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The New Reductionism

April 24, 2007

DA Carson on NT Wright:

“More broadly, one of the reasons, I think, why Wright prefers the Christus Victor theme, elevating it to controlling status, lies in his narrow reading of the Old Testament story. If his understanding of sin included not only sustained reflection on the nature of the structures of evil but on the nature of idolatry (a major Old Testament theme) and how offensive such idolatry is to God, and how central the theme of the wrath of God is to the plot line itself, then it might be clearer how central the penal emphases of the atonement are among New Testament writers. At the end of the day, the central notion of sin in Wright’s thought is that it is somehow anarchic rebellion against shalom, and the triumph at the end is the restoration of shalom. What is lost is the intensely personal dimension of sin: it is rebellion against God, and he is regularly portrayed as the most offended party (cf. Ps 51!). One does not want to ignore the corporate, not to say cosmic, dimensions of sin; certainly one must not downplay the controlling importance of the goal of a new heaven and a new earth. But to lose the profound sense in which sin is personally against God is to lose something important in the storyline itself. Ironically, it is to trivialize sin (although this is certainly not Wright’s intent); ultimately, it is to misunderstand the cross.

To put the matter another way: When the biblical writers say that Christ’s death saves us, from what does it save us? We could say it saves us from death, from the consequences of our sin, from our lostness, but centrally it saves us from the wrath to come. Death, the consequences of our sin, and lostness are nothing other than preliminary manifestations of the wrath of God. It is of course true that the Bible depicts God as working to rescue his people from sin. Yet it is no less true that the most central consequence of sin from which they must be rescued is the wrath of God: it is impossible to read the Old Testament narrative without tripping over this theme in countless chapters. This dynamic tension lies at the heart of what the New Testament writers insist that the cross achieves, and Wright misses it almost entirely.”

His narrow reading of the Old Testament story.  Deliciously on the money.  Read the whole thing here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve permalink
    April 25, 2007 1:39 am

    I re-read the end of Dr. Carson’s response, and without having read the book (and I doubt I will unless I run out of things to do this summer and stop by the UTS library – I’m sure I know what much of it will be like), I think several of his criticisms (i.e., the reductionistic sort) would work themselves out when considering Wright’s larger works. In a good number of the mp3s of his that I have, the first thing he says is a disclaimer that (unfortunately) he’s not able to say everything all the time, and just because he doesn’t say it doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe it. That said, global missions absolutely belongs in that context of the call of the Church. He obviously affirms that need (and helpfully!) elsewhere, but it always seems secondary to – as Carson says – political charges and a call to “a way of being human” (again – as Carson says – one does want to “agree with some of his ethical and political announcements,” and I find them necessary as correctives of a “get as many people to heaven as I can” mission, but this is a clear case of Moo’s foregroundbackground criticism).

    I don’t know if he has too much of an emphasis on history and/or too much/narrow of an OT narrative emphasis, but I think other spheres of Wright’s 3rd Quest for Jesus, and how Jesus may’ve thought of Himself lead to the “Jesus dying between two others means He identifies Himself with revolutionaries and a failing cause” and “Custer died for your sins” bits. His treatment of the synoptics (particularly Luke) and “Jesus as filling YHWH’s vocation” themes has been a great blessing to me, theologically and devotionally; but I’m afraid he stops short at times of affirming enough, and lets the icing be the cake.

  2. egana permalink
    April 26, 2007 10:21 am

    “but I’m afraid he stops short at times of affirming enough, and lets the icing be the cake.”

    Think about that, for a minute! Our God is so amazingly hugely awesomely delicious and live-giving and soul satisfying that we can lick all the icing off the cake and still come away fed. What a God!

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