League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fell pretty flat for me. I didn't like or dislike it. There's nothing especially wrong with the book, but, while it'...moreLeague of Extraordinary Gentlemen fell pretty flat for me. I didn't like or dislike it. There's nothing especially wrong with the book, but, while it's certainly better than the horrible movie, I don't see what's that great about it either. The characters and plot were underdeveloped an uninteresting. There are interesting moments in the book, and the writing was good, but the story feels completely forgettable.
I rated V for Vendetta, also by Alan Moore, 3 stars as well, but the two books couldn't be more dissimilar. I disagreed with, even despised, a lot of what V had to say, but at least that book made me think. I didn't care for its conclusions but it was definitely thought provoking. It made me wrestle with important issues and viewpoints. Despite getting an equal star rating from me, LXG isn't at all like V. It's a great big nothing.
I don't see what the hype is about with this one. LXG is a huge disappointment. (less)
This is a fascinating read, though it should be noted the author's sympathies do tend to lie with C.S. Lewis. I only mention this since the books trie...moreThis is a fascinating read, though it should be noted the author's sympathies do tend to lie with C.S. Lewis. I only mention this since the books tries to claim a neutral perspective and doesn't quite succeed. (less)
What St. Paul Really Said is probably N.T. Wright's most controversial book. Many evangelicals have gotten up in arms over the views he presents. John...moreWhat St. Paul Really Said is probably N.T. Wright's most controversial book. Many evangelicals have gotten up in arms over the views he presents. John Piper wrote an entire book in response to his take on justification.
After reading it, I'm at a bit of a loss to understand what the problem is. His conclusions do differ from traditional evangelical takes on several points, but conclusions aside the book is thoroughly evangelical. Much of it is devoted to a strong defense of the evangelical view of Scripture, Paul, Jesus and Christianity. Wright holds very closely to Sola Scriptura. He clearly sees the Bible as God's Word. He rejects and dismantles attempts to pit Jesus against Paul, as if the two held to different religions. Wright is clearly operating from a conservative take on Scripture. Wright is defending all the things we as evangelicals have said need defending. What's more, he's doing a much better job of it than we typically do. Even if Piper and others might disagree with his conclusions, I think the appropriate response of evangelicals to this work is to applaud it, not condemn it.
That said, I do want to discuss the conclusions Wright comes to on the Gospel and Justification. Although it is my belief that his conclusions arise from a thoroughly evangelical and conservative framework, they do go outside the evangelical norm.
First, the Gospel. Evangelicals, especially in North America, typically think of the Gospel as having to do with personal salvation. We have Gospel meetings where people are called forward to individual repentance. We think of the Gospel message as a description of how someone begins a personal relationship with Jesus. Having grown up evangelical, I can safely say that's roughly how I've always thought of it.
Not so, says Wright. According to him the Gospel is not about a personal call to repentance. Rather it is a proclamation that Jesus is King and that his Kingdom has come. It is not an invitation to faith but a summons to obedience. Therefore, the choice we are given under the Gospel is not whether or not we will accept Jesus, but whether we will answer the summons of the Gospel or live in rebellion to King Jesus.
None of that is to say that Wright doesn't believe in personal salvation. But personal salvation is not what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the Gospel. The Gospel is not a call to begin a personal relationship with Jesus. It is the announcement of the Kingdom. Relationship with God, regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit are all effects of the Gospel, but in and of themselves they are not what the Gospel is.
That has significant implications for how we evangelize. Do we invite people to make Jesus a part of their lives or do we proclaim that he is Lord over all and that they have a responsibility to submit to his lordship? The difference may seem subtle, but when played out it radically changes how we approach conversion.
The second area where Wright challenges traditional evangelical conclusions is justification by faith. Here is where we come to the main focus of the controversy surrounding Wright and this book. Protestantism has long held that justification is about salvation. When Paul talks about justification, he is saying that we are not saved by works but by faith. In this way of thinking, God takes away our sin and gives us his righteousness. Justification is the process by which that happens and we are imputed God's righteousness Again, that has been my experience growing up in evangelicalism. I've always thought of justification in those terms and, before encountering Wright, had never heard it taught any other way.
But according to Wright justification is not about how we get saved; it is about how you know who is and is not saved. It is the sign of covenantal membership. In other words, justification is not how you get in, it's how you tell who is in.
We see this played out in Philippians 3:1-11. In this passage Paul contrasts justification through circumcision with justification through faith. Just by seeing the two sides of that contrast we should know something is up with our traditional view of justification. Circumcision was never something done to gain salvation. You did not enter God's family and find grace on the basis of circumcision. Rather, in the old covenant, circumcision was a sign that you were a member of the covenant family. Justification by faith functions the same way in the new covenant. It is not the mans by which we are given grace, but the sign that we have been given grace and belong to God's family.
Therefore, justification is not about being given something, but about a status. As mentioned above, the Protestant view has traditionally been that we are given God's righteousness through justification. In Wright's argument, justification is about being declared righteous before God.
To prove this he shows that when Paul talks about justification he is invoking the language of a Jewish law court. By bringing in that metaphor he is painting a picture in which we, the accused party, stands before God, the judge. Justification does not mean that the judge gives the accused anything. Instead, it means that the judge hands down a verdict of not guilty. That is what is going on when we are justified by faith. God has declared us not guilty before him and faith is the covenantal sign of that declaration.
I hope it goes without saying that I am radically simplifying Wright's argument. I'm not even scratching the surface and I'd strongly encourage you read the book for yourself. That said, my goal is to show, even with this far too brief summary of his argument, that Wright is not way out in left field with his arguments. Whether you agree with them or not, they are built upon a solidly evangelical foundation of biblical evidence. Again, Wright is operating from a high view of Scripture, the very thing we evangelicals so adamantly (and rightfully) insist upon!
Unfortunately, it would seem to me that most of Wright's critics have failed to understand his argument. Piper and others have accused him of promoting salvation by works. That's not the case. His point in discussing justification is not that we are saved by works but that justification really has nothing to do with the means of salvation. Disagree with that if you want, but don't accuse him of saying things he isn't saying.
Personally, I'm completely on board with Wright's arguments. There are many parts of the New Testament that begin to come into focus when read in light of his view on justification and the Gospel. I believe evangelicalism owes Wright a debt of gratitude. He's defended and advanced theology from a solidly conservative foundation and should be commended for it. It's unfortunate that so many among us are determined to do the exact opposite and treat him as a heretic. You may not agree with his conclusions, but at least respect him as a man who loves God and takes Scripture seriously (less)
After several months I have finally finished the City of God. The book is everything everyone claims it is - challenging and brilliant, a seminal work...moreAfter several months I have finally finished the City of God. The book is everything everyone claims it is - challenging and brilliant, a seminal work of Christian theology. This is a must read for any serious student of historical theology(less)
In general, I'm not a big fan of Richard Rohr. He has some good things to say, but it always comes with a healthy does of his liberal theology and pol...moreIn general, I'm not a big fan of Richard Rohr. He has some good things to say, but it always comes with a healthy does of his liberal theology and politics.
Those issues are definitely present in this book, but despite that what Rohr has to say in this book is really important. Our culture has ignored masculine initiation for far too long. Thanks to the work of Rohr and others, many of us are beginning to recognize the problem and will hopefully be able to do something about it.
The book is far from perfect, but what it has to say is extremely important. (less)