I must admit to being very disappointed by the reaction so far to my posting on Bishop Tom Wright’s understanding of the ‘order of salvation’ — or rather the lack of reaction.
First, I was hoping for some help in understanding precisely what is being put forward. I am far from sure I am understanding Wright correctly.
But secondly, the theology of salvation is surely far more important for the future of the Church of England generally and Evangelicalism in particular than who speaks at mini-NEAC. Yet when I look at the balance of comments, it seems the latter evokes far more interest (29 comments) than the former (2 comments).
Perhaps it would have ‘helped’ if I’d been more political — if, for example, I’d headlined the piece ‘Tom Wright is not an Evangelical!’. Then, maybe, it would have got the attention of the people who are worked up about NEAC.
Well, I didn’t (and don’t) want to go down that road.
But it is true that an Evangelical’s theology may not itself be Evangelical. And that is why I think this is so important. Tom Wright may be an Evangelical, but if (repeat, if) I’m right about the theology of salvation, the generations who follow this theology won’t be.
One of the features of religious life is the problem with passing on the vitality of one generation to the next. And one of the reasons for this is that theological errors take time to ‘mature’.
Rather like a rocket going off course, the first generation which deviates from the truth may hardly notice the effects. Several generations down the track, whole denominations may have gone off the rails, as I believe happened with the Quakers. George Fox’s small deviation was to believe he could speak ‘apostolically’ beyond the Bible. Nevertheless, for many years, the Quakers were exemplary in the way they lived the Christian life and rigorously applied the Bible. Today, however, Quakerism is a haven for people who find ‘doctrine’ itself an anathema, which is a shame.
It may be perfectly true, then, to say that someone is themselves an Evangelical, but that their theology, at least in some respects, is not. And if that person is an influential teacher or speaker, then the results for later generations may be very serious. (To take an historical example, look at the problems created for the Church of England by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s views on the role of the Head of State in the economy of God. It seemed like a good idea at the time!)
My concern, then, is not with Tom Wright, but Tom Wright’s theology — but it is a serious concern. If my analysis is wrong, fair enough. But if it is right, then Wright’s theology is, at a fundamental point, not Evangelical. And if it is influencing a generation of Evangelicals who, with good reason, are enthusiastic about Tom Wright as a teacher, the results need not be that they cease to be Evangelicals themselves, but down the line their descendants will certainly have done so.
16 August 2008