Friday, February 26, 2010

N.T. Wright and Redeemer Church in NYC

Redeemer Church's (pastored by Tim Keller) Center For Faith and Work is hosting a talk to be given by N.T. Wright in April. I find this a disheartening bit of news given the confusion Wright has sown in some as regards the gospel of God's salvation of sinners by His grace through faith in Christ alone. Below is an email I sent to CFW expressing my concerns:

Dear fellow Christians,

I saw the bulletin note regarding the upcoming N.T. Wright speaking engagement that Redeemer is sponsoring. This troubles me, in as much as so many Christians have rightly looked to the ministry of Tim Keller and Redeemer Church. My concern regards what is the subtle change in emphasis and direction of the New Testament gospel message epitomized by Dr. Wright's innovations. I know you must be well aware of the critiques on his NPP and his less than reformed teaching on justification by faith and the righteousness of God. By sponsoring his conference, Redeemer by extension, will be seen as endorsing his errant perspective.

By the way I am a reformed Anglican, a member of one of the continuing Anglican churches in the U.S. My concern can be best highlighted by commenting on this excerpt from your web page advertising Dr. Wright's talk:

It's easy to become preoccupied with who gets into heaven; the real challenge is how we are going to live in the here and now.

Two things:
It seems this statement presents what is a false choice (as Wright oftentimes does) by suggesting that "preoccupation" with who gets to heaven and by extension 'how' - somehow precludes also focusing on how one is "to live in the here and now." The implicit message is 'don't focus on those peripheral personal salvation issues', thus weakening a Biblical teaching that one should be rightly "preoccupied" with their salvation... not in some self-centered pursuit of spirituality but by growing in our trust in Christ's death for our sins, His merit and obedience for our justification, and in a thankful obedience to His commands. Secondly, Dr. Wright's teaching advances the idea that the gospel is not about how one gets saved from sin (by grace through faith in Christ alone), rather refocusing God's purpose on building the kingdom of God here on this earth by righting wrongs and countering injustice in society. Though there are important things to be taught regarding our deeds unto others in this world, this shift in emphasis by Dr. Wright subtly moves the believer away from the gospel as it has been understood and taught by the New Testament writers, by Augustine, by the Reformers, as well as many today in the Anglican, Reformed, and Evangelical denominations.

From N.T. Wright:
"For Paul, what he means by ‘the gospel’ is not, despite some of our current usage, the description of a way of salvation... ‘The gospel’ is not, in particular, identical with the doctrine of justification. ‘The gospel’ is not itself the same thing as the revelation of God’s righteousness; that revelation takes place within the gospel, so that when the gospel is announced God’s righteousness is indeed unveiled; but ‘the gospel’ itself refers to the proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true and only Lord of the world... [Paul] has presented his gospel, not as a message about how individuals get saved from sin and death, though that is of course taken for granted, but as the message about how God has brought Jew and Gentile together into one body."

This is Wright employing (which he frequently does) straw man arguments, in order to redefine the gospel. How?... by undermining the gospel message of justification by faith - that righteousness comes through faith alone. No reformer identified "the righteousness of God" as the same thing as the gospel. As a response to Wright's wrongs - Paul did present his gospel as good news for sinners as to their salvation from sin and death precisely because it does proclaim how God in Christ justly justifies the ungodly... Paul did not take the gospel for granted, for it was constantly under assault. And no reformer presented Paul's gospel as the "message about how God has brought Jew and Gentile together into one body." But once those interpretations are subtly established, one can be moved away from the gospel of God's grace through faith in Christ's merit alone for our salvation as the heart of the Good News.

I doubt you will reconsider this event, though I wish you would. So I hope that, at least, someone will be present during the Q & A to help clarify and rectify the confusion that Dr. Wright is likely to bring with his gospel.


  1. Exactly right, Jack. Straw man arguments are constantly being introduced, and words are subtly being redefined, We need a lot of discernment as to not be fooled into listening to false doctrines that have been creeping into the church. Thank you for pointing this out. I hope Tim Keller reads your open letter (and probably many others whose red flags have gone up) and cancels this speaker who is bringing confusion to the body of Christ.

  2. If Rick Philips can bless the sacred American sniper, why can’t “the church” in New York City bless NT Wright’s version of Christendom? The root is too many preaching "lordship" and "worldview" and assuming or denying gospel. Rick P also is saying that keeping the commands of the Lord is the gospel

    In my opinion, the main problem Wright has is not the preterism which distracts us from the second coming of Jesus into a focus on “the church”. At the end of the day, Wright is more Arminian than universalist—he still has a future distinction of those who stay in the covenant and those who do not, and this all depends on infants growing up and keeping “covenant conditions”

    Wright’s fundamental problem is his rejection of Christ’s death as substitutionary punished for the guilt of the elect imputed to Christ. Wright thus regards a book like “Pierced for Our Transgressions” as a fundamentalist obstacle to his Christendom project.

    The reason Wright is so comfortable discarding justification based only on Christ’s death is that Wright has confidence in the water of “the church” to make Christians by the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. We see this in his essay in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (Paperback), Bruce McCormack, editor, (Baker, 2006)

    I quote from Wright on p 260: “This declaration, this vindication, occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit, that is, it occurs, on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense…just as the final justification will consist not in words so much as in an event, namely the resurrection of the person, so the present justification consists not so much in words but in an event, the event in which one dies with the Messiah and rises to new life with him. In other words, baptism. I was delighted to rediscover…that not only Chrysostom and Augustine but also Luther would here have agreed with me."