Earlier this week Michael Horton’s review of the N.T. Wright’s new book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters appeared on the Christianity Today website (it was available in CT print version earlier this month). Horton, while in many ways positive about Wright’s book, critiqued him strongly on his reading of the Reformers.
Earlier this week, I interviewed Wright about his book, and several other items, and had a chance to ask him about Horton’s review and how he would respond. My question, and Wright’s response, follow:
Matthew: In a recent review, Michael Horton, writing for Christianity Today, was generally supportive of your book. Yet, he took issue with your, at times, negative articulation of the Reformation and its impact on Christian ethics stating, “in addition to caricaturing Luther’s positions, [Wright’s] criticisms lack any nuance in distinguishing between Reformation traditions.” He argues that your critique is actually more characteristic of “Wesleyan” tradition, rather than the Reformed or Lutheran.
How do you respond to this critique?
Wright: I’m not a church historian and defer to those who are, from whom I hope to learn. I was fascinated by the critique of the medieval ‘virtue’ tradition I found in various sixteenth-century writers, and tried to note that as I went by. I wasn’t trying to give a systematic account of how the different post-Reformation traditions have understood virtue, but was hoping rather to show that the cultural pressures towards a romantic ‘spontaneity’ and an existentialist ‘authenticity’, both of which I see as radically undermining a proper appropriation of NT ethics, have gained (spurious) validation in many quarters by appearing to say what the Reformers say. Some have indeed argued that Luther paved the way for the Enlightenment.
There is a sense in which I think this is true – just as, more obviously, Luther paved the way for Rudolf Bultmann. But life is always more complicated than these over-simplifications. I am much, much more concerned by the fact – and it is a fact – that the Reformers, whom I love and revere, and their various would-be successors to this day, have caricatured St Paul and failed to distinguish different things in his thought. That’s a larger debate I suspect Michael Horton and I ought to have some day. I’ve never met him but I think we would have an interesting conversation.
Read the full interview this coming Saturday.