N.T. Wright on the Bible and why he won’t call himself an inerrantist

"I don’t call myself an 'inerrantist' (a) because that word means what it means within a modernist rationalism, which I reject and (b) because it seems to me to have failed in delivering a full-blooded reading and living of what the Bible actually says." RNS

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Later in the same article, Wright comments in the historicity of Adam and Eve.

It's human nature to oversimplify the truly complex and over-complicate the truly simple!

(IMO, NTW is just a new variant of theological liberal)

Jay's picture

Boy, that Elephant Room II Invite with Mark Driscoll, NT Wright, and James McDonald really brought all the heavy hitters together, huh? It'd be interesting to feed them truth serum and have ER3 for the trainwreck factor. Shock

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

The "old-school" version of inerrancy (you know, the one we were taught at Seminary) appears to be under increasing attack. Dan Wallace, from Dallas Seminary, wrote a glowing review of a book which attacks this traditional view of inerrancy. One excerpt he approving cites is this:

“… the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable, leading us down a path of endless epicycles of explanation, artificialities, and illogic. The end result will be to bring down scorn on the Christian faith and contributing [sic] to its demise in the Western world.”

How's that for a wake-up call? A "conservative" scholar agrees with an approach that says the traditional view of inerrancy is embarrassing and indefensible. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Just when I was thinking the primary theological battles of our time had shifted to matters of interpretation (Matthew Vines' recent book for example... as only the latest in a long list) among inerrantists, the old liberalism seems to be back in new clothes at the same time.

I'm increasingly struck by how often leaders openly use the "people will think less of us" rationale in support of a doctrinal shift. Even I was thinking that way, I'd be embarrassed to say it out loud.

Bert Baker's picture

Good grief, we are living among some incredible scripturally intellectual idiots.

When the Holy Scriptures which live and abide forever are challenged as being not dependable, the foundations of our faith are being destroyed, at least attempted to be destroyed, by those

who wish to claim they basically stand where we stand, our society of Christianity is in deep doo-doo.

Too many people will end up in the lake of fire because   they will follow these  blind leaders of the blind.

My consolation is, God has "magnified HIS Word above His Name."  His Word is "alive and powerful."  No matter what those foolish intellectuals say, they  cannot stop the power of God's Word.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I suppose this shows the battle between conservatives and moderates (or liberals, modernists) will never be over. There will always be those who dispute not only the term, but the concept of the inerrancy of the Bible.

Inerrancy certainly does not say all there is to say about the Bible. But it does present a vital part of all we should believe about it.

Southern Baptists fought and won a war (Conservative Resurgence) over the inerrancy of the Bible. But we will always have be careful not to lose this hard won victory.

http://gulfcoastpastor.blogspot.com/2009/08/brief-history-of-sbc-conserv...

I pray whether it is Southern Baptists or independent Baptists, we never turn our backs on the belief that the Bible is completely true and trustworthy.

David R. Brumbelow

M. Osborne's picture

TylerR wrote:

The "old-school" version of inerrancy (you know, the one we were taught at Seminary) appears to be under increasing attack. Dan Wallace, from Dallas Seminary, wrote a glowing review of a book which attacks this traditional view of inerrancy. One excerpt he approving cites is this:

“… the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable, leading us down a path of endless epicycles of explanation, artificialities, and illogic. The end result will be to bring down scorn on the Christian faith and contributing [sic] to its demise in the Western world.”

How's that for a wake-up call? A "conservative" scholar agrees with an approach that says the traditional view of inerrancy is embarrassing and indefensible. 

Not to sidetrack from the original post, but I skimmed Wallace's review and the ensuing discussion in the comments. I wholeheartedly agree with the commenters that ask the simple question, "Do you agree with the Chicago Statement? If not, where do you disagree, and why?" Line-in-the-sand documents are helpful to anchor a discussion. The Chicago Statement articulated a view of inerrancy that explained what inerrancy does and doesn't mean. Furthermore, Wallace's review implies that "traditionalists" have a more wooden view than I've ever heard articulated...e.g., that the Gospels always record Jesus' exact words. I think the Chicago Statement, and the "traditionalists" who follow it, allow for the idea that the Gospels provide us an inerrant summary of what Jesus said...that the Gospels unfailingly give us exactly what God wanted us to have about what Jesus said and taught. If we grounded the discussion in something like the Chicago Statement, we could get more clarity. (But, I suppose if you're starting to drift, clarity is not longer valued like it used to be.)

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Bert Baker's picture

I remember when I was a student at Maranatha, several years ago now, we were told the SBC would surely go under because all others before had gone under.  I has been a joy to see the

courage and direction of those leaders who stood for God's Word win the battles.

A\nd yes, we will forever on this earth have to contend for the faith.

Darrell Post's picture

John MacArthur's next Shepherds conference will be a defense of inerrancy.

Greg Long's picture

Jay, what do you mean about Elephant Room II with N.T. Wright? Do you mean T.D. Jakes?

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Jay's picture

Blush

You're right, Greg.  My apologies...I thought for sure that Wright was at ER2. Got the two confused.

The inerrancy debate will never go away.  People will be arguing over that until the Antichrist establishes his throne, and probably until Jesus Himself returns on the white horse as outlined in Revelation. It will be discussed, for sure, during the millennial reign - at which point maybe Jesus himself will intercede and end it to put us all out of our misery. Wink

M. Osborne had a great point...I've really been impressed with the Chicago Statement and would use that as a basis if I ever teach on Bibliology for a sunday school class or whatever.  It's very thorough and helpful in understanding what we mean by the term.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

alex o.'s picture

Its fine to get passionate about the Bible's veracity but then we need to deal with the details.

Bart Erhman has pointed out instances of textual conflict which many fundamentalists have refused to address and it has resulted in people abandoning the faith because their house was built on a poor foundation. Dan Wallace and others have taken on Erhman and expose his weak arguments overall. In the area of textual conflicts however Bible defenders need to do more work.

Mike Licona has a post which brings out some of these issues: http://www.risenjesus.com/chicagos-muddy-waters

​I believe it can be a trap, on the other hand, to give answer to every bible conundrum. Sometimes we need to wait for more evidence to come in or for someone to connect the reference to another part of scripture for it to enlighten us.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

josh p's picture

I am amazed by that review. It shocks me that Wallace would classify someone who is "skeptical of the supernatural" and "on the left side of the theological isle" as a fundamentalist. What then is a liberal!

TylerR's picture

Editor

I re-read the linked article. Wright actually said nothing. He prattled on and said nothing at all. How do you manage to do that? Does it take effort, or does it come naturally? Behold this bit of intellectual gymnastics from Wright:

I do not believe that that is a good way of describing how biblical theology works, for reasons I’ve gone into at length in other books. In particular, I don’t think it’s how Paul expounds “justification by faith.” So I think the “covenant of works” line is a kind of 2+2 = 5 thing. But that doesn’t mean Mr. Mohler and his friends are wrong about a historical Adam. Somewhere along the line there’s a 4+4 = 7 thing as well so the calculation comes out right for the wrong reasons.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

I am surprised that he totally misses Romans 5.  I can understand the argument about the non-historical Adam, because I know what that side holds too, but they end up having an indefensible position on Justification.  I am just surprised this is coming from Wright.  You cannot hold to a correct view on Justification and not hold to a historical Adam who was the first living human.  This idea that Wright has is driven, 100% solely from his belief in a scientific hypothesis, that he then forces him to revisit his view on Scripture.  He holds a higher view and a higher authority of secular science than he does of the Holy Scripture.  He articulates well his rigid view of the inerrancy of science.

alex o.'s picture

NTW likes to point out the typical failing of most modern bible readers: anachronism. Then he seeks to place Jesus in a non-biblical context of Jewish history (these are separate items). However, Christ fulfilled scripture and came in a prophetic biblical context whereas NTW wants us to relate other messianic figures who were not biblical (only Jewish) to Christ. This is a mistake. I think he makes too much of non biblical history. We have the pattern of Paul and the other apostles of how to frame the revelation of the priestly (first advent) Christ event. The apostles never appealed to non biblical events to contextualize Jesus.

NTW is a smart guy but not necessarily correct.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

josh p's picture

I find people's reaction to this to be interesting. For some of us there is more concern about N.T. Wright's departure from orthodoxy while others are more concerned with Wallace's agreement with it. Both are correct responses IMO. For my own part I have already deemed N.T. Wright as outside of orthodoxy so I am more concerned by Wallace.

With respect to the rejection of Romans 5 as raised above what is done with sin? I often wonder what their view of the transmission of sin is. I suspect Wright does not have much of a problem here since he already denies imputation. Does anyone know how those who reject a historical Adam arrive at sin. Is it like a Pelagian thing where people are not born sinners but then become sinners?

dgszweda's picture

josh p wrote:

I find people's reaction to this to be interesting. For some of us there is more concern about N.T. Wright's departure from orthodoxy while others are more concerned with Wallace's agreement with it. Both are correct responses IMO. For my own part I have already deemed N.T. Wright as outside of orthodoxy so I am more concerned by Wallace.

With respect to the rejection of Romans 5 as raised above what is done with sin? I often wonder what their view of the transmission of sin is. I suspect Wright does not have much of a problem here since he already denies imputation. Does anyone know how those who reject a historical Adam arrive at sin. Is it like a Pelagian thing where people are not born sinners but then become sinners?

 

Josh you are correct.  They feel that we are sinners because we sin.  Not because Adam's sin has been imputed to us.  The problem, that I have had with these individuals, is that if you insert this into Romans 5, you can't match this.  If you change verse 18 with this view, it makes no sense.  "Therefore as "individual sin" led to the condemnation for all men, so "individual righteousness" leads to justification and life for all men."  I have argued many times with these individuals, and it just becomes a circular discussion.
 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I had already written Wright off my radar screen a while back, after I read some stuff on the New Perspective on Paul and listened to 1.5 hr debate on justification he did with James White. I know some folks (not necessarily the SI crowd) seem to fawn over Wright, but I've never bothered. His latest 1700 pg. book about Paul, culminating in a "fresh assessment" of his theology, only made me yawn and roll my eyes. That may not be the "appropriate" reaction, and I know I ought to couch my opinion here in more neutral language, but in all honestly - N.T. Wright should get a life. I suppose we should be glad the Holy Spirit only now, by the grace of God, decided to enlighten us all about the true richness of Paul's theology via N.T. Wright's word processor . . .

As for Wallace, he concerns me more. I think it is indicative of a larger war in conservative circles on the issue of inerrancy. I encourage you to read Norm Geisler's review of Five Views on Inerrancy in the Master's Seminary Journal. He lays out the current state of this war, and it is a bit shocking. The revisionist camp, populated by "conservative" scholars, appears to have disdain and scorn for those of us who think the Chicago Statement actually reflects the Biblical teaching on this subject. Read Geisler's review. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

Oy.  I don't think I could make it through seventeen paragraphs of:

The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated.  Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre [1].  Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.”  This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.

This dramatic end-time scenario is based (wrongly, as we shall see) on Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, where he writes: “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God.  The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

What on earth (or in heaven) did Paul mean?

It is Paul who should be credited with creating this scenario.  Jesus himself, as I have argued in various books, never predicted such an event [2].  The gospel passages about “the Son of Man coming on the clouds” (Mark 13:26, 14:62, for example) are about Jesus’ vindication, his “coming” to heaven from earth.  The parables about a returning king or master (for example, Luke 19:11-27) were originally about God returning to Jerusalem, not about Jesus returning to earth.  This, Jesus seemed to believe, was an event within space-time history, not one that would end it forever.

The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines[3], and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation.  This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels.  But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.  Understanding what will happen requires a far more sophisticated cosmology than the one in which “heaven” is somewhere up there in our universe, rather than in a different dimension, a different space-time, altogether.

NT Wright, "Farewell to the Rapture"

Here's my question to liberal scholars like this - if you don't believe in a historic Adam, you don't believe in the Bible, you don't believe in Jesus' miracles (or substitionary atonement) - then what are you doing in making a living as a "Christian" pastor, scholar, or theologian?  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells