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In a comment appearing on Pyromaniacs, Steve Wood records the following E-mail exchange he had with Bishop N. T. Wright.

Wood queried Wright:

Do you believe that a significant percentage of mankind will be permanently in hell, as a result of their sin? Do you believe that hell is an objective place, characterized by permanent suffering of an individual? Do you believe that the only way that an individual can avoid hell is to personally repent of his sins, relying on Christ's actions on earth, during that person's mortal life? Do you believe that Christ will preside at a final judgment, dividing mankind into two groups, one to eternal heaven and one to eternal hell?"

Wright responded:

I think the best thing is to wait for my next relevant book. Your questions are so thoroughly conditioned by one particular (and to my mind unbiblical) way of speaking about God's eventual purpose (which, I repeat, is stated in the New Testament not in terms of 'heaven and hell' as in mediaeval and subsequent western thought, but in terms of the new heavens and new earth) that it is impossible to answer them as they stand without colluding with misunderstanding. And I repeat, whatever your powers of recall in other instances, I simply cannot have said anything like what you seem to think I must have done. I strongly suspect it was the result of my trying to turn questions with whose presuppositions I was in disagreement into questions with a biblical base which I could answer, and I can well see that this might have resulted in you or someone else imagining I was giving a particular answer to the question you thought I was answering while my intention was very different. Anyway, let's wait for the book.

Leaving Scripture aside for the moment, what about the good Bishop's Thirty-nine Articles--specifically numbers 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, 17, and 18?

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Comments

Tim and David,

The posts along this line have been most helpful. I can see why NTW is beloved among the emergents --uncertainty and being tentative and equivocal are the great virtues of our day. We dare be certain of nothing --let alone herald a proclamation.

I wonder if you might start a thread on the feminization of the pulpit? I see that a lot in my own generation: a whole demeanor that says "It seemeth to me," not the powerful "Thus saith the Lord" of past generations.

Interesting. I seem to recall Lorrain Boettner was quite forthright in denying that the portion of mankind in Hell would be significant, and that in doing so he understood himself to bedefending the views of Old Princeton. One of Boettner's arguments, in line with Warfield and previous Princetonians was that all infants dying in infancy were elect. (Warfield, remember, though discouraging confessional revision before the fact, approved of the substance of the chapters that the Presbyterian Church added to the Westminster confession).

The bishop's remarks would have fit in well with the "neo-orthodoxy" of my seminary. The "real" biblical concern was with the Kingdom of God, etc., not with "heaven and hell." And it is true that a lot of "conservative" Protestants have lost sight of at least the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation. But how does the bishop, how does any of us get around Jesus' words--JESUS' words (!)--about the rich man "in torment" (Luke 16:23); about "the Lord" saying "Depart from me . . .[t]here you will weep and gnash your teeth" (Luke 13:27,28); and, of course, "fear him, who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell" (Luke 12:5). That the bishop wants to tell us that there is more than this I can understand. But how can he deny, evade, or explain away such words, and all the others which are like them?

Dear Tim and David:

But what am I to do until Wright's next book comes out? I'm going frantic. Does anyone know when it might be published?

David,
You might be careful to get the RIGHT book of Bishop Wright's. Note he says to wait for his next "relevant" book. That would imply to me that he has several waiting in the wings and one will have to discern which applies to the topic at hand. Of course, I'm sure all of them will have more of this same scintillating theological discourse, so I would recommend that you go ahead and pre-order them all at Amazon.

Remember that many British evangelical Anglicans believe in annihilationism - that the damned are snuffed out of existence. This is probably so with Wright, whom everyone loves to villianize, and Stott, whom everyone loves to selectively quote. I don't believe in annihilationism myself, my old mentor Robert Peterson has dedicated his career to combatting that viewpoint and I am a good protege in that respect. But in this case you've hit on something that a lot of British evangelical anglicans could be guilty of holding. Incidentally, Dr. Peterson has an article published by "The Churchmen" where he tries to figure out the genetics of this issue and traces back the influence to, I think I'm remembering correctly, a very influential librarian at one of the British universities.

As for the new heavens and new earth - Wright is right about that. Too many Christians are ignorant of the fact that one day our disembodied heavenly existence will be "remedied" with the resurrection of the dead and we'll all be back in the body on the new earth. Now, the one corollary to that is that the damned will also have their bodies back and will be suffering in the body. My guess is that Wright will have something to say about that side of the picture. But that's okay - he'll be wrong, and we're all wrong about a lot of things. I'm not sure that anyone's goal, among those who like to read Wright, is to become his sycophant. I think we know a good thing when we see it and have found a guy whose writings are stimulating and clearly written and yet just like when I read anyone, such as this very blog, I have to spit out a lot of bones as the solid meat gets savored.

If you're trying to say that reading anyone is an exercise in using the mouth to sort and spit, I'm not with you. There are fathers in the faith who go down largely boneless and our mouths can do their work unencumbered by tasks they were not meant to carry. There are others, though, that while claiming to be fathers in the faith are so seriously in error that our mouths wonder what our eyes and hands were doing prior to the food going in the mouth. It's bones and meat and bones and bones and bones.

Shepherds of Christ have a duty to be part of the deboning and bone warning process so their sheep aren't puncturing cheeks as they chew and are free to feed on the pure milk of the Word.

If one desires to read Anglicans, there are hundreds whose works are relatively safe, although, sadly, most have been dead some time now. But take a stroll outside the highbrow provincialism of Anglophiles and the landscape opens up with green pastures of reformed fathers who are faithful shepherds.

On the other hand, it's our duty as shepherds to keep our flocks from feeding on men who can't be trusted in the spheres of revelation, soteriology, anthropology, and last things--for starters. To claim that Bishop N. T. Wright is just one more man writing theology who requires an ordinary bit of discernment as we chew is wrong. He is dangerous in many areas, lethal in others, and surrounded by his acolytes who spend their days saying how helpful they find him in this or that or the other thing.

I'm not accusing Mr. Barlow of being an acolyte, but I don't think he and I would define sycophancy in the same way, nor do I think we would agree on the relative duties of the eyes, hands, and mouth in eating. And for my part, I will keep Bishop Wright out of the pastures my flock feeds on.

This from a brother from the UK considering studying theology here in the States, posted as a comment on Pyromaniacs:

***I considered going to seminary in the States (even flew over for a visit). When I asked one of the most senior, well respected, evangelical academics in the US how he thought his peers were reacting to the new perspective he said "younger evangelical scholars go after the latest theory like gadarene swine".***

Actually the Bishop's mode of discourse is reminiscent of the old show Yes Minister.

N.T. Wright sounds very much in these quotes like a theological Sir Humphrey Appleby.

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