Friday, January 07, 2005

AAPC - 1

Most of these recollections will be very broadly-brushed. Daniel Kirk has blogged some more in-depth comments on the lectures, so please check those out if you're interested. I'm sure blogdom will continue to resound with more reviews of the conference in the coming weeks. I will definitely be listening to the lectures again when I get my copies. There was a lot to digest.

N.T. Wright is a terrific lecturer. I enjoy reading him, but hearing him speak (especially in person) is great. He is animated and articulate, and he does a great job of interspersing his often dense material with a well-placed joke here and there. He opened his initial lecture by puzzling over why he, a bishop in the Church of England, should be concerned that he is the subject of intense scrutiny by contending factions of American Presbyterians. He compared it to two baseball fans arguing over which cricket player is best. After this humorous aside, he began articulating how his own studies have built upon the better traditions of the Reformation, and specifically, how they tie into the conference theme "Paul's Perspective: The Apostle and His Theology." To counter the shrill charges that he has "betrayed the Reformation," or other such nonsense, he intentionally formulated his opening remarks around the solas of the Reformation.

Wright's primary emphasis was on sola scriptura, specifically the total commitment to the Scriptures against all human traditions. I think Wright is dead on the money here in arguing that heirs of the Reformation should remain adamant that Scripture always prevails, with "no syllable altered" (with a nod to English Reformer William Tyndale). If the serious study of the text leads us away from our traditions, we should have the courage to follow wherever the text leads. Many of Wright's critics (to borrow from Daniel's blog) keep appealing back to "the questions of the Reformation," whereas Wright continues to drive it back to "Paul's questions." The Reformation, for all that it got right, simply cannot be the absolute starting point for theological discussion. As Wright noted, echoing many others, the church must be not only reformed but always reforming. This involves constantly re-examining our intepretations of the Scriptures.

Wright addressed the ramifications of solus Christus, as Paul emphasizes that Jesus is the world's true Lord. Paul's message is that, although the Caesars of his day promised peace and salvation, Christ alone provides these things, because God has vindicated Him as Messiah through the crucifixion and resurrection. At this point Wright noted that his critics have claimed he is weak on atonement theology. He then referred to his extensive argumentation that Jesus makes penal substitution, specifically from Isaiah 53, the cornerstone of His theology.

In discussing soli Deo gloria, Wright took a slightly different approach, claiming that his emphasis on Jew/Gentile Christian unity glorifies God by showing how God is redeeming and restoring the human race at large, not just a specific tribe. The covenant provides the means by which God works to undo the effects of the Fall. At this point, Wright addressed the issue of the Reformed view of imputation, which he believes is "saying a substantially right thing in a substantially misleading or wrong way." He does not like imputation language, because he wishes to avoid the notion that Jesus earned a righteous status by "climbing a ladder of good works," ("by being the one successful Pelagian"), and that this status is then conferred onto His people. Rather, Paul sees God vindicating Jesus as Messiah through His resurrection, and conferring a status of "righteous" upon Him and, consequently, to all who are in Messiah. Wright sees this view as satisfying the same concerns as imputation language, as redemption is secured solely by Christ with is no room for any sort of works-righteousness.

Finally, Wright affirmed sola fide, explaining that justification in the present is the anticipation of the future verdict on the Last Day. He very specifically stated that the present declaration occurs at the point of belief, and it is both covenantal and forensic. Wright affirmed, in no uncertain terms, that this present verdict is in no way dependent on human effort or activity. However, there is also a corporate aspect that has often been neglected. Wright notes that a doctrine of justification by faith not only indicates that there is no human contribution to salvation but also defines who is included within the covenant community (i.e., on the basis of faith in Jesus).

In this opening lecture, Wright directly addressed several criticism often hurled at him. He also made some explicit affirmations of the fixed points upon which his subsequent lectures would be built. Those affirmations are, in my opinion, key. Wright's critics are left with basically two options in persisting in their railings: either 1) that Wright's theology is internally inconsistent or 2) that Wright is simply lying about what he affirms. Sadly, I fear many will take the latter option. I know that some of his Reformed critics were in attendance (including an OPC pastor and professor at RTS-Atlanta). I am curious to see their reactions.

(FYI -- don't worry, I won't have a detailed breakdown of each lecture. My notes weren't that good. ;))

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