N.T. Wright Provides Another Reason to Become Catholic

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright
Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright

I just found another reason to add to my book, courtesy of Anglican Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright. (Rather than change the name to (the awkward-sounding) “51 Roads to Rome,” I will probably just replace one of the reasons with this one or add it to the reason that deals with the clearness of the Scriptures.)

An N.T. Wright supporter named Sid over at Called to Communion, responding to a post about the doctrine of justification, put forth the new perspective on St. Paul which N.T. Wright has been championing, a perspective that differs from both Catholicism (not a surprise) and also with classical Protestantism (e.g. Luther and Calvin–a big surprise).

An excerpt:

Everyone needs to get and read N. T. Wright’s latest book, Justification, where he refutes John Piper and the whole Calvinist position….[I]n Wright’s own words: “I didn’t write Romans 2! Paul did!” — where Paul teaches a righteous-making by good works…

For the record, Wright is an evangelical Anglican, eschews [the Catholic Ecumenical Council of] Trent, and considers himself the truer sola scriptura than his Calvinist opponents. He doesn’t use Scripture to prop up a dogma, but explicates what Scripture really says.

Wright’s book merits y’all’s attention also for the larger picture. Wright see two serious errors, one committed Protestants, the other by all contemporary Christians. [first emphasis is Sid’s, second one is mine]

I find this comment very interesting. Why? Three reasons:

1. Bishop Wright defends his position by explaining that he is only interpreting what Paul actually says in Romans 2, that is, the “clear” meaning of the chapter.

2. Bishop Wright considers himself “the truer sola Scriptura” advocate than even his Calvinist opponents.

Someone tell Paul to come downstairs and tell us what the heck he meant anyway

3. Protestant interlocutor Sid believes that (presumably unlike both Catholics and other Protestants), Bishop Wright doesn’t use Scripture to support (previously accepted) teachings, but instead comes at the Bible with no prejudice and has therefore come up with the objective meaning on justification–the true meaning which has eluded both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches for the past 2,000 years and the magisterial Protestant churches for the past 500 years.

Here’s the problem that N.T. Wright poses to his Protestant cohorts: unlike the Jesus Seminar, who faithlessly seek to discredit and deny the most fundamental Christian truths, Bishop Wright is both faithful and brilliant (and thoroughly Protestant). He cannot be ignored or waved away as a crack-pot or apostate.

He has come up with a new interpretation of the Bible on justification, just as Martin Luther and John Calvin did 488 years ago. Neither of those two magisterial Reformers had the gift of infallibility, so Wright, following the founding principles of Protestantism, takes a shot at the Bible himself and comes up with a different understanding of this core Protestant doctrine than the Reformers did. Why couldn’t he be right and they be wrong?

Protestantism cannot but concede that Wright could very well be right and Luther and Calvin “not so right.”

Bishop Wright’s very existence and fundamental difference on the doctrine of justification also strike yet another blow against the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity (clearness) of the Scriptures. Justification is an essential issue concerning our salvation, so the Bible must be clear on it, yet with this new perspective we have at least three major divergent beliefs on justification: The Catholic/Orthodox one, the old Protestant one, and this new one.

Off of Sid’s recommendation, I just ordered his book Justification, from amazon and look forward to reading it.

For a Catholic take on St. Paul and this new perspective, see Taylor Marshall’s site. In particular, check out this short article where Wright actually responded to Taylor and then he responded back.

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10 thoughts on “N.T. Wright Provides Another Reason to Become Catholic”

  1. I thank the writer for his kind words and the posting of my remarks from Called to Communion. For the record, and with reference to the writer’s point #3, I am in fact a Catholic.

    As for using scripture to prop up a dogma, allow me to elaborate: In the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, would-be defenders of the Faith begin to rip Bible verses completely out or context, put them in a quiver, and, as the occasion presented itself, to pull them out, pull back their bow, and shoot them at the corresponding Catholic or Protestant opponents. (It did little good; the Reformation polemic broken down into a shouting match, one that Erasmus correctly predicted would soon lead to blows.)

    So even today. A good friend of mine, a Fundamentalist Baptist and Neo-Calvinist, quoted 1 Corinthians 3:15 as a proof-text for the Baptist doctrine, “once saved, saved forever”, the Baptist version of the Calvinist “Perseverance of the Saints”. (to wit: “verse 15 says that if you don’t have good works, but only bad ones, you’ll get burned up, but you’ll still be saved, because you’re saved by faith”) I did some research on this verse, to discover that Catholic proof-texters used the same verse to prove Purgatory! Both interpretations completely ignore what Paul is talking about in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians, and instead use the verse to prop up a dogma.

    I’m glad the writer has ordered Wrights Justification. It’s a reply to John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. It’s not necessary to read Piper first.

  2. Hi Sid,

    I was hoping you would see the trackback and perhaps swing this way.

    The “writer” is me, Devin Rose. This is my blog: welcome!

    I am surprised that you are Catholic, given the nature of your comment over there–it sounded much more that you were a (N.T. Wright-supporting) Protestant.

    That being said, your point about each “side” sometimes using verses to proof-text and prop up their own beliefs is taken; however, as Catholics we believe that the Church is protected by God from error in her teachings on the faith, which means that, in this case for example, the binding decrees of the Council of Trent are true, while the Protestant doctrines that contradict those decrees are erroneous. Would you agree?

    I understand why you think that Christians (Catholics and Protestants both) interpret verses to support their teachings but do so in such a way that they are “propping up dogmas” with them, but that implies that the verse doesn’t support the particular teaching. My question is: who decides whether you are (wrongly) propping up a doctrine with a verse or whether the verse actually does support the doctrine?

    I don’t think that 1 Cor 3:15 is a proof-text for Purgatory, but I do think one sense of its meaning points to Purgatory. When Christ said, “this is my body” I think that verse supports the dogma of transubstantiation. Am I propping up the dogma with the verse? You get what I’m asking I’m sure.

    I’m totally stoked about reading Wright’s book on justification! Thanks again, Sid, and God bless.

  3. I just finished Wright’s newest book, “After You Believe”, and Wright echoes his Pauline understanding there as well. In many, many ways–naturally as an Anglican–Wright finds himself leaning more toward Catholicism than Calvinism.

    It’s funny, too, that many people consider him to be the “next C.S. Lewis”, if only because of his English/Oxford/theological similarities; funny because both men are deeply admired and respected by many Protestants (including Reformed) who rarely recognize the strong Catholicity of both men.

  4. Beware Devin – I don’t know Sid – but when someone says they’re “Catholic” or “catholic” and sounds Protestant, it usually means they’re Anglican. In my experience it’s quicker to ask if they’re “Roman Catholic” or in the words of Reformation polemics, a ‘Papist’.

    But as I’ve said, I don’t know his views so I can’t say either way.

  5. Hi Devin,

    Great post!

    When I read Paul, I find him anything but perspicuous! I was, however, confident he did NOT teach “justification by faith *alone*” in any of the senses in which my former Protestant communities taught it. I think I was Catholic the very next Easter after making this realization.

    Seems to me the particular challenge to reading and interpreting Paul (in this instance) is in the complexity and size of his work. He’s more than a “brain full”, so we need techniques to reduce his complexity to manageable chunks.

    What I think most people do is gravitate towards the passages (they think) they understand and then proceed to interpret other passages based upon the knowledge (they think) they have. Where this technique seems to go awry is when we encounter one, two, three, or a dozen other passages that challenge our interpretation of the passages (we thought) we understood, but we refuse to re-examine our understanding of those passages and adjust our position to find harmony among them all. For whatever reason, we believe the first witness and then dismiss the dissenting witness of the other dozen.

    This arbitrary confidence/dismissal in witnesses seems to me (one of ) the operative principle(s) that produces belief in “justification by faith *alone*”. Belief in the Protestant doctrine of perspicuity seems to be driven by the very same principle, only the “witnesses” in this case are one’s fellow Christian believers rather than Scriptural passages.

  6. For Mr. Cottrill’s benefit, I am a Roman Catholic. I am not trying to be Protestant. I am reporting N. T. Wright’s views on the Called to Communion website. Catholics ought be reading N. T. Wright’s Justification, and ought be reading the New Perspectives on Paul people.

  7. @ David

    Thank you, and your words about selecting certain of Paul’s passages as the “keys” used to interpret the others is spot-on; N.T. Wright points out the same thing in explaining how he was not satisfied with the way that Luther did this or with the way that Calvin did it (which differed from Luther).

    @ Sid

    You didn’t answer my questions, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You’re welcome to hang out and comment as you like. God bless!

  8. OK, Devman, I give your questions a shot.

    1. I certainly agree in the authority (and truth) of the Magisterium. To read the 6th Session of Trent contributed in no small part to my conversion.

    2. Bible verses must, always, be read first in their co-text — with the rest of the document in which they appear and with the rest of The Bible; and they must be read in their historical context. They may indeed prop up a dogma, but, sadly, more often than not they don’t, especially when used in polemics. I’d think that someone who believes in sola scriptura would first understand a text in terms on context and co-text, and then try to develop a dogma from this contextual and co-textual understanding, rather than vice versa. I’m not sola scriptura, yet I think Catholics ought avoid the error of some Protestant proof-texters. Alas, Catholic often haven’t.

    And that means that 1 Cor. 3:15 really doesn’t point to Purgatory when seen in the co-text of Paul’s entire argument in chap. 1-4, and likely not in the historical context of Romans. I don’t deny the dogma of Purgatory; I just don’t see it in 1 Cor.

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