Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Listening to James White's latest Dividing Line is quite saddening. One gets the impression that White really believes that N.T. Wright holds that justification is about us being considered worthy of ourselves to be justified on the last day and that there is not really any present justification (listen to 31:30 onwards, for example). It seems clear to me that White is not well read in Wright. White also seems unwilling to listen to those who say that he might have interpreted Wright wrongly, concluding that this is just what Wright fans do when people disagree with their guru. I think that this is an unfair assessment. I believe that there are people who really understand what Wright is saying and can still disagree with him. However, once you have understood Wright, most of the criticisms that are flying around in Reformed and evangelical circles are seen to be quite ridiculous and unfounded. To claim that certain of the accusations that are levelled against Wright indicate that the critic has not truly understood Wright's position should not be taken as a means of silencing any critics that Wright might have. As a matter of fact, I really want to hear Wright's critics and White and his ilk make it very hard for me to do so. If there is someone who has gone to the trouble of seeking to understand Wright in great depth and has tried to produce a balanced critique I would like to hear what they have to say, without having their voice drowned out by people who don't have such a clear appreciation of Wright's position. The problem with most areas of debate, in my experience, is that the clamouring voices of those who would denounce the opposition as black gospel-denying heretics and go to little trouble to appreciate what they are actually saying tend to receive a far wider hearing than those who have a more nuanced account of the differences that exist. A person who claims that Wright is denying the gospel will generally have a far greater impact than someone who argues that there are many areas in which we can benefit from Wright, whilst maintaining that Wright needs to clarify certain areas of his understanding of justification (for example). I am quite willing to criticize Wright. I have done so on a number of occasions in the past and I will have outlined a number of further areas of criticism before I have finished my present series on his view of justification and imputation. Nevertheless, I trust that my evaluations of Wright will be those of a careful and sympathetic reader and not of a person who is determined to find either his own reflection in Wright or someone who is determined to portray Wright's position in a bad light. As Christians I believe that our duty to 'believe the best' extends to the realm of scholarship and necessitates a willingness to put as good a construction as we honestly can on the positions of our opponents, even when their positions are ones that we disagree with. We certainly seek to be honest and do not wish to hide real and important differences that may exist but where ambiguity exists we will not allow ourselves to jump to negative conclusions without always being prepared to give the benefit of any doubt. I am personally convinced that the essential elements of Wright's doctrine of justification are far from ambiguous for anyone who is willing to engage with him on his own terms. Unfortunately, this is something that few of his Reformed and evangelical critics seem willing to do. As someone who has greatly benefited from Wright I do find it hard to preserve the necessary willingness to hear critiques of his position when I have encountered so many hatchet jobs. Hatchet jobs simply have the effect of reinforcing the trenches on both sides of the debate and prevent either side from actually understanding the other. On occasions one can even get the impression that some of the critiques are little more than willful and cynical exercises in obscurantism. All of this said, I must commend White for actually going to the trouble of actually reading Wright for himself. At least he hasn't followed the approach taken by John Reisinger:—
I have been exhorted to read, among other writers, N.T. Wright. I was on the verge of ordering one of his books when I discovered that he rejects the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Dr. Garlington highly recommends Wright, but has publicly declared Wright is wrong on the subject of imputed righteousness. Some may say, "John, you cannot reject a scholar's whole work just because of one point of disagreement." Normally, I would agree, but when you ask me to read a particular man so that I might understand your view of justification and then tell me that man does not believe that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to a believer as the only grounds of his justification before God, then I reply, "I can reject that particular scholar's whole work on the subject of justification." He missed the foundation stone!I will post my next post on Wright's view of justification tomorrow morning.