Asking the Wright Questions

(Posted by Paige)

I have recently finished reading N. T. Wright’s 600-some page Jesus and the Victory of God, published in 1996; and I am left with these questions, among others. Maybe some of you have similar ones, maybe some of you have answers:

1. Where do I go for a substantive review of Wright’s portrayal of Jesus here? At first try I was only able to find one careful review online (plus one or two rather complimentary speeches from the Wheaton conference last spring), leaving me to wonder whether maybe things were written 15 years ago that don’t have a web presence now?

2. Given the surge in Wright’s popularity (and notoriety) related to his Pauline studies, is there a new need for critical appraisal of his earlier works? Did his Jesus not garner as much attention because Wright himself was not yet so much in the limelight?

3. Are pastors and others noticing a new interest in Wright’s writings among their flocks (or colleagues), and would it be helpful to have some serious summaries & treatments of his earlier thinking on hand?

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.



  1. Keith Mathison said,

    May 20, 2011 at 7:24 am

    A book titled Jesus and the Restoration of Israel came out in 1999. It contained a collection of essays written in response to Wright’s Jesus & the Victory of God. I haven’t read it yet, but it might be a good place to start.

  2. paigebritton said,

    May 20, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Nifty, Keith! That’s exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. I’ll add it to the queue.

  3. May 20, 2011 at 9:50 am

    The ATLA Religion & Theology database provides an easy way of locating reviews. Most seminary libraries will have a subscription to that service, and if you are an alum, you probably can get access privileges online. One valuable aspect of the ATLA database is the provision of pdf files for some reviews. What follows is pretty much everything else besides what appeared in the above mentioned book.

    Achtemeier, Paul J., Interpretation, 52.3 (July 1998): 299-301. [PDF]

    Blackburn, Barry, Stone-Campbell Journal, 1.1 (Spring 1998): 129-132. [PDF]

    Boersma, Hans, Calvin Theological Journal, 32.2 (November 1997): 494-496. [PDF]

    Campbell, R Alastair, Ashland Theological Journal, 31 (1999): 166-168.

    Casey, Maurice, “Where Wright is Wrong : A Critical Review of N T Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no 69 (March 1998): 95-103. [PDF]

    Crossan, John Dominic, “What Victory? What God? A Review Debate with N T Wright on Jesus and the Victory of God,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 50.3 (1997): 345-358.
    and Wright, N T., “Doing Justice to Jesus : A Response to J D Crossan: “What Victory? What God?”, Scottish Journal of Theology, 50.3 (1997): 359-379.

    Dunn, James D G., Journal of Theological Studies, ns 49.2 (October 1998): 727-734.

    Fitzmyer, Joseph A., Theology Today, 55.1 (April 1998): 104-106. [PDF]

    Fowl, Stephen E., Pro Ecclesia, 11.1 (Winter 2002): 109-111. [PDF]

    Forster, Martin, Themelios, ns 23.3 (June 1998): 70-72.

    Gorman, Frank H, Jr., Encounter, 59.3 (Summer 1998): 436-437. [PDF]

    Harvey, A E.. Source: Theology, 100.796 (July-August 1997): 295-297.

    Kealy, Sean P., Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 60.3 (July 1998): 592-594. [PDF]

    Lamerson, Samuel, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 42.1 (1 March 1999): 143-144. [PDF]

    Maier, Paul L., Andrews University Seminary Studies, 36.1 (Spring 1998): 158-159.

    Marsh, Clive, “Theological History? N T Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no 69 (March 1998): 77-94. [PDF]

    Moritz, Thorsten, European Journal of Theology, 6.2 (1997): 179-183.

    Moser, Paul K., Critical Review of Books in Religion, 10 (1997): 221-223.

    Newman, Carey C., Critical Review of Books in Religion, 10 (1997): 121-144.

    Proctor, John, “Jesus and the Victory of God”–the Missiological Implications,” Evangel, 16.1 (Spring 1998): 1-8.

    (Anon.?), Review in Expository Times, 108.9 (June 1997): 259.

    Rodd, Cyril S.. Source: Expository Times, 108.8 (May 1997): 225-226.

    Saldarini, Anthony J., BR (Washington, D.C.), 13.5 (October 1997): 10.

    Stein, Robert H., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 44.2 (June 2001): 207-218. PDF Full Text (1.1MB)

    Wegener, Mark I., “A Book Worth Discussing….” Currents in Theology and Mission, 26.6 (December 1999): 462-467. PDF Full Text (632.2KB)

    Wilson, Alistair, Evangelical Quarterly, 72.3 (July 2000): 276-278.

    Yorke, Gosnell, Neotestamentica, 31.2 (1997): 416-417 and 33.1 (1999): 264-266.

  4. paigebritton said,

    May 20, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Oh, I came to the right place. THANK YOU!!! :)

  5. Stephen said,

    May 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Thoughts on your 2nd and 3rd questions.

    2. Wright published and presented most of his Jesus-related work prior to the publication of What Saint Paul Really Said, the more-popular level polemically-written (and overstated) book that upset many Evangelicals about Wright and Paul. Prior to that Wright was seen by Evangelicals (accurately) as a conservative defender of a more-traditional historical-Jesus against the Jesus Seminar and other fairly non-traditional takes on Jesus. Furthermore, he pursued this defense also within the “halls of academia,” as some folks here would put it :).

    Keep in mind that Jesus and the Victory of God is officially a Historical Jesus book. Wright sets out a Jesus who considers himself to be the Messiah of Israel (and the world, from there), who identified himself with the God of Israel and his coming, who performed miracles, who rose from the dead, who was emphatically the origin of Christianity (e.g., for Wright Paul did not “invent” Christianity), who proclaimed the coming of the supernatural Kingdom of God in his own ministry and self, who is more accurately represented in the Synoptic Gospels than by the Gospel of Thomas and speculative 1st, 2nd, and 3rd redactional layers of Q, etc. etc. etc. These are all VERY VERY VERY conservative positions within the academy and, in general, quite traditional views.

    Wright’s work on Jesus garnered much attention among evangelicals in the late 80s, 90s, and this past decade – it was simply, for the most part, positive and appreciative attention.

    3. Though I’m not a pastor, I have noticed a tremendous interest in Wright among theologically interested and other kinds of lay people in Evangelical-Reformed circles. Sticking with his work on Jesus (especially since Wright has converted much of his more technical-scholarly work in this area to semi-popular level and popular level publications), such folks tend to find it refreshing, challenging, and exciting. It opens up fresh ways to read the Gospels (especially the Synoptic Gospels) that are generally seen as jiving with our traditional views. Several friends of mine in seminary who worked at different local churches often told me how they were using Wright’s work in their sermon and Sunday School preparation and it was helping people in their churches become enduringly serious about Jesus and faithfulness to him in their daily lives all over again. My friends would then joke that they consistently neglected to mention that Wright factored into their preparation since enough people in their churches had heard of Wright and “knew” he was a bad guy…

  6. Cris Dickason said,

    May 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm


    1st: isn’t it nice having Mr. Sparkman around! Thanks, Wayne.

    2nd: What prompted you to read this book by Wright? Just curious. As the remainder of my remarks will be on the en-enthusiastic side with respect to N.T. Wright.

    For the most part I would like to just shrug and say NTW, so what? There is no disputing he mis-represents and rejects the confessional Reformed doctrine and exegesis regarding justification, and Paul in general.

    In the US he comes across as witty and brilliant, but he is not so well esteemed in the UK from what I understand; neither are some of his views as widespread on his side of the pond. (Is this the typical American fascination with an English accent?) I think a lot of folks are taken in by the vocabulary he uses without discerning the differing content he will pour into things. Some folks, once they discovered “Covenant” and covenant theology will snap up anything that uses the same terms. Wright appeals in some cases in that way.

    I personally would prefer to ignore him as my to-be-read pile of books is tall enough as it is. But as he’s wrong on Paul, and seems to get an audience, someone needs to address his output.

    For some pointed insights on NTW, as well as Sanders and Dunn from someone who knows them personally, check out the 3 lectures on the New Pespective on Paul by D. A. Carson, delivered at RTS. They can be found on iTunes, under the iTunesU section, search for Dr. D.A. Carson. These are free! Carson is long-time acquiantance of both Wright and Dunn. Those 3 talks bear repeated listening.


  7. Stephen said,

    May 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    FWIW, in response to Cris (#6), I found Carson’s RTS lectures on the NPP to be very disappointing. To be clear, I say this as someone who has numerous problems with Sanders, Dunn, and Wright.

    Among other things, Carson’s lectures significantly misrepresent the views of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright and contain numerous “cheap-shots,” if you will, at the various NPP figures.

    The lectures seem designed to convince a bunch of Reformed folks who remain somewhat ignorant of the landscape of scholarship and primary sources that the NPP isn’t a threat and has been academically/historically dealt with. They do this rather than manifest substantive critical interaction with what Sanders, Dunn, and Wright actually claim and, more importantly, the relevant historical issues raised by such scholars.

  8. Stephen said,

    May 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Oh, one more thing, I can say that Carson’s lectures seem to have had the intended effect: they (along with various other Carson and other Reformed/Evangelical critiques of the NPP) have encouraged people like Cris to adopt such confidently dismissive “in the know” attitudes about Wright, Sanders, and Dunn… :)

  9. Ron Henzel said,

    May 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm


    I don’t think you intend to be irksome, but it always irks me when I read complaints that someone has misrepresented someone else and taken “cheap shots” at them without backing up such allegations with specifics. Details, please.

  10. paigebritton said,

    May 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Hey, Cris,
    What prompted you to read this book by Wright? Just curious.

    People sometimes ask me about things like this, because they know I read and think about things, and some good buddies are working their way through an NTW reading list right now. I want to be sure to listen to him well so that I represent him fairly when we’re chatting, even if I have concerns and questions.

  11. paigebritton said,

    May 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Have you read both volumes of Justification and Variegated Nomism yet? Seems to me Carson has a couple legs to stand on, & he’s not just taking pot shots.

    And I will be interested to read just how excited conservative reviewers were about the hyperpreterism [PB’s mistake, see below] of Wright’s interpretations of the Synoptics (it’s all about eschewing armed resistance and pursuing pacifism, after all!), and Jesus’ apparent doubts about his calling.

  12. Stephen said,

    May 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm


    I have read both volumes of Justification and Variegated Nomism. After reading the first volume (for those who do not know, the one interacting with Sanders’ view of Judaism) I was pleased to find that almost every published review I read (and I read many) had the same opinion of it that I did: excellent (though uneven in quality) collection of essays that critically engage Sanders and a concluding-summary essay (Carson’s) that misrepresents the contributors.

    Though the contributors have differing assessments of the adequacy of Sanders’ model for their assigned types of Jewish literature, most think that Sanders’ critique of the traditional view of Judaism (e.g., merit-theology, earning salvation, priority of “works” over “grace,” traditional Lutheran-Reformed views of Judaism, etc.) is correct; many think his “covenantal nomism” model helpfully captures the dynamics of their assigned Jewish works to varying degrees; a common criticism (one of the same ones I have of Sanders too) is that Sanders asks Protestant questions of Jewish sources. Just for fun, one of the authors (Richard Bauckham) doesn’t think Sanders went far enough: Bauckham thinks that 4 Ezra also manifest the pattern of “covenantal nomism.” Those who have read Sanders will know that 4 Ezra was a writing he considered an exception to “covenantal nomism.” He thought it represented good ‘ole fashioned legalism.

    Don’t get me wrong, some contributors were more critical of Sanders than others, but they did not advocate a return to the traditional view of Judaism (e.g., legalism, etc.). Some think Philip Alexander’s essay is an exception, but his main critique is mine: stop asking Protestant questions of Jewish sources. Mark Seifrid’s tendentious essay on righteousness language in the Hebrew Bible and Early Jewish sources is also a highly critical exception that remains difficult to take seriously (I doubt many broader scholars would deny that it’s a highly theologically-motivated/slanted treatment of the data). Carson made me laugh when he referenced perhaps the most inane snipped of it in his RTS lectures; how Seifrid points out that “covenant” and “faithfulness” never occur next to each other in the Hebrew Bible. That’s about as persuasive a criticism to broader scholars as me pointing out to folks here that “Christ’s righteousness” is a phrase that never occurs in Paul’s writings.

    Carson’s summary essay, however, gives the impression that the contributors were far more critical of Sanders than they actually were and that they were critical of Sanders in ways that they were not. Carson does this primarily through the rhetoric of the “diversity” of Early Judaism; e.g., Sanders is right about some ancient Jewish sources, but in general it’s just so diverse, it’s just so diverse, it’s just so diverse, etc. etc. etc. Overall Carson, through this rhetoric, implies the irrelevance of Sanders’ work for reading Paul. He furthermore implicitly (and this comes through quite clearly in the 2nd volume of the series) leaves open the option of just reading Paul and ancient Judaism the way they’ve always been read. The logic seeming to be that since the Sanders challenge has been overcome, there is now no viable competing alternative to the traditional view.

    This is disingenuous historical arguing that only persuades non-specialists and/or people who just want to know that the NPP is wrong and traditional readings are correct. The fact that Sanders’ formulation only applies to a few (and not most) early Jewish sources would in no way certify traditional readings of Paul and cleaned-up traditional articulations of Judaism in the old Lutheran-Reformed mold. One has to offer positive arguments for the traditional readings as well. Given my focus thus far how Carson’s concluding essay to volume 1 misrepresents matters, his suggestion in the RTS lectures that people there just skip all the essays in the volume and read only his introduction and conclusion is…well…humorous to me.

    Carson’s rhetoric of “Judaism is just so diverse” is a smoke-screen for smuggling in a cleaned-up traditional view of Judaism. One can see this from his own words elsewhere. See, for example, the revised version of his dissertation, “Despite all the diversity which enriches intertestamental Judaism, certain trends are so clear they can scarcely be ignored. With the partial exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls, legalism is on the rise, and with it merit theology” (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, 120).

    Just to be clear, I too affirm the diversity of Hellenistic and Roman-era “Judaism.” In fact, my own projects seek to deepen articulations of that diversity by emphasizing…well…perhaps more on that when I or others I know who are tracking down the same path publish our thoughts on this : ).

    BTW, the main problem with the second volume of the series is that the authors start with “the conclusions” of volume 1, by which they mean what Carson’s concluding essay distortingly lays out. They generally do not grapple with how they need to offer positive arguments for why the traditional questions they still bring to the texts are the most salient and contextually fitting, if that makes sense.

    This may be more of a reply than you wanted or expected. A while back I started writing a review-article of the Justification and Variegated Nomism series. Perhaps I will complete and publish it at some point in the future. For now you get part of its basic argument :).

  13. paigebritton said,

    May 21, 2011 at 6:41 am

    All right, fair enough, since you’ve obviously done your homework. Not that you are necessarily right when you criticize and justified when you judge: but that’s a whole ‘nuther thread, so we’ll set it back on the bookshelf awhile (I’m only halfway thru one volume and a third thru the other). We’ll debate Dr. Carson’s conclusions another time!

  14. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Paige, FWIW, I think it is a serious mistake to refer to Wright’s interpretation of the Synoptics as “hyperpreterist”. That term usually refers to the heresy that say there is no 2nd Coming and all biblical prophecies have come to pass–a position Wright demonstrably DOES NOT believe. He is a “partial preterist” which is a perfectly orthodox position to hold, both broadly, and even under the WCF. R. C. Sproul takes a preterist interpretation of the Gospels as well.

  15. Jack Bradley said,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Paige, I find Wright very helpful in NTPG, as well as in JVG, on the whole gospel metanarrative. One example, from NTPG (although his lower casing of “god” still bugs me–can’t recall his reasoning for that):

    “Underlying the church’s proclamation to the world is Israel’s unshakeable belief that her history, just like her geography, was at the centre of the created universe. Her god was the creator of the world. . . the gospels. . . tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to convey the belief that this story is the climax of Israel’s story. They therefore have the form of the story of Israel, now reworked in terms of a single human life. . . Israel’s story has been embodied in one man. . to call this Jesus ‘Messiah’ means to claim that Israel’s destiny has reached its fulfillment in him. . . It is the Israel-story, fulfilled, subverted and transformed by the Jesus-story, and now subverting the world’s stories. . . The story of the world, and of Israel, has led up to a point, namely, the establishment of the true worship of the true god.

  16. paigebritton said,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Got it, Peter. Thanks. I had understood the term to mean that one took the predictions of future events in the Gospels to be entirely about events pending in the immediate future (70AD) rather than including events pending at the Last Day (which I thought was the “partial” version). Didn’t know I was tossing around a more loaded term! Shoulda done my homework there. :)

  17. Jack Bradley said,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Good point, Peter. NTW is definitely not hyperpreterist. What he does say, eschatalogically, is very helpful. One example from NTPG:

    “. . . it should be clear that texts which speak of the ‘coming of the son of man on a cloud’ have as their obvious first-century meaning the prediction of vindication for the true Israel. . . The most likely meaning for these particular ‘apocalyptic’ texts within early Christianity, then, is not the expectation of the return of Jesus, but the proclamation that he had already been vindicated, in his resurrection and exaltation, and that he would be further vindicated when the city which had opposed him, and over which he had pronounced his sternest warnings, would in turn be destroyed. . . so the early church awaited the destruction of Jerusalem. . .

    . . . the old scholarly warhorse of the ‘delay of the parousia’ has had its day at last, and can be put out to grass once and for all. . . The word ‘parousia’ is itself misleading, anyway, since it merely means ‘presence’. . . The church expected certain events to happen within a generation, and happen they did. . . Jerusalem fell. . . there is no sign of dismay, in any of the literature that has come down to us from the period after AD 70, at the fact that Jesus himself had still not returned. . . there is no suggestion that the Lord’s return itself must happen within a generation, or that its failure to do so would precipitate any sort of crisis. . .”

  18. paigebritton said,

    May 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks, Jack. Yes, his approach is very much about “story” and “worldview,” and about how new ones subvert the old.

    I have found, reading backwards from his Pauline literature, now, that Wright’s emphasis on Israel’s story generally overshadows a larger metanarrative about humanity based in Genesis 1-3. Which raised the question for me earlier about Israel’s calling, and how exactly Jesus fulfills this. There’s no doubt that he is the true Israel, living her story right (which turns out to be an ecclesiological story); but he is also the second Adam, righting the world (which is the underlying soteriological story). Given NTW’s greater emphasis on the former, it’s no wonder that he reads in the NT more ecclesiology than soteriology.

  19. Stephen said,

    May 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Paige, if I can jump into the discussion you’re having with Jack…

    It’s not that NTW “reads in the NT more ecclesiology than soteriology.” Rather his point is that if you understand the dynamics at work in and categories of the biblical texts you will see that “ecclesiology” issues are soteriology issues. The Creator God is not some abstract deity who saves through an abstract salvation system, but the God of Israel (and from there the world) who rescues only his people. Thus questions about who are his people, how to define them, whether a Gentile can be part of his people and enjoy the eschatological blessings of the Judean God, etc., are all soteriology questions.

    Almost every Reformed/Evangelical critique of Wright and broader NPP readings misses the above basic point. Wright, of course, doesn’t help himself by overstating things in the book that most Reformed notions of Wright have been constructed through: What Saint Paul Really Said. In that book you find perhaps the only place in Wright’s writings where he starkly dichotomizes ecclesiology against soteriology; and he does so in a polemical moment against traditional Protestant readings that miss the basic dynamics of these texts that he’s trying to point out. Elsewhere in his writings the basic point is what I sketched out above.

    I disagree with many of the details of Wright’s readings and systematic uses of “the story of Israel” (as he understands it) to read most passages rigidly through his particular grid. Two points, however.

    One, his systematizing distorting of biblical passages is no worse than usual Reformed forcing everything through the grid of Reformed Systematic Theology. My favorite instance of this remains the Covenant of Works as the never-spelled-out ultimate key and background for just about everything important in Biblical and Systematic Theology; a key also used to subordinate Israel/Torah-centered aspects of the OT (about 99-100% of it) under AdamJesus, works-principle, and the like Protestant theological concerns. To be clear, this is not an attempt to argue against the Covenant of Works; just use of an analogy. BTW, dichotomizing and/or strongly hierarchicalizing focus on Israel and focus on Adam happens more on the anti-NPP Reformed side of these debates.

    Two, though I disagree with many of the specifics of Wright’s readings, I broadly agree with him that the writings of the OT are in varying ways Israel and Torah-centered writings concerned primarily with Israel as a people and their rescue as a people…and the authors of the NT approached these writings and understanding the significance of Christ precisely within such Israel/Torah/ethnic bundles of questions and concerns. FYI, one of the major ways I differ from Wright concerns his in treating the Jewishness of the NT writers and Jesus as militating against their Hellenistic-ness; but that’s a discussion for another day…

  20. paigebritton said,

    May 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    It’s not that NTW “reads in the NT more ecclesiology than soteriology.” Rather his point is that if you understand the dynamics at work in and categories of the biblical texts you will see that “ecclesiology” issues are soteriology issues. The Creator God is not some abstract deity who saves through an abstract salvation system, but the God of Israel (and from there the world) who rescues only his people. Thus questions about who are his people, how to define them, whether a Gentile can be part of his people and enjoy the eschatological blessings of the Judean God, etc., are all soteriology questions.

    Sure, if you define “soteriology” as “belonging to God’s people.” But the Bible does not start with Israel: it starts with creation and fall, which is the bigger story that underlies Israel’s story. What is it that his people need rescue from? NTW is vague on this. And since when is the reconciliation of sinners and their God through Jesus-the-Messiah’s death the story of an “abstract” deity bringing an “abstract” salvation? This is the story of Adam retold and concluded in the syntax of Israel’s history.

  21. May 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    … “ecclesiology” issues are soteriology issues….

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to launch a discussion thread on this very topic? I think Stephen has a point, especially if Paul uses mysterion and euangelion synonymously (which it seems he does). If “the mystery of the gospel” is that “the Gentiles are fellow-heirs with the Jews and members of the same body,” then driving a wedge between soteriology and ecclesiology is to completely truncate and distort the biblical data.

  22. May 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    And Paige, Wright ties together the OPP and NPP pretty tightly in Justification, using Eph. 2:1-10 and then vv. 11ff respectively.

  23. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    “What is it that his people need rescue from? NTW is vague on this.”

    Paige, I don’t think Wright is vague on this. His point is that Israel was created *to be the solution* to the Adam problem. But Israel could never be the solution because they were descended from Adam as well. Hence Jesus comes in order to be “Israel” (i.e., the solution to the Adam problem). Thus, Jesus must be an Israelite and he must be God in order to be Israel faithfully. So he’s not trying to minimize the Adam problem, but he focuses on Israel because, in his opinion, Israel was created to be the solution to the Adam problem. All of this, I think, is perfectly consistent with Reformed theology.

    This also makes sense of how the Mosaic covenant fits within the Covenant of Grace, not the Covenant of Works–a point that (forgive me), 2K theology has not done a good job of explaining. The Mosaic Covenant is part of the CofG because it was given to Israel, who was to be the solution to the Adam problem for the nations. Israel was not faithful, though, so Jesus had to be the faithful Israelite.

  24. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    In other words, Wright focuses on Israel, not because he doesn’t acknowledge or care about the Adam problem, but because he sees that, in God’s redemptive history, the Adam problem *can only be solved* by “Israel.”

  25. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Oops, one more thing:

    Rev. Stellman is right (IMHO) that we cannot drive a wedge between ecclesiology and soteriology. The WCF doesn’t give us room to do so. WCF XXV.2 says that apart from the church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Thus, the question of who is in and who is out of the PofG is very much a soteriological question.

  26. Stephen said,

    May 21, 2011 at 3:33 pm


    As best I can tell, taking the Mosaic Covenant as part of the unfolding Covenant of Grace is a classically Reformed position. Strong and common Reformed aligning of it with the Covenant of Works (e.g., as a “typological republication of the Covenant of Works) seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, associated especially with Kline and folks following him.

    Though I’m not a historical theologian, this is my reading of Calvin, Vos, etc. Murray, Gaffin, and Ferguson (and OP Robertson, etc.) seem to take this view as well (Gaffin agreed in conversation once).

  27. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Stephen, yes, that is my understanding as well. When I referred to 2K theology, I was referring to the recent construals of the CofW and the Mosaic covenant that have come out of Westminster West, following Kline.

    In other words, you and I don’t disagree (on this point!) :)

  28. Stephen said,

    May 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Lol, thanks Peter. I didn’t think we disagreed (on this point) :). Intended my comment to complement yours.

    I didn’t know what you meant by 2K theology though. Thanks for the clarification.

  29. Stephen said,

    May 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Rev. Stellman,

    FWIW, three passages were key to driving home for me the importance of understanding “ecclesiology issues as soteriology issues.”

    Rom 3.27-31: E.g., Paul there moves seamlessly between positions about righteousness, “faith” and “works” and also issues of who God’s people are, how Gentiles participate, whether God is the God of Gentiles also, etc. This is particularly significant since 3.27-31 are part of the same discussion Paul carries on in 3.21-26…let the reader understand ; )

    Gal 2.11-21: E.g., 2.14 frames and introduces the following discussion of righteousness, faith, and works in 2.15-21 through Gentile-Jew issues (e.g., do Gentiles need to adopt Jewish practices, associate with Jews, “become” Jews, etc.). Again, Paul does not here dichotomize ecclesiology vs. soteriology issues; in fact, he talks about “salvation issues” through what Reformed tend to think of as ecclesiology issues.

    And the passage you mention above in #22 for the same reason you mention (e.g., OPP and NPP cohere together): Eph 2.1-22.

    Other passages helped me start thinking from this standpoint as well, passages such as Rom 15.8-13; Eph 3.3-6 (e.g., the mystery that “Gentiles are fellow heirs, member sof the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel;” c.f., 1.9-10’s explication of the mystery of God’s will as that of summing up all things/uniting in Christ); and Col 1.26-27.

    Though I assume I am a bit looser on my Reformed Theological commitments than Rev Stellman and Peter Green :), I agree with them that this approach should in no way be taken as contrary to Reformed Theology in principle.

    For an analogy, it’s like the pistis-Christou debate. It remains unclear to me why there is such opposition (seemingly principled) to the subjective-genitive reading (e.g., the faithfulness of Christ in Rom 3.22, 26; Gal 2.16 x2, 2.21; 3.22; Phil 3.9). It does not imply that Paul never talks about Christians “believing” in or with respect to Christ. In fact, it would actually give Reformed folks seven more proof-texts for Christ’s active-obedience (not that I agree with reading those passages within that rubric).

  30. Jack Bradley said,

    May 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Peter’s point about NTW is very helpful: “he’s not trying to minimize the Adam problem, but he focuses on Israel because, in his opinion, Israel was created to be the solution to the Adam problem.”

    NTPG: “Israel’s covenantal vocation caused her to think of herself as the creator’s true humanity. If Abraham and his family are understood as the creator’s means of dealing with the sin of Adam, and hence with the evil in the world, Israel herself becomes the true Adamic humanity. . . There are, interestingly, two differences which emerge in the shape of this role. The command (‘be fruitful. . .’) has turned into a promise (‘I will make you fruitful. . .’), and possession of the land of Canaan, together with supremacy over enemies, has taken the place of Adam’s dominion over nature.”

  31. May 21, 2011 at 5:59 pm


    Seeing the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the COW, while not the majority view, is as old a view as Reformed theology itself. Not that you’re doing this, but I can’t stand it when people dismiss historic covenant theology as “Klinean,” and it bugs me even more when they look at Murray as the standard.

    I realize you’re not doing this, but I just had to vent!

  32. Peter Green said,

    May 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Rev. Stellman, whether Repub-of-CofW is represented in historic Reformed theology or not, it does, it seems to me, sit less comfortably with the bi-covenantal theology of the WCF. Hence, I find it ironic (and as frustrating I’m sure as you find it when people discus RofCofW as “Klinean”) that Westerminster West people are those who cry most loudly about the supposed less than Reformed credentials of others who don’t hold to a particular, narrow interpretation of the CofW.

    I’m willing to be convinced, though, that RofCofW coheres better with the WCF than alternate explanations.

  33. paigebritton said,

    May 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Hey, guys,
    Thanks for all the interaction.
    A couple thoughts before I call it a weekend:

    Jason –
    yeah, that would be an interesting post (you go ahead over at your place, I’m not going to do it here). I would personally be cautious about equating soteriology and ecclesiology, though. Ecclesiology is most definitely part of soteriology; it’s a big element of the positive aspect, what we’re saved for — adoption, membership, citizenship, one-anothering. But soteriology must also speak about what we are saved from, and this part is very much downplayed in all of NTW’s writings (even as the ecclesiology part is downplayed elsewhere!).

    You pointed me to his discussion of Eph. 2:1ff., which is just about the closest he gets (in my memory) to speaking like an OPP person (see Justification, p.168-169). But it’s a tiny part of his big picture, that “vertical” dimension, and you’ll notice that at the bottom of 169 he shies away from language of substitutionary atonement — he very much prefers a “participation” model. So there’s a place where I am locating a difference, anyway, between NTW’s version of “soteriology” and the one I am confessing.

    Peter & Jack –
    Thanks for those thoughts. Unfortunately NTW’s take on Israel’s calling just raises more questions for me: I realize that he claims that Israel was meant to do what Adam failed to do but couldn’t (being part of the problem and all that), but I am not convinced that this is why Israel (Abraham) was called. Wright seems to base this idea mainly on Abraham’s original call (Gen. 12:3). We wrangled about this a while back in this post, as to whether Israel was given a calling to save the world or just a promise that the world would be blessed through them (as in, God was going to do it, it wasn’t their commission or something they had to work to accomplish). Opinion was divided; I am still on the “promise” side of the divide, so I’m skeptical about Wright’s claims about what Israel was intended to do in the first place (atonement??), and how Jesus ends up fulfilling the role of the New Israel by his death. (And I am afraid that just telling the story like this still does not clearly communicate what Wright thinks people are saved from. I do not find him clear about this aspect at all.)


  34. Stephen said,

    May 21, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Paige (33) and others,

    Even though Paige is checking out for the weekend, a couple of thoughts. Others should feel free to jump in.

    Part of the reason I generally put “ecclesiology” in quotes contexts such as this thread is that it is misleading for many Evangelical/reformed folks for precisely the reasons you’re articulating. Put crassly, for many Reformed folks ecclesiology is about church membership, church government, fellowship, etc., and is something that simply follows upon soteriology. Thus even putting certain things in the category of ecclesiology in principle tends to raise concerns or criticisms similar to what you articulate: e.g., (sticking with NTW), he doesn’t have a strong doctrine of sin or what we’re saved from or God’s wrath, he reduces the Gospel to church membership and misses atonement, he makes it sociological and salvific, etc. Thus the way some Reformed folks think about ecclesiology erects extra roadblocks simply to understanding Wright or people who otherwise situate some of Paul’s discourse on righteousness, sin, pistis, and the like among these other Jew-Gentile concerns.

    This is part of how situating Paul’s writings alongside other ancient Mediterranean sources (especially Jewish ones) can help bring focus on these matters. Paul’s own Jewish apocalyptic logic (reformulated around Christ) involves precisely that Gentiles and Jews are under sin (articulated in various ways) and require a salvation from it lest they suffer under God’s just wrath. The point is simply that the God of Israel affects his rescue from sin (both guilt and effects) for his people, the descendants of Abraham (as Paul approaches matters in Romans and Galatians). His eschatological saving benefits remain benefits only for his people in his creation. Thus the question of who are his people, how are they defined, can a Gentile be one of his people and partake in the blessings/rescue-from-sin of the Judean God (keep in mind the ethnic matrix for thoughts and practices about gods in the ancient Mediterranean), etc….all these question are “salvation” questions/issues. In this way so-called “ecclesiological” concerns directly involve issues of how to be saved from something like sin and so on. Does this make sense?

    One other obvious thing to keep in mind: different people have different ways of understanding how all these things are put together in the Gospel. The fact that Wright, for example, approaches “Justification” and the gospel without room for the Covenant of Works and the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience doesn’t mean (as many Reformed critiques of Wright claim) that he denies the gospel involves salvation from sin or salvation from sin and receiving eternal life due to Christ. This is an incredibly disingenuous critique (not saying that you’re leveling this one at Wright; just using it as an illustration), especially given that Wright spends countless pages laying out how he understands how it all fits together in ways that involve God dealing with the problem of sin, the central significance of Christ’s work in this, etc. etc. etc. Often times it seems like others (e.g., Wright here) isn’t clear on these matters or downplays them because he does not talk about them in the ways and categories we’re used to. I know this will sound obvious, but it’s a useful point to keep in mind.

  35. Matt Beatty said,

    May 21, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Peter said:
    “The WCF doesn’t give us room to do so. WCF XXV.2 says that apart from the church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Thus, the question of who is in and who is out of the PofG is very much a soteriological question.”

    Thank you. And Paige, I don’t think we need to posit an identity between salvation and the people of God to say that they Bible knows very little about “saved” who aren’t the Church AND (and this is where, in my experience, TR’s go weak in the knees) the Bible knows equally little about those in the Church (those in, not having “gone out from us” – 1 John 2, or in, not having been put out from us – 1 Cor. 5) not being saved. Including our children.

    NTW pushes things too far sometimes, but there’s no question that he’s serving as a corrective to many REFORMED theologians and pastors who typically downplay the connection between soteriology and ecclesiology in both of the directions I highlighted in the paragraph above.

  36. May 22, 2011 at 12:10 am


    I find it ironic (and as frustrating I’m sure as you find it when people discus RofCofW as “Klinean”) that Westerminster West people are those who cry most loudly about the supposed less than Reformed credentials of others who don’t hold to a particular, narrow interpretation of the CofW.

    In my experience, what Westminster CA grads and profs make a big deal about is the prefall covenant of works, not the (supposed) Mosaic one. Sure, WSC teaches a kind of typological republication, but no one ever “questions anyone’s Reformed credentials” for taking a more mainstream view. If people’s Reformed street cred gets questioned, it’s when someone denies a covenant of works before the fall, like most FV-ers do.

    Hope that helps clarify things a bit.

  37. paigebritton said,

    May 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Hey, Stephen,
    One last note:

    I get this:
    Often times it seems like others (e.g., Wright here) isn’t clear on these matters or downplays them because he does not talk about them in the ways and categories we’re used to. I know this will sound obvious, but it’s a useful point to keep in mind.

    My goals in reading Wright and raising the Wright questions are these:

    1. to understand him fairly;
    2. to identify where his different approach fills out, complements or corrects my/our prior understandings;
    3. to identify where his new proposals depart significantly from what has been said in the past; and
    4. to identify the implications of those significant departures for a confessional understanding of the faith.

    Both #2 and #3 are happening in his writings; #4 is the necessary beginning of a process of evaluating both Wright’s proposals and our prior commitments. I’m working to articulate where I think those departures occur, and I raise those areas of concern because I have already sensed that there is a significant difference between Wright’s proposals and our confessions in those spots — it’s not just a matter of looking at the same things from a different angle — and we who have confessional commitments ought to name these differences and wrestle with them.

  38. Peter Green said,

    May 22, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Rev. Stellman, I don’t know a single FVer who denies a CofW before the fall. I only know of FVers who deny your particular interpretation of the CofW.

  39. Peter Green said,

    May 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Rev. Stellman, the bit you quoted from my posted noted that I am frustrated, not with Westminster West’s theology of the RofCofW (although that does frustrate me), but with WW’s that people “who don’t hold to a particular, narrow interpretation of the *CofW*” are less than Reformed. I point you beautifully illustrated with your own response.

  40. May 22, 2011 at 9:45 am


    I guess we just disagree on this point, but in my mind, there is such a thing as denying the substance of the covenant of works while claiming only to quibble with the language.

    For example, when someone (whose name I won’t mention) says that the first covenant was not in any sense legal and had no soteriological dimension to it, and that the covenants before and after the fall only differed in their circumstances but not in their substance or principle of inheritance, then it doesn’t really matter what that person SAYS he is doing, because what he is doing is denying the plain language of the Standards on that point.

    I don’t want to highjack this thread any further, so now that I have said my piece I’ll be a good O’Reillian and give you the last word!

  41. Peter Green said,

    May 23, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Of course there is no soteriological element to the CofW. There was nothing Adam needed to be saved from. Was Adam created sinful? If not, then what did Adam need to be saved from? Is God just? Then how could Adam need to be saved unless he was a sinner? All sorts of theological problems arise when the CofW is thought to include a soteriological dimension, which is to say nothing of the countless biblical problems with such a view.

    Furthermore, the WCF does not require believing that there is a “soteriological” element to the CofW. In fact, the contrast between of CofW and the CofG is clearly that one is “soteriological” and one is not, as illustrated by comparing the language of WCF VII.2 and VII.3. You are free to believe WCF does teach a soteriological element in the CofW, just as you are free to believe the Bible teaches such a position. However, such beliefs, in my mind, call into question your Reformed credentials more than the beliefs of the unmentioned “someone,” which brings me back to my original comment: I find it ironic that someone with your beliefs would be prosecuting “someone” else for their supposed less than Reformed beliefs.

  42. May 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Sorry, I was quoting the FV-er from memory. What he actually said, now that I think about it, is that the differences between the pre- and post-fall covenants are not that one is legal and the other is gracious, but that they are merely administrative.

    Of course, there was no need for “salvation” before the fall, but the principle by which man would have received the eternal reward before the fall was personal obedience, and afterwards it was trust in the obedience of another.

    Now you could have read my mistake more charitably instead of keying in on that one slip-up and putting the worst possible spin on it, thereby calling into question my Reformed credentials. Just a thought.

  43. Peter Green said,

    May 23, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Rev. Stellman, I would suggest that there is a difference between a sentence that can be interpreted in different ways, and one which is erroneously written (whether because of a typo, copy error, forgetfulness, etc.). For instance, a while ago on this blog, it became clear that, due to a copy error, one of Doug Wilson’s sentences lacked a negative, which reversed the meaning of the sentence. Of course, some people on this blog insisted that the erroneous sentence actually contained Doug Wilson’s true beliefs, despite his insistence to the contrary.

    Having been made aware that the sentence to which I was responding was based on incorrect memory, I retract any criticisms and comments I made in response to that sentence. This is, I think, the best I can do.

  44. Peter Green said,

    May 23, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Also, here is a post in which Leithart denies that the distinction between the covenants is “merely administrative.”

  45. John Thomson said,

    May 24, 2011 at 3:49 am

    As a non-confessionalist though broadly sympathetic to reformed with a small ‘r’ views my problem with the C/Ws prefall is not its existence (Adam was clearly placed on the ground of responsibility to maintain his life in the garden but the assumption that somehow he could earn from natural life eternal life. No such promise is given. This is IMO a gratuitous assumption. He is not promised glorification.

    Nor did Christ ‘earn’ eternal life for himself and others. In him was life. He gave life to those the Father had given him. In his death he took the penalty of a broken law but there is no hint that he earns life.

  46. Peter Green said,

    May 24, 2011 at 6:39 am


    I completely agree with your first paragraph. That is a perfectly acceptable position to hold within the Reformed tradition and under the WCF. Many people agree with such an interpretation.

  47. Richard said,

    May 29, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Hi Jason, I was going to post this on your site but for some reason your comments box isn’t showing on my browser…but anyway, thought you may like to check out Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church. In it he relates how the Gospel shapes both Church polity and worship, makes for interesting reading.

  48. Trent said,

    August 7, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Hey Paige!
    (Seems I am the only one commenting not on Rome)
    I was just browsing through here since I heard that Wright says basically, if the victory of God is at the center of our thinking we can keep everything else. Perhaps he is or not downplaying the atonement, but it seems like he’s absolutelizing Christus victor. Are there any good books on the so called ‘victory of God’ that has both the substitutionary atonement and other victories all in one?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: