Posted by: mattcolvin | February 9, 2010

Evangelical Talmudism

My friend Ken asked me in email:

On a different note, I am curious as to your thoughts regarding Trueman’s challenge regarding Wright where Trueman essentially said that Wright had been careless with Luther and Calvin, mischaracterizing their positions and offering suprising little in the way of footnotes to defend his (Wright’s) reading.

When one reads Trueman’s main article on Wright and Luther, one finds him staking out a safe ground within his own expertise of church history, and disavowing any expertise in Wright’s realm of New Testament studies:

as a historian, I wish to comment only on those areas where the scholars of the New Perspective have audaciously wandered from their own spheres of competence and dared to comment on the field of Reformation history.

This is petty and obnoxious.

Trueman’s claim is that Wright is missing the nuances and qualifications that L and C put in their theologies about the law and grace and so forth. But Wright’s claim is that their basic system was mistaken at this point, because it didn’t understand the apostle Paul’s 2nd Temple Jewish worldview, or the meaning of faith, works, and covenant within that theology. The only reason Wright bothers to make that claim is to clear the way for his own expositions of the Bible’s teaching. His goal — as Trueman knows very well — is to expound Jesus and Paul.

If Luther is an obstacle preventing people from understanding Jesus and Paul, then Wright needs to toss in a line about how Luther was wrong. And it doesn’t matter for Wright’s purposes whether the obstacle is what Luther actually taught, or what he is widely perceived to have taught. A misunderstood Luther can be just as big a stumbling block as the real Luther. That Trueman has devoted his life to understanding what the Reformers really said is of no relevance at all. It is not “audacity” for Wright to clarify his position by contrast with Lutheranism, or with popular caricatures of Lutheranism. It is simply effective communication. Luther has some really horrid and foolish stuff to say about “works” and about James and about sola fide. And Wright is perfectly within his rights to banish all this stuff with a broad brush.

The insistence that Wright and others must do their theology through the received traditions — that he needs to interact with the details of Calvin and Luther — is nothing less than Evengelical rabbinism. Trueman et al. want Wright to present his views as part of the elaborate Evangelical Talmud so that his voice can be lost in the hubbub, or at least reduced to another pawn that our seminarian chessmasters can push about. It’s all about “Rabbi Hodge said in the name of Rabbi Calvin…” The Reformers themselves would be appalled that people like Scott Clark are writing books about The Reformed Tradition ® and not engaging the FV and NTW on the level of exegesis.

Wright does not want to do this, because he wants the power of the Scripture to shine forth in his writings in such a way that it will illuminate the lives and thoughts of all Christians, not just the ones who build the tombs of the Reformers.

The burden of proof is on evangelicals to show that their historical theologies (Luther, Calvin, etc.) are compatible with the evidence. Wright has done that work for his theology.

The handwriting has been on the wall for a long time now. OPP theology is dead in the water, and no amount of historical theology is going to save it.



  1. Love the trademark. I’ll have to use that myself. Sorry to be obtuse, but what does “OPP” stand for?

    • “Old Perspective on Paul.”

      • Change it to “Old, off perspective” and we could call it OOPs.

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