N. T. Wright, again...

(Note from Tim Bayly: Here are excerpts from one of the final comments under my post, "Bishop N. T. Wright as it were." The comments are indented and my responses are not.)

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This post of yours is incredibly misguided.

Since it's rhetoric that's the subject of my original post, let me point out that this criticism is almost always made by members of the academy. This particular occasion, it's worth noting that Mr. Owen has an E-mail address at montreat.edu. And note that the opening statement does not accuse me of misguiding my readers, but of being misguided myself--incredibly so. So who's the villain, I wonder--who's the man who misguided me?

Well, at least I can blame my stupidity on someone else.

1. You apparently are not even capable of looking at ethical questions from Wright's Anglican frame of reference.

Most people wouldn't balk at the use of the word 'ethics' here, but we ought to. There's a world of difference between sodomy being a matter of "ethics" and it being in direct opposition to the order of Creation and an abomination to God. The minute Christians allow the discussion of sodomy to be labelled a matter of "ethics," the battle's largely lost since today speaking of "ethics" carries a relativistic connotation. We debate "ethics" but obey commandments...

You complain because Wright says that ECUSA is getting "further and further away" from where most of the Anglican communion stands on the issue of homosexuality. What you apparently cannot appreciate is the nature of Anglican theological method.

On the contrary, I deny that Wright is faithful to Anglican theological method as it's been practiced across the centuries, although I do understand that this historic theological method has been thrown out, recently, and is now practiced almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere.

As to whether I'm "capable" of looking at sodomy from Wright's Anglican point of view, it may be that I'm capable, but consciously choose not to. The reality is that I have, in fact, chosen not to for reasons I consider good and right, and which I outline below.

What Mr. Owen refers to as "Anglican theological method" is identical to the mainline presbyterian theological method which I know intimately from spending close to a decade as a pastor within the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA). And in that organization, such statements as those made by Wright--that the liberal faction is moving "further and further away from where most of the (Anglican/Presbyterian) communion stands"--was the relentless theme of evangelicals fighting against the normalization of sodomy in that community. Back then I fought against that statement (as I do now with Wright) because where Scripture speaks with perfect clarity, the conscience of man is bound and debate only provides cover for rebellion.

With perfect clarity, God has condemned sodomy so why focus on the fact that this or that percentage of Anglicans think this or that about sodomy? Whether the majority of Anglicans are further and further away, or closer and closer to, American Anglicanism on this matter is the last consideration that should be raised, particularly in a public forum where a bishop of Christ's Church has been presented with a bully pulpit to speak to the entire nation of Australia. In that context, God's servant must proclaim God's Truth with boldness and clarity, not prattle on as if sodomy is a matter subject to majority rule.

Think about Aaron and Saul: both men rebelled against the explicit command of God, but defended their actions saying they had checked out the majority opinion of the people they were leading and chose to go with that flow. There are matters where voting is right and good within the church, but never as a referendum on issues about which God has given us His clear command. Sodomy stands squarely as such an issue, and that's why it's wrong for Wright to make reference to the percentage of Anglicans who agree and disagree with God on the matter.

Anglicans do not just read the Bible individualistically. They aren't congregationalist Baptists who insist that the Bible is their only Creed. Anglican theology is expressed in the context of dialogue, mutual accountability, and communal consensus. He is simply pointing out that in rejecting the Anglican consensus on these questions, ECUSA is adopting a theological method that is foreign to Anglicanism itself. That's hardly an irrelevant point for self-professed members of the Anglican communion. But yet you nit pick here and complain about the way Wright states his point.

Who's the "congregationalist Baptist who insists that the Bible is his only creed" and "reads the Bible individualistically"? Certainly not I, so then who is Mr. Owen referring to? First, I'm not congregationalist; I'm presbyterian. Second, I'm not Baptist; I'm paedobaptist. Third, the Bible is not my only creed. Every officer in my denomination (Presbyterian Church in America) and church (Church of the Good Shepherd) must subscribe to the Westminster Standards. And as for "reading the Bible individualistically," how exactly would I go about proving that accusation false? So I'll leave it alone knowing that readers of this blog, friends, and members of our congregation would find it so wide of the mark as to be rather humorous.

As for nitpicking, again I remind us that the matter under discussion is sodomy, and there is no room for checking our corporate temperature on this one. God has spoken and we are called simply to be witnesses to His command, doing so with boldness, clarity, and love. There are millions listening who are lost and without hope in the world, ignorant of the Word we have been called to proclaim, so proclaim we must. It's our calling.

2. Likewise, you complain about Wright calling himself an "academic." Please! He is simply pointing out that in rejecting ECUSA's view, he is not advocating that the Church abandon all concern for academic rigor and integrity. In other words, it does not mean that you have to accept a thoughtless, anti-intellectual fundamentalism. Are you really so incapable of reading Wright charitably that you would jump on this wording?

What I faulted Wright for was his failure to speak as a servant of the Word. To repeat myself, Wright was provided a national platform to serve as a witness to Jesus Christ and His Truth, and on one of the most controverted issues of our day which cries out for a faithful man to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, but instead of handling this wonderful opportunity with boldness and courage as the Apostle Paul did in the Areopagus, Wright does the academic two-step. Bishop Wright has been called by God to preach the Word in season and out of season, with great patience, knowing the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, but instead will surround themselves with teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear, and then he speaks like this. Such a wasted opportunity, and it's no wonder he escaped the sort of escort to the edge of the county line the Apostle Paul seemed to garner each time he preached (or, if you wish, "connected with his culture.")

3. You also distort Wright's point when he says, "Jesus believed I think, that he was offering a critique from within Judaism." ...He says, "I think" because he is aware that some (both Jews and Christians) might see a more radical discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity. The guy states a point modestly, and you jump on him for it! I can only shake my head.

It should be obvious, but let me state it explicitly: I object to Wright talking about Jesus "believing" something. Speaking of Jesus' beliefs is a tip of the hat to postmodernism's aggressive relativism and hatred of authority. Again, see the account of the Apostle Paul speaking in Athens to the Areopagus for a model of how best to communicate to men hopelessly committed to the pantheon of gods. For myself, I can find no similarity between Wright's use of his Australian opportunity and the Apostle Paul's use of his Athenian opportunity. No similarity at all.

And speaking of modesty, The Man Who contends for the Faith in a way that causes Him to be crucified outside the city's walls is The Man Who is truly humble.

Your inability to see how a person who is used to actually talking to people who hold a differing view with a bit of modesty, can express himself, without begging the question, is indicative of the problem with fundamentalism. It's why fundamentalists can talk to no one but themselves with any kind of serious intellectual depth. All they can do is argue in circles, when in fact historians and people who actually engage in historical scholarship are not given the privilege of assuming that their own view is the only way to look at evidence.

What a precious example of the patronizing paternalism so regularly employed by academics as they browbeat those with whom they disagree. Letting out a deep sigh, they exclaim, "Well, that's the sort of pig-ignorance I've come to expect from you non-thinking garbage! You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds not giving a tinker's cuss for Christian intellectuals working hard to connect with their colleagues." And so on and so forth. (If some of our good readers are wondering, this is a paraphrased portion of a Monty Python comedy routine.)

That's the way real scholars talk...

You mean "real scholars" like the Apostle Paul? St. Bernard? Thomas Aquinas? St. Augustine? Jonathan Edwards? Paul Johnson? Martin Luther? No, I think you meant "real scholars" like Erasmus and Bishop Wright.

Comments

Tim,

The very first thing Paul Owen will do to prove your point is quickly point out that he is "Dr." Owen, with a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, not "Mr." Owen as you have referred to him.

If you were a real scholar, you'd know that.

David,

Would you care to back up that slander? When have you ever seen me using the title "Dr." or insisting that others refer to me as such? Usually its pseudo-scholars with bogus degrees who are worried about their titles. The only time I bring up my academic credentials is when someone else challenges my being qualified to speak to some issue in my field I am addressing. On those rare occasions, I have every right to point out my qualifications.

Great argument by the way. It is typical of the stunningly deep level of response I have come to expect from you.

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