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A CHOICE OF PASTORS: N.T. Wright or Martin Luther

A CHOICE OF PASTORS: N.T. Wright or Martin Luther

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
April 9, 2020

The godly theologian is primarily a pastor. He may be highly intellectual but, with close attention, he is also full of passion and human feeling, and he transmits a distinct excitement to those hun-gry for the knowledge of God and his glorious ways. Whatever he produces is food for the flock on behalf of the great and good Shepherd he eagerly commends, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ. If his pronouncements are addressed first to the theologically able and those deemed the aca-demic "elite" (the gourmet theologues, as it were), he is nonetheless concerned that the essential nutrition he provides is ultimately distributed in edible form to all the sheep of the Lord's pasture, all of whom are at different stages of digestion. His central objective is to convey truth. His aim is proclamation without pomposity. Even academic excellence in theology can avoid being preten-tious and abstruse. Some directions taken in theological research and theses appear to be the vain "stretching after gnats", very precise points that do not point the way to the kingdom.

The godly theologian never strives for the status of great importance among men with an air of superiority. The theologian's God-given findings are for the whole Church without discrimination. If the specialist cannot convey his meaning simply and plainly when required, then it is clear that he is not truly learned or meaningfully articulate. His aim is to be understood. The godly theologi-cal expert can stoop easily. He is not called to confuse. He has no intention to advertise his knowledge in terms of superior acumen or expertise, nor does he wish to enhance his reputation or compete with his colleagues (especially in book sales and attendant celebrity). He is a servant of the Lord Jesus, his gospel, and his church, and he desires only to edify and benefit the people of God through his endeavors, and affectionately guard them from false and dangerous teaching that jeopardizes salvation (Galatians 1:6-10).

This is the avowed intent of all Anglican ministry, which is predominantly exercised in the parish and the daily life of its residents. The presbyter is to learn from, work with, and explain the spe-cialist to the congregation and interested enquirers. The onus is on the theologian to resource the ministry, educate believers, develop and strengthen the community of faith in its grasp and commendation of Christ. He is to fertilize holy minds with fruitful thoughts.

The parish presbyter is in the front line, preparing Christian folk for their life and witness in the world, seeking its conversion. The local ministry must be savvy as to trends in theology, the sci-ence (knowledge) of God). The responsibility of the whole people of God is to make Christ known and accessible, according to divine distribution of the gifts of the Spirit:

From the Ordering of Priests

The Bishop. Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all Doctrine re-quired of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ? And are you determined , out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge, and to teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation, but that which you shall be persuaded may be con-cluded and proved by the Scripture?

Answer. I am so persuaded, and have so determined by God's grace.

The Bishop. Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the Doctrine and Sacraments, and the Discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church [and realm] hath received the same, according to the Commandments of God; so that you may teach the people committed to your Cure and Charge with all diligence to keep and observe the same?
Answer. I will do so, by the help of the Lord.

The Bishop. Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all errone-ous and strange doctrines contrary to God's word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given?

Answer. I will, the lord being my helper.

There is great modesty in the acceptance of the call of God, and this humility is at the heart of Anglican ordination. The effectiveness of Christian ministry is attributed entirely to the grace of God. Natural talents, endowed by God, are sanctified, honed, and elevated for divine use, and special graces are sovereignly supplied beyond the native ability, usefulness, and worth of the individual ordained. Boastfulness is excluded. Self-reliance is banished. When a work of theology is completed the question is: what essential ingredients are accessible to the benefit of the Church in terms of edification and defense - is this tome pastorally necessary, or simply another prideful item on the market for the author's gratification and notoriety? [Do publishers run busi-nesses or provide ministry?] William Cunningham, the eminent Scottish theologian of the 19thC, posed the crucial question: Does it save? The theologian is in the service of human salvation un-affected by ambition and a sense of grandiosity. The theologian is not above the people, but with the people, deploying the privilege of his education empathetically with the body of believers of every rank.

Motivation is key to truly genuine pastoral ministry (where failure is glaringly evident to every practitioner themselves). The personal sequence in the salvation experience of the pas-tor/theologian is generally and briefly along the following lines: The need of a helpless sinner be-fore a holy God is first and alarmingly identified. The pursuit of the Lord as sole deliverer is ear-nest and intense. The relief of the gospel of grace is gained with gratitude. The honor of God be-comes uppermost in mind and mission. The way of salvation is desired for all through the win-some winning of souls, compelled and enabled by the Redeemer himself.

The touchstone of sound theology is its capacity to speak with immediacy to the heart as well as to the mind, to arouse spiritual vitality, and engender warmer affection toward and greater happy dependence upon the Saviour. Good theology connects with the reader/listener and courses through his being like a current of electricity. True theology is instinct with the principle or force of divine life. It excites wonder and animates our praise of God. How it grips us and entices us to the activity of "drawing our minds to high and holy things" (Article 17). Good theology causes us to bow low before God and simultaneously it uplifts the spirit into communion with God. Good theology transports us to the presence of God. Acquaintance with God is enhanced (even in a felt way) and good pastoral theology is detected in the taste it cultivates for converse with God. Whatever its theme and style, doctrinal or devotional, it brings us nearer to God and satisfies the soul with bounteous blessing from heaven. Fine theology leaves us well fed.

Two Pastors Considered

Martin Luther does not fare well in the estimation of N.T. Wright. The German Reformer is rele-gated to spokesmanship of the mentality of the medieval era. In an interview in 2002 NTW re-marked:

"Its important to say I haven't seriously read Luther for about 20 years. I did some work on Luther when I was first reading theology, I did a special subject on early Reformation texts and quite a bit of that type of thing then. But, it seems to me (this will make serious Lutherans furious) what Luther was rather like what Aquinas did with the Eucharist. Aquinas came with the medieval question: "Is Christ present or absent in the Eucharist? And if he is present, how is he present? Aquinas used a medieval cosmology based upon Aristotle to argue that he is present but he is not present in the same way that he was present when he was walking around with his disciples . . . So Aquinas is using a sophisticated cosmology to answer his particular question and thus comes up with transubstantiation.

"Luther comes to the question, 'How can I find a gracious God?' . . .This we do know - his antith-esis of grace/works, or faith/law, was very strongly conditioned by his own soul struggles, the struggles to be an obedient monk and what he thought this all hinged upon. This was all rooted in the world of late medieval Catholicism. Luther then, is reading Paul looking for the bits and piec-es that will help him resolve this particular question. Very clearly there were thousands and thou-sands of other people at the time who were facing exactly the same question and were thrilled to hear there was a different answer than they had been given. And I want to say, as I said with re-gard to Aquinas, if you come with this worldview, this is the right answer! But, just like the matter of transubstantiation, the problem here is that this has led us down some pretty murky paths" (Reformation & revival Journal, Volume II, Number I, Winter 2002. Pp117-139).

Moving forward to present times NTW still adheres to the same opinion concerning Luther. His recent biography of the apostle Paul serves as a primer to his basic "revolutionary" thought and particularly upon the manner in which Luther framed his teaching on justification;

"Once again the problem has been the wrong framework. If we come with the question, 'How do we get to heaven,' or, in Martin Luther's terms, 'How can I find a gracious God?' And if we try to squeeze answer to those questions out of what Paul says about justification, we will probably find one. It may not be totally misleading. But we will miss what Paul's "justification" is really all about. It isn't about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we hu-mans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit ("righteousness") and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf. It is about the voca-tional framework in which humans are called to reflect God's image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that".

How easily and shabbily NTW is dismissive of Martin Luther, and how rude his slick asides con-cerning those servants of the Lord who still preach according to Luther's faithful example. What validity do the criticisms of NTW possess? A more close comparison of the two pastorates be-fore us is intended to follow.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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