Friday, February 08, 2013

White is Right vs Wright on the NPP

In his Dividing Line show yesterday, Dr. James White talked about an radio broadcast that he shared with N.T. Wright, of “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) fame.

In the course of the show, Dr. White mentioned that he believes he must spend more time on this topic, and for this I’m grateful. Noting that the NPP (rather, NPPs) have been a bridge for people into Roman Catholicism (and through the related Reformed phenomenon, the Federal Vision), he especially points to the fact that the people who most know what they’re talking about, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and “Tom” Wright himself, have not moved into Roman Catholicism.

Citing a JETS paper that Wright published in 2011 (and I didn’t get the specifics, but I believe it was March 2011), Dr. White made the point of clarifying what N.T. Wright actually says on certain issues.

In what follows, I’ll try to blockquote his direct citations of Wright, and I’ll try to transcribe (or tightly paraphrase) what Dr. White is saying.


The point is not that “the Reformers had a faulty hermeneutic, therefore the Catholics must be right. If you get the hermeneutic right, and you will see that the critique [of Roman Catholicism] is all the stronger. Just because they used a faulty hermeneutic to attack Rome, that does not mean there was nothing to attack, or that a better hermeneutic would not have done the job better”.

Dr. White goes on to say that NT Wright believes that he, and almost he alone, but that he is defending Sola Scriptura, and that we who hold to what he would call the Old Perspective, are not being consistent. He believes that he is defending Sola Scriptura against us.

“And folks, if I am going to be sensitive to anything, it’s that I am going to be sensitive to the charge that I am not practicing Sola Scriptura. Scripture always has to be the norm that norms all others.”

Dr. White quotes Wright as saying:

“On this underlying question, I am standing firm with the great Reformers against those who, however Baptist their official theology, are in fact “neo-Catholics”.

Dr. White then surmises that he is talking about D.A. Carson (?). Following from this, it is always important to remember that the New Testament Scriptures, the original first-century apostolic testimony to the great, one-off [“unique”] fact of Jesus himself, the doctrine of the authority of the Scripture itself is part of the belief that the living God acted uniquely and decisively in, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s Messiah to die for sins and to rise again to launch the New Creation. Again, [this is] a central Protestant insight that has happened once for all, “ἐφάπαξ”, right out of the book of Hebrews.

It does not have to happen again and again.

He says that Wright notes that in the 16th century, “some Roman Catholics were asserting that Jesus had to be sacrificed at every Mass”, perhaps because official Roman doctrine is that Christ’s sacrifice is “re-presented” in the Mass, or if he was saying that was one stream of thought.

“It is true that some people in the first century were asking some questions that were analogous to the things that Luther was asking. The rich young ruler wants to know how to inherit the age to come. Not ‘how to go to heaven’ by the way. Jesus does not answer as Luther would have done. He sends him back to the commandments, and tops it off by telling him to sell [everything] and become a disciple. Part of the problem is that Luther’s question was conceived in thoroughly Medieval terms, about God, grace, and righteousness. Put the question that way, and Luther’s answer was the right one. The fact that the words are biblical words does not mean that theologians in the 1500’s meant the same things that biblical writers in AD 50 meant by them, or rather by their Greek antecedents.”

Dr. White then says, “you’ve got to accurately represent the guy, or he will rip your lips off”.

What follows, now, is really important:

“One word in particular about the big story of Scripture, the story that is presupposed throughout the New Testament: the Big Story is about the Creator’s plan for the world, and this plan always envisaged human beings being God’s agent in that plan, human sin, that’s their problem, but God’s problem is bigger, his plan for the world is thwarted, so God calls Abraham to be the means of rescuing humankind, then Israel rebels, that’s their problem, but God’s problem is bigger, namely that his plan to rescue humans, and thereby the world, is thwarted. So God sends Israel in person, Jesus the Messiah to rescue Israel, to perform Israel’s task on behalf of Adam, and Adam’s on behalf of the whole world …”

This is where you get a sense of his narrative interpretation. Wright wants to talk about “the big picture”, the big purpose from beginning to end.

We [Reformed] talk about covenants, and the concepts that are woven throughout the text of Scripture.

Wright’s presentation is thoroughly Israel-centric, or as Dr. White puts it, “Israel-dominated”.

“For N.T. Wright, THE KEY narrative concept for the interpretation of all the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is the concept of the exile. Israel in exile. That is for him what gives cohesion to the interpretation of everything else. I don’t agree with that, I don’t necessarily think that Daniel 9 is what’s in the background of Paul’s thinking everywhere, but that’s one of the main issues that comes up.”

Citing Wright again:

“The point of the covenant with Israel in the whole of Scripture is that it is the means by which God is rescuing the children of Adam and so restoring the world”

That is N.T. Wright’s understanding of covenant theology.

He notes that Wright claims to have spent more time distancing himself from Sanders than agreeing with him – and he points out that there are as many variations within the “new perspective” as there are scholars writing on the subject.

He claims of Romans 10:3, indicating that:

Paul’s critique of his fellow Jews was not that Israel were legalists, trying to earn merit, but nationalists, trying to keep God’s blessing for themselves, instead of being the conduit of those blessing to flow to the Gentiles.”

Dr. White then criticizes that view, saying “you can’t cut apart the motivations of the Jews, so that they have solely a nationalistic issue going on, and that they do not have a works-righteousness issue going on. It just flattens Paul out too much to try to make the Wright paradigm fit. You have to flatten too many terms out, [and we those of us involved in Biblical interpretation can tend to fall into that error when we don’t think through what all these terms mean], … and so we’ve got to be consistent, and recognize that we’re doing that, but it also requires the reading of particular texts in a very unusual way. In facts, sometimes [Wright] suggests that the reading that he suggests, has never been suggested by anyone else before. And that got us into some interesting discussion.

He qualifies that Wright is pointing out true things; the problem is giving them a proper weight or emphasis. Wrights emphases are far outside the mainstream of historical “weighting” of these texts.

Wright’s suggests that it is wrong of thinking of the Jews as thinking of “old Pelagianism”, that man can pull himself up by his boot-straps, without the need for grace at all.

Dr. White re-asserts that the issue of the Reformation was never the necessity of grace. It was the sufficiency of grace. “And I did get to mention, that New Perspectivism as a whole, and even N.T. Wright’s position individually makes me wonder how he can avoid a synergistic compromise of sovereign grace in salvation. He will say he doesn’t, but I did raise the issue.”

Dr. White believes that one of the attractions to Wright comes from people who reject the “me and my bible” kinds of evangelicalism that is very widely manifested today. But he asserts that we need to know God’s greater plans, and to understand the meaning of God’s grace. “Only God’s people are looking for the gracious God. It all goes together”.

One of biggest problems with Wright’s viewpoint, he says, is that Wright’s “paradigm” in Romans 8 it is a two-party law court: God and sinner, whereas clearly, in Paul’s mind, it is a three-party law court: God, sinner, and Jesus the intermediary, interceding for the sinner.

He says: “This is the newness of the New Covenant”, which Wright misses.

At this point, we are more than half way through the DL broadcast, and I’ll leave that to those interested to follow up with it. But I’ll be watching closely for follow-ups on this topic.


  1. “Part of the problem is that Luther’s question was conceived in thoroughly Medieval terms, about God, grace, and righteousness.”

    Having been working through the “Hedielberg Disputation,” Luther would certainly know the difference between “Medival” (i.e., “scholastic”) and Biblical theology. This is a poor rendering of Luther who had a cogent knowledge of bothe scripture and tradition.

    Wright is merely creating a straw Luther here to rail against. The real Luther transformed the theology of millions of Medival Catholics within his life time! Wright underestimates Luther’s “Theo logic of the Cross!”

    Do we have another scholar on the Road to Rome in Wright? Thanks to White for challenging him!

    In the Lamb

  2. I don't know if you want accolades for this John?

    I listened to the broadcast as well.

    I liked that part of N.T. Wright's big plan scenario.

    I am looking forward to listening to the broadcast Saturday morning??

    Here's some anecdotal Biblical antecedents that for me captures the "big" picture.

    We know the start of the "King" thing was with Saul. God dismissed him for the reasons recorded for our learning upon whom the ends of the age has come.

    God was doing something here as He is in everything predetermined by predeterminate counsel when He then installs King David.

    The point to that I'm supposing is we all start out as Saul and once delivered we are conjoined to the mission and work of King David.

    Hang with me here as I am going somewhere with these anecdotes of Biblical antecedents.

    Here's King David:

    1Ch 16:4 Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.
    1Ch 16:5 Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals,
    1Ch 16:6 and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.
    1Ch 16:7 Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers.

    What's the heart of that song sung?

    1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
    1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
    1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.
    1Ch 16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
    1Ch 16:35 Say also: "Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise.
    1Ch 16:36 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!" Then all the people said, "Amen!" and praised the LORD.


  3. cont'd:

    Now consider this:

    2Ch 28:1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done,
    2Ch 28:2 but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made metal images for the Baals,
    2Ch 28:3 and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.

    He fell through the cracks and ended up buried in disgrace:

    2Ch 28:27 And Ahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city, in Jerusalem, for they did not bring him into the tombs of the kings of Israel. And Hezekiah his son reigned in his place.

    Here's the reality of King Ahaz:

    2Ch 28:22 In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD--this same King Ahaz.

    For the Elect, what overcomes the world but His Faith once delivered to the Saints.

    Now for the big picture.

    We read on in 2 Chronicles:

    2Ch 29:1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abijah the daughter of Zechariah.
    2Ch 29:2 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done.

    He had his ups and downs and God has His with him.

    This young man got it right afterall:

    2Ch 29:6 For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the LORD our God. They have forsaken him and have turned away their faces from the habitation of the LORD and turned their backs.

    Hezekiah calls forth the Levitical Priests to there charge from God and duty before the children of Israel.

    Here we are today reading this that the Apostle Peter wrote, too:

    1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
    1Pe 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
    1Pe 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
    1Pe 5:9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
    1Pe 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
    1Pe 5:11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.


  4. cont'd:

    Seems to me as we weigh carefully what the Lord is teaching us it's recapitulation from King David to King Hezekiah to another backslidden state to the Birth of Christ and the subsequent revival that began with these people, the children of Israel, first, then the floor gates open to the Elect in the world as we see it played out in the book of Acts even to our days when we see great apostasy in the worldwide movement of things Satan behind that apostasy with God behind his permitted work?

    Let me go for some more?

    First something from this idea of permission and God allowing the Devil, Satan, his course that ends in the lake of fire.

    From Deuteronomy:

    Deu 13:1 "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,
    Deu 13:2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,'
    Deu 13:3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
    Deu 13:4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.

    Well what good that did them!

    The whole of the "old" is simply so God can bring us to the "New" and "Living" Way.

    Back to our narative from 2 Chronicles then and what we might learn as a lesson for us in our evangelization of the known world these days:

    2Ch 29:9 For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.
    2Ch 29:10 Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, in order that his fierce anger may turn away from us.
    2Ch 29:11 My sons, do not now be negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make offerings to him."


    2Ch 29:15 They gathered their brothers and consecrated themselves and went in as the king had commanded, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD.
    2Ch 29:16 The priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and they brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook Kidron.
    2Ch 29:17 They began to consecrate on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they came to the vestibule of the LORD. Then for eight days they consecrated the house of the LORD, and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.
    2Ch 29:18 Then they went in to Hezekiah the king and said, "We have cleansed all the house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the table for the showbread and all its utensils.
    2Ch 29:19 All the utensils that King Ahaz discarded in his reign when he was faithless, we have made ready and consecrated, and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD."


  5. cont'd

    As we go along we see the intensity of Grace and Mercy from Heaven increase and swell in their hearts and souls:

    2Ch 29:25 And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king's seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets.
    2Ch 29:26 The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
    2Ch 29:27 Then Hezekiah commanded that the burnt offering be offered on the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD began also, and the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David king of Israel.
    2Ch 29:28 The whole assembly worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded. All this continued until the burnt offering was finished.
    2Ch 29:29 When the offering was finished, the king and all who were present with him bowed themselves and worshiped.
    2Ch 29:30 And Hezekiah the king and the officials commanded the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed down and worshiped.


    2Ch 29:36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had prepared for the people, for the thing came about suddenly.

    Now we get from there to here:

    2Ch 30:1 Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of the LORD at Jerusalem to keep the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel.


    2Ch 30:6 So couriers went throughout all Israel and Judah with letters from the king and his princes, as the king had commanded, saying, "O people of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria.
    2Ch 30:7 Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the LORD God of their fathers, so that he made them a desolation, as you see.
    2Ch 30:8 Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD and come to his sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever, and serve the LORD your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you.
    2Ch 30:9 For if you return to the LORD, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the LORD your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him."
    2Ch 30:10 So the couriers went from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them.
    2Ch 30:11 However, some men of Asher, of Manasseh, and of Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.

    We see and hear similar increases of Grace and Mercy being poured into hearts and souls all around the world as King David's song sung (1 Chronicles 16) is making its way to every nation!

    Also we see an increase in mockings against the work of the Lord and the Lord and His Bride!!!


  6. But let's tie this big picture up after these words as an anecdotal and ancillary Biblical antecedent:

    2Ch 30:16 They took their accustomed posts according to the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests threw the blood that they received from the hand of the Levites.
    2Ch 30:17 For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD.
    2Ch 30:18 For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon everyone
    2Ch 30:19 who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary's rules of cleanness."
    2Ch 30:20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.


    2Ch 30:25 The whole assembly of Judah, and the priests and the Levites, and the whole assembly that came out of Israel, and the sojourners who came out of the land of Israel, and the sojourners who lived in Judah, rejoiced.
    2Ch 30:26 So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.
    2Ch 30:27 Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven.


  7. cont'd

    There's high adventure for the Elect these days. As they were called back to the ancillary temple again and again to stand before the Lord and be good citizens of earth, which no can be without Divine assistence, so it is for us too, to continue rejoicing before the Lord in the face of all goodness that befalls us or worse things too!

    We have this "endtime" Truth given to the Apostle Paul. Seems this endtime Truth was already given to King David as we learn by reading 1 Chronicles 16?

    Here's what He writes and then I will finish up with the mandate from the Apostle Peter and what he wrote too:

    Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
    Eph 1:8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
    Eph 1:9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
    Eph 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.


    2Pe 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,
    2Pe 3:2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,
    2Pe 3:3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.
    2Pe 3:4 They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."
    2Pe 3:5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,
    2Pe 3:6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.
    2Pe 3:7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
    2Pe 3:8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
    2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
    2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
    2Pe 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
    2Pe 3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
    2Pe 3:13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.


  8. closing remarks:

    I believe if this generation passes then the next one or ones will have to pick up the ball we dropped!

    We see that God's big plan is for unification of the Elect out of the world as we read there in Ephesians 1. We also see the work we are to do as the "Royal Priesthood" similar to and as those ancillary Levitical Priests were doing for national Israel in the days of King David revived by King Hezekiah.

    The Church, that Bride that the High Priest of this order is washing making pure and spotless, has a final hoorah!

    2Pe 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
    2Pe 3:12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

    I suppose this hoorah will happen just as suddenly as that one written about in 2 Chronicles did after God prepared them suddenly:

    2Ch 29:36 And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced because God had prepared for the people, for the thing came about suddenly.

    Well, that's what I suppose the big picture is all about and maybe that's what N.T. Wright was getting too?

    1. Michael, I haven't read any of Wright, and so I can't speak to "what he was getting to".

      Jeff Downs has posted a link to the actual White/Wright discussion, here:

  9. This was indeed an interestng podcast. I listened to it this morning while I generated my morning reports and this afternoon caught your detailed summary here. Risking having my lips ripped off, one comment of Wright's particularly bothered me: "...God’s problem is bigger, his plan for the world is thwarted..."

    Did someone just run nails down a chalkboard?

  10. John, thanks! I listened to the Brierley program Saturday.

    I believe if there was more time, like about five hours, Dr. White would have flushed out and Dr. Wright would have flushed out what they were talking about.

    I believe they are not far apart? I believe I understand just a tidbit of what Dr. Wright was trying to do to connect the dots to the fires of judgment we will all go through to get to our final destination or resting place. Of course those whose name is not found in the book of Life won't find much rest and the rest of us, well, we may not have one hundred percent of what we believe with us when we are brought to the Joy of the Lord.

    Anyway, this life is too short to get bogged down in some things. Jesus Christ is Lord. He saves us and we are declared justified as Romans 5:18 says. Jesus is building His Church and She is glorious to behold as we behold Their Eternal Glories! God, Our Heavenly Father brings us into that deep fount of Their Love. Then we get a glimpse of the Vision which is Christ in us on earth as we are in Him in the Holy Heaven. That brings us peace so we can have ongoing discussion with one another basis those things about these things.

    Peace and Joy be upon you and yours today in His Love and Grace!

    1. Thanks Michael. You are right, few people need to understand all the ramifications, but someone needs to address what Wright is saying. I think the 2nd portion of the DL is up at Aomin. But I haven't had a chance to listen yet.

      Thanks for your prayers and wishes for my family. I hope all is well with you. :-)