Why N.T. Wright Points me to Reformed Theology

N.T. Wright is both a household name in theological discourse and a bogey man for certain Protestants.  His contributions to Pauline scholarship and the New Perspective on Paul has earned him a following in multiple denominations and theological traditions.  He has also been a target with darts thrown his way.

While I am firmly committed to forensic justification, the imputation or Christ’s active obedience, faith as the ‘sole’ instrument, etc., I am also thankful for N.T. Wright’s work.  Sure, I can give the whole, “I take the good from N.T. Wright but leave the rest with him” speech, but such is too common place and simplistic.  I am thankful for N.T. Wright because the best of N.T. Wright is simply a recapitulation of the best of the Reformed tradition.

If we are honest about Wright’s scholarship, the best of his work is not his views on justification (his proponents tend to cite Wright’s rebuttal of Luther’s doctrine and not Wright’s own doctrine).  His best stuff is on the already-but-not-yet inbreaking kingdom of God, the true humanity of Jesus, covenant as a unifying theme of Scripture, and the storyline of creation-fall-redemption-consummation (add in one or two more acts if you’d like).

Yet, these best features are things which I find in the Reformed tradition before Wright ever came along.  Herman Ridderbos on the kingdom is just as good as Wright, and Wright doesn’t say anything significant on the kingdom that Ridderbos hasn’t said already.

The humanity of Jesus, where Jesus himself is ‘growing in stature and wisdom’ and realizing the implications of his Messianic identity and his fulfillment of the Scriptures as to how God becomes King is reflective of how the Puritans viewed Christology.  Interestingly, while many conservative Reformed folk (such as Rachel Miller) see this as a weakness in Wright’s theology, Joel Beeke and Mark Jones have shown that the Puritans had similar views on the humanity of Jesus.

The theme of covenant is one that the Reformed tradition has clinched to since the rise of federalism in the late 16th century.  Indeed, the theme of covenant was the fountainhead for later developments in redemptive-historical theology and biblical theology that the Dutch Reformed tradition would expound on through Herman Bavinck and Geerhardus Vos.  The storyline of Scripture, where salvation is recreation (to borrow Bavinck’s phrase) is found in Dutch theologians well before Wright came along.

I write this not to say that Wright is unoriginal (though sometimes he thinks he is more original than he really is).  I love reading Wright and he is my companion on a number of issues.  However, the best that Wright has to offer is found in some form in my own tradition.  Thus, I proudly carry The Resurrection of the Son of God with Calvin’s Institutes any day of the week.


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