Southern Baptist Panel on NT Wright

Thanks to Chris Skinner (see his new blog) for pointing out yesterday’s panel on NT Wright and Justification at Southern Baptist Seminary, moderated by President Albert Mohler, with panelists Mark Seifrid, Tom Schreiner, Denny Burk, and Brian Vickers.

The panel in sum: Wright has some good things to say, but he has strayed from the true faith, he has forgotten the gospel, he is dangerous to students, pastors, and congregations.

It is challenging to say anything charitable about this panel presentation except that it is interesting. The moderator seems to know all the answers in advance and sometimes feeds them to the panelists (who are all NT scholars), and the sometimes very self-confident panelists agree with him and with one another on almost every single sub-point—against most things Wright and all things Catholic. (I speak as a non-Catholic.) For the moment, I will simply say that a narrow, pre-defined understanding of justification (forgiveness and imputation) and of salvation/the gospel (individual forgiveness of sins) will never allow us to hear Paul fully or afresh, and that is very, very sad. Neither is it helpful to mis-characterize the Christian tradition (e.g., the creeds) to criticize someone as departing from the Christian tradition. (And it is interesting to hear a Baptist seminary president speaking about “our creeds… our confessions.”) Neither, moreover, is it fair to characterize Tom Wright as (probably? potentially?) pastorally manipulative because of a particular interpretation of his theology. Finally, one word-play on the words “Wright/right” versus “wrong” would have been sufficient.

The video has bad sound early on for panelist Tom Schreiner when he starts speaking, but it improves within about 30 seconds and then remains good the rest of the time. The video is about an hour, so to pause it, just place the cursor over the video and click.

8 Responses to “Southern Baptist Panel on NT Wright”

  1. Israel Lee says:

    Sad continuation to the earlier panel discussion moderated by Denny. It borders to character assassination. I was just reading Fee’s Paul, the Spirit, and the people of God? yesterday and he says almost the same thing as Wright did concerning the work of the Spirit and future justification more than 10 years ago! But, I do not see the panellists going all out to denounce him as someone leading the flock astray. Sad.

  2. Brian says:

    Such is the ethos of Southern these days. What Mohler says goes, and there is no disagreement or criticism. Do they really think it’s healthy for there students to conduct a “panel” in such a way? Mohler’s job is to ask question & get conversation rolling while giving little input, but he basically gives his opinion, and then asks for agreement & validation from the others!

    These are difficult issues, so having a “united front” on this is not healthy. It would be good to expose their students to some disagreement amongst themselves. Also, they’re all white reformed Baptists, so how about a little diversity? Some of them (particularly Vickers) looked just angry the entire time.

    This doesn’t surprise me though. The folks at Southern think if you don’t agree with every minutae of their theology & politics, then you’re essentially apostate. They are new fundamentalists indeed and have limited Christianity to being a white, Calvinistic, Republican complementarian.

    Dr. Gorman, may your tribe increase.

  3. MJG says:

    Israel and Brian,

    One does not need to agree with everything NTW says (I don’t), or anything he says, to be saddened by a situation in which diversity, accuracy, and fairness seem to be sacrificed on the altar of t.c. (theological correctness). I hope students and others will be keen enough to sniff out the problem and open their minds on their own a bit. It’s particularly sad because there are some fine scholars and good people on that stage. I was in grad school with one of them, whom I would still count a friend.

  4. T says:

    It’s so disappointing to see this kind of thing. Rather than allow NTW’s work to be an opportunity to encourage theological humility w/in the denomination and greater sympathies with the larger Body (i.e., by acknowledging and emphasizing that this is a debate about between reasonable inferences within orthodoxy, for example), we get a “panel” of experts to shore up the importance and “rightness” of their inferences over and against Wright’s, as if this debate was at the edge of orthodoxy itself. Honestly, even having such a panel is upsetting. Is there no one in the SBC who agrees with Wright? There certainly is, but now the message is clear that they should go underground or to another denom. I wonder how this will play out in the seminaries. No room for Wright, for Dunn, etc.? Ridiculous and sad for issues not explicitly settled in the scriptures, but only in patchy systematics.

  5. Brian says:

    I’m sorry. It was Seifrid, not Vickers, who looked angry the entire time. He needs to go to an amusement park or something.

  6. MJG says:

    My hope in all this is and for all of us is a statement made by Tom (Wright, that is) himself on more than one occasion: “We are justified by faith, not by our correct understanding of justification by faith.”

    That should lead us all to some humility—without giving up on understanding Paul better.

  7. Bill S. says:

    I love to hear tough but fair critiques of N.T. Wright’s positions, and I think Wright himself likes it too. This was anything but fair. I’d be willing to bet that these panelists would have been far more careful about their criticisms of Wright if he had been there in person to respond to their statements, some of which bordered on being out-of-line, in my opinion. It’s pretty easy to make your arguments sound convincing when your moderator and panel are all stacked up on the same side (and the students and faculty in the audience aren’t exactly in a great position to disagree with them). And I have a question about one specific point: do they think Wright’s “audacity” is even close to the “audacity” of the Reformers? If these panel members truly care about showing their students how to critically evaluate and respond to positions they disagree with, then they need to do this over in a much more balanced format.

  8. MJG says:


    You make several interesting points, but the Luther/Wright “audacity” factor and comparison is especially intriguing.

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