N.T. Wright’s Epistemology

Bob LaRocca details the critical realism found in the first few chapters of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God. Christ the Center has spoken about Wright’s doctrine of justification with Guy Waters. Part 1 and Part 2 are available.


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24 Responses

  1. Listening to the 34-36 minute part it sounds like ya’ll endorse N.T. Wright… is this true including NPP views (I don’t think so based on the shows with Guy Waters?

    Given his views on NPP why endorse him at all (honest question)?

  2. Jared

    Pointing out one aspect of Wright where he may be biblical does not mean we endorse every other aspect. We do not endorse Wright’s views on justification and his so-called New Perspective on Paul, but that also doesn’t mean that we need to reject every statement he makes. Part of what the Reformed Media Review seeks to do is engage those views with which we may disagree and see where both the merits and the problems are. Thanks for the call for clarity though, that’s definitely important!

  3. Jonathan


    I believe all of us (Bob, Jared, and I) agree with you to a certain extent. We were trying to be as gracious as possible, and believe me, that was as gracious it gets. Does N.T. have serious problems with Justification? Yes, and Amen! The lack of imputation is in my estimation a lack of a proper understanding of pneumatology. We tried not to slander him nor give a straw man approach given that are usual audience for this program includes many outside of the reformed camp.

  4. I understand and I do believe yall (yes, I’m from Texas) were being gracious. Having read and reviews Wright myself, I do find much that I agree with but because of his serious errors on issues which I am convinced are central to the gospel of grace I can’t in good conscience recommend him to anyone.

    This is how I think about it. I agree with his views on the resurrection and believe they are right and good and would be edifying to any believer, but I fear that once someone becomes a fan of that stuff then they will want to read his other works (who wouldn’t?) and I am afraid they will become drawn to his understanding of Justification, NPP, ect… which I would hate to happen. So rather than recommend him at all I would recommend another person or resource on the resurrection that is overall orthodox. (I wouldn’t go this far on secondary issues but I believe Justification by Faith Alone is central).

    Thank yall for your response.

    soli Deo gloria!

  5. While Wright’s emphasis on union with Christ may be *somewhat* helpful, to paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi “Wright Gives Union a Bad Name.” In my estimation, Wright’s union without imputation is what leaves a bad taste in the mouth of logical priority guys and forensicists. Many of this persuasion reject union because they see it as a mysterious, spooky thing. But that’s Wright’s union – not Calvin’s and not Gaffin’s.

  6. Jonathan


    Great input. I think I should of done a stronger and bolder job of reiterating the fact that NT is problematic if taken as a whole. I believe the problem with students reading him is, as you said, they begin to agree with his whole system, which includes serious problems. I also hate the fact that people do not recognize that Vos, Ridderbos, Gaffin, and Kline are light years ahead of where NT only barely arrives at in shadowy form.

  7. Patrick

    Don’t forget that N.T. Wright is by no means a scholar in philosophy or epistemology. I think he has a tenancy to speak on diverse topics (in this case, epistemology and the history of philosophy) as if he had the same competence in it as he does in New Testament studies. To attempt to speak on “Wright’s epistemology” is about as awkward a stretch as trying to speak on “Wright’s exegesis of Calvin,” although you guys made a solid effort in my opinion.

    1. Patrick,

      Thanks for the encouragement. Does Wright not spend several chapters laying out critical realism? I suppose I fail to see how it’s that much of a stretch. It’s not an extended philosophical treatment. But it’s still an epistemology.

      1. Patrick


        Right, I suppose the analogy implies Wright doesn’t have an epistemology, given that he doesn’t have an exegesis of Calvin! Not what I mean, though. Certainly he has an epistemology and says things relevant to human knowledge broadly considered. My point is simply that Wright’s background in epistemology, and philosophy beyond extremely broad brush-strokes of “modernism” verses “postmodern,” is limited, probably not enough to fill a wiki article as far as his published works indicate, including Surprised by Hope.

        (And, though this would require actual argument, the movement of critical realism [and post-foundationalist theology] in theology is, as far as I’ve seen, an increasingly cloistered project, selectively historical and not significantly interactive with developments in the rest of philosophy or logic since Wittgenstein, except maybe J.L. Austin, or the history and philosophy of science since Kuhn–and their interactions with other thinkers outside of critical realism is often quite sloppy, not familiar with the work of actual scholars in those areas. All that is up for debate, though, and maybe not worth saying.)

  8. Benj

    Bob, you crack me up with your pronunciation of “via media” and “principiam.” That made my day. Great podcast, boys. I’m a big NTW fan, and I thought your comments were very fair and quite helpful for someone w/o a philosophy bg. Y’all rocketh.

    1. Bob


      Did I pronounce it incorrectly? I forget if v’s are still pronouced as english w’s in the scholastic setting.


  9. G. Kyle Essary

    Good podcast. I enjoyed the discussion…I do want to bring up one quote:

    “Scholarly recognition of Wright is sort of side barred to other authors such as Gaffin”

    You sure about that? I’m pretty sure that most scholars aren’t reading Gaffin (they should), but it currently ain’t happening. Wright gets read and critiqued by just about everyone in the scholarly guild whether they support him or not.

  10. G. Kyle Essary

    Okay, I think I get what you’re saying now. At WTS, many first year students will come in enamored by Wright, but then after studying Vos, Ridderbos, etc. Wright gets side barred in the scholarly discussion at WTS. Not that Gaffin is more respected in scholarly circles, but specifically at WTS.

  11. Jonathan

    G. Kyle,
    Your right… “at WTS”. That was the point I was trying to get across. I just hope it came across that way.

  12. Jeremy

    The first time I read through the opening chapters of “The New Testament and the People of God” I was astounded. It was the perfect book for me in that it helped put the Bible in perspective philosophically and historically like nothing I have ever seen. I highly recommend it. There is a website, Open Source Theology, that outlines all three of Wright’s volumes in “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” It’s around 75 pages of outlining, so it is quite thorough. I think the conversation could have been benefited if someone pointed out that Wright thinks along the lines of Alister McGrath’s critical realism where Christianity, because it cannot be “proven,” is chosen as a worldview because it has the greatest probability of occurring. All worldviews rely on some measure of faith. Gordon Clark, the most stringent presuppositionalist there will ever be even pointed this out. Logic and reason will dismantle every other worldview so that Christianity is the only one remaining, but after that it is the Holy Spirit who convinces us of the truth of Christianity.

    The accusation that N.T. Wright publishes with Fortress and if he said that the Bible as infallible was his foundation and presupposition he would be laughed out of England is a quite a statement. At first I thought it was totally unfair for a person who is far more conservative than not. Yet D.A. Carson asked Wright to write a chapter in “Scripture, Hermeneutics, And Authority” and Wright responded that he could not because “inerrancy is that stupid American doctrine” and writing for that volume would slow down his chances to move up in teaching prominence and Oxford.

    1. Jonathan

      Wow Jeremy, is that statement a true quotation? If so, could you reference that? I believe a lot of us would be interested to see that in print. Thanks.

      1. G. Kyle Essary

        I’d be surprised to read that as well. Any documentation on it? I’d really be surprised, because his argument in “The Last Word” is for a very strong understanding of authority (short of inerrancy, but strong nonetheless). Furthermore, since many in his crowd are inerrantists, I’d be surprised that he would say something like that.

      2. Jeremy

        You can find the “quotation” on iTunes/iTunesU/RTS Virtual/D.A. Carson’s first lecture on the New Perspective on Paul when describing his friendship/thoughts on Tom Wright

    2. Gordan Clark being a strict presuppopistionalist? I’m sure Van Til would totally agree with that one and there were no debates between the two about apoligetics 😉

  13. Chris E

    A quick couple of comments:

    I thought you did a very good job of accurately rendering Wright’s arguments even as you disagreed with him.

    Regarding his posture that eschatology is about more than ‘going to heaven when you die’ and how he often seems to float that as something of a rediscovery – I think in part this reflects the fact that he speaks to evangelicals – specifically English evangelicals – who don’t have much (any) reformed heritage.

  14. Pingback : Thoughts on Critical Realism, theology and the autonomous man « Just Thinking

  15. Jeremy

    I am a late arriver to this podcast regarding Wright’s epistemology. However, I listened to the entire cast as you guys patted Tom on his back at first, then sort of degraded him to “a nice man,” snickered while saying mostly “first year seminary students like him until…”and built up to this climax of giving us a solution to “the problem” which turned out to be rather anti-climactic. So the question for me is what is the solution to the problem? I enjoy Van til’s work but I am not sure that he arrived at a solution that is any better than Wrightian hermeneutics and epistemology; especially from a philosophical point. What I wonder is this, if some of the reformed seminary students are left more with philosophy than pracitcal Christianity. Indeed the message of Wright and I believe scripture is telling the “right” story or metanarrative. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus commissioned us to do, “Go into all the world and preach the metanarratve/story…oops I meant gospel/good news?” Jesus believed that by spreading that metanarrative it would go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit and change lives for the glory of God. I know that seems strange on all philosophical levels but “oh well.” So instead of figuring out the philosophical answer which doesn’t exist (thank you Van til) let’s just respond like little children and obey the simple commission.

    Now with that said, of course Wright’s historical/philosophical approach is flawed but the central message of his teachings is empowering, inspirational and true. I believe he is trying to come up with ways to get the church focused and fired up to serve in God’s kingdom. Yet as always most of the church, scholars and pastors especially, will sit idly by criticising, critiquing, and talking theology instead of putting the hands to the plow to hasten the second coming of Christ.

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