Christianity,  Theology/Bible

The Contributions and Revisions of N. T. Wright

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.


  • Kelly (Hughes) Hall

    Great link, Denny! I’m excited to see Evangelicals tackling this subject. Thank you for sharing it. One of the key reasons I converted from Southern Baptist (you and I were at Temple Baptist at Tech) to Catholicism was due to my belief we were ignoring 1500 years of history. There is no way our loving Christ would leave us without a physical Church leading all Christians.
    You’re doing great with your blog. Would like to see you tackle a few more subjects in depth, though. 😉 God Bless You and Your Family!

  • Ken Temple

    Kelly – I could not help noticing your comment, and I hope Denny doesn’t mind my adding my comment to yours, but it seems you were under the impression that Southern Baptists thought the church blinked off completely with either the death of the apostles (? 96-100 AD) or possibly with Constantine in the 300s AD – so sorry that those Southern Baptists gave you that impression; as admittedly, that is a common mis-conception among S. Baptists and other modern Evangelicals – especially the free church movement (s) and Charismatics. Your statement seems to think that Southern Baptists still think that the visible church was not even around for 1500 years. But knowledgeable Protestant-Evangelicals don’t take that view. The truth is that the eclipsing of the gospel was a slow process and the church was never completely gone/false until the Council of Trent in 1545-1563 when the RCC condemned the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Only then did the Roman Catholic Church become a completely false church. Your statement needs to be countered unless people get the impression that that popular belief is true. Church history and historical theology is a lot more complicated and nuanced than that. James White of (Alpha and Omega Ministries) has an excellent statement, “We can let the early church be the early church” without claiming it was Protestant or Roman Catholic. James White’s books and debates against leading Roman Catholic apologists are excellent, as are the books by David King and William Webster. (Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of our faith. 3 volumes) Also William Webster’s “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History” and Eric Svendsen’s “Evangelical Answers”. James White has an excellent chapter in “Sola Scripture: the Protestant Position on the Bible” – chapter 2 – Sola Scriptura and the Early Church. Gregg Allison’s “Historical Theology” is also a great resource. Books by R. C. Sproul on these issues are also helpful.

    • Kelly Hall

      Hi Ken, thank you for your comments. It’s the first sunny Saturday, so I need to be short and keep enjoying it with my husband and kids. Just wanted to let you know I did see your response. I have listened/read James White. His debates with Fr. Pacwa and others are professional/cordial. One part that troubles me with James White, though, is that he believes Fr. Pacwa and Catholics are not Christians. Fr. Pacwa is debating with the purpose to get rid of the “completely false” belief and understanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Am I seeing that correctly? (FYI, I won’t respond until Monday.) Peace be to you! Kelly

  • Don Johnson

    When I read Wright, I often get frustrated as he does not take his conclusions far enough, as I see it, he explores the space but ends up being Anglican Protestant. He does not fully integrate the implications of Acts 21 in his teachings, where Paul says he keeps Torah. This means Paul in his writings could never have thought it wrong to be both a believer in Jesus and a practicing Jew; so if one thinks this is something his writings teach, it means one is misunderstanding something.

  • Ken Temple

    The current Roman Catholic Church is Roman Catholic, and not the early church or “catholic” (little c, meaning “universal” or kata holic = “according to the whole”.) It has been since, sometime after 600 AD – the development of Purgatory, Indulgences, Papal power), 1054 (Split with Eastern Orthodoxy), or 1215 (Transubstantiation) or 1415 (Fourth Lateran Council; burning of Jan Huss), or 1545-1563 (Trent). It got worse with 1854 (Immaculate Conception of Mary and Sinlessness of Mary), 1870 (Papal Infallibility), and 1950 (Bodily Assumption of Mary) as binding as part of the gospel. The early church was not “Roman”. None of those things existed in the early church. There was no “Pope” in the early centuries – there were bishops of cities and areas, but no “Pope” or “bishop over all bishops”. Cyrpian and 86 other bishops around 257-285 AD were right to rebuke Stephen, bishop of Rome, for his claim to be “bishop over all other bishops”.

    If a person is trusting in their good works and prayers to Mary to keep them in grace or get back lost salvation or trusting in things like prayers to Mary and indulgences, transubstantiation, giving to the poor, etc. to get them more grace for eventual justification and salvation, then it is adding works to grace alone and faith alone. It is like the Galatian problem of adding works to faith and the apostle pronounced an anathema on that in Galatians 1:8-9. The whole RCC sacramental system is a violation of Galatians 2:16, 21,Gal. chapter 3, Romans chapters 3, 4, 5, The gospel of John, Romans 10:9-10; Acts 13:38-39; and many more passages etc. Praying to Mary and other dead saints is a violation of 1 Timothy 2:5. Christ is the only mediator. Dr. White is talking about the gospel and doctrine and that Rome has a false “gospel”. The Roman Church at Vatican 2 calls us “separated brethren”, but that is just trying to be nice, in all honesty. The dogmas before then have never been changed. Vatican 2 seems like a real contradiction to all the prior tradition of the Roman Church back to 1415 and the burning of Jan Hus. Especially the parts about saying that Muslims worship the same God that we do and that atheists and unbelievers who have never heard of Christ can be saved by the light of conscience. So much for evangelism.

  • robert karl

    Ken, Peace be with you. You are very misguided and mean. We will continue to pray for you. If you wish to be saved, you have to live the Our Father–including forgiving others–that is the work.

    • Kelly Hall

      Ken, Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Thank you for what you wrote and your patience in my response. It has been a blessing to spend part of today writing this response. It made me write out my testimony (did not share it here), which is something I should have done a long time ago. So, I thank you for commenting, since the Holy Spirit pushed me to do more than I already was. 😉
      First, It is certainly out of my comfort zone, but I feel convicted to write this much detail. In regards to your response, I must disagree with your assertions; specifically, your perception of Catholic teachings and your view on history.
      Second, I did not come here to argue among Christians. Far too much time is wasted on denominational differences—especially ones that have been falsely taught and misinterpreted. We are Christians and should be UNITED for the sole purpose of worshipping and adoring our LOVING GOD. Through our unity and worshipping, we can evangelize non-Christians like the Apostles. Through our unity, we can see more clearly the mystical Church Christ promised us.
      Any time a preacher (i.e., James White) spends more time slandering the Catholic Church (or denominations within Protestantism) instead of spreading the Good News, I question their lack of charity and knowledge.
      At this day in age, we should be able to agree on justification. In Roman Catholicism “justification mean(s) being made a child of God and being called to live life as a faithful child of God through faith working in love. Ephesians 2:8-10 clarified that faith…(is) a gift from God, not because of our works, so that no one could boast; and that faith enabled us to do the good works God had planned for us to do. At the same time faith was a gift from God and our obedient response to the mercy of God. Both Protestants and Catholics could agree that salvation (is) by grace alone.” (Quote taken from Kimberly Hahn (wife of Dr. Scott Hahn, founder of St Paul Center for Biblical Studies)
      I go back to my original post that it is exciting to see Evangelicals speaking of reevaluating atonement, justification, salvation, and the church. What makes me excited is the reminder of my re-evaluation and entering the Catholic Church. As I started seeing/accepting that liturgy and the sacraments were essential in my walk, my relationships with Christ, my husband, my children, and Christian brothers/sisters grew exponentially.
      On May 26th, I will have officially been a Christian for more than half of my life. During these 23 years as a Christian, I’ve been blessed by our merciful God by deepening my faith in Him. Key Godly gifts transforming my faith are the very Sacraments you mock. Despite whatever you have been taught, the Sacraments are how the Apostles taught Christians to worship. Every Sacrament is backed by Scripture and Tradition, and are what St. Paul referenced in his command to stand firm in these teachings.
      In addition to the Sacraments, saying yes to LIFE was another gift by being rewarded with five beautiful children—God willing, there will be more! The Catholic Church’s teaching on using contraception sealed my conversion. It is the only Christian church to have stayed true to maintaining the covenant of marriage (a sacred gift from God). Up until 1930, all Christian churches were unified in condemning the use of contraception. Using contraception treats the marriage covenant in a common way. As you know, treating something sacred in a common way makes it profane. The church emphatically defends this truth. {As a side note, in light of the HHS mandate, every married couple, single person, and pastor should re-evaluate the use of contraception.}
      I could go on, but I have already surpassed my comfort zone of public display of faith on the Internet. Ken, when one examines Church history and begins worshipping as the Apostles taught; it is hard not to be Roman Catholic. When becoming Roman Catholic, it is hard not to see that Protestants are my brothers and sisters in the Church Christ promised to leave us. We should be united, standing firm in the faith, and evangelizing non-believers. I’m happy to expand more, but I think I’ve taken over the combox enough. ? I leave with a prayer from St. Paul: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.”

      Denny…thanks, again, for your service to Christ.

      • Michael Sweet


        Greetings. Scott Hahn is quoted as saying that justification by Faith ALONE is unbiblical (as does the RCC). There are substantial resources on both sides that discuss this issue, so I will not get into the details here.

        The bottom line for me is this – Roman Catholics and Reformed Protestants strongly disagree on the fundamental issue of justification by faith. One side is wrong, and this is an essential doctrine.

        I believe that it is impossible to be incorrect on this issue and still be saved.

        • Kelly Hall

          Hi Michael! You’re right, there are substantial resources…I’ll add that there are so many people smarter than me! I’m no theologian or apologists. I’m just a God-loving woman, serving Christ as He taught the Apostles and has been passed on for 2,000 years. Every day, I strive to be a better servant than the day prior.

          In regards to your comment, “I believe that is impossible to be incorrect on this issues and still be saved,” I’ll use the Holy Bible to answer:

          1 Corinthians 4:1-5 NIV
          The Nature of True Apostleship

          4 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

  • Ken Temple

    Kelly wrote: “we should be able to agree on justification”. Remember it was the Roman Catholic Church that condemned justification by faith alone at the Council of Trent in 1545-1563 and they have never changed that decision. Unfortunately, they can never admit that they made a mistake, because of the 1870 dogma of the infallibility of the Pope and the magisterium.

  • Ken Temple

    Hi Robert,
    I wish you and Kelly peace also – I don’t understand why you call disagreeing with doctrinal issues and having a different perspective on church history as beiing “mean”. In your opinion, I am misguided, but I don’t see anything “mean” in what I wrote.

    Disagreeing with the Roman Catholic sacramental system and asserting that it is false doctrine and against Scripture is not “mocking” it. Also, Dr. White has witnessed a lot to Mormons and Muslims, atheists, etc. over the years, debated atheists, agnostics, liberals, skeptics, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals, homosexuals, etc. so I don’t see how you can characterize him as

    “Any time a preacher (i.e., James White) spends more time slandering the Catholic Church (or denominations within Protestantism) instead of spreading the Good News, I question their lack of charity and knowledge.”

    Disagreeing and debating doctrine is not slander – all of his debates, the Roman Catholics have equal time. He has a long standing invitation to debate Scott Hahn, but Scott Hahn has refused. And the whole thing started with Catholic Answers initiating the debates – it was the RCC organization Catholic Answers that first challenged Dr. White to a debate – Karl Keating – the leader of that organization; and Jerry Matatics was the debater. Your statement shows you don’t know much about Dr. White or his debates with Roman Catholics; and you don’t know that he has not focused on Roman Catholics for years, as he has been focusing on Muslims lately. Roman Catholics are unwilling to debate him anymore. (except for Robert Sungenis a few years ago; and Tim Staples finally agreed to a debate on Purgatory. ) I hope you have listened carefully to all 5 of Dr. White’s debates with Mitchell Pacwa. There are many other debates with various Roman Catholics. They are the ones who don’t want to debate anymore.

    • Kelly Hall

      Hi Ken! I’m incredibly uncomfortable debating in a public forum, especially with my full name tied to it. I’m a private person by nature, plus discussing things this in an open forum can lead to the sin of pride.
      I would be happy to continue our discussion but only by email. If you are interested, do you know how we can do that without publishing our email address here? Kelly

  • Ken Temple

    To the subject of Denny’s post: There seems to be significant evidence that N. T. Wright and others take on “the new perspective(s) on Paul” have contributed to Protestant Evangelicals leaving historic Protestant doctrine and either re-defining justification, or converting to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or high Anglico-Catholicism, or ? (something else).

  • Kelly Hall

    Ken, In light of what we discussed this week, think this might be worth a read. Dr Mohler has an incredible way with words. He has allowed the Holy Spirit guide him through study of the Catholic faith.

    “As I have often stated, a true evangelical, committed to the Gospel as recovered in the Reformation, and a true Roman Catholic, committed to the teachings of the magisterium are the last two people on earth who can have an honest disagreement.”

  • Ken Temple

    Thanks for the link to Dr. Mohler’s article. Yes, it is good. If you want to discuss things more, you can click on my name and it will take you to my own blog, and we can discuss things there. I have a new article on the Roman Catholic priesthood and clip from the debate between James White and Mitch Pacwa.

    I have written some on Roman Catholicism at another blog I am a part of, “beggars all reformation” with James Swan.

    Ken Temple

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