A Metanarrative Distraction?

N.T. Wright and others in the New Perspectives on Paul movement have given us some helpful insights into biblical theology.  We should not deny this even if we might very much disagree [as I do] with the NPP’s [re]definitions of justification, covenant, law, etc.  I have to admit, though, when I read Wright, I often question his interpretive emphasis on Israel.  It seems to me that Wright finds the story of Israel under almost every interpretive stone in the Bible.  J. I. Packer hints at this well in his contribution to the book, In My Place Condemned He Stood.

“In recent years, great strides in biblical theology and contemporary canonical exegesis have brought new precision to our grasp of the Bible’s overall story of how God’s plan to bless Israel, and thorough Israel the world, came to its climax in and through Christ.  But I do not see how it can be denied that each New Testament book, whatever other job it may be doing, has in view, in one way or another, Luther’s primary question: how may a weak, perverse, and guilty sinner find a gracious God?”

“Nor can it be denied that real Christianity only starts when that discovery is made.  And to the extent that modern developments, by filling our horizon with the great metanarrative, distract us from pursuing Luther’s question in personal terms, they hinder as well as help in our appreciation of the gospel.”

“The church is and will always be at its healthiest when every Christian can line up with every other Christian to sing… P. P. Bliss’ simple words, which really say it all:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood,
Sealed my pardon with this blood –
Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

J. I. Packer, “Introduction: Penal Substitution Revisited” in In My Place Condemned He Stood ed. J. I. Packer and Mark Dever (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007).

shane lems

4 thoughts on “A Metanarrative Distraction?”

  1. Hi Shane,
    I was recently going through some old response papers I wrote for a seminar in Romans with Victor Paul Furnish. At the time, I was trying to read chunks of Wright’s Romans (NIB) commentary after working through the Greek text. I noticed in one of my response papers (on Rom 10:4–11:36) that I complained that, “just glancing at Wright’s commentary, he appears to move in a torturous direction by once again trying to cram the ‘exile’ into every passage in Romans.” Furnish’s handwritten response: “I think you are right about Wright!”

    As you know, I am generally a fan of Wright’s work (minus some of the stuff on justification), and I generally like his emphasis on Israel, etc. However, there are moments when his interpretive lens gets away from him, and he overcompensates for what he perceives to be lacking in NT scholarship.

    As a (somewhat related, tangential) side note: have you read Brian S. Rosner’s book “Paul and the Law”? I found it to be readable and cogent. I’m not sure I agree with everything in it, but it provided some helpful ways to think about Paul’s different uses of Torah (repudiation, replacement, reappropriation as prophecy, reappropriation as wisdom). — Sorry, a bit out of nowhere, but thought you might like it. :-)


    1. I quite agree! I really believe in the end of the exile theme in the Gospels and a new exodus in Paul but he finds it in the most bizarre of places. Like when Jesus says your sins are forgiven you Wright thinks this clearly means end of the exile for Israel. While it may hint at that, it is the background if anything not the foreground.


    2. Nevada: thanks for the comment. That’s what I’ve found as well. I suppose it’s a reminder for us to try and avoid a thematic or biblical-theological interest of ours and impose it on every text. Reformed guys (myself included!) are guilty of that too.

      I haven’t read Rosner’s book, but I should. I did a lot of that type of reading a few years back, but not recently. Thanks for the reminder!



  2. What an absolutely brilliant statement from Packer. The Bible is radically redemptive historic but as Calvin said, if Christ remains outside of us, his death is of no value. Historia and ordo salutis must both be maintained as true faith does not merely say Christ died, but Christ died for me.


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