I am aware that fresh interpretations of Paul, including my own, have caused controversy in evangelical circles, and particularly Reformed circles. My own name has been linked with proposals that have been variously dismissed, scorned, vilified, and anathematized. . . .And the bit that really makes me cringe--
From time to time, correspondents draw my attention to various Web sites on which you can find scathing denunciations of me for abandoning traditional Protestant orthodoxy, and puzzled rejoinders from people who have studied my work and know that I am not saying what many of my critics suggest. . . .
It is blindingly obvious when you read Romans and Galatians--though you would never have known this from any of the theologians discussed in other essays in this volume--that virtually whenever Paul talks about justification, he does so in the context of a critique of Judaism and of the coming together of Jew and Gentile in Christ. As an exegete determined to listen to Scripture rather than abstract my favorite bits from it. . . .
Like America looking for a new scapegoat after the collapse of the Cold War and seizing on the Islamic world as the obvious target, many conservative writers, having discovered themselves in possession of the Pauline field after the liberals tired of it, have looked around for new enemies. Here is something called the New Perspective; it seems to be denying some of the things we have normally taught; very well, let us demonize it, lump its proponents together, and nuke them from a great height. This has not made a pretty sight. Speaking as one of those who are regularly thus carpet bombed. . . .--N. T. Wright, 'New Perspectives on Paul,' in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (ed. Bruce McCormack; Baker, 2006), 243-47
A few thoughts.
1. On the spectrum of conservatives who engage with Wright, I would place myself quite far on the 'appreciative' side of that spectrum. I have quoted him positively several times on this blog, such as here. Tons of wisdom and clarity in his stuff. Puts the whole Bible together in amazingly helpful ways. Etc etc etc. Much more to be said here.
2. Wright is unfairly caricatured. And I too am ready to see it stop. I come from the world of conservative American Presbyterianism, and the blogs are scathing. Downright mean. Methinks that when Jesus said that 'on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak' he didn't mean 'every careless word except those typed out on blogs' (Matt 12:36-37).
3. And yet there is a deep irony is Wright's last paragraph in the quote above. He grieves over his critics lumping him together with other New Perspective advocates. Yet in doing so Wright himself lumps together all his critics in just as unfairly a fashion. Like a dad yelling at his kid to never yell.
4. The impugning of motives in that last paragraph is horrid. What an awful example for younger scholars.
5. Either you believe God is one day going to vindicate you publicly before all your accusers, a la many of the psalms or 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, or you do not. If you do, you will not feel the need to preemptively get a head start on that vindication process. Wright's immature complaining in passages like the above is a reminder to us all that when publicly misrepresented it is always the way of wisdom to err on the side of silence. Gentle correction of some publicly stated untruth about us may indeed at times be called for. But when we do so let us do it calmly, without exaggeration, soothing rather than stoking the flames of controversy and emotions, and without a tone of licking our wounds.
6. On a strictly pragmatic level, Wright's bemoaning is counterproductive. It makes his overall writing programme less compelling and convincing, not more. He had the same victim tone in his 2010 ETS lecture on justification.
7. I continue to benefit from Wright's work and I eagerly anticipate much more, as the Lord gives him strength.