N.T. Wright Interviews with Trevin Wax

Posted on May 14, 2008


Trevin Wax has posted several entries on N.T. Wright, audio and transcript. Thanks Trevin, for your contribution to the theosphere.

Trevin Wax & N.T. Wright

Posted is the transcript of the interview with N.T. Wright on Surprised By Hope. Here are the questions Trevin asks:

You have described Surprised by Hope as the sequel to Simply Christian. Both of these books have titles that remind us of famous works by C.S. Lewis. Likewise, you have been described as the “C.S. Lewis of this generation.” What aspects of Lewis’ work do you fully ascribe to? And what aspects of his work would give you pause?

If you could change the entire eschatological outlook of your church setting in the twinkling of an eye, what changes in action would this bring about in local congregations?

Last week at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, KY, Pastor and author Mark Dever critiqued the idea you put forth in Surprised by Hope that “the gospel is public.” More specifically, he worried that your readers may confuse the societal implications of the gospel with the gospel itself. What do you mean by saying the ‘gospel is public,’ and do you see such concerns such as the one voiced by Dr. Dever as valid?

In Surprised by Hope, you make a clear distinction between the terminology of “building the kingdom of God” and “building for the kingdom of God.” Why is it so important that we maintain this distinction?

For all of the right focus on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, many evangelical Christians see the resurrection as some sort of ‘after-thought’ to what happened at Calvary. You have done much to correct this with works such as The Resurrection of the Son of God. But the ascension of Christ is perhaps even more neglected than his resurrection. The Western Church is preparing to celebrate the Ascension, an oft-neglected Christian holy day. Why is the Ascension so important and what would you recommend pastors do to increase the celebration of this monumental event?

How does hell fit into your understanding that God is going to renew the whole creation. Do you believe that hell is the eternal experience of God’s wrath? What does the language of the Bible regarding hell imply?

In Surprised by Hope, you speak about hell as a process of becoming less and less human. You affirm very clearly your belief that the just will be raised at the last day to inhabit God’s new world. What about the resurrection of the unjust? Will those who inhabit hell be embodied, even as they are bearing less and less the image of God that makes them human?

You teach that Christians will be judged by our actions, in accordance with Romans 2. You also say that justification is our assurance in the present of the declaration of righteousness from the future. Do our sinful actions in the present still matter? If so, wouldn’t the Catholic concept of purgatory be necessary?

Douglas Wilson has recently praised your new book, but he has also strongly criticized your proposals concerning the forgiving of third-world debts. He says: “The problem with N.T. Wright’s call for action is not that he is urging us to do something. The problem is that he is (in effect) urging us to take sides as Christians in a tangle and conflict created by and for unbelievers.” Have you read Wilson’s critique of your thoughts on this issue? Do you have any immediate reaction?

Last time we spoke, you had just received your copy of John Piper’s The Future of Justificationand had not had a chance to read it. What are your thoughts of the final version? Are you planning on responding to this book in any way?

A November 2007 audio edition of Wax’s first interview with Wright can be heard here. Full transcript here. Here are the questions asked in this interview:

Could you give us a brief definition of “the gospel”?

If the “gospel” itself then is the declaration of Christ’s lordship, where does the doctrine of justification come into play?

You have said in many of your books that justification is not how one becomes a Christian but a declaration that one is a Christian. What language do you use to explain how one becomes a Christian?

Some evangelicals within the Reformed tradition have taken issue with your division of present and future justification and your statement that on the Last Day, we will be justified “on the basis of the whole life lived.” Does this mean that our good works contribute to our salvation? Or is it that our good works prove our salvation?

You mentioned earlier Hans Kung. How would you distinguish your views on justification from that of official Roman Catholic teaching?

How does the doctrine of sola Scriptura influence your work and your method?

You have criticized very strongly the arrogance of Enlightenment modernism, especially in Enlightenment thinkers’ hasty rejection of the supernatural, Jesus’ resurrection, etc. – an attitude that claims we have needed 1700 years for modern science to tell us that dead people stay dead and so on and so forth. Yet, you are advocating what’s called the “new” perspective on Paul’s theology, a recent innovation in the history of Christian thought. Could it be that, ironically, even as you critique the arrogant attitude of the Enlightenment, you have opened yourself up to the charge at least, that you are sort of embodying that same attitude by discounting years of Christian theology, in effect saying, “Now, finally, we are coming to what Paul or Jesus actually meant to say!”?

In your opinion, has scholarly criticism of the New Perspectives in America, such as Carson, Piper, Moo and others, have they been fair? Or have they misunderstood the New Perspective?

Since you are placing the doctrine of justification within a broader doctrine of the Church, perhaps you might have a response to someone who wrote me from India. He said, “How do you think Paul would have reacted to a church congregation that was exclusively for Jews or for Romans? In India, there are many churches based on caste system and community (because of language), and many Christian leaders in India are not willing to address this sensitive issue.” How do you think Paul would react to such churches?

You have been a firm defender of the doctrine of penal substitution as one of the important atonement motifs found in Scripture, especially in your comments regarding Isaiah 53. Yet, it is puzzling to many conservative evangelicals that you recommend a book by Steve Chalke that seems to deny penal substitution, while calling a book that upholds the doctrine, the book Pierced for our Transgressions “disturbingly unbiblical.”

N.T. Wright: Sub-biblical.

[[Editor’s Note: Though Wright sought to qualify my quotation of him in this interview, despite his protest, in “The Cross and the Caricatures,” Wright labels Pierced for our Transgressions both “hopelessly sub-biblical” and “disturbingly unbiblical.”]]

TW: Sub-biblical… I suppose the question I’m slowly getting around to is: how do you define the doctrine of penal substitution and what is its significance for the church today?

It is becoming increasingly clear in evangelicalism that we have often emphasized the cross as central to the gospel and then treated the resurrection as an afterthought, a vindication of Jesus only. Your massive work on the resurrection has begun to stir up much thought about how we can better integrate the truth of Christ’s bodily resurrection into our theology and into our practice. What is the significance of Christ’s resurrection for us today? I know you’ve got 800 pages right here…

You stress the Christian’s eschatological hope as the new heavens and new earth. You are also very strongly committed to issues relating to social justice as a way of anticipating in the present God’s restoration of the world in the future. Some of your works emphasize social justice and give scant or no attention to evangelism, church planting, discipling, etc. Where does evangelism fit into this task? And how important is it for Christians to actively evangelize unbelieving people?

So how would you share all of this with an individual in the evangelistic task, if an individual were to come up and to say, “What must I do to be saved?” “How can I become a part of this…”

You have been critical of the post-Enlightenment secularization of government and society. What is the proper relationship between a church or a faith and the government? What is the proper status of minority faiths in any given society?

One final question… How is your writing coming along? What is the next book in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series? When do you plan on seeing it hit shelves?

Posted in: Religion