jQuery Slider

You are here

A CHOICE OF PASTORS: N.T. Wright or Martin Luther - Part 5

A CHOICE OF PASTORS: N.T. Wright or Martin Luther - Part 5


By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
May 20, 2020

Theologians can never be cavalier in their communication of ideas. Nor should they be ambitious in the quest for originality and notoriety. In our time rigorous revision is proposed for everything that has constituted trusted tradition - doctrine, interpretation of ecclesiastical history, and the comprehension of eminent Christian lives; their significance and worth to subsequent generations.

The crafting of theological thought is a service to Christ the Lord and to his Church. It is not the pursuit of glory in the academy, or in the professional sphere of education and research. It is not a parade of intellectual gifts or literary versatility. Theological endeavor is never to be stimulated by rivalry and competitiveness. Theology is a reverent and holy discipline fostering a deeper knowledge of God and his ways in wonderment and worship. As is often recognized, theology is a doxological enterprise, an opening into the glory of God in order that the human mind may perceive divinity aright, the heart may be stirred to praise, and the observer persuaded to absolute trust in the Lord who discloses himself. Theology is intended to furnish a well-informed and reasonably intelligent faith.

Theology ought to be the most humble of sciences and the least patronizing. Whether at the podium or in the pew the theologian, however much celebrated, is to be lowly among the little folk of God, for there will be many inconspicuous believers much closer to the One whom the specialist seeks to discover and describe (1 Corinthians 1:26ff). Only the grace of the Spirit reveals the Lord, and there are many theologians who work without modesty and the resources of grace. Their heart does not feel that which engages the intellect. The supposedly high things of heaven, that should deflate any tendency to arrogance, actually elevate the oversized ego that credits itself with exceptional acumen. By virtue of theological skill, so say, there are some academics who exist in a rarefied zone and exude an air of superiority as if long lists of publications guarantee admission to paradise as a reward. Any goals they achieve academically, that may be good and useful, are in consequence of a divine gift. But in some persons knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1-3; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Love for the Lord himself is the receptacle of true knowledge which love then dispenses.

Whatever may be the achievements of theology they are for the benefit of the whole church for its ministry in the world, and hence the task is supremely pastoral (helpful), making the Lord God thoroughly and thrillingly accessible to those who seek to know him. Edification is the purpose of the theologian, preparation of nourishment for every member of the flock that has an appetite for the food of the soul. The true theologian leads the sheep into the lush pastures of the Lord's ever fresh word. Preacher and professor proclaim the word of the Lord. The adept theologian assists the pastor (ordained or lay) in his appointed role. Every element of theological understanding contributes to the promotion of a full-orbed gospel, for all truth points to God and every elaboration of the nature of reality drives us further into contact with him, his vastness and verity.


No man is permitted take upon himself the office of public preaching or ministration of the Sacraments before he has been called and appointed to fulfill this office. And those persons should be accepted as lawfully called and appointed who have been selected by men entrusted with public authority in the Church to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard (APB, PBS USA, 2008).

The ordained or licensed Anglican preacher or theologian has two considerations in mind as he performs his ministry. He is not a lone, unaccountable individual in a field conducive to experimental and private notions in contradiction of the Scriptural standards of the body in which he serves. If he disagrees with or dissents from the essential truths of the way of salvation (for this is the key message of the Church of Christ) then he must question his conscience and if he is convinced that he cannot conform he must quit his attachment. He must be able to walk in concert with the settled mind of the Church with its foundation in divine revelation derived from the Bible. Of course, things are lax in this age due to the general departure from doctrinal discipline. Our low condition is self-caused. Anglicanism is a city without walls.

Furthermore, the location of Christian ministry is in the Lord's vineyard. It is no one else's property, and is reserved and run for his pleasure, conformity to his will, and for the kind and quality of produce that he desires. Deviant doctrine, disposition, determinations, and practice are nothing short of theft allied to audacious rebellion.

The minister must adhere to his Master's manual in his toil in the vineyard, and must observe the boundaries. He must render faithful and reverent service and avoid behaving in the manner of a renegade. Therefore, every wind of doctrine that is strange to the people of God must be adjudged as to whether it is ill or fair, that the teachings swept toward us are fine or foul (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Novel teachings, erroneous doctrine, re-hashed heresy is presented repeatedly in the history of the Church. For its protection the Church, and the individual Christian, need to cultivate a sound historical perspective. Alertness is essential. Peddlers of mischief are always recycling pre-used wares of ancient devilish manufacture cheaply titivated for current acceptance. Revised teaching warrants close examination. It is possible that a new emphasis may arise that is an amplification of the truth, an aspect that is consistent with the core of orthodoxy, more light from the original source shining more brightly on some particular or other. But the way of salvation to be gained through Jesus Christ is simply spelt out and so plain as to be unchanging.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Trust entirely in the crucified and the blood shed for our salvation. Faith is the inner eye that gazes upon Jesus our Justifier. Faith is not of itself our salvation, but rather the One whom faith apprehends. Faith as the gift of grace, relies on Messiah himself as our justification perfect and complete. Nothing remains to be done. Christ's atoning work is finished. It is Luther who sums up the gospel in these terms: there is nothing to do or contribute. The Gospel is not do, but done! Receive salvation freely! Faith is the evidence of justification, and the mark of grace, and the assurance of election. It is not of our own creation. Faith and repentance are entwined. Each accompanies the other. Neither are works of the flesh. They are inwardly wrought by the Holy Spirit through his change of our nature.

N.T. Wright seriously disputes this way of salvation. It is often difficult to determine what he does believe. Offer an objection to what appears to be a plain statement and he denies its clear and inevitable grammatical sense. He is indeed a clerical chameleon. Nonetheless, the drift of his message counters the truth of justification by faith alone. He swoops and soars in rhapsodic verbosity, issuing sweeping asseverations that are simply and wildly untrue after a moment's analysis (e.g. Current Christians are asking 16C questions, whereas we should be 21stC Christians posing 1st C questions. Where lies his authority or credibility for such a blanket and silly expression?). He is dramatically rhetorical but at depth he is flagrantly denunciatory of the simple folk he deigns to correct (old fellas, country preachers, the theologically illiterate), but strictly speaking he is heretical with regard to the divine method of salvation (faith, atonement, regeneration) and the nature of both sin and grace.

His teaching is masqued in an element of biblical terminology (so that recipients drop their guard), laced with bombastic novelties of interpretation (if one were really smart the term "fancy hermeneutics" should have been utilized). When he utters ideas that are controversial he magically resorts to loopholes that afford a route of escape. His respectable academic critics are far too polite, for his errors are far more than mere academic irregularities - they are disasters in a soteriological sense. They are potentially hazardous to salvific benefit. There is fiction contrived from Scripture, show-off pagan allusions, and a stealthy foundation of Pelagianism. He lectures on bringing heaven to earth, mocks the convenient language of the three-storey universe (of which the Bible itself is guilty with prepositions such as "above" & "up) and regards those who think in terms of three dimensions as simpletons - "most Christians", he says.

But of course, sophistication is an essential ingredient in his ambitious theological construction. [Where did you inadvertently mislay your copies of Heiddeger, Cicero, or Seneca?] His linguistic panache is spellbinding. Look closely for misrepresentation and his preening of himself in new light, falsely appealing to John Robinson: "God has more light yet to break out of his holy word". Every false teacher can abuse this wonderful observation. The principal value in godly reading is William Cunningham's axiom: "Does it save?" Measures of culture, philosophy, sciences etc. are improving, intoxicating, but not to be controlling. We love to advertise our learning in the interests of one-upmanship, but only sound knowledge, true and simple, of the gospel will point us "whether upwards, sideways, stationary on earth" to heaven. Many will rue immersing themselves in the Encyclopedia Britannica for most of their lives rather than opening Matthew Henry's Commentary.

NTW's major evaluations are suspect. Citing them at any length is tiresome. Read him for yourself and ponder honestly and prayerfully. See if he really does square with Scripture under the Spirit's tutelage. Rigorously apply "the analogy of Scripture" principle for understanding. Taste as to whether your soul is wonderfully fed and satisfied. Does he truly reach the inner man? Does he fruitfully pastor the soul? Does he engage the eager heart with the Word of God?

Some quotes to think about:

*It's important to say that I haven't seriously read Luther for about 20 years.

*Luther comes to the question, How can I find a gracious God?". . . This we do know - his antithesis of grace/works or faith/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 routed in the world of late medieval Catholicism. Luther, then, is reading Paul looking for the bits and pieces that will help him resolve this particular question".

*And I want to say, as I said with regard to Aquinas, if you come with this question and you look at it within his 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.

*I can see how frustrating it is for the preacher who has preached his favorite sermon all these years on the imputation of Christ's righteousness from 2 Corinthians 5:21 to hear this is not the right way to understand it but I actually think there's an even better sermon waiting to be preached. You can always preach one on 1 Corinthians 1:30 so long as you do wisdom, sanctification, and redemption, all three." NB Reformed preachers have presented this kind of sermon "doing wisdom, sanctification, and redemption" for centuries. A little modern history wouldn't go amiss!

The Reformation & Revival Journal Interview, Vol II, Number I, Winter 2002

*The language of "salvation' and "glorification", central to Romans, Paul's greatest letter, was assumed to mean the same thing: being "saved" or being "glorified" meant "going to heaven," neither more nor less. We took it for granted that the question of "justification," widely regarded as Paul's principal doctrine, was his main answer as to how salvation worked in practice; so, for example, "Those he justified, he also "glorified" meant, "First you get justified, and then you end up in heaven." {What a crass, inept, simplistic caricature of traditional belief - so demeaning and flawed. So intolerably pompous]. Looking back now, I believe that in our diligent searching of the Scriptures we were looking for correct biblical answers to medieval questions. Paul, Introduction, pages 7-8.

*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 an 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 that matters is whether we have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (righteousness") and, if not, where can we find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf. It is about the vocational framework in which humans are called to reflect God' image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God, has through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that.

For Paul, therefore, questions of "sin" and "salvation" are vital, but they function within worldview different from the one Western Christians have normally assumed. For Paul, as for all devout Jews, the major problem of the world was idolatry. Humans worshipped idols and therefore behaved in ways that were less than fully human, less than fully image-bearing. That was a core Jewish belief, and Paul shared it. What he did not share, as he thought through his tradition in the light of Christ and the spirit, was the idea that the people of Israel, as they stood, constituted the answer to this problem - as though all one had to do was to become a Jew and try to keep the Torah , and all would be well not only with Israel, but with the world. Paul knew that view, and he firmly rejected it." (ibid) Page number not cited.

The biography of Paul is serviceable as a primer to the theology of NTW. It is only fair to advise those interested to read it. Most library systems will surely possess copies available on loan.

Some Personal Comments in Closing part 5

Paul evaluated Jew and Gentile as equally parted from God, observing, "No, a man is a Jew if he was one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit" (Romans 2:29) i.e. new birth facilitating justification by faith, a state not attained through the written code (human obedience). Such a man's praise is not from men, but God" (hence being right with him).

External circumcision does not count in this crucial instant of reconciliation between the Lord and the believer: "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3) cf "For all have signed and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:23-24).

It is crystal clear that Abraham was justified by faith through Christ as his promised Justifier. Genesis and Paul are dealing with deliverance from the morass of moral corruption.

"Most Christians" were probably not so naive as NTW alleges as regards the matters of salvation, life as Christians, and the future hope of cosmic renewal - about which he instantly expounds in the pages mentioned above. In addressing the matter of heaven, it was understood as fellowship with God forever. Change was expected on a colossal scale - the pure, just, loving kingdom of God. Total Transformation.

The essential true religion of Christ may be beneficially explained by experts, but it does not depend on them. Academic arrogance has led many adherents into a murky ditch of doubt and despair.

Klaas Runia

"Because Luther and the other Reformers placed all their faith in the declaratory act of the justifying God and rejected any possibility of human contribution at this point, they had a firm basis for assurance. Because man's salvation in no way rests on anything he himself does, not even on his faith, but rests solely on that wonderful justitia aliena [strange righteousness] of Christ, such a man may know for sure that his sins are truly forgiven and that, in spite of the sinfulness that remains in him, he will never fall out of the hand of his gracious God. 'At once justified and a sinner' is not a Lutheran one-sidedness, but it touches the very heart of salvation. Solus Christus [Christ alone], and sola fide [by faith alone] belong together in unbreakable unity, and because of this unity the last word is and remains: soli Deo Gloria [to God alone be the glory]!"

Justification and Roman Catholicism, Right With God: Justification in the Bible and the World, edited by D.A. Carson, p215

...To be continued in final summary

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top