Tag Archives: preterism

Are the “End Times” About the Future…. Or Partially About the Past?

As yet another major Christian denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America, changes it doctrinal statement, to back away from its historic commitment to premillennialism, it bears reflecting upon how much Christians are rethinking the “End Times,” in the 21st century.

Dick Woodward, the late pastor emeritus of my church, and founder of the Mini Bible College, always described himself as a “pan-millennialist,” when it came to the “End Times.” When asked, what is a “pan-millennialist?,” Dick would always say that he believed that everything would simply “pan-out” in the end.

That made for a very humorous joke, but it cut across the grain of what passed for the so-called biblically “inerrant,” premillennialist view of the “End Times,” that dominated American evangelical theology, in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, many core doctrines of the Christian faith are under attack, by the surrounding culture. Surely, Christians are compelled to defend the faith, against the onslaught of these attacks. So, is the doctrine of premillennialism, one of those core doctrines?

The main problem with asserting premillennialism as a core doctrine, is historical. Premillennialism, the belief that Jesus’ Second Coming will occur prior to establishing a 1,000 year millennial kingdom on earth, has reigned supreme in many American evangelical church circles, despite being historically a minority position, within the 2,000 year tradition of the Christian church as a whole. When pressed, my pastor, Dick Woodward, would describe himself as a progressive dispensational premillennialist, but he was never dogmatic about it. But was there any other genuine alternative, that took the Bible seriously?

When I was a young Christian, any mention of the “End Times” brought up ideas about the Rapture, a 7-year Great Tribulation, the nation of Israel, the Antichrist, and, of course, the Book of Revelation. In short, the “End Times” were all about events yet to happen in the future. But what if some of, if not most of, what we read in the Book of Revelation, is about events that have already happened in the past?

Such a question might make some Christians ill at ease. After all, many Christians still hold firmly to futuristic view of prophecy, that includes premillennialism. But a recent book I read, by Christian film maker Brian Godawa, suggests that there might be a better way to read the Bible, when it comes to biblical prophecy.

Filmwriter and author Brian Godawa encourages Christians to rethink biblical prophecy, by…. get this…. actually reading and studying the Bible.

Brian Godawa is perhaps best known from writing the screenplay for To End All Wars, a movie about life as a prisoner of war, under the Japanese during World War II. Based on a true story about Ernest Gordon, a Scottish soldier, this prisoner moved from being an agnostic to becoming a Christian, in the midst of the horrific trials he faced. After the war, Gordon became a Presbyterian chaplain at Princeton University.

But Godawa is also a book writer, and I listened to the audiobook version of End Times Bible Prophecy: It’s Not What They Told You. Godawa grew up in a Christian home, where he was taught the idea of a pre-tribulational “Rapture” of the church, followed by a 7-year Great Tribulation, to be then followed by Jesus’ Second Coming.

The problem was that Godawa was confused by all of the various speculations about the End Times, and how he was frustrated by the fact that all of the supposed prophecy predictions would continually fail.

I was reminded of the confusion that Godawa addresses by a recent statement made by Anne Graham Lotz, a daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham, who believes that Jesus will return within her lifetime (listen at the 8:25 time mark). In keeping with Scripture, as she interprets it, Anne Graham Lots believes that her generation; that is, “this generation” will be the generation that sees the return of Jesus Christ. As she explained to the Christian Broadcasting Network, ” Israel was born in a day, May 14, 1948….Jesus said the generation that sees that take place is the generation that will be the last. And for me it’s meaningful. I was born May 21, 1948 so I believe it’s my generation.”

Now, I have always had great respect for Billy Graham, and his family. But what Anne Graham Lotz says here bothers me: Have not other Christians made the same type of predictions of Jesus’ expected return, only to be disappointed when such predictions fail to pan out? In other words, is Anne Graham Lotz’ view strictly based on firm biblical teaching, or is it simply speculation?

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of the late evangelist Billy Graham, believes that her generation will live to see the Rapture of the Church. As her generation is entering their twilight years, is her speculation on the timing, cutting it rather close?

After doing years of research, Brian Godawa adopted what most theologians call a partial preterist view of the End Times. His view is “preterist,” in the sense that the word “preterist” means “past,” believing that many prophecies have already been fulfilled in the past, namely in the first century of the church. Yet his view is “partial,” in that Godawa believes that at least some of the End Times prophecies are still yet to happen in the future, such as the Second Coming of Jesus and the Resurrection of the Dead.

One of the top things that changed Godawa’s mind was that verse quoted by Anne Graham Lotz, in Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says to his listeners, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” The standard futurist way of interpreting this verse is to say that “this generation” actually applies to events at least 2,000 years into the future.

Many Christians accept this interpretation as valid, but the vast majority of scholars, and many other curious non-specialists in the Bible, are not so convinced. After all, if Jesus was speaking to his contemporaries, in the 1st century, why would he refer to “this generation,” if he really was talking about Anne Graham Lotz’ generation, some 2,000 years later? I continually meet skeptics, and other critics of the Bible, who are convinced that Jesus was predicting the end of the world, within the period of the first century, and that Jesus was simply wrong.

A partial preterist view of the End Times, on the other hand, addresses the skeptics’ criticisms, while still affirming the trustworthiness of Jesus and the Scriptures, informed by evangelical biblical scholarship. In other words, Jesus, in Matthew 24, is indeed predicting something, that historically did come to pass, in the 1st century of the Christian era, thus adding confirmation to the New Testament claim, that Jesus truly was and is the Son of God. If Jesus did acccurately predict future events, that can be confirmed historically, then this would be consistent with the biblical claim that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. Brian Godwa argues that many Christians have failed to see this as being taught in the Bible, so they are unable to effectively defend the Bible, when the critics press upon the Bible-believing Christian.

Strictly futurist views of the End Times are deeply ingrained in the minds of many Christians, so Godawa goes to great lengths, even in this popular level book, to substantiate his argument. Godawa goes through the Bible, building his case that many of the biblical prophecies are actually metaphorical in nature, and that they should be not be taken in a non-metaphorical way. Concepts such as the “Day of the Lord,” “all the nations,” and cosmic catastrophes, such as “Blood Moons,” are explained within their original context, as the original biblical writer intended.

Christians who are reticent to believe that God would make heavy use of metaphorical language, to describe prophetic events, will probably be skeptical of Godawa’s book. Yet every Christian believes that there is at least some metaphorical language in the Bible; such as, Jesus’ description that you must “hate” your family, in order to be a disciple, or that the “sign of Jonah” refers to “three days and three nights,” in the belly of a great fish, as an idiomatic expression corresponding to the three days and two nights Jesus was dead, between his Crucifixion and Resurrection. Most Christians even agree that there are at least some metaphorical elements found in the Creation story in Genesis.

The key is to evaluate the contextual evidence, found within the text itself, from the perspective of the original writers of Scripture, in order to determine the correct interpretation of any particular passage of Scripture. Only in this manner can we responsibly understand what is metaphorical and what is non-metaphorical in the Bible.

What is the point of application of Godawa’s view? While we still await Jesus’ future Second Coming, looking at the original context of a great deal of biblical prophecy, including much of the Book of Revelation, the Bible was still addressing the situation of persecution, for that first generation of believers in the first century church. For Christians living in a world today, where persecution is more prevalent than ever, the example of first century Christians under stress can provide great comfort to believers undergoing current trials for their faith.

Has Brian Godawa made his case convincingly? At this point, I am not sure. The jury is still out, in my view.

What I am sure about is that Brian Godawa has made his case, in a very thorough manner, citing Scripture all the way through his book, and illustrating where the original context, that the biblical authors had in mind, actually makes a big difference in how biblical prophecy should be interpreted. Godawa still has a healthy measure of hermeneutical humility, acknowledging that he could be wrong in a number of the details of interpretation, that he presents. Nevertheless, he does find partial preterism to be convincing. Otherwise, he would not have written a book about it.

Many Christians have grown up, like Godawa, being taught about a pre-tribulational Rapture of the church, as an event separate from the Second Coming of Jesus, for example, with a central role for national Israel being within that divine plan. I can not categorically rule out that scenario as a possibility. Many of my dear Christian friends strongly hold to a futurist type of view. So if Anne Graham Lotz’ prediction comes true, then God will still get the glory, no matter what!

On the other side, Brian Godawa’s case for partial preterism is certainly within the range of acceptable bounds of theological orthodoxy. Is it the best and most accurate way to interpret difficult passages in the Bible? Well, the curious reader will need to pick up a copy of Brian Godawa’s book to find out.

Godawa’s book stands as a perfect complement to something like the late R.C. Sproul’s book The Last Days According to Jesus, reviewed a year ago here at Veracity. Sproul’s argument is mainly about the apologetic concerns, that partial preterism addresses forcefully, in which more futurist approaches to Bible prophecy, tend to wobble on. Godawa’s book digs more into the exegetical details, addressing particular interpretation issues found in difficult prophecy passages.

In addition to premillennial futurism and partial preterism, there are other views about the “End Times,” that Christians throughout church history have thoughtfully considered (See these prior posts at Veracity regarding amillennialism, the most well-known view taught within Christianity, promoted by the 5th. century, Saint Augustine, and historic premillenialism, defended recently by popular prophecy blogger, Joel Richardson). Christians should not be dogmatic about timing issues, concerning the Rapture or other specific End Time chronologies. Our ultimate landing point, is that Jesus is truly coming back. The other details will sort themselves out, over time.

Granted, the establishment of the modern state of Israel, is a strong point of evidence, in favor of a futurist perspective on biblical prophecy. Nevertheless, the delay of the Rapture, now some 71 years after the founding of the Middle Eastern Jewish state, leaves many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, wondering. I can not claim absolute confidence here, but if I had to pick a particular viewpoint, that is easier to defend with a non-believer, then the partial preterism view advocated by Brian Godwa carries with it the best overall argument.


Paul, A Biography, by N.T. Wright, A Review

Reading N.T. Wright is delightfully invigorating. He is surely the most influential, and perhaps the most prolific, living New Testament scholar of our day, and an evangelical Christian to boot.

This has made Wright into the darling of millennial Christian thinkers, who look to someone like an N. T. Wright, as having the academic smarts, challenging the critical voices against Christianity in the 21st century, as well as possessing a cheerful, pastoral giftedness. N.T. Wright puts the often complex world of contemporary scholarship closer near the “bottom shelf,” where mere mortal, everyday Christians can appreciate and apply a more learned approach to the New Testament, as opposed to simply reading the Bible on their own, with little to no oversight to guide them.

Nicholas Thomas Wright. British New Testament scholar, retired Anglican bishop, … and agitator among more than a few conservative, evangelical Protestants. Now, with an outstanding biography of the Apostle Paul.

N.T. Wright: Scholar, Pastor and Popularizer

Otherwise known as “Tom” Wright, in his more popular writings, it has been often said that N.T, or Tom, Wright writes faster than most people can read. How he has found time to write as much as he has, while at one time serving as an active Anglican bishop, who only in recent years is now focused again on scholarship, is a wonder on its own.

Beleaguered by top notch critical scholars for several generations now, that appear to want to rip the Bible to shreds, thoughtful evangelicals take comfort in the fact that N.T. Wright has gone up against the brightest and best in the world of academia, and he has come out relatively unscathed. Even more so, he stands out with his good-natured, jolly British demeanor, as he declares his scholarly view of a wholly trustworthy and reliable Holy Bible. For a younger generation of evangelicals, N.T. Wright makes you feel like, intellectually, he has your back.

Wright earns the respect of non-believing and believing intellectuals alike, being read by everyone from British historian Tom Holland, to former editor-in-chief at Newsweek, Jon Meacham, just to name a few. Aside from Michael Licona’s brilliant work, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, N.T. Wright remains today’s most capable defender of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, through his highly cited academic work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. Culminating in Wright’s multivolume, comprehensive series Christian Origins and the Question of God, we find the “go-to” academic, contemporary treatment of critical issues in New Testament scholarship, correcting misguided efforts among intellectuals to take down historic Christian faith, starting with the infamous “Jesus Seminar” of the early 1990s.

I remember twenty years ago reading N.T. Wright’s written dialogue with liberal scholar Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus. Borg was known for dismissing every miracle of Jesus in the New Testament as fictitious, and yet, Wright had an answer for him at every turn. Still, the two men remained friends. I was left thinking, “Evangelical Christians need more scholars like N.T. Wright!

N.T. Wright is also a popularizer, engaging well with the wider culture, relating particularly to a more skeptical crowd, like a modern day C.S. Lewis. Along with New York City PCA pastor, Timothy Keller, N.T. Wright has been a featured speaker at Google’s headquarters, capable of speaking Christian truth to a largely sophisticated, unbelieving audience. Never parochial, always irenic, Wright receives invitations to speak at places, where more explosive and abrasive evangelical figures, such as an Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham, would never find a welcoming reception.

Rudolph Bultmann, the German liberal scholar, who would have us “demythologize” the New Testament, was the most important New Testament scholar of the 20th century. Yet it would be fair to say that N.T. Wright enjoys the same stature, as Bultmann’s, for the early 21st century.

There is evidence to support this claim. N.T. Wright delivered the esteemed Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology, in 2018, an academic honor in Scotland. Wright is the only New Testament scholar to have delivered those lectures, since Rudolph Bultmann did so in 1954 to 1955.

Like Bultmann, who was regarded as having the preaching ability of a Billy Graham, despite Bultmann’s complete rejection of the supernatural claims of the New Testament, N.T. Wright has an appeal in his delightful written prose and public preaching persona. In a world where orthodox Christian faith appears to be being pushed to the side, in a secularizing society, on an almost daily basis, Wright’s presence as a public intellectual, engaging the toughest critics of Christian faith, is a welcoming sign that the Gospel is not completely lost in the era of post-modernity.

Nevertheless, despite the accolades, Wright’s superstar status has raised questions, particularly among his own evangelical brethren.

N.T. Wright’s greatest expertise is in the life and theology of the apostle Paul, which makes it a wonderful treat to finally have from Wright a popular level biography of the great apostle, Paul: A Biography. In Paul: A Biography, Wright constructs for the reader a very illuminating, and even quite entertaining, portrait of Paul. Wright follows the path of Paul’s career, along the contours of the Book of Acts, while interacting with the best of today’s scholarship of the first century. Wright places the writing of each of Paul’s New Testament letters, within this narrative, serving as an introduction to the entire range Paul’s writings in the Christian Bible.

N.T. Wright’s Delightful and Engaging Portrait of Paul

I can not improve upon the excellent review given by British pastor-teacher, Andrew Wilson, at The Gospel Coalition website. But I can add some commentary on what I learned the most from Wright, in this sweeping biography, while registering a few cautions here and there.

For example, I have always been a bit bothered about the reigning academic consensus, that contends that several of the letters traditionally attributed to Paul in the New Testament, were not actually written by him, such as Colossians and Ephesians. Yet I have never fully understood the evidence used to support this consensus view.

Wright cheerfully dismantles such claims against Pauline authorship, but does so by advancing Wright’s own provocative argument, that these letters, along with Philemon, were written while Paul was in prison in Ephesus. Most scholars have traditionally believed that Paul wrote these letters while in prison in Rome, or perhaps Caesarea in Palestine, if he wrote them at all. But Wright’s proposal of an Ephesian imprisonment, a minority view for decades among scholars, actually makes better sense of the available historical data.

An Ephesian imprisonment implies that the the letter “to the Ephesians” (Ephesians 1:1) could have been more of a circular letter, distributed among the small church communities, that were growing and adding new members in and near Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15), the second largest city in the ancient Roman empire. Likewise, with Colossians, the letter to the church in Colossae, a city no more than a 100 miles from Ephesus, it stands to reason that Colossians, too, could have been easily written from an Ephesian prison, as both Ephesians and Colossians share similar characteristics, along with Philemon.

The biggest drawback to Wright’s proposal is that Luke in Acts does not mention Paul being in prison in Ephesus. Nevertheless, Wright is able to put the pieces together, in a manner that explains why liberal, critical scholars of previous generations have erred in thinking that Paul could not have written Colossians nor Ephesians. Simply brilliant.

Here is another example: The intriguing “man of lawlessness” in 2 Thessalonians has often been interpreted in evangelical circles as a future coming “antichrist” figure. But Wright places 2 Thessalonians within the context of Roman history, within about a decade of the letter being written, when the Roman emperor Caligula, an utterly insane, autocratic ruler, sought to have statues of himself placed within the Temple compound in Jerusalem, reminding the Jews that the Roman emperor is to be worshipped as supreme.

Caligula’s reign was cut short by his death in 41 C.E., aborting Caligula’s attempt to profane the Temple, but it made many of Thessalonika’s Jews worried that another “man of lawlessness,” like Caligula, might rise up again against the Jews and those early Christians. Was this a prophetic reference to the coming emperor Nero, in Paul’s own day, …. or some future antichrist figure, yet to emerge in our present 21st century day?

While such questions often preoccupy curious American believers, Wright tells his readers that Paul’s intent in 2 Thessalonians, was not to set up speculation as to who a future “man of lawlessness” might be, but rather to say that Jesus is still Lord, over even the most blasphemous of Roman emperors, a warning that might benefit Christians today, who tend to obsess over “all things End Times.”

It is page after page of insights such as these that make Paul: A Biography a rewarding investment of one’s time to better understand the world of the apostle Paul. I truly enjoyed this book, and I commend it to others, even if “theology” or “history” books are not your thing.

That being said, N.T. Wright does have his critics, even among evangelicals, and not all are convinced by Wright’s attempts to chronicle the life of Christianity’s greatest apostle. Wright may be able to make the world of contemporary scholarship more understandable to the average Christian reader, but perhaps not understandable enough. And what is understandable draws some rather awkward, unfamiliar conclusions, that cast some doubts on certain features of Wright’s theological project.

N.T. Wright: The Cheerful Polemicist

For example, James Goodman, a British evangelical follower of the great 20th century Welsh preacher, Martyn-Lloyd Jones, gives Paul: A Biography a mere “one-star” review, believing that Wright is a type of trojan horse scholar, smuggling in the unbelieving errors of what Goodman contends is the radical New Perspective in Paul, that seeks to undermine the classic Reformation view of Paul’s teachings, of justification by faith alone. In a more generous and balanced review for Ligonier Ministries, New Testament professor David Briones, while finding many excellent and good things in Paul: A Biography, ultimately finds Wright to be unpersuasive, offering a caricature of the classic, evangelical understandings of Paul, traceable back to the leading lights of the Reformation, like Martin Luther and John Calvin.

So, why the bad marks from defenders of the evangelical Reformed tradition, for Paul: A Biography? For those who believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, N. T. Wright sends up red flags. This “righteousness of God,” which is alien to fallen humans, is applied, or “imputed,” to the Christian believer, as an expression of the love of God, through Jesus’ sacrificial death at Calvary. We as fallen, sinful human creatures, stand condemned before a Holy God, unless this Holy God, does something new on our behalf. The teachers of the Reformation contended that Christ indeed did such a thing, through this concept of the righteousness of God, being imputed to us. This righteousness thus declares the undeserving sinner to be justified by faith and faith alone, through grace and grace alone. Imputation is therefore considered to be the hallmark of true Gospel doctrine.

To Wright’s most conservative critics, Wright’s casually dismissive attitude towards this doctrine of imputation makes him just as complicit in attacking the Bible, as Wright’s liberal critics! To be fair, Wright does not hammer on this “anti-imputation” theme, as much as he has often expounded it in his more academic writings. Furthermore, not all of Wright’s critics lump him in a totally pejorative category, despite disagreements.

But neither does Wright, even in Paul: A Biography, seek to offer much irenic comfort to his Reformed critics, a recurring weakness in Wright’s work, in my view, though Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox readers will find some reassurance in N.T. Wright, in their respective understandings of Paul. Wright’s approach is not completely of disagreement with, but rather one of relative indifference to, classic Reformation theology, which is enough to isolate N.T. Wright from the most conservative corners of the evangelical movement. Though greatly softened in Paul: A Biography, there is still a polemical edge in this popular work of Wright’s, that seeps through from time to time.

If imputation is not critical for Paul’s message of the Gospel, then what does N.T. Wright say is critical for Paul’s message? For N.T. Wright, Paul’s central theme is that God, through His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel, has now extended that same covenant, with those same covenant promises, to the Gentiles, in Jesus Christ. For Wright, the Reformation emphasis on the human sinner, receiving a declaration of being made righteous, so that we might be reconciled to God, is a fine message, and does play some type of role in Paul’s thought, but it is not the central idea that catapults Paul’s ministry. Instead, the Good News of the Gospel that Paul preaches is grounded upon the reality that God faithfully keeps his promises to the covenant people of Israel, and then brings the Gentiles in, to enjoy those same promises as well.

Some readers will take N.T. Wright as therefore actually down playing the central doctrine of the Protestant Reformation, namely of justification by faith and faith alone, through the imputation of Christ’s alien righteousness to the lost sinner. Concerned evangelicals, like pastor John Piper, at Desiring God ministries, and even more moderate voices, like that of the late John R.W. Stott, take Wright’s tendency to introduce false dichotomies into his work to task, while still greatly appreciating the positive work that Wright is truly offering the church.

Another example may help to explain unease about Wright, in certain evangelical quarters. Wright does exceptionally well in Paul: A Biography, in defending Paul against the common claim that Paul was a misogynist, that he “hated” women. Wright wonderfully shows that women were some of Paul’s most trusted colleagues in ministry, and that Paul valued having women in church leadership. But does this more egalitarian, sympathetic view towards women really undercut Paul’s (often disputed) teaching in the pastoral letters, that the office of overseer, in the local church, is to be reserved for men only? Is there not a possible both/and solution here, as opposed to an either/or, pick-your-side approach to be considered, as offering critical insight into the temperament and teaching of the great apostle? Wright skirts around this most important issue, just as he does in the justification debate, that might offer a third-way rapprochement in the controversial “women in ministry” debate, that divides evangelical churches today.

Wright does a much better job in Paul: A Biography, of establishing a view of Paul as being thoroughly Jewish, as opposed to critics who believe Paul to be the “inventor of Christianity,” one in direct opposition to historic Judaism. Wright’s study of Second Temple Judaism offers a vivid appreciation for Paul’s Jewishness, that previous generations of scholars, both liberal and conservative, have often never fully considered.

Nevertheless, Wright does not fully satisfy his critics in Paul: A Biography, by not adequately addressing the question of what promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically to the Jewish people, if any, remain as valid possibilities for future fulfillment, in the mind of Paul. For example, many conservative evangelical Bible teachers would insist that Romans 11 envisions, at the very least, a great mass turning of Jews towards the Gospel, prior to Christ’s second coming. In Paul: A Biography, Wright does not even provide a hint of anything like that to be the case, proving to be a frustration to at least a few evangelical scholars and Bible teachers.

Towards the end of Paul: A Biography, Wright drops what some might consider to be a bombshell, regarding how one should think of the “End Times,” and beyond. Gone from Wright’s prose is the misty vision of believers, in white robes, with halos over their heads, in a blissful yet ultimately boring heaven, that characterizes many popular views of the Christian afterlife.

Wright brushes this kind of otherworldliness aside. Wright believes this view of a heaven above, as well as its damnation alternative below; that is, hell, to be a product of the Middle Ages, and not something that goes back to the mind of Paul. Rather, Wright sees Paul envisioning a type of new heavens and a new earth, a restoration of what God originally created, to be the future of a redeemed humanity. Wright is surely writing of a necessary corrective here, as millennial author and pastor Joshua Ryan Butler agrees, along with an older evangelical, Randy Alcorn, (see Veracity blogger, John Paine’s review of Randy Alcorn), but is Wright overcorrecting too much?

The vast majority of evangelical Christians today, along with the skeptics who mock them, attribute the “end of the world” language, used in much of the New Testament, to be speaking of a literal conflagration of the space-time existence of this present world. In contrast, N.T. Wright sees this “end of the world” language as mostly about anticipating the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, something that actually did take place in 70 C.E.

Wright understands Paul as surely believing in a future bodily resurrection of the dead, as well as a physical future return of the Lord Jesus, but pretty much everything else with respect to the “End Times” was fulfilled shortly after Paul’s death, presumably sometime in the decade of the 60’s C.E., or shortly thereafter.

This “partial preterist” position, regarding the “End Times,” is held by a few other evangelicals, such as the late R.C. Sproul, but Wright does relatively little in Paul: A Biography to fully dissuade the vast majority of evangelicals today, who foresee a future apocalyptic ending of the world, following the script of the popular “Left Behind” films and books. You would have to look to some of Wright’s other books, to learn what he is really talking about, particularly when it comes to the afterlife, which is more along the lines of what you find in something like C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.

A Recommended Biography of Paul, and an Introduction to N.T. Wright’s Grand Theological Project

Though I enjoyed Wright’s book tremendously, there are two, broadly cautionary notes I have with Paul: A Biography, as I reflect on some of the more controversial ideas put forward by this brilliant Anglican scholar. One is the tendency of Wright to possibly overreach in giving the reader a psychoanalytic evaluation of Paul’s mindset. There is simply too much that we do not know about Paul’s inner workings for us to fully evaluate what was really going on inside Paul’s head.

This does not mean that we can not probe. Informed by his competent grasp of Greco-Roman history and Second Temple Judaism, Wright does a masterful job of teasing things out of Paul’s letters, that a casual reading might probably miss. Nevertheless, sparks of insight should not allow us to become too carried away. We still need to be measured and cautious in our judgments, of what Paul really said, and not read certain speculative perspectives in unnecessarily.

Secondly, Wright is driven firmly by his narrative, formed by his moderate New Perspective in Paul paradigm, that focuses so much on the theme of Jewish exile, in a political world at odds with pagan Rome. As a result, Wright fails to adequately point out the gravity of the spiritual dimension of human lostness, as taught by Paul. To be fair, as an evangelical, Wright does not deny the spiritual import of Paul’s message, to the individual; that is, our need for a personal Savior, which Wright surely affirms. But neither does Wright emphasize this as much as he could.

As Susan Grove Eastman comments in her review for The Christian Century, “Wright mutes Paul’s radical diagnosis of the human condition.That diagnosis is far more global than simply viewing Rome as the enemy. In fact, Paul talks very little, if any, about Rome or Caesar. They are not worth his notice, and they are not in view when he uses the language of bondage and freedom. Whereas Wright emphasizes Jewish antipathy to Rome and posits that Paul wanted to plant his gospel of Christ’s lordship in opposition to the imperial claims of Caesar, Paul sets his sights on enemies far greater than any human power or institution. The enemies, as he repeatedly says, are sin and death, and it is the brutal reign of these suprahuman powers that Christ overthrew on the cross, thereby setting humanity free. That is the regime change that truly liberates.” If such a pointed critique came from a stalwart evangelical magazine, like a Christianity Today, that would be one thing. But to hear this from a Protestant mainline publication is unexpected, to say the least.

Still, despite some of the above concerns, many others find Paul: A Biography as being a delightful introduction into the life and ministry of Paul. Robert C. Trube’s review of Paul: A Biography, is a fine example of a Christian reviewer, who enjoys Wright’s captivating portrait of Paul, in terms of illuminating the human side of the man, often obscured by centuries of intractable theological debate.

This is what I appreciated most about N.T. Wright’s vivid portrait of Paul, a description of a man with shortcomings and human limitations, with whom I can relate. This, more humanized side of Paul, typically gets brushed under the rug, when many Christians consider that Paul was also the writer of a large portion of Sacred Scripture. Paul was surely one of the greatest servants of God, but he was still a flawed human being, in need of a Savior, just like you and me.

Wright’s Paul: A Biography may not completely supersede F. F. Bruce’s 20th century classic evangelical biography, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, but it succeeds in a way that F.F. Bruce’s work does not. Bruce’s Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free is more technical in his documentation, whereas I listened to Wright’s Paul: A Biography as an audiobook, and I never felt burdened once while listening.

F.F. Bruce is very solid, and far less controversial in his critical judgments, whereas Wright’s book flows better as great historical literature, with loads of valuable and fresh insights. Time after time, I simply had to stop listening to the audiobook version of Wright’s book and go, “Wow. I have never, ever thought of that before! This is great!So, despite the above noted cautions, Wright’s Paul: A Biography serves a dual purpose, of being one of the finest biographical surveys of Paul’s life and writings, along with being perhaps the best introduction to the theology of N.T. Wright, an invitation to explore the rest of Wright’s more scholarly work.

Eric Metaxas interviews N.T. Wright on this video podcast:


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