Monday, April 23, 2007

D. A. Carson Critiques N. T. Wright's, Evil and the Justice of God

In today's Review of Biblical Literature provided by SBL (Society of Biblical Literature), D. A. Carson offers a critique of N. T. Wright's recent book, Evil and the Justice of God ($18.00, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pp. 176, Cloth).

To whet your appetite to read the whole critique, here is a brief portion of his critical interaction with one of Wright's persistent assertions and its flawed implications, particularly "slightly ridiculous politics."

The frequent reiteration of the fact that the line between good and evil goes right down the middle of each of us is a fair summary of many biblical passages, of course, but surely one should say something about the many, many contexts in which the Bible does distinguish between the righteous and the unrighteous, whether in the idealism of a wisdom psalm (e.g., Ps 1) or in the distinction between the disciples of Jesus and the persecuting world (e.g., Matt 10; John 15:18–16:4), or in parabolic distinctions between sheep and goats and their respective destinations (Matt 25:46), or in demands for a local church to excommunicate a particular sinner (1 Cor 5). Wright’s positive point is certainly well represented in Scripture, but because he treats it as if it were the only point, the antithetical way he has of casting it (the line is drawn down the middle of each of us, not between them and us) simply rules out of court a lot of biblical texts that have their own important contribution to make to the discussion. The result is significantly distorted theology—and significantly distorted politics, too. Would Wright want to assert that there is no moral difference between those responsible for Auschwitz and the significant numbers of Dutch citizens who risked (and sometimes lost) their lives to give Jews sanctuary? Yes, we are all lost, and the line between good and evil goes down the middle of all people: there is an important theological truth there, for the alternative is that there are only good people and bad people. But to focus on this one insight and not complementary biblical emphases yields amateurish theology and slightly ridiculous politics. Similar distortions achieved by focusing on one side of abundant evidence abound. Yes, of course Jesus exhorts his followers to turn the other cheek and did so himself. Still, in the same Sermon on the Mount, he tells his followers not to cast their pearls before swine (which advice he also himself followed), which means somebody has to figure out who the pigs are. The two emphases cannot simply be played off against each other, of course, as if each has the function of trimming the other. But not to think through how disparate but complementary themes ought to work together ends up distorting the one theme that is being advanced.

Read the whole critique in PDF format. It is well worth reading.

At the end of the day, as D. A. Carson is wont to say, it is fitting to smile at Carson's humor. His final statement is clever.

More broadly, Wright has a penchant for replicating the Elijah syndrome: “And I, even I only, am left.” To offer but one of many examples: “The trouble with imagining the future world is that we’ve all been given the wrong impression” (114). Well, I suppose we should be grateful that we have now been given the Wright impression.

1 comment:

brooks said...

I look forward to reading this review. I read "Evil and the Justice of God" this past winter and felt that some of his statements about the line going down each of us was really more of a political statement than a result of his exegesis. He seemed to be responding in part to what he thinks American politically conservative Christians think about the war on terror. As if Christian conservatives who support war on terrorists think of themselves as totally good and the terrorists as totally bad. I'm gonna read this review right now. Thanks.