Michael F. Bird has stolen the twisting knife and transformed it into a feather. Bombshells have become cotton candy and grenades explode flower petals. I feel the love at last.
Some background: D.A. Carson and N.T. Wright have lobbed donnish salvos across the Great Pond. Carson, a New Testament professor at Trinity Evangelical Seminary and a lion of the ever-vigilant Neo-Reformed Movement, sniped at Wright when reviewing The Future of Justification by John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), which questioned Wright’s interpretation of the Apostle Paul: “John Piper will not allow believers to put their trust in anyone or anything other than the crucified and resurrected Savior.” Wright, a British Anglican cleric and scholar, took umbrage in his weighty reply, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2009): “The implicit charge that the Pauline theology I have articulated might lead people to put their trust in ‘anyone or anything other than the crucified and resurrected Savior’ … is seriously misleading.”
Incidentally, sometimes one person is right and the other is wrong – and Wright is right in this instance. Critics scold him for whittling the great Pauline doctrine of “justification by faith.” He doesn’t, which should be clear. He and other so-called “New Perspective” writers explore the whole of Paul’s thought within its first-century Jewish context. “Justification” is left in tact but is now seen within a broader and richer understanding of the apostle and his world. We can quibble with Wright, of course. He argues that Reformation theologians were wrong to use the term, “imputed righteousness,” but also says the underlying thought beneath the phrase is true. What’s the dif? And he may etch too firm a border between first-century Greek and Jewish thinking: The Book of Hebrews, not written by Paul but of his school, betrays possible Hellenism.
But that’s friendly observation. It doesn’t come close to hinting heresy. Carson crossed the line and then some.
Perhaps Carson’s mischaracterization should come as no surprise. He seriously misunderstood and misrepresented the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in his contribution to Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church (Chicago: Moody, 1992, edited by Michael Horton). Straw men were mowed down and the Vineyard’s reputation was unnecessarily tarnished. Wayne Grudem, his Trinity colleague at the time, illuminated his factual errors and dismantled his arguments (see here) … I admit it: I betray my prejudice. This is personal. I’ve learned much from the Vineyard and I still remember that sinking feeling – that gnawing sense of betrayal – while reading a respected scholar’s pan. My inner journalist cried out: “Get your facts right – especially when reviewing a movement that has helped so many.”
But here’s the point, the golden nugget, the gem – maybe even the sweet revenge: Whatever their flaws, both academics are good. I often refer to Carson’s commentary on Matthew and I have nothing but praise for a Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by him and G.K. Beale, one of my New Testament professors who took me under his wing despite our disagreements (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007). It weighs fourteen tons. And I can’t get enough of Wright.
That’s where Bird comes in. The Australian scholar lumps them together as two of his favorite authors. Sa-weet: The knife becomes the feather and the bombs become candy and the grenades spring petals. Take that, oh sages (especially you heretic hunting Neo-Reformers!) You’re on the same side! Realize it! Grasp it! It’s a good thing!
Savor the video: