All of them, all of us, all of you, got it (Christianity) wrong. It’s not at all about salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone – nor is the yeast of the Pharisees self-righteousness or the failure to believe in Christ unto salvation – but the error is that they won’t change their ceremonial laws and let in the gentiles. Justification by good works, works of the law, morality per se, is actually what they were teaching but, and here’s the rub… that’s what Jesus and Paul were teaching too, so it’s not really a problem.
Arius, Pelagius, Marcion… will N.T. Wright be added to this list?
It’s one thing to be notable but another to be notorious and sometimes it’s hard to see where one will end up in the judgements of history.
The most well known and influential Protestants have weighed in on the doctrines of Christianity’s most controversial figure, Wright. One of those would be Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology at the influential Westminster Seminary California. His influence over the past decades has increased exponentially even while being eclipsed by N.T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham (Anglican) as the world’s most catalyzing figure in contemporary theology.
With this, as we might expect, Wright has been hagiographied into a saint by some but demoted to the level of quick talking theology salesmen by others. Some of the latter might have been earned through shifting in and out of subject matter so as to never answer a question with a simple yes or no. Wright rarely answers any of the fundamental questions of traditional Christian thought in ways recognizable through the historic language, creating perhaps more nuance in theological discussion at the cost of being understood. That would include simple questions, such the status of the after life, the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the Bible, final punishments and the doctrine of the Trinity.
To see theologians disagree is normal as theologians usually do (some would say it’s what they do best) but there’s a line not often crossed that removes the face theology often wears as a mere academic pursuit among accomplished gentlemen.
“Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?”
Horton answers, “J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds—but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation.”
“So, in answer to your question, yes—in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel.” Michael Horton
For Horton to say that Wright is preaching another Gospel is not small potatoes within the context of his Presbyterian and Reformed theological tradition. Different lines of Christian thought have different ways of saying things and so we take them more by what they mean than what they say. In that sharply focused, carefully defined Presbyterian tradition they measure doctrines down to carefully distinguished dogmas. They categorize with judicious language. The separation of “Christian” from “non-Christian” is not passive or vague in their vernacular. Yes we can use the words in a broader sense, like Christendom or the Christian vs. the Islamic or Hindu world but also in a very particular and restrictive sense.
By saying that N.T. Wright “is preaching another Gospel” Horton is saying two things that are really one: First, that Wright is a false teacher; Second, that Wright himself is not a Christian.
It’s a bold claim.
The historic language is drawn from the prophetic words of the Apostle Paul who in writing to the Galatians:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”
So those that preach another Gospel are presumed to be under God’s curse and there aren’t any pleasant ways to take that kind of thing. It’s traditional language reserved for the very worst teachers of false Christianities.
So what does it take to be “a Christian”?
Believing in Christ? Which Christ? Any at all? The Christ of the Hindus? Of the Muslims? Presumably the Christ of the Presbyterians gets a pass but what about Baptists, Methodists and Messianic Jews? These seem to be believing in an identical Christ – or at least so close as to be indistinguishable as to the identity of the person. Mormonism’s Christ (as a contrary example) might be the same only in name and a few historical referents.
But let’s say that while the metaphysical properties of the Christ were all in tact, he was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior – that the message of the Jesus presented were not the message that he did in fact bring. Would believing in that Christ be a believing in the true Christ – when believing in the true Christ seems necessary to being reconciled to the true God? How far a field can that understanding of that message be and it still be a believing in Christ unto salvation?