24 April 2007

Discerning Wrong from Wright

by Phil Johnson

om Wright has posted a screed on the atonement controversies. (I made note of that fact in a comment under yesterday's post but didn't say much more than that.) I still need to read the full article carefully, but Adrian Warnock's observations closely mirror my own first impression. Wright seems to think since Steve Chalke read some of the Bishop's books and echoed his positions at some key points, he can't possibly be far wrong on the atonement. Also, since Wright endorsed Chalke's book before it caused a flap on the atonement issue, he apparently feels obliged to explain what Chalke really meant.

I dunno. I thought Chalke's own explanation left little doubt about his position, and it does not seem to be what Wright insists it is.

In his article, Wright has some pretty harsh things to say about the book Pierced for Our Transgressions, a recent, generally well-reviewed book on the atonement co-authored by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Near the end of his post about Wright's article, Adrian Warnock lists some typical samples of the scorn Wright pours on that book.

The authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions have responded to Bishop Wright's article here.

Meanwhile, D. A. Carson has put out a review of Wright's Evil and the Justice of God (HT: Justin Taylor), which review contains some candid remarks about Wright's position on the atonement. Following the linkbacks to Justin Taylor's post on the subject will take you to some stimulating discussions.

Doug Wilson (as usual) had the pithiest comments, and this reflects my response exactly when I read Wright's response to the atonement debates:

The really strong language from Wright is reserved for the men from Oak Hill [who wrote Pierced for Our Transgressions], and this is where things get really weird—"almost funny," "Go and read the book," "hopelessly sub-biblical," "it becomes embarrassing," and so on. This is because (as I take it from this distance) they offered a case for penal substitution in the language of systematic theology and not biblical theology. I don't know (not having seen the book) if I would even agree with Wright's point. But what I can say, from this distance, is that Wright has a wildly skewed view of who needs to be praised, who placated, and who challenged.
On the perennially pro-Wright side, Alastair has already weighed in. When Mark Horne speaks, I listen (even though I often disagree). Mark is almost always sympathetic to whatever Wright says, and this is no exception.

My own lack of enthusiasm for Wright's opinions on the atonement, justification, and Pauline theology is well known enough. So don't look for me to jump into this dogpile this week. I'm just going to pretty much sit back and watch it all unfold.

Remember: John Piper has a critique of Wright coming, too.

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C. M. White said...

Hey look, I got first comment! Yay!

I didn't even realize there was this huge debate about the atonement. It always seemed like one of those things that was understood by all Christians...I guess there really isn't such a thing, with all the debates and arguments going on.

I fully agree with the position you've expressed (as with most issues not directly related to Emergent), but I guess I'll join in the sitting back and watching things unfold. =)

Savage Baptist said...

I'm glad you linked to that review. I had not been aware that such a site existed. Thanks.

Phil Walker said...

Thanks for gathering some of this dust-up into one place. The Mark Horne link doesn't work, though.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Thanks for the links!

Solameanie said...

What always amazes me about this subject is that, to me, it's a no-brainer. The substitutionary atonement principle screams from the pages of Scripture beginning in Genesis. Why do these "theologians" always have to take a simple concept and make something algebraic out of it? Or worse yet, take something where the meaning is clear and make it unclear through prognostication or bloviation.

Okay, maybe that's harsh. I don't mean to say there aren't difficult things in Scripture. But this isn't particularly one of them. And it certainly isn't "cosmic child abuse." How can it be child abuse if the Parent gives Himself the spanking? I think these guys confuse the Trinity with transactional analysis.

FX Turk said...


can you legally access the NT wright stuff from DTS? Don't they have a policy or a filter or something?

Sharad Yadav said...

Yikes. What a train wreck. What I don't get in all of this "child abuse" rhetoric is how the voluntary nature of Jesus sacrifice is so consistently missed. Like Doug Wilson, I think there's some treasure to be found in Wright's stuff - but as a minister, this kind of bumbling is mystifying.

Doug said...

N.T. Wright says, "but still it is the meal, not the understanding, that is the primary vehicle of meaning."

What nonsense is this? Is he suggesting that the meal was the point? Doesn't that seem backwards? I though the cross was the primary vehicle of meaning and the meal pointed to it so that we would understand it.

Doug McMasters said...

The men who wrote Pierced for Our Transgressions have responded to Wright:


Mark said...

Sympathetic to Wright when accused of denying penal substitutionary atonement and/or propitiation. Not sympathetic to much else in this recent interaction.

Even So... said...

I smell Rome...