Jeffrey Meyers – Defense of What Saint Paul Really Said

The WCF and the bi-polar Cov of Works/Grace scheme needs to be subjected to some careful scrutiny by men who do not worship at the idol of Westminster. Maybe Wright is just the one to do that, not being a part of our tradition.

– Jeffrey Meyers 2002

Continuing my series examining  Federal Vision pastor Jeff Meyers’ “full corpus,” here is what Meyers said about N.T. Wright to the committee:

About 12 years ago I read his What Saint Paul Really Said (Eerdmans, 1997), but I never embraced his core argument in that book. I think his work on many New Testament texts is interesting and insightful, but his overall teaching on justification I remember having serious flaws.

Below is how Meyers presented his view of Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said on the Wrightsaid group.  See if you can find where Meyers expresses concern about  “serious flaws” in Wright’s teaching on justification.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Message # 35
From: Jeffrey Meyers
Date: Mon Aug 12, 2002 8:29 pm
Subject: RUF Critique #1

Men,

Here’s just a few words in response to the bullets offered by the anonymous author of the “CRITIQUE OF N. T. WRIGHT’S What Saint Paul Really Said” that was posted to the list.

INTRODUCTION
* N. T .Wright is an Anglican, the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (Staffordshire,  England), and taught/teaches at Oxford. Wright is toward the right in the critical “British Evangelical” tradition (very similar to Dunn). (A British Evangelical is one who believes Jesus rose from the dead, but everything else is up for grabs.)

This is an extremely prejudicial way of putting things. This gives the impression that NTW might believe and confess that everything besides the resurrection NTW is up for grabs. Anyone who’s read a little of NTW knows that this is not the case. I challenge anyone to find a denial of any orthodox doctrine in NTW. He is far from being a muddle-headed English Evangelical.

* Compared to critical scholarship, Wright has many conservative conclusions  and several very idiosyncratic conclusions. He is convinced Paul has a coherent theology and is annoyed with critical scholars who do not want to discuss the big issues (Saint Paul, 21). Also, as opposed to many critics, Wright believes that Paul’s theology has relevance for today (Saint Paul,  21-22).

Well, no kidding. But why select these relatively innocuous “conclusions.” NTW has a lot more meat to offer than just these two.

* Wright has generally conservative conclusions (not method) concerning the  historicity ofX. See his Jesus and the Victory ofGod (1996). He is also well-known for being against the Jesus Seminar’s liberal  historical-conclusions.

I wasn’t aware that there was a “conservative method” of scholarly inquiry into the historicity of Christ. And once again this statement is unnecessarily pejorative. NTW is not only against the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar, but PRIMARILY against their sloppy historical methodology.

This statement makes it appear that Wright adopts a non-conservative historical methodology (whatever that might be) but happens to come to “generally conservative conclusions.”  Has the author of these comments even read NTPG?

* Wright’s previous main Paul book is The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (1991). This is a collection of exegetical essays of which it is hard to grasp Wright’s overall big-picture Pauline theology-

Well, not exactly. If the author of this handout is reviewing WSPRS (1997), then NTW’s “previous main book[s]” are _Jesus and the Victory of God_ (1996) and _The New Testament and the People of God_ (1992). But what does one mean by “main book”? This also neglects to mention that NTW has a number of sermonic, devotional books which have received very nice reviews in the WTS, like _The Crown and the Fire_ (1992) and _Following Jesus _ (1994).

* What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder ofChristianity? (1999) is Wright’s attempt to coherently put together his Pauline theology emphasizing the phrase “Righteousness of God” and ‘justification.” It is done in a semi-popular manner (few footnotes). He currently working on more of a full-blown Paul book.

* As Wright explains in the preface, the subtitle only relates to his last  chapter (8). It interacts w/ A. N. Wilson and concludes “no.”

Which is good.

* A great review of this book and Dunn’ s The Theology of Paul the Apostle is  by Gaffin (“Paul the Theologian,” WT J 62 [2000] 121-41 ).  Wright’s Historical/Theological Starting Points

It’s not that great. It’s a bit too crabby and doesn’t take the time to try to understand NTW’s own method and theology.

* Paul did not write the Pastorals but did write Col and probably Eph.  Wright’s views are based on only Rom, 1-2 Cor, Gal, & Phil (8).

This is a misrepresentation that has already been addressed on the list. It is simply wrong.

* Wright and Wright’s Paul do not distinguish between OT Judaism and the Judaism of the “Second Temple period.” Wright also has a high degree of certainty of what can be known about Second Temple Judaism.

I’m not sure where this second sentence comes from, but the first is silly.

Of course he distinguishes between true OT religion and the religion of STJ. Otherwise, what was Jesus attacking in the Gospels? What NTW is intent on doing is getting at an accurate description of the Judaism of Jesus’ and Paul’s day, one that does not read late Medieval Catholicism back into the Rabbis (or worse, identify Judaism with the Reformation’s perception of late Medieval Catholicism).

* Wright is firmly in the E.P. Sander’s (former colleague at Oxford) camp as to the theology of the Second Temple period.

How can anyone who has done any kind of reading in this area say this.

NTW’s appropriation of Sanders is sic et non. He spends a great deal of time criticizing Sanders and trying to improve upon his formulations. Even in this book (pp. 18-20) NTW criticizes Sanders. To name just one example, Sander’s view of the nature of the eschatological outlook of the apostolic and post-apostolic church is one he adopted from Schweitzer, which NTW rejects. His other books, esp. NTPG and JVG deal extensively with the way he differs from Sanders. The statement made above seems like a political one–identify him with Sanders to frighten people off.

* “Judaism ofPaul’s day was not, as has been regularly supposed, a religion of legalistic works- righteousness. …”The Jew keeps the law out of gratitude,  as a proper response to grace-not, in other words, in order to get into the  covenant people, but to stay in. …I do not myself believe such a refutation [ of Sanders] can or will be offered; serious modifications are required but I  regard his basic point as established” (18-20, italics his).

Well, this is okay as far as it goes. But not the whole story about Judaism.

* Primarily, Saint Paul is a polemic against the Reformed and/or generic Evangelical view of J and the “Gospel.”

Is it? If it is, why doesn’t NTW say so. That’s not his concern. His concern is to correct the way that everyone–Protestants and Catholics as well as conservatives and liberals–have read Paul. It is an attempt to do exactly what we as Reformed (= “reformed according to the Word,” remember) profess to be all about: continually subjecting our traditional formulations and theological propositions to the plumbline of the Scriptures. If we think that we are above the need for reformation, then we are no longer a Reformed church.

* Wright points out umpteen times that Saul was not “proto-Pelagian” ( e.g., 32). ????: he never mentions semi-Pelagian.

So. He’s not dealing with this controversy.

* Saul (pre-Xn Paul) was a very strict Sharnrnite Pharisee who was politically motivated and wanted to get rid of by force the Romans and the J ewish groups who were not pure enough (26- 29). He saw Israel as still in exile. Paul expanded on this Saul political idea. X’s death is the fmalization of the exile covenant-curse upon X, the representative Israelite. Now, X is the king.  Israel is brought back from exile and is/will be vindicated. the Gentiles can now come to the Israelite King (35-37, 51, 84, 106,117,126,138).

* Wright is on very thin ice as to Paul’s Shammite Pharisee political background. Here is one major place that Sanders and Wright disagree.

One place? There are many others.

There is no extant document that says this; Wright infers it. The Mishnah (200 AD), which is the earliest extant Pharisa~c theological writing, does not have this view. Wright argues that Sanders did not realize that the views in the Mishnah had been sanitized by later non-political Hillelite Pharisees (32).

Well, of course he infers it. That’s the nature of historical research.

Read NTPG! Two can play this game. There’s no extant document that says that the first century Jews were trying to merit God’s favor through their works.

* Paul’s views are Jewish in their “derivation,” and not Hellenistic (78-79).> Paul had a “Jewish message for a pagan world” (82, italics his). Hence, Wright is anti-“history-of-religions” view of Paul. ????: Wright has many good insights here.

Why all the question marks at the end of the second sentence. This is good, isn’t it? What’s the problem?

* R of G is a very important concept in Paul and directly related to the Gospel and J ( 114-15).

* Wright is anti-“apocalyptic Paul”as in Beker and Martyn (152), although he spends virtually no time on this subject.

Is this bad? Of course not. Read page 152 where NTW deals with this. He is saying that Paul’s message is rooted in the OT and that Jesus words and works did not effect a clean break with the past (as in apocalyptic construals). What? Does NTW have to use our peculiar lingo (“redemptive historical”) for us to know what he is talking about?

Miscellaneous Issues

* Wright has a good chapter concluding that Paul believes in a Triune God and  that this is consistent w/ I AD Jewish monotheism. Paul claims for Jesus the title ofYHWH (63-72). ????: best chapter in the book.

Fine, but what’s the four question marks about?

* ???? minor complaint: Wright does not ask if Paul’s Triune view is  consistent w/ the OT. Only that based on various Second Temple Jewish texts,  “many Jews were very flexible about how they spoke of this one true God” (64).

Very minor. This is not a textbook on the Trinity or theology proper.

* In Jesus and the Victory ofGod (451), Wright implies that X’s  self-consciousness about His divinity was not complete.

Not complete? When? Ever? This is very common misunderstanding of NTW’s position on the development of Jesus consciousness as Messiah and God.

* Wright has some good thoughts on how Paul’ s view of God the Creator affected his proclamation to the Gentiles. Jewish monotheism of one creator  meant that the Jewish message was given to the pagan world that was created by  the one God (83, 86-87).

* Wright sees Covenant as the main category ofPaul. Forensic J and R of G terms along w/ eschatology need to be understood in the context of Covenant  (96-99, 131). Of course, this is not the Covenant ideas ofRT, nor the OT, but  of Second Temple (117).

The “main category” of Paul? Does NTW use that language? That Wright’s concept of the covenant is not that of the WCF is pretty clear. Whether this is a bad remains to be seen. The WCF and the bi-polar Cov of Works/Grace scheme needs to be subjected to some careful scrutiny by men who do not worship at the idol of Westminster. Maybe Wright is just the one to do that, not being a part of our tradition.

* Wright has a definition of the “Gospel” that is constantly contrasted to RT and generic Evangelicals. The Gospel is “a narrative proclamation of King Jesus’ victory. …”Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord. …[It is the announcement of] the return of Israel from exile. ..and God’s victory over all the world” (43-46). “‘The gospel’ itself is neither a system of thought, nor a set of’techniques for making people Xns; it is the personal announcement of the person ofJesus” (151).

Exactly. Read the NT.

* The Gospel is not “a description of how people get saved; of the theological mechanism whereby, in some people’s language, X takes our sin and we his righteousness; in other people’s language, Jesus becomes my personal saviour;  in other languages again, I admit my sin, believe that he died for me and commit my life to him” (41).

I suppose this quote is supposed to be damning. Actually it is quite in line with every “Gospel” sermon recorded in the book of Acts.

* Wright emphasizes that the Gospel is a “proclamation” by a herald of the  King Jesus for people to bow to the King. This Gospel message “results in people being saved” (Wright never says how).

Oh, come on. He does say how. Read p. 129.

It is not begging people to accept Jesus or explaining a gospel plan (45). Wright here seems to be arguing against generic Evangelicals, who have a low view of the power of the preached Word.

* ????: Wright’s “gospel” concerns the R-H events of X emphasizing his Lordship (not his being savior) and does not include ordo salutis or, apparently, personal salvation is general (40-41).

I’m looking hard, but not seeing how Wright emphasizes that Jesus is Lord and not Savior. It is precisely as Lord that he has saved his people. As Lord he has served us self-sacrificially, fulfilled the covenant, and become savior.

Wright never even relates “faith” to “gospel.” (For Wright, “faith” relates to J which has “nothing” to do w/ entering the covenant community [151].)

Righteousness of God

Never even? Please.

“Within this context ‘justification’ . . . Means that those who believe in Jesus Christ are declared to be members of the true covenant family; which of course means that their sins are forgiven, since that was the purpose of the covenant. They are given the status of being ‘righteous’ in the metaphorical law court.” (p. 129).

So what’s the problem?

That’s all for now. I’ve gotta get some rest!

JM

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6 Comments on “Jeffrey Meyers – Defense of What Saint Paul Really Said”


  1. Keep it up Sean. The best way to expose these men is to use their own words against them.

  2. Hugh McCann Says:

    Having taught for a year in a quite Anglo-Catholic Seminary, I can say that Bishop Wright is a fave of ‘evangelicals’ in Anglo-Episcopalianism.

    I met the Rt Rev Wright prior to his ascension to the Durham bishopric: once in the U.S. when he was doing the road show with Marcus Borg, and once at Westminster Abbey when he was Canon there. {It’s all too easy to get caught up in the history, architecture, pageantry, etc.)

    Very gracious man, though not keen on being called an Evangelical. To his credit, he did argue against Borg’s silly arguments against the resurrection. Of course that’s not the issue here, but we hope he’ll get more light and see the Lux recovered in the Reformation.

    Of Meyers: ‘do not worship at the idol of Westminster.’ This is wierd, given his ordination.

    Also: ‘Maybe Wright is just the one to do that, not being a part of our tradition.’ And maybe J.M.’d be happier as an Anglican.

  3. Wes Reynolds Says:

    “… I never embraced his core argument in that book … his overall teaching on justification I remember having serious flaws.”

    “I challenge anyone to find a denial of any orthodox doctrine in NTW.”

    I don’t see, on the surface of it, how in the world these two statements can be reconciled. If he told MO Presbytery that NTW’s teaching had serious flaws, does that mean that they’re bad, but not unorthodox? And if so, what does that mean?

  4. Sean Gerety Says:

    They can’t be reconciled, but that doesn’t matter. According to MOP:

    In examining the material referenced by the LOC, the committee noted that some of the sources were dated before the MOP Report on Federal Vision Theology.

    To the MOP this is all dated material and hence irrelevant. They claim Meyers has since “refined” his views. He’s a new man since the MOP Report on the FV. Ironically when that report came out I naively wrote Meyers not knowing who he was complaining that the MOP report completely missed the theological boat and would do absolutely nothing to remove even one FV man from the PCA. It took me a while to take my foot out of my mouth when I finally learned who Meyers was and continues to be.

    Evidently the men of the MOP (a pun here would be too easy) have long since forgotten Meyers’ piece on the 30 reasons *not* to adopt the PCA’s FV/NPP report or how hard he personally lobbied against it. Oh, yeah, that was in 2007 and the MOP FV report which proves Meyers fidelity to the truth of the Gospel was in 2006, therefore anything he wrote in 2007 cannot be used against him. After all, in their conclusion the Meyers Investigative Committee said:

    Moreover, the congregation of which God has made him an overseer continues to contribute greatly to the theological and spiritual health of the Presbytery and the work of God’s Kingdom among us. The committee considers this to be significant fruit, and evidence in TE Meyers of 1) a lively faith in God, who sovereignly determines to save his people, 2) a deep confidence in the power of the gospel of grace in the lives of sinners, and 3) a true love for God’s people and a willingness to serve them sacrificially-¬all of which reflect commitments to truths at the very core of our doctrinal system.

    The blind leading the blind.

  5. bsuden Says:

    “The blind leading the blind”

    No, I think “willfully blind” would be better.
    Sadly.

  6. Max Says:

    N.T. Wright successfully argued for the first century Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, who fulfilled all prophecy. He did so as Marcus Borg sought to render a very modern, Englightenment-based conception of Jesus.

    Additionally, Wright highlights all that is meant by new creation in Christ. He is a superb theologian and author of the highest calibre!


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