Jason Byassee has written a fascinating profile of N. T. Wright for the most recent issue of Christianity Today. In it he argues that Wright has surpassed Rudolf Bultmann as the most influential biblical scholar of a generation. The article is gushing in many ways and highlights the many achievements of Wright over his long career—a career that has buttressed the historical claims of Christianity more than any scholar in recent history. Nevertheless, Byassee says that Wright’s work also offers a massive revision to traditional Protestant faith,
Wright’s goal in his teaching and writing is to massively revise the way Christianity has been articulated for generations. Christian faith, for Wright, is not about going to heaven when you die. It is not about the triumph of grace over the law of the Old Testament. He says its key doctrine is not justification by grace alone, the cornerstone for the Protestant Reformers. The church has misread Paul so severely, it seems, that no one fully understood the gospel from the time of the apostle to the time a certain British scholar started reading Paul in Greek in graduate school (p. 38).
Byassee says that Wright offers a “newer tradition” in which the New Perspective on Paul offers a “corrective to the ruling Protestant one” (p. 43).
If we deem Wright correct, we as Western Christians will indeed have to redo much of our accepted thinking on atonement, justification, salvation, and church. Wright’s opponents ask, wisely: Did the Holy Spirit really let the Western church run entirely amok from the day Paul died until the day Wright took up his pen? (p. 42)
In a personal reflection, Byassee works out the implications of Wright’s work,
It is important to stop and note how dramatically Wright has reworked things here. It means, in part, that the evangelist at summer camp who asked me, “If you died tonight, why should God let you into heaven?” was wrong when he provided the answer, “For no reason other than that Jesus died in my place” (p. 42).
There’s nothing new in Byassee’s report. This is vintage Wright. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how this profile describes the depth of Wright’s contributions and revisions.
For now, the article is behind a subscriber wall on CT’s website. Eventually, they will set it free. When they do, you can read it here.