Politics,  Theology/Bible

More Wrong from Wright

I have given my assessment of N. T. Wright’s politics in previous posts on this blog (here, here). Readers may remember that Wright is pretty unrealistic in his appraisal of how the West should respond to Islamo-fascism. Not only does Wright excoriate the American-led war in Iraq, he also dismisses America’s toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan as an “immature lashing out.” Wright has said that “the only way to fight terror is by working for mutual understanding and respect” (He’s serious!). For Wright, the American “empire’s” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amount to fighting “one kind of terror with another.” One would expect this kind of moral equivalence from a liberal partisan. It’s surprising (and disappointing) to hear it coming from and “evangelical” Bishop of the Anglican Church.

Joseph Loconte at the Weekly Standard has jumped into the fray and has given a withering critique of Wright’s theopolitical musings. Here’s a snippet:

‘The bishop exudes moral outrage–but not at the extremists. Wright reserves the weight of his scorn for the United States and Great Britain and their foreign policies since the attacks of 9/11. . .

‘There are mature Christian responses, in political terms, to this kind of threat. One of them is called the just war tradition, and it provided the moral rationale for the US-led war in Afghanistan. Astonishingly, Wright gives it almost no attention. He movingly describes the hope of the coming Kingdom, “God’s final victory over evil.” But he has little to say about the enduring need for governments ordained by God to enforce justice–with the sword–until that blessed day arrives. Instead, we’re informed that “the only way” to combat terrorism is “by working for mutual understanding and respect.” We’re told that believers are to “bring [God’s] wise and healing order to the world under his just and gentle rule.” What God intends the secular state to do about those who despise life itself, who violently resist his gentle rule, remains a flimsy afterthought.

‘It is not as if the bishop lacks a Biblical view of evil in the modern world. But it does not seem to figure at all into his critique: He assumes that the root causes of Islamic radicalism have much more to do with politics–with U.S. and British foreign policy–than with the tragedy of the human condition. There is no suggestion that Islamic fascism may represent a fundamentally spiritual crisis: that Muslim rage results largely from the admixture of monstrous ego, envy, and perverted religion.

‘The current soft-pedaling of Islamic violence is jarringly reminiscent of the posturing of clerics during the 1930s. As Hitler began his campaign of terror in Europe, the editors at Fortune magazine berated the nation’s Christian leaders for failing to reckon realistically with the Nazi menace. Instead, they picked up the appeasing cant of their secular counterparts. “We are asked to turn to the Church for our enlightenment, but when we do we find that the voice of the Church is not inspired,” they wrote. “The voice of the Church today, we find, is the echo of our own voices.”

Read the whole thing here: “N. T. Wright Gets It Wrong” – by Joseph Laconte (The
Weekly Standard)

See also: Gilbert Meilaender, “Wrong from Wright,” First Things (February 2007).


  • Wonders for Oyarsa

    I am a huge fan of Wright, and also a strong proponent of the Christian just-war theory. And I think there is some valid criticism of his positions here. However, it does NOT help to caricature the positions of a great Christian leader and thinker to make your point!

    Take the accusation that he dismisses America’s toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan as an “immature lashing out. This is the actual quote:

    Thirdly, as a result, we react in immature and dangerous ways. The reaction in America and Britain to the events of September 11 has been a knee-jerk, unthinking, immature lashing out. Don’t misunderstand me. The terrorist actions of al-Qaeda were and are unmitigatedly evil. But the astonishing naivety which decreed that America as a whole was a pure, innocent victim, so that the world could be neatly divided up into evil people (particularly Arabs) and good people (particularly Americans and Israelis), and that the latter had a responsibility now to punish the former, and that this justified the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is a large-scale example of what I’m talking about — just as it is immature and naive to suggest the mirror image of this view, namely that the Western world is guilty in all respects and that all protestors and terrorists are therefore completely justified in what they do.

    I remember this. I remember the stream of “God bless America” everywhere following 9/11 – and this notion that we were a pure people, whom God is always on our side. And I also remember, though missionary contacts, seeing how utterly arrogant this looks to our brothers and sisters in the faith in other parts of the world. It’s an important and valid point – not that we didn’t have a right to invade Afghanistan – but that our motives and presumptions in doing so are less than pure.


    I’m not huge fan of Wright, but I’m not a hater either.

    That being said, to use his own terminology …

    Denny wrote: “Wright has said that “the only way to fight terror is by working for mutual understanding and respect” (He’s serious!).”

    Well, I think THAT is naive, but I won’t belittle by calling it “immature.”

  • Daniel

    I think that Wright’s politics come out of his understanding of the synoptic gospels and his thoughts about the “kingdom vs. empire” motif.

    I wish that Wright would give texts like Romans 13 a bigger role in the political discussion.

  • Bryan L

    Good point Daniel. What do you think a consideration of Romans 13 in the discussion would bring to the table?

    Bryan L

    BTW I’ve said it before but isn’t the play on “Wright” with the word “right” (i.e. “Why Wright is wrong” “Why Wright gets it right” etc…) getting really really old? Everyone uses it like they were the first one to come up with it. It’s worse than elementary school when kids make fun of other kids names by rhyming it with something else or playing off the fact that it sounds like another common word. Anyway…

  • Ben


    I’m not sure your ad-hominem attack, “One would expect this kind of moral equivalence from a lefty hack.” is appropriate.

    I encourage you (and others who would comment on this blog) to not stoop to such base descriptions.

  • paul


    you’ve become an artful dodger. I tip my hat to you. On this (and other posts) people have asked you about things, and your only response is to giggle about the Wright word plays.

    So, here’s my question Denny: when it comes to politics, why are you SO one sided. It doesn’t even seem like you listen to the other side. You see people on the left, you talk trash. End of story. But let’s face it: THE REPUBLICAN WAY AIN’T WORKIN’ DOGG!

    Some fresh ideas might be helpful. Wright is offering them. They might be naive, but listening to all sides in a discussion is the only way to come to the right answer. Especially when the guy who sent us to war in Iraq doesn’t know the difference between a Mandala and a Nelson Mandela.

    By the way, my CD comes out tomorrow. Buy a copy.

  • jeff miller

    Wright’s catholicism and his “church/state” error get in the way of what would be great interpretation of scripture.

    Does Wright still have the best commentary on Romans in print?


    “Does Wright still have the best commentary on Romans in print?”

    Obviously, that’s a bit of a subjective issue.

    Personally, when I preached through Romans I really appreciated Schreiner, John Murray, Doug Moo, and Cranfield. MLJ and ML and Hodge also were helpfully in the honorable mention category. For me, and again I’m no hater, Wright would not be in my top tier as far as usefulness.

  • Bryan L

    The thing that is great about Wright though that I don’t know if can be said for the others that you mentioned is that Wright really takes serious the OT context of the verses that Paul quotes and really takes into consideration the narrative of Israel that is in the background of Paul’s thought and it’s relation to why Paul says what he does.

    I remember reading an article on a passage in Romans by Schreiner once and he basically dismissed the need to take the actual context of the OT verse into account in interpreting how Paul was using it and basically seemed to suggest that it really didn’t matter and that Paul was sort of just proof-texting.

    Bryan L

  • MK

    “One would expect this kind of moral equivalence from a lefty hack. It’s surprising (and disappointing) to hear it coming from and “evangelical” Bishop of the Anglican Church.”

    Do we have to resort to name calling (lefty hack)? Shouldn’t it be surprising (and disappointing) to hear name calling coming from a theologian?

  • Denny Burk

    Dear Matt (in #18),

    I accept the reproof. I am sorry for the edgy language and have removed it from the post.


    Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

  • Mason Beecroft

    Nothing like “catholicism” to get in the way of interpreting scripture!


    Even with a small “c”?

    “Ground control to Major Tom…”

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