a way of obfuscating the issues behind the fallacy of endless questions and details.  The truth of the matter is that Wright openly admitted the problem with his theology on the program, namely that his view is about the here and now and not eternity.  Liberals delight in doing theology from below.

He also castigated the doctrinal dispute about synergism and monergism as if those were medieval foreign categories to the Scriptures while he himself gets to reinterpret all of church history and Scripture and come up with a theory that originated with E.P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, Daniel Fuller and other Arminian or liberal scholars.  The fact of the matter is that the issue of synergism and monergism goes all the way back to the Apostle Paul in the first century and to Augustine in the fourth century.  The bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine, debated and won the victory over the heresy known as pelagianism.  Essentially, N. T. Wright's view amounts to reopening the pelagian debate under another heading.

James White, being Baptist, did not have a clue as to how to approach this issue with Wright because the Baptist tradition puts little emphasis on the authority of confessionalism or creeds.  If White had been more familiar with the Anglican Formularies (Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the two books of Homilies) he would have been able to call Tom Wright on his misuse of tradition and the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Another area where I caught Tom Wright in an inconsistency was his contention that Romans 2 is referring to converted Gentiles who obey the law by nature.  That is far from what Paul is saying in Romans 2.  Paul's argument from Romans 1:18 to the end of chapter 3 is that all are alike under sin and that all are condemned (Romans 3:9-23).  Paul concedes that even unconverted Gentiles exhibit some good works.  Those good works do not justify (Romans 4, 11).  But they do show that even Gentiles have a conscience where the moral law of God is written in their minds or hearts.  Thus, when a Jew, having the law, disobeys a moral law of God and even an unconverted Gentile exhibits more ethical good than the circumcised Jew, it shows that both the pagan Gentile and the Jew, who has the oracles of God, are condemned before God based on the moral law revealed in Scripture (Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7).  Natural revelation or general revelation cannot lead to saving faith but only to condemnation (Romans 1:18-32).   For Paul, only faith in Jesus Christ can justify anyone (Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:25-26).  Wright's agenda is to return to a Semi-Pelagian view in order to bring ecumenical unity and a possible reunionification of the Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic branches of the Christian faith.  A secondary agenda is to undermine the authority of Scripture and instead appeal to a Jewish tradition as understood by the New Perspective on Paul school of thought and to read that view into the text as if the NPP "tradition" were an infallible interpreter of the text.

I could say more but I'll leave it at that for now.  The bottom line is that James White blew a chance to blow Tom Wright's arguments out of the water.  White was more concerned about being seen as tolerant by British standards than about attacking the fallacies of Tom Wright's position.  Another red herring fallacy used by Wright, in fact, was his contention that the animosity against his view is mostly by Americans and he asks, "Why is that?"  I can think of at least one reason.  It might be that the Anglican church and Evangelicals in general have lost their moorings and are unable to see logical fallacies and eisogesis even when it is slapping them in the face.  It is in fact irrelevant as to who is upset with Wright's theology.  The only issue here is whether or not Wright's view holds up under the scrutiny of Scripture and the theology of the early church fathers and the confessional position of the Protestant Reformers.  Wright fails on all three counts.  In fact, Wright's view would be blasted out of the water by even Luther's view as it is laid out in The Bondage of the Will.

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