Well, last week was exhilarating. About a 530-word post provoked upwards of 33,000 words of comments.
The essay on Dr. NT. "I Personally Believe In the Resurrection, But..." Wright and the whole ensuing discussion was, I hope, instructive. The interaction certainly was for me. Let me say up-front and very sincerely: one of the best things about this "gig" is, at the same time, the very factor that initially worried me about it -- the Comments section. I feared it; now I love it. We have the most amazing readership. It's a constant education and encouragement to me, and I thank God for you.
I'd like to attempt a summary of what I think are some of the more important "take-aways" from This Moment in Pyro history.
"Important" Points: Lighter side
- While there are a few favored souls who can wear the "I Made Rule 40!" T-shirt, as far as I know, I alone can now wear the T: "I Made Michael Spencer Break Rule 40!"
- The tireless and well-nigh ubiquitous Carla suggests I be renamed from "Dan 'don't call me Dave' Phillips" to Dan BOOYAH Phillips, and I... yes, I think I could live with that.
- There are almost endless title possibilities with a name like "Wright."
- More people calling me by my name -- even Adrian Warnock. That's a good thing! (No comment yet from Tim Challies.)
- It was kind of funny when critics seemed to imply the comment thread was too long -- thus swelling it by one more comment. But how long would it have been, if certain Wrightists had simply come in and said, "I really have gotten a lot out of Wright's books -- but good grief, what was he thinking?!"
Important Points: Weightier side
- On friendship. Many defenders made much of Wright's "friendship" with Borg. That's why Wright said that Borg -- who (he says himself) does not believe in the resurrection -- was surely a Christian who "loves Jesus" and "believes passionately." We were told it is because of his great and wonderful "Let's do Communion" friendship with Borg.
Huh? This is Wright being a friend? If so, we're talking about the sort of friend who knows I have treatable cancer, but tells me that the chicken-bones the shaman is shaking at me should do the trick. A number of the commenters seem to define friendship, along with other things, in purely emotional and subjective terms. What is the Biblical view of friendship and love?
- God tells us that we should prefer a friend's faithful wounds, to the disingenuous kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). A flattering kiss is no more the necessary mark of true friendship, than a faithful wound is of its absence.
- The Lord Jesus, our most faithful friend, says, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3:19 NAS). Love and stern reproof are not contraries.
- He who chooses fools as his companions will take on their characteristics (Proverbs 13:20).
- There are "friends" who can ruin you (Proverbs 18:24).
- God will judge the one who sees another staggering off to destruction, and does not do his best to rescure him (Proverbs 24:11-12).
- We have a daily obligation to "take care...lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God," and to "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:12-13).
- The closest friendship must never be allowed to compete with the purity of our devotion to the doctrinal truths of God (Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Luke 14:26).
Let's be brutally specific. If Dr. Borg receives a sentence of condemnation from God, will he be forced to admit, "My friend Dr. Wright warned me earnestly of this"? Or will he have grounds to sputter, "But my friend and Your servant Bishop Wright assured me in front of the whole world that I was a Christian, who loved Jesus and fervently believed! How can You send a Jesus-loving, passionately-believing Christian to Hell?"
- Hero-worship. Some of the critics of Wright's critics don't see to "get" what it means not to be a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics love to dredge up some goofy thing Luther said (and, Lord knows, he said more than a few), or something Calvin did -- as if we'll gasp in horror, throw down our Bibles, and flee to Rome. They just don't "get" what it is to be a free man in Christ (Galatians 5:1; Colossians 2:4, 8, 18), a member of the universal priesthood, a slave of God and not of any individual man or human tradition.
This, by the way, is why I seldom call myself a "Calvinist" to folks I don't know something about. I don't believe anything that I believe simply because Calvin believed it. Insofar as I'm true to my convictions, my conscience is captive to the Word alone. The reason I like Calvin so much is because he has helped me understand what is in the Word! Yet if Calvin takes a turn I don't see called for in Scripture, I feel no obligation to follow him. I might be a Calvinist, but I'm not a Calvinolater.
This sort of freedom of judgment simply stuns Roman Catholics -- and it rather seems to stun the always-Wright set, as well. They seem to see no grounds between almost worshipfully embracing every word that proceedeth from Wright's mouth -- or denouncing him as a Hell-bound heretic. Ergo, if we don't fall into Category A, we must be in Category B. If you don't adore him, you hate him. To criticize him is to anathematize him.
(An aside: I anticipate some angry sputtering and denials on this point. My surrejoinder will be: then what were the objections, and why was the thread so long?)
We were told that we shouldn't accuse Wright of denying the resurrection. We hadn't. We were admonished for judging him unsaved. We hadn't. The Wrightists wanted to talk about our feelings, their feelings, Wright's feelings... our feelings about their feelings about Wright's feelings. What was really important to them was not that this exalted scholar and religious leader had hey-presto! pronounced an unbeliever to be a for-sure, Jesus-loving fervent believer -- it was whether we were being mean, or whether we felt good (or bad enough) about it. Some good folk were "sick" that we had this discussion -- not that Wright had said "Peace, peace," where there was no peace. We weren't so much given a better model, as having been tsk-tsked for not doing Wright right... or doing it right with a bad attitude... or something. There were repeated attempts to launch out in this and that direction.
Yet dogged commenter after dogged commenter -- bless you! -- kept noting, "Hey -- Dan is saying it's alarming that Wright says that someone who denies the foundation of Christian truth is surely a Christian who loves Jesus and passionately believes. Well... isn't it?"
- Do scholars have a "Get Out of Accountability Free" card? My previously-voiced concerns were borne out in this business. What did I try to argue in my little Christian academics: not an oxymoron? I expressed alarm that, in the eyes of some, "academics get a 'pass' from being Christians 24/7." And so we heard again and again, "But this is such a great book! And that's such a great book! He's such a great writer, and made such a great defense of the Resurrection!"
Perhaps so -- but at Easter time, Wright just told the world you can love Jesus and believe passionately without believing in the resurrection. You don't find that disturbing?
But Wright himself does the same thing. Note what he says about Borg: "The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection." And so...? So what? Should God feel bad about requiring such a tough thing of Dr. Borg, given his philosophical and cultural world? Well, then, look: I daresay the philosophical and moral world of the drunkard, the self-righteous prig, the prostitute, the thief, the homosexual, the moralist, equally makes it "very, very difficult" for them to believe in the whole of the Gospel. I suppose that they'd actually have to change worlds, in order to believe. I suppose Dr. Borg would, too. They might actually have to -- what was the word? Ah, yes: "Repent," mentanoeo, have a revolutionary change of mind. Yes, he and they and we have to repent to believe the Gospel. Could be "very, very difficult" -- maybe like a camel going through a needle's eye. Impossible, really, for fallen humans. And so?
It seems as if Wright is making special allowance for cultured despisers, swayed by the testimony of men to disbelieve God. But the apostolic witness is,
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 John 5:9-10)Wright himself says, in effect, that Borg disbelieves God. That means Borg has called God a liar. But Dr. Wright assured us he is a Jesus-loving, believing Christian. That's what the discussion was about.
Wright's defenders excuse his inexcusable waffling on the same pretense: intellectual atmosphere, or even ecclesiastical atmosphere (as if serving an apostate church earns one a "pass," rather than reproof).
It really does appear to be accepted, then, that scholars get a special "pass" from the first and second commandments. Not dimwit drunkards and liars, evidently. No, they still have to repent, believe, and walk in love for God. They're not special cases, like academics are.
Indeed, I get the distinct feeling among some that Wright is doing us a great favor by lending his scholarly credibility to some of our tenets. We should demand less of him, because of his wonderful scholarship and writing.
But surely this is the reverse of the Scriptural stance. God's perspective is that more -- not less! -- is required of him to whom more is given (Luke 12:48). Teachers are judged more harshly, not less (James 3:1ff.). Greater privilege brings greater responsibility, not diminished responsibility (Amos 3:2).
All this makes me wonder yet again: do we really believe the Bible, or don't we? If we do, no one does us a favor by admitting what everybody should already acknowledge, anyway -- such as that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. He's honor-bound to do that. What's remarkable is not one man's admission of the truth; it's the others' denials and evasions.
There must be some place between shrugging off terrific academic accomplishments, and feeling that a good book or two (or ten) earns one the right to say harmful, damaging nonsense without a ripple of contrary comment. It's being brandished by some like military service has been in the political world, as if it earns a lifetime of freedom from reproach. Both are laudable, assuredly, and both merit appreciation; but neither exempts one from the critical arena.
- Admiring the flawed for their flaws. We tend too much to see the one who doubts, challenges, even rejects fundamental truths as being a deep, wonderful, fascinating individual. Many swoon over such an one, treating him like a China egg, admiring, and perhaps wishing to be more like him. Surely this deep doubter towers over those who, perhaps by contrast, just cloddishly and oafishly take God at His Word. If spotlights and recognition and craving for "respectablity" and career-advancement lure him to abandon his former (Biblical) beliefs, many will ooh and ahh at how he has "grown," and use him to bludgeon those stubborn knuckle-draggers who refuse to "grow" similarly.
From God's perspective, the disbeliever -- to say nothing of the false teacher -- is no such stellar creature. Unbelief is a sin, it is immoral, it is wrong, and it's nothing new. It is the mother of all sin, and thus of all ruin and abomination. The first sin was an act of unbelief, and so was your last sin, and so was mine. It isn't as if there is more or less "reason" for disbelieving God today than there was in the Garden. In fact, the one who falls for Satan's lie today is even dimmer and more culpable than our great-great grandma was.
In recent years, I've come to see that God doesn't regard unbelief as we do. He doesn't find it understandable and noble. He finds it inexcusable, and He can be pretty harsh about it. Did Jesus say to the Emmaus strollers, "Well, boys, believe Me when I say I know it's been a hard couple of days! You're tired, your world's upside-down; and besides, the philosophical and cultural world you have lived in has made it very, very difficult for you to believe!"?
Our Lord said nothing of the sort. "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" (Luke 24:25). Quite the slap in the face. I'm sure it woke them up, got their attention. Then He laid out the truth of Scripture for them -- not as an option to be considered, but as the truth with demands belief (v. 26). Such verses could be multiplied.
I don't at all deny that there are places when it is fitting to encourage someone, gently, to reconsider. But I affirm, with the Bible, that it is always fitting to call unbelievers, and false teachers, to repent.
- How should we regard a doubting brother? This could be the subject of many full posts, but here's my short answer for now: We should regard him as we do any tempted believer.
Say a brother admits to you that he's absolutely plagued by lustful thoughts, covetous thoughts, cowardly fears, like so many clouds of bloodthirsty and tireless mosquitoes. How do you respond? Do you bellow fiery judgments and threats at him? I doubt it. I hope not! But on the other hand, do you say, "That's really okay. Given your intellectual and cultural environment, I think it's pretty much unavoidable. But all's well with your soul, go in peace"?
Can we say this? "Oh, mercy -- I understand too well. Been there, felt that, still go there far too often. Let's look to the Lord and His Word together, and see how we can overcome this. I'll stick with you, and do what I can to help you overcome it." I would hope so.
And one last time: as far as I've noticed, no Wright-defender answered my question. The question was posed as the past sentence in the essay. Some found it convenient to quote part of it, the part that they imagined to be easiest to target and misrepresent. "Dr. Thomas" said he answered it, but I did not note an answer.
Here's the question, because this really is the larger point: "One must seriously ask the question: if Wright has a view of Christianity that pencils in the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an optional add-on, and embraces Marcus Borg as a 'passionate' lover of Jesus... can there possibly be any doctrine that isn't optional?"
Note: I said "answered," not "retorted" or "replied." There were many who sputtered over the protasis, "if Wright has a view of Christianity that pencils in the bodily resurrection of Jesus as an optional add-on." This caused many palpitations among Wright devotees. After answering several of them point-blank, I finally asked, "Is there some immensely-popular yet undocumented definition of 'optional' that means something other than 'possible but not necessary; left to personal choice'?" Because that is what Wright did to the bodily resurrection of Jesus: he made it optional to genuine, Jesus-loving, passionately-believing Christianity. Is that belief true, to Wright? Yes. Important to soundness and health? Certainly. Absolutely indispensable to being a Jesus-loving, passionately-believing genuine Christian? Not if we're to take Wright at his word.
And so I simply asked: if belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord is optional, can there possibly be any doctrine that isn't optional?