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Posts Tagged ‘N.T. Wright’


Some books are written and read as labors of love. Some books are written and read as “necessary evils”. The author wishes they did not have to write the book, and you wish you didn’t have to read it. Sometimes their labor of love is your “necessary evil”.

The Federal Vision and Covenant Theology: A Comparative Analysis by Guy Prentiss Waters is probably one of those necessary evils. I’m sure he probably wishes he could have spent the time and energy writing on some other project. Because he loves Christ and his denomination (the PCA), he felt compelled to write this book.

Because I am now serving in the PCA, and love Christ and His Church, I felt it necessary to read this book that I might better understand the Federal Vision since it is present in the PCA. Since I appreciated his earlier book Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul, I thought this would be a helpful book. It was. I just wasn’t happy that I had to read it, and at times found it difficult to wrap my head around what the Federal Vision actually is.

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I call it “a hundred page headache.”

Since my library does not have enough books on the Trinity I was drawn to Eternal Covenant by its subtitle: How the Trinity Reshapes Covenant Theology. Perhaps it should have been entitled how one idea of Meredith Kline’s reshaped some people’s covenant theology. This was tough reading, for me.

I had been wanting to read up on the Federal Vision. I didn’t know I’d bought a book connected to the Federal Vision. The connections to Cannon Press and Peter Leithart were clear. He also offers James Jordan, whom one of my professors called a “hug-able theonomist”, a debt.

The book really centers on the so-called Covenant of Works and in what way the Covenant of Grace is eternal. There is an issue about the nature of that covenant. Reformed theologians have been all over the map on this issue, as Ralph Smith lays out for people at the beginning of the book. He uses this, in part, to illustrate that the Westminster Confession of Faith could use some revision in this matter.

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There is a disturbing trend that I have noticed the last few years. I almost fell into myself while reading a book recently.

Karl Barth

The author favorably quoted from Karl Barth. I had to catch myself. Karl Barth had some very unbiblical notions, but as one of the most prominent theologians of the 20th century he had to have a few good ideas.

The theological Pharisee will not permit anyone to quote from those deemed unworthy. We are expected to treat these men like pariahs or we will be treated like them after a good internet lashing.

I’ve seen people like Jonathan Edwards attacked for having slaves. He never wrote about it and defended it (like some others). Yes, he was part of the cultural sins of his day in this respect. But should that invalidate everything he wrote? No.

Others, dead and alive, have defended slavery which is crazy in my book. I’ve never gotten into the “southern Presbyterians” though I am technically in a southern Presbyterian denomination. I prefer the Princeton theologians, overall. But I don’t cringe when someone quotes Dabney. I see what is said and evaluate it.

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I just finished Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology after laboring over it far too long.  I just haven’t had as much time to read as I like (this may shock some of you who think I read too much).  It is a collection of messages from one the Together for the Gospel conferences (sample pages).

I found it to be a very uneven book.  There was a great disparity in the length of the chapters, as though some speakers were given far more time than others.  Some of the shortest chapters were from those I most wanted to hear.  Yet, some of those (while good) sounded an awful lot like other messages they’ve done.  Since I don’t preach on the conference circuit, I am probably expecting too much for them to come up with a new message to fit the occasion.  When I was ‘only’ doing pulpit supply during my transition, I would preach the same text a few times, tweaking it depending on the congregation.  But no one travels hundreds, or thousands, of miles to hear me speak.  This was a tad disappointing.

The book kicks off with a rather long chapter on Sound Theology by Ligon Duncan.  He defends systematic theology as necessary for the life of the church.  It is popular today (and most days) to decry systems, but we should be able to summarize doctrine to promote understanding of the whole.  Preaching and teaching should be both expositional and theological, and Duncan notes.   This is, in part, because our theology must be biblical.  Yet, you don’t build a doctrine on only one text.  That is a HOV line to heresy.

“Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.”  John Murray

Duncan notes some problematic views that have popped up.  His charity is on display in that he doesn’t name names.  His goal is not to stigmatize anyone, but point out flaws in certain positions which tend to be anti-theological.

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I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.

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Trevin Wax has compiled some statements on Christianity from both John Piper and N.T. Wright to provide some context for their debate on justification.  I read this on Christianity Today and I am more confused than ever.  With so much in agreement, and the big difference being what is meant by “works of the law”, I’m wondering what the big deal is.  I’m not sure why people are so thrilled with N.T. Wright’s developments.

N.T. Wright affirms the centrality of the Incarnation, substitutionary atonement and resurrection to our salvation.  Salvation is received by grace through faith and repentance.  Nothing novel or heretical there.  But, such summaries as this tend to be reductionistic, so perhaps something important is being left out.

As I read Romans and Galatians, I find something different than “ethnic badges” at work.  Afterall, most of those in the Reformed community is baptism as the new “ethnic badge” which has replaced circumcision.  Afterall, Abraham was justified by faith, so faith is not a new ethnic badge.

So, I’m not exactly sure what the hype is about on either side.  Since salvation is by grace through faith in keeping with God’s covenant promises in which He vindicates His righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus … it seems as though advocates of the New Perspective shouldn’t be all that excited since the church doesn’t seem to struggle with “ethnic badges’ anymore.  I can see where some would be concerned that Paul’s arguments not seem irrelevant to us, but neither would Wright be considered a heretic.

So I must obviously be missing something.  It can’t just be a matter of emphasis and nuance.  Is this thing just a bunch of smoke and mirrors?

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I think this will be my final post on The Future of Justification: a Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper.  I think it is more of an assessment than a response.  Piper does a good job of laying out N.T. Wright’s distinctive views on these issues, and then weighing them.  Piper does more than assess them by his own views, he tries to examine if they fit the evidence of Wright’s secondary sources, and (more importantly) the biblical texts.  He also weighs Wright’s criticisms of evangelical theology on this matter (which have some merit) as well as these proposed solution (not so much merit there).

Piper avoids the common traps of polemical theology.  He affirms where N.T. Wright is correct.  He does not demonize him or attack him personally.  In all this I think Piper writes a book that is clear, fair and convincing.  If disciples of N.T. Wright want to hear a fair case of the other side- this is it.  They might not be convinced that Wright is going in unhelpful ways in this matter, but allegiances can work that way.  And then my question becomes, are there areas in which you disagree with him?  If not, then you probably aren’t thinking.  I disagree with John Piper on a few issues, but not here.

Anyway… in chapter 10 Piper assesses the implications of ethnic badges and self-help moralism.  Wright sees “the works of the law” “as an ethnic badge worn to show that a person is in the covenant rather than deeds done to show they deserve God’s favor.”  Wright points to Romans 3:26-30.

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