Free Excerpt from the book: Indeed, Has Paul Really Said?

Indeed, Has Paul Really Said?
Appendix, Part 5 (excerpt)

9781935358022_frontcovThough this section is the last in the series, it is a response to Wright’s first critique of my original manuscript. I have chosen to save this matter for the conclusion of the appendix in view of its more sensitive nature. I say “sensitive” because it is my conviction that much of modern Christendom has entered into the dangerous realm of hero-worship, especially when it comes to their favorite Christian personalities. This issue has become so endemic within the Christian culture that very few perceive its influence. Let me qualify this point before proceeding, and before the reader assumes too much by what is being said in this section: we can thank God for those humble servants whose writings and examples of life are worthy of our time and imitation, however, such servants must never become the objects of our adoration or devotion. Even the Apostle Paul had the restraint and wisdom to offer an equitable rebuke to a church that was being corrupted by a similar problem:

1 Corinthians 1:12-13: 12. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” 13. Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

We must note that Paul had the humility to include himself in this list of names. We can thank God for such humility! Paul didn’t succumb to the temptation of ignoring those who were showing deference to him above others; instead he rebuked all those who had reduced their Christianity to a personal following which divided Christ and His body. It takes a mature man to refute a personal following, but this was the man who had become an Apostle and bond-servant of Jesus Christ. Men who, in the modern day, suffer from such a personal following would do well to imitate this humble leader of the 1st century church. As an introduction to this final section, I must first mention that the modern church has become similarly Corinthianized, and this is a problem that carries with it profound implications. Throughout my years in pastoral ministry I have found that when speaking to others about doctrine, it is not uncommon to find a peculiar sensitivity among those who are highly devoted to a particular Christian leader. The modern Christian culture, replete with its well advertised television, internet and radio markets, has created a potential minefield for the local church. Pastors discover this most when they present an interpretation of Scripture which conflicts with the interpretation of someone’s favorite Christian personality. When such contradictions arise, destructive and unnecessary conflicts can ensue. The solution to this problem is not to over-react by ignoring the best of what these leaders have to offer, however, one should exercise wisdom and caution when harvesting the most profitable elements of their teaching and example, remembering that they are fallible men. Ultimately, the church must embrace that Berean nobility which sends us back, not to human wisdom, but to the authority of God in the Scriptures. What I mention in this section is not rendered as a wholesale attack; instead it is an appeal to the very wisdom and discernment to which we are all called as Christians. As well, those who are viewed as being popular leaders in our day must be careful to exercise great caution when responding to controversies like NPP, or other dangerous doctrines like Federal Vision,[1] knowing that their commentary has the potential of leading others into greater discernment, or possibly greater error. All of this I mention at the outset because of who it is that Wright mentioned in his correspondence with me – John Piper. Wright mentioned that he had responded to Dr. Piper’s developing work: The Future of Justification. Wright’s response to Piper was given, as he said, at great length such that the final version of Piper’s book was “considerably modified” by what Wright said. Wright went on to say that there were still a good number of misunderstandings in Piper’s book, but that in the end – “it’s much better than it was!”[2] After these claims, Wright went on to mention another man whose views were transformed once Wright had the opportunity to sway him. Concerning Dr. Piper, only the Lord knows the full detail of Wright’s claims. The initial and final state of Piper’s manuscript, before and after Wright sought to improve it, cannot be known. However, Wright’s mention of Piper led me to read The Future of Justification. On the whole, The Future of Justification does a fair job of analyzing the details of Wright’s theology; however, I would contend that it fails to confront the implications of Wright’s errors. Additionally, his book is prefaced with commendations regarding Wright’s exemplary commitment to Scripture, the resurrection of Christ,[3] the Gospel, justification,[4] and rigorous scholarship.[5] Taking this list in reverse order, what I would affirm is that he (Wright) may be well studied in contemporary scholarship; however his secularized ideology has infected his devotion to everything else in the list. I have already addressed the question of Wright’s demonstrated view of Scripture in chapter four of this book, and would only add that a man’s professed devotion to anything is best evinced by his actions, rather than words, or as the Lord taught his disciples:

Matthew 7:20: “So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

Our Lord did not teach that we can know others by their words alone, instead, we see them best by means of their actual actions. Thus, I can profess to love evangelizing the lost all day long, but if I never tell others about the Savior then such words are revealed as a putrefying vapor. I am often reminded by others that Mr. Wright has in fact written a large work on the resurrection (740 pages). Perhaps it is on this basis that Piper affirmed Wright’s commitment to this key doctrine, I don’t know. But even the most cogent defense of the resurrection can be quickly gutted by a denial of the implications of such doctrine, and it is not uncommon to find our aforementioned problem of personality-adoration at the heart of succlip_image002[5]h a denial. As an illustration of this the reader should note that Mr. Wright has co-authored a book[6] with Marcus Borg, who serves as Professor of Religion at Oregon State University. Professor Borg denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in an interview with The Australian, Wright opined the following about his friend: 

“I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection,” he [Wright] says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg, co-author with Wright of The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. “But the view I take of them – and they know this – is that they are very, very muddled. They would probably return the compliment. Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. I actually think that’s a major problem and it affects most of whatever else he does, and I think that it means he has all sorts of flaws as a teacher, but I don’t want to say he isn’t a Christian.” [The Australian – Feature, April 13th 2006]

Notice that Wright charges Borg, not with outright error, but with being “very muddled” in his views. Now, if the Scriptures were not clear on this issue (the resurrection), then we would certainly have many muddled arguments over the matter, but the doctrine of the resurrection is one of the clearest and most central doctrines of Scripture:

Luke 24:36-39: 36. While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” 37. But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. 38. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39. “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

John 2:13-22: 13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Thy house will consume me.” 18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?” 19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

When it comes to establishing the reality of Christ’s bodily resurrection, Luke 24 and John 2 (among other texts) are unavoidably clear. As in the case of John 2:21, John used the Greek word – somatos > soma – “body,” which clearly identifies the reality of a physical, bodily resurrection. Thus Christ’s reference to “this temple” clearly meant His own body, such that what would be physically destroyed through death would also be physically raised again in resurrection life.[7] Not even a mountain of modern “scholarship” can hide the clarity of that statement! It seems difficult to believe that anyone would want to defend the profession of a man who denies what Jesus Himself said He would do by His own power and authority (John 10:17). The test of Christian discipleship is not determined by what we subjectively feel, think, or believe about others, but by that which Christ taught by His own authority: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”[8] Sadly, Borg’s habit of playing fast and loose with the words of Christ does not end with the resurrection:

“I have learned that the message of Jesus was not about requirements, was not about here is what you must do or believe in order to go to heaven. It was about entering into a relationship to God now in the present–I see in that–wisdom teacher and a social father. And for me as a Christian what Jesus was like as a figure of history is a powerful testimony to the reality of the sacred or the reality of God. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that one has to believe that Jesus really walked on water, or really multiplied loaves, and so forth. And I think that a literalistic approach to scripture has in the minds of many Christians become a major obstacle. I think I would be willing to say that the teaching of Jesus makes profound religious sense to me, whether Jesus said it or not. I’ll simply say that I think given my understanding of Christianity there’s all the room in the world for disagreement about whether the resurrection of Jesus involved something happening to his corpse, things like that. I grew up in a tradition which stressed correct belief, and I now see it’s not about correct belief it all. It’s about, you know, being in relationship to that to which all this stuff points. I think the resurrection of Jesus really happened, but I have no idea if it involves anything happening to his corpse, and, therefore, I have no idea whether it involves an empty tomb, and for me, that doesn’t matter because the central meaning of the Easter experience or the resurrection of Jesus is that His followers continue to experience Him as a living reality, a living presence after His death. So I would have no problem whatsoever with archaeologists finding the corpse of Jesus. For me that would not be a discrediting of the Christian faith or the Christian tradition.”[9]

Despite Mr. Borg’s irreverent musings about the resurrection, the Apostle Paul settled the matter, once and for all, when he said:

1 Corinthians 15:17 “…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

With all of this we are reminded that what is at stake is the Gospel itself, and when men obfuscate the Gospel we must be careful to expose such obfuscation and refute it. Mr. Piper is free to have whatever opinion of Mr. Wright that he desires, but I must contend that a man who is willing to sideline the bodily resurrection of Christ, as a non-essential, should not be so freely affirmed as a lover of the Gospel.[10] By the evaluation of Holy Writ, I am of the conviction that Wright’s indirect affirmations of heresy, along with his outright denials of imputed righteousness, place him in the category of those who are content to love and preach another Gospel:

Galatians 1:6-10: 6. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7. which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! 9. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! 10. For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

Even Paul had to contend with this same issue of personality adoration amidst his defense of the Gospel, otherwise why would it be necessary for Paul to add: “…If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” For the defenders of the Gospel, no amount of popularity, scholarship, or personal friendship should ever stand in the way of our defense and proclamation of the Gospel. An uncompromising stand for the Gospel will always yield polarizing results, but we must leave such outcomes to the Lord Himself.[11] In view of this, I was surprised by Piper’s comments regarding Wright, both in his book and in public…  [For more information on this title, please go to]

[1] The focus of our study centers on N.T. Wright’s teaching on justification, and the surrounding layers of NPP theology overall. Federal Vision theology, as a separate discussion, also carries with it many unsettling teachings that undermine and distort the Gospel, not the least of which is the notion of covenantal election and decretive election. These troubling matters will not be addressed here any further, but are only mentioned as a matter of record.
[2] Bishop Tom Wright, December 2nd 2007 correspondence, RE: “What Saint Paul Really Said…”
[3] John Piper, The Future of Justification, (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL), p. 15.
[4] Ibid, p. 17.
[5] Ibid, p. 25.
[6] The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.
[7] Matthew 28:5-6: “……the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. 6 “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”
[8] John 8:31
[9] Rethinking Jesus, PBS Interview (March 28th, 1997),
[10] Piper, The Future of Justification, p. 17.
[11] 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.

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