26 April 2010

Tom Wright, T4G, and "Unity": "Can We All Get Along?"

by Phil Johnson

hristianity Today has posted an opinion piece by Brett McCracken comparing this year's Together for the Gospel (T4G) sessions unfavorably with Wheaton College's recent Theology Conference: "Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright."

The speakers at T4G, of course, firmly believe that "The Gospel" is what binds us "Together." All of them agree that the heart of gospel truth is summed up in the doctrine of justification by faith, and getting that doctrine correct is vital to sound, biblical Christianity. All of them also believe the atonement Christ rendered on the cross was a penal substitution—a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God by His Son on behalf of sinners. There is much more to the atoning work of Christ than that, of course, but the T4G speakers all are convinced that part is essential to a right and full-orbed understanding (and proclamation) of the gospel. In short, all of the T4G speakers hold the historic position on these matters that is spelled out in all the Protestant confessions of faith.

And the theme of the T4G conference this year was "The (Unadjusted) Gospel."

N. T. Wright, on the other hand, is controversial chiefly because he wants to make significant adjustments to the doctrine of justification by faith and our understanding of the atonement. He doesn't like the language of imputation. He's uncomfortable with the idea of penal substitution and the language of propitiation.

For Wright, justification is more about ecclesiology than about soteriology. Indeed, he says, "The doctrine of justification . . . is not merely a doctrine in which Catholic and Protestant might just be able to agree on, as a result of hard ecumenical endeavour. It is itself the ecumenical doctrine, the doctrine that rebukes all our petty and often culture-bound church groupings, and which declares that all who believe in Jesus belong together in the one family. . . . The doctrine of justification is in fact the great ecumenical doctrine" (What St. Paul Really Said [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 158).

Between 2002 and '05 I did seminars at a couple of conferences on both sides of the Atlantic critiquing Wright's doctrine of justification (transcripts HERE and HERE). One of the things I keep trying to point out is that despite Wright's professed contempt for reading Reformed and Augustinian concerns back into the Pauline text, high on his own agenda is a determination to bring Paul's doctrine of justification into line with 21st-century standards of political correctness. Wright's whole hermeneutic seems driven by the credo of Rodney King. Wright seems to be looking for a new perspective on the gospel that would allow Catholics, Protestants, and all kinds of wayward Anglicans to set their "differences" aside and have a great group hug in the name of ecumenical unity.

It comes as no surprise, then, that in Wright's mind, "Nothing justifies schism."

Now: let's bear in mind that statement comes from an Anglican bishop who is currently in communion with this bishop, this bishop, this bishop, and a menagerie of other bishops including several agnostics, heretics, and theological miscreants of virtually every stripe.

That fact surely sheds light on what Bishop Wright might be aiming at in his radically ecumenical re-reading of the doctrine of justification. And the mess that we know as "The Anglican communion" also must be carefully borne in mind when we read this solemn assurance in the CT op-ed piece: "Wright, perhaps the world's leading Christian theologian/writer/intellectual, was calling for the church to prioritize unity and emphasize common ground, not at the expense of doctrine and not in a universalist way."


The shopworn not-at-the-expense-of-doctrine warrantee is of course standard language these days in everyone's ecumenical efforts—ranging from "Catholics and Evangelicals Together" to the early rhetoric of the Emergent fiasco (where, in fact, everything came at the expense of doctrine). Such assurances especially ring hollow when the people making such promises in the very same breath relegate a principle like sola fide to "the details of theological minutia."

"After all," Brett McCracken says, "[Paul] speaks of justification only in a few places (Romans, Galatians, etc.), while unity is a topic that shows up constantly in nearly everything he writes."

Yikes. Seriously?

That's about the worst summary of the Pauline perspective I have ever heard.

McCracken should have listened more closely to the T4G messages. His cynical description of T4G ("like a club patting each other on the back for their mutual buttressing of the 'unadjusted gospel' against threats from various corners") puts his yearning for "unity" in clear focus. If we're not willing to relegate all our differences with everyone who claims to "love Jesus" to the category of "theological minutia," we are the "schismatic" ones—not the Anglicans (and their ilk) who have winked at (and even given their benediction to) virtually every kind of sin and apostasy, as long as their own bishops are involved.

The cost of that kind of cosmetic unity is simply too high. Far from being "a sign to the world" and "a message to the would-be rulers of the world," it dishonors Christ. The artificial peace of compromise and mandatory-cease-fire solidarity isn't authentic unity anyway. It is nothing like the kind of unity Paul called for. It certainly is not the kind of unity Christ prayed for.

Of course some points of doctrine are theological minutiae, and we don't need to argue endlessly about them. Most of us don't. But justification by faith is not one of those peripheral points. Luther and the other Reformers were driven by the unshakable conviction that the doctrine of justification by faith is the primary soteriological essential, the article by which the church stands or falls. Unless we're willing to declare the Reformation a mistake (something Bishop Wright needs to do—and may yet do—in order to be consistent with his own rhetoric), we should resist these incessant pleas from so many quarters to see "church unity" through postmodern eyes. Instead, we need to keep striving for the kind of unity Scripture describes—a unity that is possible only when we are walking in the light (1 John 1:6-7).

Phil's signature


DJP said...


DJP said...

Phil, did you memorize everything Wright wrote or said from the 2nd grade on, before posting this?

SQLSvrMan said...

McCraken sure must not have listened to John Piper's message!!

Why am I not surprised?

Phil Johnson said...

DJP: No, but I always stay at Holiday Inn Express.

A PS: to this blogpost There were a few factual errors and other misstatements in the CT piece I could've picked apart (such as the insinuation that Sproul was promoting Hegelian dialects as a means to doctrinal "clarity," and the assertion that Piper will debate Sproul at this year's ETS meeting.) I didn't even get into that, but let me say that the CT piece was one of the worst and most arrogant essays I have seen there, and that's saying something.

But I smiled at Brett McCracken's characterization of the Wheaton Conference as a paean to "the 'N.T. Wright is the new C.S. Lewis' movement." Anyone steeped in the culture of Wheaton College will appreciate the significance of that.

For my money, however, Wright is just the poor man's John Henry Newman.

donsands said...

I know Wright has stryaed from the true meaning of the Cross, but I thought he stood firmly against the homosexual agenda in the liberal church?

Good post. CT doesn't do their homework. In fact, a lot of stuff out there needs to be more thorough in its content.

And the bad thing is, that people will simply eat this Ct article up.

I heard Ergun Caner on Focus today. I shot them an e-mail to let them know this guy is a loose cannon at best.

It has to be like you say, "Can we all just get along?" That's the spirit. If you try to even discuss this, you are labeled a meanie.

Thanks for the post.

All for the Gospel.

SQLSvrMan said...

Wright tries to make it sound like he talks about Justification just like Piper does. I am not as smart as Phil or the T4G guys, but even I can tell it's apples and oranges.

I have read What Paul Really Said and Justification and I side with Piper.

Anonymous said...

I was an Anglican for the first 48 of my 54 years. There are Anglicans, and I'm beginning to think that Tom Wright is one of them, who won't leave the Anglican Communion(an institution that dates all the way back to 1868) regardless of what it teaches.

You know the old joke. A life-long Episcopalian watches as the lesbian bishop processes in fully nude, offers prayers to Isis, Astarte and Moloch and then looks on approvingly as the choir begins an orgy right in front of the altar.

Our Episcopalian turns in disgust to his companion and says, "You know, if they change one more thing about the liturgy, I am out of here!! The sad thing is that there is a lot of truth in that joke.

Tom said...

"a club patting each other on the back for their mutual buttressing of the 'unadjusted gospel' against threats from various corners"

This is the only statement about which I probably would agree with McCracken. That is how the T4G gang came across to me as well, complete with praise and gifts for one another, and bowing to MacArthur.


DJP said...

Wow! Tom Wright posts a snarky comment, but won't create a profile?


olan strickland said...

Unless we're willing to declare the Reformation a mistake (something Bishop Wright needs to do—and may yet do—in order to be consistent with his own rhetoric), we should resist these incessant pleas from so many quarters to see "church unity" through postmodern eyes. Instead, we need to keep striving for the kind of unity Scripture describes—a unity that is possible only when we are walking in the light (1 John 1:6-7).

That is precisely what many are doing! Rick Warren tops the list as one who claims that the reformation was a mistake and fractured Christianity into many fragments.

Their motto is in the essentials liberty and in the non-essentials unity. Away with such ecumenical nonsense.

James Scott Bell said...

It's nice to be in agreement on this one, Phil. I've read some of your critiques of Wright and agree completely.

The old saying is "In essentials unity." Nothing is more essential than justification and the atonement. If Wright persists in a false view, "unity" is a prescription for disaster.

Tom said...


Wright? Not. Snarky? Hardly. Truth? Certainly.


olan strickland said...

Tom who says he's not Wright doesn't like genuine Biblical unity and encouragement?

Tom said...

"Biblical unity and encouragement."

Is that how you describe Mahaney's genuflection to MacArthur?


Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Thank you God for men like Phil, DJP, Frank, MacArthur, Sproul, and yes, John Piper for standing up for the blessed doctrine of justified by faith alone. Sproul had an excellent speech at T4G. AMEN!

SQLSvrMan said...

AMEN Mary!!!

donsands said...

"Is that how you describe Mahaney's genuflection to MacArthur?"-Tom, not Wright

CJ Mahaney did that? I'm certain he was seriously worshiping Pastor MacArthur? Is that your point?
Is there a more kidding around pastor in the world than CJ Mahaney? That would be my guess, though I didn't see it.

Phil Johnson said...

Tom: "Is that how you describe Mahaney's genuflection to MacArthur?"

I somehow didn't notice Mahaney's "genuflection," but a few people who did agreed that it was weird. Sounds like it was. But seriously, does anyone think Mahaney seriously venerates John MacArthur in a way that warrants genuflection? I'd be more inclined to think he did it for humorous effect.

I can guarantee you MacArthur didn't take it seriously.

Oh well.

But I do agree that sometimes the horseplay at the YRR conferences can get out of hand. I always cringe when it seems the attempts at humor during introductions and panel discussions are so strained as to be undignified.

I'll grant you that.

Sir Brass said...


That's why I shy away from the YRR stuff as well, even though I admire and appreciate the men who speak there like MacArthur and Piper.

And I'm a young reformed man myself (26 years old).

However, I guess I had enough of the horseplay considering I was raised in the Episcopal church. Right during the process whereby I was regenerated, the whole fiasco with Gene Robinson errupted. That's when I ceased being Anglican.

Now I'm a reformed baptist (long story that one is, but it's not like I was experimenting the entire time). Go figure. :)

I'm still continually saddened by the state of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, even though I could never go back even if they reformed (like I said, I'm a reformed baptist by conviction). Still, it was the environment in which all my childhood memories are rooted in and my parents are still very much active participants in the Episcopal Church. So, these are my people in a very real way.

Pray for them.

Tony Byrne said...

lol@"Won't you be my neighbor?"

For those wondering what I am talking about, put your mouse cursor over the Spong picture and you'll see the hidden words :-)

Rob Bailey said...

Today is a lesson wrapped up in a review, enveloped by the essence of the gospel

The lesson is about our unity with Christ.
We will review all of the lessons that we have had in the series by way of teaching about our unity with Christ. You see each part of the order of salvation is hinged upon Christ.

Rob Bailey said...

John Murray says:
Union with Christ has its source in the election of God the Father before the foundation of the world and has its fruition in the glorification of the sons of God. The perspective of God’s people is not narrow; it is broad and it is long. It is not confined to spaced and time; it has the expanse of eternity. Its orbit has two foci, one the electing love of God the Father in the counsels of eternity; the other glorification with Christ in the manifestation of his glory. The former has no beginning, the latter has no end… Why does the believer entertain the thought of God’s determinate counsel with such joy? Why can he have patience in the perplexities and adversities of the present? Why can he have confident assurance with reference to the future and rejoice in hope of the glory of God? It is because he cannot think of past, present, or future apart from union with Christ.

Rob Bailey said...

I. Election
Eph 1:3-10
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us [2] for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known [3] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I let my subscription to Christianity Today lapse about 2 years ago.

And if I'm not mistaken, one of their big-wig editors, David Neff, is an Episcopalian or an Anglican.

Rob Bailey said...

II. Effectual Call
1 Cor 1:4-9
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Keep in mind that this is the preface the entire book

Rob Bailey said...

III. Regeneration
Eph 2:1-10
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body [1] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But [2] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Rob Bailey said...

IV. Conversion
2 cor 5:14-21
14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. [2] The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling [3] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Rob Bailey said...

V. Justification
Rom 5:19
19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

Rom 8:3-34
33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Rob Bailey said...

VI. Adoption
Gal 3:23-29
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave [6] nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Rob Bailey said...

VII. Sanctification
Heb 2:10-18
10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, [2] 12 saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
13 And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,
“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Rob Bailey said...

VIII. Perseverance
John 6:38-40
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Rob Bailey said...

IX. Death
Rom 6:4-6
4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self [1] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer

Rob Bailey said...

X. Glorification

Jeremiah Burroughs
The Apostle Paul was a chosen vessel to bear the name of Christ, to carry it up and down in the world. Indeed, his spirit was full of Christ. He desired to know nothing but Christ, to preach nothing but Christ, to be found in none but Christ. The very name of Christ was delightful to him. He seeks to magnify Christ in all of his epistles and, in these words I read to you, he omnifies Christ. He does not only make Him great but he makes Him all. There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all. That is, there is no privilege in the one to commend them to God, and there is no lack of anything in the other to hinder them from God. Let men be what they will in their outward respects, what is that to God? Let them be never so mean in regard of all outward things, that can never hinder them from the enjoyment of God, for God does not look at these things, but Christ is all and in all to them.
As far as God sees Christ in anyone He accepts them. If Christ is not there, no matter what they have, He does not regard them. Christ is all in all, even in the esteem of the Father Himself. He was the delight of the Father from all eternity, Prov.8:30, and the Father undertook infinite contentment in Him upon His willingness to undertake this blessed work of the redemption of mankind. God the Father is infinitely satisfied in Christ. He is all in all to Him. Surely if Christ is an object sufficient for the satisfaction of the Father, much more, then, is He an object sufficient for the satisfaction of any soul.
But that which is the main scope of the Holy Ghost here is this high expression of Christ's transcendent excellency, which I will deliver in this doctrinal proposition: Christ is the only means of conveyance of good that God the Father intends to communicate unto the children of men in order to eternal life; He is all in all. This which I am to preach to you now, namely God's communicating Himself in His mercy to mankind through a Mediator, is the very sum of the gospel, the great mystery of godliness. It is the chief part of the mind and counsel of God that He would have made known to the children of men in this world. This is the great message that the ministers of the gospel have to bring, and it is the most absolutely necessary point in all theology.

Rob Bailey said...

For real.
Dead serious.
Real unity.
Not all the other junk.

Anonymous said...

2,024 words later...

At any rate, great post Phil! I appreciate the links to the transcripts at Ligonier. Very helpful.

Reading McCracken's article at CT, I got the impression that he's a recent college grad.

Rob Bailey said...

sorry, stan for all the virtual ink, but misunderstanding unity in Christ is one of those subjects that really hinders our ability to be good disciple makers. not that I get it all right, but scripture does.

Bobby Grow said...

Even though I disagree with NT Wright on his reification of Justification; I also believe that the T4G guys aren't altogether right, either. That is not to say that I disagree with penal-substitution (because I don't); but that to frame the atonement in PURELY forensic terms does not do justice to the text of scripture and implication of the Incarnation either (cf. II Cor. 5:21).

Nevertheless, in the main, I probably agree with Phil's points on Wright; although I'm not sure about his analysis of McCracken (I'll have to read his piece first). I think he is a Princeton Seminary guy.

Bobby Grow said...

Never mind, Brett's a Wheaton guy who works at Biola now. Here's who he is:


David Ould said...


As an Anglican minister I'm completely with you in your general critique of Wright.

However, you are unfair in simply lumping him in with guys like Spong. Wright, to his credit, has spoken quite clearly against that form of theology.

Granted, his ecclesiology puts him in a tricky position but we need to be fair to the guy. Besides, there's a big enough target there anyway ;-)

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

If we do not unify based on justification by faith what kind of unity can we even have? Those you water down the gospel want to leave us with nothing but a vague spirituality that means nothing and is of no use to anyone. In the end it makes "Christianity" a totally empty concept. What possible message do we even have for a needy world?

Barbara said...


I followed your link and all I can say after reading that "about" section is...

There is something very real and tangilbe to that whole
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see" thing and it doesn't come from our "searching" but from being found and being given sight. And it is just plain TRAGIC how many people in the Christianesque realm just do not seem to get that. And Mr. McCracken clearly does not get it.


Phil Johnson said...

David Ould: "you are unfair in simply lumping him in with guys like Spong."

I did not "simply [lump] him in" with them. I pointed out that he is in communion with Spong and several other Anglican apostates, which is a fact.

Of course Wright disagrees with Spong. But he is expressly arguing that Christ's prayer for unity obliges us to maintain visible or organizational unity with people who profess to be Christians despite any doctrinal disagreements we might have with them. Wright is emphatic: "Nothing justifies schism."

Pardon me for saying this to an Anglican minister, but you did challenge me on the point: the Anglican Church's lack of discipline likewise seems to permit the drawing of no doctrinal boundaries (and few moral ones)--which is the very policy Wright seems to be urging on all Christians. Why would anyone not think Wright is arguing for the same approach he himself actually follows in practice?

Is it possible that Wright has a private conviction that conflicts with his public practice? I suppose so, but to make such an assumption would be to charge him uncharitably with either hypocrisy or malfeasance. It seems clear enough that he genuinely believes that he and these rogue bishops are somehow legitimately one in Christ; he wants Wheaton Evangelicals to embrace that view as well; and he believes (irrationally) that it would be a good testimony to the world if we did.

If Wright does somehow believe otherwise, why not spend his time lobbying his own church to clean up their shoddy approach toward doctrine and discipline, rather than lecturing Wheaton students about the priority of external unity over key gospel doctrines?

There's an important lesson to be learned in all of this that has always seemed obvious to me but unaccountably seems to escape a lot of Protestants:

It's not wise to take your cues on ecclesiology from the Anglicans.

DJP said...

Remember, too, Wright's friends who he's sure love Jesus, are certainly Christian, and do not believe in Christ's resurrection.

Stefan Ewing said...

I want to write something insightful and pithy, but the whole thing is just rather sad.

There's such a subtle, blurry zone in the crossover between orthodoxy and all-comers, no-questions-asked ecumenicism, and the vast bulk of the "evangelical" "church" seems to be very comfortable residing squarely in the middle of that zone.

And then some normally reliably orthodox folks seem to enjoy walking the line as well, from time to time...

Certainly, there is (or can be, or should be) a generous orthodoxy that is united on and committed to the essentials (salvation by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone) and showing latitude on non-essentials, but again, that blurry grey zone is so easy to cross into....

Solameanie said...

As much as I wanted to weigh in on the subject at hand, I just can't get past the snake and the bird. That's devastating.

But then, the gruesome picture is also strangely pertinent to the subject at hand. I keep hoping the bird will suddenly flash a lightsaber and chop the snake's head off.

donsands said...

"It seems clear enough that he genuinely believes that he and these rogue bishops are somehow legitimately one in Christ; he wants Wheaton Evangelicals to embrace that view as well; and he believes (irrationally) that it would be a good testimony to the world if we did." -Phil

Wow. I didn't know NT had a conviction like that. That is very wimpy.

I thought he was a more courageous Christian than that.

"We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." -Martin Luther King

Soemtimes silence is golden, and other times it's yellow.

Thanks for speaking the truth. And as always. speaking for the purity of the Gospel, and the Word.

Michael said...

I followed the links in the article to Phil's bishop's hall of shame.

Where else does a man get to dress up like a drag queen and a woman dress like a man with complete respectability? Even with reverence.

David Ould said...


I'm somewhat taken aback by the strength of your comment. As I've said before I'm no fan of Wright on either this issue or the consecration of women as bishops.

Yet, nevertheless, surely we need to be slightly fairer to him on his stance wrt American liberals in the Episcopal Church.

In a recent statement, Fulcrum Anglican (of which Wright is a prominent leader) made this comment:
If the Communion is committed to the Windsor and covenant vision of communion life and if the Communion is to keep wrestling with integrity in relation to its teaching and practice on sexuality then, despite the financial implications, it must now proceed in its common life without TEC.

Frankly, that strength of language surprised many of us who are more conservative since it represented a striking change of tone from a previously more "lets all work together" stance. I suspect since you move in slightly different circles you had not been exposed to these recent missives from the various parties.

So, I think you are mistaken in your generalisation on this point. As I said, I'm no fan of Wright and I think his own ecclesiology has only served to prolong the fiasco we are suffering as Anglicans. But to lump him in with Spong just doesn't do justice to the complexity of the issue.

I write this from the "inside" of the issue, as a long-time observer and commentator. Inasmuch as that counts for anything I hope you'll take it on board.

Notwithstanding the above, love the blog and your work.

In fellowship (albeit tainted by being associated with Spong ;-) )

Bobby Grow said...

NT Wright does say some good things too. Is it all or nothing with him?

Chris said...

"Christianity Today" = Apostasy from Yesterday Recycled by New Heretics Today

To those who still think Wright or CT are somehow still counted as brethren within the faith: enough with the salvage mission already! All of the sorting and picking through bits of redeemable material in the archives of a man's teachings over a long period of time in order to dig up something that somehow outweighs PRESENT heresy is utterly futile and demonstrates a severe lack of discernment. I kindly ask those who are so eager to find good bits from Wright amidst the trash heap of falsehood he is piling up these days to simply wake up, man up, and call opposition to truth what it is...lest we find ourselves sounding like heretic Tom or other McCrackpots out there in the evangelical zoo.

Anonymous said...

To reinforce what David Ould is saying. I have a good friend in the UK (London) who is a pastor out of 'All Souls' church (his name is Glen Scrivener and he runs a great blog http://christthetruth.wordpress.com). He is quite "traditional", conservative, and historically evangelical. He also has many 'mates' (he's Aussie) who are fellow pastors in the Anglican church, in the UK, who are likewise "conservative" in orientation; and great "fans" of John Piper (thus contra Wright).

I don't think its careful to lump them altogether; and not notice any distinctions along the "continuum" of what is known as 'Anglicanism'.

Besides this, my brother, at one point was a member of an Anglican church which is highly "Evangelical;" and are not under the juridstiction of the archbishop of canterbury (Rowan Williams). They are a separate communion, and originate in South Africa (I believe).

Anyway, there is more nuance to the "Anglican" communion than one would think at first blush. There is dissent and assent amongst her ranks; as there is, I'm sure, in any denomination and it behooves us to at least recognize that (whether our gvt. be "episcopelian," "congregational," or "presybeterian").

I'm not endorsing Wright's views on NPP; but I think it is worth noting that he is able to offer some things of "substance" even in lieu of his "lack" in regards to Paul and justification.

Phil Johnson said...

David Ould: "I suspect since you move in slightly different circles you had not been exposed to these recent missives from the various parties"

No, the problem is that we have heard language like that for years from "conservative" Anglicans who keep threatening but never seem to summon the willpower to come out from among them and be separate.

More than two decades ago every conservative Anglican I knew was insisting that the consecration of female bishops would be the final line in the sand, and they would have to pull out if women were appointed as bishops.

They were and they didn't.

Now we're seeing the same pattern of rhetoric about bishops who are practicing homosexuals.

Did you see the joke Christopher Johnson posted above?

I wish the conservatives would take that on board.

I do appreciate your commentary and critique of Anglican apostasy. I often read the website you pointed to. But I think it's long past time for thinking that cordial words--or mere words of any kind--will ever heal Anglican apostasy.

David Ould said...


Thanks again. I'm 100% with you that words are not enough and I share Johnson's scepticism about whether Wright's words here will make any difference.

But they're published and still, I think, stand against your claim in the OP.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally with CJ on this issue - in particular at Stand Firm we're pretty much done with mere words. However, on this particular issue I'm intrigued to see whether Fulcrum's words, discordant as theyare with what's come before, will result in action.

It's the change in tone that I'm really pointing to. I guess you could say that I'm hopeful that it will prove you wrong on this one issue.

Although, realisitically, I may simply be naïve. Time will tell.

Sheldon said...

Just out of curiosity....how much does one have to redefine essentials elements of the gospel to fall into the category of preaching a different gospel altogether. It seems from this article and other reading I have done that N.T. Wright is dangerously close to preaching a gospel other than the one Paul taught, ala his warning to the Galatians.

Andrew Cowan said...


I can't speak as to the author's representation of T4G, but his representation of what Wright said is really misleading, as is his use of what Vanhoozer said.

Here is a transcription of the broader context of Wright's statement:

"Nothing justifies schism. Schism is what happens when some bits of the church decide to do their own thing and to ignore the rest of the body of Christ. The problem comes, of course, when the people who are doing that are actually running an entire denomination or part thereof, and then others discern that it is those people who have done that, who are the schismatics, but...both sides often call the other one schismatic, and then there is a real difficulty of discernment. And because we are all sinful, frequently the issues are not clear cut."

Thus, Wright is really simply asserting that the word "schism" refers to a group that is departing from the faith and practices of the true church, and claiming that no one ought ever to do that. He is not suggesting that no Christian should separate from others who claim to be Christians but are actually departing from the faith and practices of the true church.

His characterization of the American pro-homosexual bishop Anglicans as "schismatic" confirms that this is what he really means (see http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/19165.htm).

Vanhoozer, on the other hand, was mainly asserting that psychologically, people are more prone to be right in their assertions than in their denials. He was not trying to say that only the things we can commonly affirm matter. The use of these two quotations in the article was very misleading as to the speakers' intentions.

Phil Johnson said...


Thanks. I downloaded the Wheaton lectures today and started listening to them on my way home.

Given the way Brett McCracken twisted Sproul's message into an apologia for Hegelian dialectics, I wouldn't take his account of the Wheaton conference at face value.

In other words, it may be true that more context would somewhat mitigate Wright's remarks in that lecture about schism. But:

1. notice that my critique of Wright was based mainly on a quote from his book, especially his assertion that Paul's doctrine of justification is mainly about ecclesiology, and that it is a warrant for ecumenical union.

2. Anglican ecclesiology is terribly dysfnctional.

3. That dysfunctionality includes serious--perhaps damnable--malfeasance when it comes to the tolerance of apostasy among the church's own bishops.

4. Wright's frequent appeals for ecumenical union and his frequent criticisms of Reformed concerns about doctrinal purity do sound like an apologia for precisely what ails the Anglican communion.

5. If he did something (besides issuing a verbal statement) to prove he is serious about ridding his own church's hierarchy of apostates, heretics, and openly immoral persons, the scoldings he frequently levels at evangelicals on the subject of unity would have a skosh more credibility.

Sir Brass said...


As a former Episcopalian who didn't even know there was originally a confessional anglican creed (the 39 articles) till well after his coming to Christ and disfellowshipping from the Episcopal Church, I wonder if part of the sheer dysfunctionality is the abandonment of the Articles of Religion as a serious, confessional document to be adhered to in order for the Bishops to recognize each other as being in fellowship with each other ecclesially. Am I making sense?

While we hold confessions to lack inerrancy and are secondary documents, they still serve a vital function as summaries of belief.

Presbyterians recognize each other (except liberal presbys such as PCUSA) by adherence to the WCF. Reformed Baptists recognize other RBs by the adherence to the LBCF (generally the 1689). SBC churches recognize each other by holding to the Baptist Faith and Message, etc.

So, by what confession do anglican diocese recognize each other as being anglican if not by the Articles? That they have, in most areas, abandoned this, I think is one of the pervading causes of continual dysfunctionality.

Maybe David could correct me here or elaborate more. I know he is an actual confessional anglican, and that is exactly what I'm driving at.

David Ould said...

Thanks, SirBrass.
Yes, I entirely agree. Here in Australia and back home in England (as in much of the Communion) the 39 Articles are still the official doctrine (and the 1662BCP the official standard of worship).

Unsurprisingly TEC have abandoned them, at least in that usage.

Come to think of it, they have been effectively abandoned by many here and in the UK. The problem is not just constitutional adherence but the willingness of leadership to insist upon it.

Andrew Cowan said...


Thanks for your reply. I hope that you didn't get the impression that I was trying to undermine everything you were saying, I am just disappointed by how the statements by Wright and Vanhoozer were taken out of context and misconstrued by McCracken and how his portrayal is now echoing across the internet. I do think that Wright draws the ecumenical tent too widely, but I also think that he suffers from misunderstanding by evangelicals to an alarming degree. I generally try to correct these misunderstandings when I see them.

On that score, I'm not sure what out of his article on the atonement makes you think that he is uncomfortable with penal substitution and propitiation. Although he expresses some displeasure with the book Pierced for Our Transgressions (his main objection seems to be that they did not pay enough attention to the Gospels), he seems to affirm penal substitution and claim to have written the longest ever exposition of Jesus' own understanding of his death in these terms in Jesus and the Victory of God. Also, in his commentary on Romans the section on 3:24-26 unambiguously affirms propitiation and penal substitution. I don't think that he is out of step with the T4G crowd on that particular doctrine (nor does John Piper, according to his book The Future of Justification, pp. 46-53).

Sir Brass said...

David said,

"The problem is not just constitutional adherence but the willingness of leadership to insist upon it."


"Then the Lord said,
"Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, " Isaiah 29:13

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "No, the problem is that we have heard language like that for years from "conservative" Anglicans who keep threatening but never seem to summon the willpower to come out from among them and be separate."

Actually, there are a fair number of "conservative" Episcopalians and Anglicans who believe they are called to remain in communion with heretics and apostates, and they are adamant about staying in TEc despite being fully cognizant of TEc's great apostasy and heresy.

I call these "Stayers": Institutionalist-Enablers of TEc's soul-destroying heresy and apostasy. They are yoked, complicit, and morally culpable.

The liberal revisionist apostate parasites are in desperate need of the 3 B's: Bodies, Buildings, and Bucks. Institutionalist-Enablers help out with all three of them.

The Institutionalist-Enablers are the oxygen that enables the flames of gross heresy and apostasy to continue engulfing and destroying innocents.

What keeps these Institutionalist-Enablers encouraged? Answer: When Bishop NT Wright says: "Nothing justifies schism."

Chris said...
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Chris said...
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Caleb Kolstad said...

Christianity Today is like NEWSWEEK magazine in the political arena. I use to buy CT to see what was new in the evangelical church today but evidentially i said enough is enough and canceled my subscription. I would encourage others to write letters to the editor and consider doing the same. You can always read CT on line. This recent article reaches another low in journalism.

Phillip Johnston said...

A new wrinkle: http://www.durham.anglican.org/news-and-events/news-article.aspx?id=127

Solameanie said...

I saw the word "complexity" during this discussion and it made me remember something that always irritated me during the Emergent arguments. Whenever one takes up the gauntlet and defend what ought to be a fairly clear biblical concept, right away you get chided for dealing simply with "complex" issues. Is it really that complex? We humans have a whale of a time taking simple biblical truths and making them incomprehensible. Justification doesn't seem that hard to me, quite frankly. Ditto with the homosexual issue and other things that often provokes dustups.

David, when I say this I don't really mean that as any sort of shot at you. It's just a general observation. I don't mean to suggest that there aren't some things in Scripture that can provoke deep wrestling. The Apostle Peter said as much when referencing the Apostle Paul i.e. "some things hard to understand." Peter immediately then says, which the "untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction." But justification (again, to me) seems like a fairly simple concept, especially with the wealth of biblical text explaining exactly what it is and what it means.

Anonymous said...

i listened to about 5 of the t4g mp3s. macarthur i liked. ligon had a good historical talk. the rest, including Mark D.s introduction I found quite PEDESTRIAN compared with Wheaton's Jeremy Begbie on Wright which was far more compelling and up to speed.

just my thoughts.

Merlin said...

Another ex-Anglican with parents who are "stayers." I pray for them daily. I watch them get very upset with me and defensive when I bring up these arguments. They are arguments that they are ill equipped to win and that is painful to them.

If I may, at what point would you say that the Anglican communion crossed the line into apostasy? Bishop Robinson? 1928 BCP? Henry VIII?

Unknown said...

"If we're not willing to relegate all our differences with everyone who claims to "love Jesus" to the category of "theological minutia," we are the "schismatic" ones, —not the Anglicans..."

Amen. Those who stand for the Gospel and the precious doctrines of God's sovereign, electing grace are ALWAYS the schismatic ones, if by schismatic we mean denying any bond with all these other whore-mongers who are chasing "unity" with the false church at Rome.

Let's not be unclear here: Those who practice abominations like homosexuality are under God's curse AS ARE THOSE WHO APPROVE OF THEM AND THEIR CHOICES. That's no opinion, that's Romans chapter one. My biggest fear is not for these people as heathen unbelievers; my biggest fear is for their souls because they dare to do such things under the supposedly approving eye of Almighty God. May He have mercy upon whom He will, and may Christ's reign in power and glory come soon. The stench of these perversities is too much to bear.

Phil Johnson said...

Tom: "That is how the T4G gang came across to me as well, complete with praise and gifts for one another, and bowing to MacArthur."

So I'm listening to the tracks from the Wheaton conference, and Begbie actually wrote and played a three-part fugue based on the letters of NT Wright's name. So there was a little of that kind of fandango at both conferences, I guess.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Merlin: "If I may, at what point would you say that the Anglican communion crossed the line into apostasy? Bishop Robinson? 1928 BCP? Henry VIII?"

Wow! What a question!

What say thee, David Ould?

"Henry VIII?"

Heh. Some Catholics might agree with you on that one.

I'm not sure that there's one specific instance that one can point to with a high degree of certainty as to when TEc embraced heresy and apostasy. Cancerous leaven mutates and multiplies in disguise and in cumulative fashion.

Some theorize 1930 Lambeth whereby contraception was approved. Some point to the failure to discipline Bishop Pike in the 1960's. Some point to the introduction of Women's Ordination in the 1970's. Or the 1979 BCP.

Whatever it was, TEc is now irretrievably apostate. Biblically separating from irretrievably apostate institutions and rescuing as many others out of TEc is God-glorifying.

Merlin, you're doing the right thing in reaching out to your parents (and by extension, the TEc folks that your parents influence and impact) and informing them that they are enabling (as perhaps unintentional co-dependents) the blatantly gross apostasy and heresy in TEc.

By being a member of TEc, they are endorsing TEc. Is their first love Christ? Or is it their local TEc parish and their friends there?


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "There's an important lesson to be learned in all of this that has always seemed obvious to me but unaccountably seems to escape a lot of Protestants:

It's not wise to take your cues on ecclesiology from the Anglicans.

2. Anglican ecclesiology is terribly dysfunctional.

3. That dysfunctionality includes serious--perhaps damnable--malfeasance when it comes to the tolerance of apostasy among the church's own bishops.

So true.

But the dysfunctional ecclesiology is embedded further into the quicksand by the English penchant and love for a genteel civility which masks the deliberate ambiguity, obfuscation, and equivocation in the mad pursuit of a papered-over unity.

Chris said...

A timely message indeed Phil--just before Wright announces he is calling it quits! However, regarding orthodoxy, he obviously called that quits a long time ago!!!

Nonetheless, I'll certainly toast his official announcement with a heartfelt "cheers!"

jeff miller said...

I do not think that the unity Jesus is praying about in John 17 is a unity formed around extra-biblical creed or confession. Neither is it the unity found in para church ecclesiastical hierarchies.the basis for unity of all who are spiritually congregated around Jesus is Jesus himself. When Paul writes to Timothy and describes “the congregation of the living God” as the pillar and support of the truth, He is continuing to think of those truly united to God…the remnant of Israel, as opposed to the larger, but disloyal, body of people called Israel who nonetheless still congregated periodically at the temple in Jerusalem.

donsands said...

"the basis for unity of all who are spiritually congregated around Jesus is Jesus himself."

Both sides would agree to this. But there are different Jesus', and different Gospels, and different spirits.

So, unity has to be on the foundation of the Holy Word. And even then, it is still difficult. But if a group of true regenerated followers of Christ, come together to worship the Father in Sprint and truth, and they are have a heartfelt desire and longing to keep the Scriptures as the final authority, and I say again, they must mean what they say, and say what they mean about the authority of the Bible, then "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" will be a reality to this group of believers.

Ken Pulliam said...


Could it be that NT Wright sees the problems associated with the penal sub theory that most evangelicals fail to recognize? Greg Boyd also sees them.

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...


you said:
It has to be like you say, "Can we all just get along?" That's the spirit. If you try to even discuss this, you are labeled a meanie.

Very true... I would add to that by saying: Likewise, if you have even the slightest sympathetic view to Wright you're labeled, "heretic" like a bolt of thunder.

It goes both ways.

Talking about these things in either extreme should be used with caution and care. Unfortunately, the passion some have against the NPP is not matched by an understanding of those issues.

Soli Deo!

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...

*bolt of lightning*

that's some weird thunder ;-)

trogdor said...

"Could it be that NT Wright sees the problems associated with the penal sub theory that most evangelicals fail to recognize? Greg Boyd also sees them."

The problem that, though it's clearly what God's word says, that it's unpopular with reprobates and fools? Quite possible.

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...


Are all people who reject this doctrine reprobates?

Did everyone between the 2nd and 16th century go to hell?

What about Anselm? close, but no cigar?

Tell me what you think...



trogdor said...

Yep, and all dogs are poodles, too.

No, wait. Scratch that, reverse it.

donsands said...

"Talking about these things in either extreme should be used with caution and care." der HERR

I agree. It's the complex way the Lord made us with emotions, a heart, and a soul, along with our mind, and brain, that causes us to have a passion with our doctrinal convictions.

And sometimes it is good to be angry, and upset with all the subtle ways the Cross of our beloved Savior and Lord is being diminished of its great truth, that He is our propitiation, Jesus is the Lamb of God, who became sin, and was made a curse for us.

And this anger comes with grief as well.

I read a booklet once, where the author equated the death of Christ with having a bank account with lots of money.

I called him, and was able to share with him my anger and grief of how he belittle our Lord, and how his view of what our Lord did on the Cross was really blasphemous.
He actually, felt bad. He said he never meant that, nor wanted to take away from the greatness and awesomeness of our Savior's sacrifical death, or equate it with getting filthy rich.

I believe we need to at times speak up, as Phil has done here. I don't feel Phil has been extreme, but you may see it that way.

I can be very doctrianlly self-righteous at times, and too critical as well. But I have good friends to help me with that.

I suppose a good question to ask ourselves would be: "Do I respect this person, and do I wnat to listen to him, and see where he is coming from."

And there are the exceptions to the rule as well, where we simply must shake the dust from our cloaks. And I hope I'm not the one getting dust shaken at me, but I probably am at times.

Blogger won't let me delete my own profile. said...


Being smart alecky neither answers the questions I've asked nor helps me to understand what your opinions are on the matter.

I obviously don't think you believe everyone before the 16th cent. was hell-bound but your previous post suggests so. Do you care to elucidate this ambiguity?

If you hold the matter to be important, will you then not give me a straight response?


trogdor said...

Perhaps I should have rephrased the original this way:

"The problem that, though it's clearly what God's word says, that it's unpopular with the reprobate fools whose approval they so dearly crave? Quite possible."

As to the second snarky comment, I was trying to point out that you had the clauses backwards. All dogs aren't poodles, but all poodles are dogs. I.e. it's not that people are necessarily lost because they don't quite get penal substitutionary atonement, but that those who are lost really, really hate that doctrine.

I guess I was trying to be too brief and clever and wound up unclear. Sorry bout that.

Oh, and to head off another possible misunderstanding: I'm not declaring Wright a reprobate fool, and I'm certainly not familiar enough with Boyd to say either way (mainly from some of his writings on Openness Absurdity).