Wright is the most recognized popularizer of what is now termed the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). This is a theological perspective which clearly finds its roots in such doctrinal liberals as Albert Schweitzer and Rudolph Bultmann. Its formation, however, is owed to the writings of two other entrenched liberals, E. P. Sanders and James Dunn. This alone should raise numerous red flags in the mind of any serious student of the Word, for the devil’s children are not likely to offer God’s people a framework for truth. Great caution is in order, yet many in evangelical circles are clearly embracing many facets, and often the entire theory, behind the NPP. It is not uncommon today to hear former evangelical pastors and professors claiming that we have had the gospel wrong for two thousand years and are now finally enlightened by the NPP. This capitulation on the part of many is due largely to N. T. Wright.
Wright’s influence lies in his claim (and that of others, such as Christianity Today) that he is an evangelical, even though he takes a higher critical view of Scripture, denies many cardinal doctrines and is a high-ranking bishop of the apostate Anglican Church. Under this guise as an evangelical, and because of his obvious powers of communication (he writes winsomely, convincingly and clearly). Wright has been able to significantly infiltrate the conservative camp with this deadly heresy.
Briefly, the NPP teaches that second-temple Judaism was not a religion of legalistic works-righteousness, as Paul claimed (Sanders, p. 18), or at least how Paul has been interpreted (Wright). The Jews kept the Law, not to get into the covenant, but to stay in (this is known as “covenantal nomism”) (p. 19). Torah keeping did not save, it was simply a badge (favorite word of adherents of the NPP) identifying those in the covenant. Paul did not denounce Judaism; his only critique was that it was not Christianity and, therefore, not enough (pp. 19-20).
The NPP is a complicated system with What Saint Paul Really Said being its clearest explanation and defense. Some of what Wright communicates is on target. Who would argue, for instance, with what the author claims to have been his thesis:
I have tried to show, throughout this book, how it was that the zeal of Saul of Tarsus was transformed into the zeal of Paul the apostle. I have argued that the basic shape of this zeal remained much the same: it was an energetic confrontation with paganism, and an equally energetic critique of compromised Judaism. The shape, however, was filled with new content, as Paul reworked the entire scheme around the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.
Still, as they say, the devil is in the details. Along the way Wright either redefines, undermines or rejects the following doctrines/orthodox understandings:
• The center of Paul’s theology (justification) (pp. 13, 113-114).
• The nature of second-temple Judaism (p. 16).
• The purpose of the Law (pp. 19-20).
• Paul himself (p. 32).
• The Pharisees (p. 32).
• Salvation (p. 32).
• The purpose of the covenant (p. 33).
• Justification (pp. 33-34, 117-119).
• Eschatology (p. 34).
• The gospel (pp. 40-44, 52-60, 129-131, 151-152).
• Biblical inerrancy (pp. 80-81).
• Purpose of faith (p. 94).
• God’s righteousness (p. 96).
• Imputation (pp. 98-102).
• The Christian’s righteousness (p. 107).
• Justification by faith alone (pp. 113-114, 116, 158-160, 163).
• Faith (pp. 120-125).
Obviously, this is a highly complicated and convoluted subject. For more on the NPP see our Think on These Things paper coming out in late 2006.