An Evangelical Perspective on NT Wright and Catholicism

An Evangelical Perspective on NT Wright and Catholicism

I recently invited Christ Castaldo to write a response to my post from last month: “Does N.T. Wright’s theology lead to Catholicism?”

He wrote some great comments and I was excited when he agreed to write a guest feature for this site. We’ve traveled in opposite directions. I’m a former Evangelical/Reformed/Anglican who became Catholic. Chris went the other way–he’s a former Catholic who is now an Evangelical and Pastor of Outreach at College Church in Wheaton.

An Evangelical Perspective on NT Wright and Catholicism
by Chris Castaldo

Having studied under Tom Wright at Harvard Divinity School when he visited for a semester, alongside and in dialogue with several Catholic classmates from Boston College, I couldn’t help but reflect on how his approach to Pauline theology relates to Catholic thought. It seems to me that there are at least seven features of Wright’s exegesis that lead students to take a second look at Catholic teaching. The first four emerge from his understanding of justification.

  1. Anticipation of justification in the future
  2. Defining the “gospel” in strictly objective terms, that is, the announcement of Jesus’ lordship to the exclusion of its subjective appropriation (i.e., faith alone)
  3. Conceiving of justification in terms of membership in the covenant community
  4. Emphasizing the positive contribution of “works” in one’s salvation
  5. A serious commitment to church tradition and liturgy
  6. Foregrounding the church’s call to social justice
  7. Finally, one may view Wright’s emphasis on the corporate identity of Jesus in his Church in the same light as the Catholic doctrines of totus Christus and continuing incarnation

As for Wright’s understanding of imputation as an alien righteousness, Catholics and Protestants will interpret him differently. I’m of the opinion that Wright affirms an alien righteousness. For instance, in Wright’s words from his recent book Justification:

“[The Lord Jesus] has become “righteousness,” that is, God vindicated him, like a judge in a lawcourt finding in favor of one who had previously appeared condemned, when he raised him from the dead. God vindicated him as his own Son, the Israel-in-person, the Messiah, anticipating at Easter the final vindication of all God’s people in their resurrection of the dead. Those who are “in Christ” share this status, being vindicated already in advance of that final vindication (emphasis added)” (157).

In other words, because the believer’s identity is founded in the risen Christ, God the Father views us as possessing the merits of Jesus’ victory and on that basis declares us “not guilty.” For this reason, it seems to me, Wright stands closer to Calvin than anyone on the Catholic side of Wittenberg’s door.

Thanks again for the opportunity for this exchange,

Chris

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About the Author

Chris Castaldo is Pastor of Outreach at College Church in Wheaton and author of Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic (Zondervan, Oct ’09). www.chriscastaldo.com