The Gospel Coalition

The tone between N. T. Wright and some of his critics is not always a pleasant sight. At an ETS plenary lecture defending himself and critiquing the critics, Wright said in response to one (unnamed) critic's argument: "get a life." To which the critic responded in the pages of JETS: I do have a life, but it's hidden with Christ in God (not Col. 3:3), not in external badges of covenant membership.

Dane Ortlund looks at at some paragraphs from an essay by N. T. Wright, including this:
Like America looking for a new scapegoat after the collapse of the Cold War and seizing on the Islamic world as the obvious target, many conservative writers, having discovered themselves in possession of the Pauline field after the liberals tired of it, have looked around for new enemies. Here is something called the New Perspective; it seems to be denying some of the things we have normally taught; very well, let us demonize it, lump its proponents together, and nuke them from a great height. This has not made a pretty sight. Speaking as one of those who are regularly thus carpet bombed. . . .

Dane then offers several observations:
1. On the spectrum of conservatives who engage with Wright, I would place myself quite far on the 'appreciative' side of that spectrum. I have quoted him positively several times on this blog, such as here. Tons of wisdom and clarity in his stuff. Puts the whole Bible together in amazingly helpful ways. Etc etc etc. Much more to be said here.

2. Wright is unfairly caricatured. And I too am ready to see it stop. I come from the world of conservative American Presbyterianism, and the blogs are scathing. Downright mean. Methinks that when Jesus said that 'on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak' he didn't mean 'every careless word except those typed out on blogs' (Matt 12:36-37).

3. And yet there is a deep irony is Wright's last paragraph in the quote above. He grieves over his critics lumping him together with other New Perspective advocates. Yet in doing so Wright himself lumps together all his critics in just as unfairly a fashion. Like a dad yelling at his kid to never yell.

4. The impugning of motives in that last paragraph is horrid. What an awful example for younger scholars.

5. Either you believe God is one day going to vindicate you publicly before all your accusers, a la many of the psalms or 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, or you do not. If you do, you will not feel the need to preemptively get a head start on that vindication process. Wright's immature complaining in passages like the above is a reminder to us all that when publicly misrepresented it is always the way of wisdom to err on the side of silence. Gentle correction of some publicly stated untruth about us may indeed at times be called for. But when we do so let us do it calmly, without exaggeration, soothing rather than stoking the flames of controversy and emotions, and without a tone of licking our wounds.

6. On a strictly pragmatic level, Wright's bemoaning is counterproductive. It makes his overall writing programme [sic!] less compelling and convincing, not more. He had the same victim tone in his 2010 ETS lecture on justification.

7. I continue to benefit from Wright's work and I eagerly anticipate much more, as the Lord gives him strength.

You can see the whole post here.


Dave Moore

July 7, 2012 at 10:44 AM

Hi Bruce,

Here is an article where he reflects some on the topic. You will see it at the very end of the piece. He is not dogmatic, but it does seem he leans in some less than traditional direction.


Bruce Russell

July 7, 2012 at 10:29 AM


I'd never heard that NT Wright holds to "something less than eternal conscious punishment." Are you sure?


Bruce Russell

July 7, 2012 at 02:36 PM


I've seen a video where NT Wright promoted the evolutionary creation narrative as well. In so doing he becomes Paul's critic and not his expositor.


Dave Moore

July 5, 2012 at 12:52 AM

To the person above:

The spirit of anti-Christ specifically denies that Jesus comes from the Father(I Jn. 4:3). Wright affirms this so you can't categorize him in the way you did.

Positively, the previous verse (I Jn. 4:2) says those who believe in the incarnation are from God. The incarnation is dear to Wright as it is to all true believers.

It is fine to disagree with Wright on a particular doctrine, but you have extrapolated much more than the text of Scripture allows.

Justin B.

July 5, 2012 at 12:39 PM

To anyone reading, I was responding to the commentator Holy Spirit earlier today. I guess he or she was removed from the blog.


July 5, 2012 at 12:11 AM

I think one has to be careful at defending themselves and how that is approached. We all have insecurities and don't like to be 'exposed'. It happened similarly in the neo-reformed world following the onslaught of blog posts aimed at Rob Bell and Love Wins just over a year ago. There was a whole lot of justifying amongst the neo-reformed as to why they wrote so many scathing reviews (or previews) of the Bell's book. If it was true, why the need to overly defend ourselves?

At times, we are called to answer folly, and at other times not (Prov 26:4-5). I've written before of how I would love to see a conversation (maybe public) take place between some of the doorkeepers of reformed theology (Piper, Taylor, etc) and some of the more progressive evangelical thinkers today (Wright, Enns, etc). And that maybe such a public conversation forum could be 'mediated' folks in the middle (Keller, McKnight). I don't know if something could ever take place.

Let us be filled with grace and be careful of our whining, and even whining about other people's whining. :)


Dave Moore

July 5, 2012 at 11:56 PM


I fully understand why you would limit the comments here.

My first book was a critique of annihilationism. Clark Pinnock was a major focus with some attention given to Stott et al. I made a detailed case against that particular view and do find it wanting from a biblical perspective.

That said, those who are calling Wright and others unbelievers because they hold something less than eternal, conscious punishment are making major leaps that the text of Scripture does not give.

Wayne Grudem, who was the first reader on my thesis and then endorsed my subsequent book, was equally troubled by the positions of Stott and others, but still viewed them as brothers in Christ.


July 5, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Wright sounds very much like Barth and Von Balthasar in his very defensive response to critics. All brilliant guys also capable of surprising over-reaction.

Dave Moore

July 5, 2012 at 11:26 AM

Scott L.,

No it was not to you. It was to one named Holy Spirit. Your take on Wright is similar to mine. It seems the Holy Spirit has left the building!

Bruce Russell

July 5, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Hey NT: Welcome to the NFL.

James S

July 5, 2012 at 10:02 PM

Thats why I wish TCG would leave the comments alone. Censorship of comments seems right but it ends up giving a false and distorted view of what the public is saying.


July 5, 2012 at 08:56 AM

It was more along the line of kicked the mother country out of our business, which included the right to self rule and shorten any durned word we wanted! ;-)

Justin B.

July 5, 2012 at 07:39 AM

Wright very clearly denies the existence of purgatory in his book "Surprised by Hope". Also, I think it's pretty pompous of you to take the name "Holy Spirit" when you're commenting on a blog. I'm pretty sure you don't speak on His behalf.

Phil Allcock

July 5, 2012 at 07:38 AM

Brother, you need to watch it again. He expressly disagrees with the mediaeval notion of purgatory, stating clearly and categorically that there is no intermediate state between death and resurrection. What he says is that what people like Dante describe as purgatory is rather like this life - a time of trial and suffering in which God refines his people through all sorts of difficulties and struggles.

I disagree with Tom Wright on a number of things, but there is nothing in that clip that is not orthodox, reformed, biblical faith.


David Koenger

July 5, 2012 at 07:15 PM

In conversation after a conference to three of us Wright talked openly about preemptive criticism in order to head off at the path those who predictably would take pot shots at him. When asked about preemptive criticism he defined it as describing the worst case scenario and assigning it to proven enemies.


July 5, 2012 at 07:12 AM

Let me comment on the really important stuff - No need for the "(sic!)" after the word programme. Wright does know how to spell. Some other bunch labouriously went about shortening words after they fell out of favour with the mother country.


July 5, 2012 at 05:43 PM

Seems inappropriate to refer to oneself as the third person of the Trinity. That being said, it made me wonder why comments are shut down on this blog sometimes. I used to think it was because of wanting tight control, now I think it might be due to the crazy comments that come up from time to time:)

Bruce Russell

July 5, 2012 at 05:25 PM

NT Wright had an opportunity at ETS 2010 to patiently clarify and instruct concerning his exegesis of Romans and Galatians. He was being accused of "works salvation" because he had used some unguarded formulations about justification on the Last Day..."Justified according to the whole life lived."

Anyone paying attention should be satisfied that NT Wright and Paul preach a Final Judgment "according to works", but not grounded on works.

The Christian's life traces an arc of repentance that correlates with New Covenant purification: "The doers of the Law will be justified." At the Last Day God will justify only those who practice righteousness as defined in the New Covenant.

It is most crucial to proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is forever and always the ground of initial and final justification.

This was a useful discussion for the Church.


July 5, 2012 at 03:52 AM

Dave -

I wasn't sure if you were commenting to me specifically, since you said - 'To the person above'. I appreciate Wright. I wasn't saying anything negative about him, other than recognising he (and we) can easily play the martyr card and get very defensive at times. It's not healthy to do it too much.

Holy Spirit - (now that's weird addressing a person as HS, but some do try & play that role)

I don't think Wright would deny 'hell'. But he might deny our medieval characterisations of 'hell', which are quite different from the teachings on gehenna and the lake of fire in Scripture (also noting hades is not 'hell', but simply the place of the dead/the grave). And I can point you to quotes where he specifically denies purgatory (since you suggest in the comment below that he believes in such). You should check out his book, Surprised By Hope. Even most reformed folk have nothing negative to say about that book.