What N.T. Wright Gets Wrong About the Coronavirus


N.T. Wright, New Testament scholar and theologian

Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus

That’s the headline of an article on the Times Magazine Ideas section of their website. Its author? N.T. Wright.

More like N.T. Wrong.

First, who is this guy? N.T. Wright has been an interesting figure on the scene of Christianity for quite some time. He once was lauded as a go-to resource for information on the historical background surrounding the New Testament. However, he has since written some things that lead to questions over his understanding of key Christian doctrines, and when challenged about those issues his answers are less than clear. At best, he’s a convoluted writer/speaker who repudiates caricatures. At worst he is not an orthodox Christian because he has abandoned central Christian doctrines. Where he fits in that spectrum has been and remains a topic of debate within Christianity.

I don’t intend to weigh in on my thoughts on Wright’s theology (though I certainly have them). Today I simply want to address his Times article.

Where Wright is Right

Before I get into my criticisms, I do want to say that there are some things that I think he gets right in the article. He is correct that now is a time for lamentation. We should be going to the Lord and expressing ourselves before Him (provided we are coming before Him with appropriate humility and recognition of who He is). Lamentation is a lost practice in our modern churches and that is a tragedy. The Bible is full of laments, not just in the Psalms, and we would do well to read those and go to the Lord with our laments.

I think Wright is also correct when he repudiates the idea that we ought to be looking for some sort of prophetic significance in today's events. I’m not a fan of the practice of reading the news are trying to make that fit into Biblical prophecy. We don’t have to look long into history to see how those (mostly dispensationalists) who have attempted such practices have been wrong time and time again. Will someone eventually be right? Perhaps. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That doesn’t justify the practice and in the meantime, it gives Christianity and dispensational thought a bad name (we’re not all like that, okay?).

On those points, I agree with Dr. Wright.

What Wright Gets Wrong

Despite those areas of agreement, I find that Wright has forgotten, ignored, or misunderstands three keys things.

First, he seems to forget that the Bible speaks directly to the issue of why there are diseases and death in the world. In his headline, not only does he say that Christianity doesn’t offer answers, he says it’s not supposed to. Furthermore, in His conclusion, he states, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why.” But that is simply not true. Of course, in the micro sense, zooming down to induvial issues, we are not going to be able to say “this person got sick for this particular reason.” However, in the macro sense, we certainly do have the answers to the broad “why” question.

In a previous article about how we should respond to the coronavirus, I wrote how it is impossible to know whether this virus was a specific judgment of God for specific sins. It might be. Then again, it might not. However, I also wrote that we could know the reason why death and suffering exist at all: it is because of the curse of sin. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and death spread to all mankind, for all have sinned (Rom 5:12).

So, when it comes to the broad level “why” question, the Scriptures, and Christianity, do, in fact, offer answers. Not only that, but these answers also point toward the true solution: we need Jesus Christ, not just to save us from the coronavirus, which is a symptom and consequence of living in a sin-cursed world, but to save us from our own sin. Only in Jesus Christ can we look forward to a day when we can enjoy the perfections of Christ in the New Earth, free from curses of our present age.

Second, Wright downplays the sovereignty of God. He writes, “Some Christians like to think of God as above [lamenting], knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.” If by this statement Wright simply intends to communicate that God is not a cold, aloof, and dispassionate being regarding the things in this world, then I would say I agree. However, Wright seems to be mocking the idea of God “knowing everything, in charge of everything”. The fact of the matter is that God is all-knowing and in charge of everything! For Wright to make a mockery of the clearly revealed nature of God seems blasphemous to me. Rather than painting a caricature of how Scripture clearly reveals God to be, Wright should be all the more amazed that God, all-knowing and in charge as He is, still is grieved as Wright notes. The emotions of God, rather than being negated by his omniscience and omnipotence, are instead revealed as more glorious.

Furthermore, though it can be hard for us to understand, in God’s sovereignty He has made it known that He is working all things together for His glory and the good of His children. Christianity, once again, offers the answer to the “why”. The question then becomes, will you trust? Given the reason why we may want to ask the follow-up question “How does it do that?” and though that answer can be difficult, that is essentially a question of trust. Though I may not know how these things specifically lead to our good and God’s glory (though I have some thoughts on that too), I can choose to trust in the wisdom of God that far exceeds my own.


Finally, Wright misses the point of lament. Wright seems to paint lament as simply a way to commune with God and experience His presence. But lament is so much more than that. Lament assumes that 1) there is something wrong with the world (which we know is a result of sin) and 2) that God can do something about it (He is sovereign). Even as Wright directs us to lament, he fails to see how the process of lamenting leads us to a place of trust in the answers that God provides to our “why” questions, answers that Wright says don’t exist. He, therefore, misses the point of lament.  

If Wright misses the point, what then is the point? Lament is a biblical way for God’s people to turn to Him in their time of trouble and distress, express their complaint to Him, ask for His intervention and assistance, but then trust in Him. Trust that He knows what He is doing and that He will act according to His promises. We may not understand the hows, but the whys are clear. So we trust. Lament, done biblically, brings us to a place of trust in the all-knowing and sovereign God.

Conclusion

N.T. Wright is simply flat-out wrong. Christianity does offer answers. Perhaps he doesn’t like those answers. Perhaps he doesn’t find them comforting. Perhaps Wright’s god is simply too small. But regardless of Wright’s approach, the Biblical approach leads us not only to a place of lament, but also trust and hope in the promises of God. When the world is desperate for answers, rather than shrugging our shoulders and saying “we got nothing, but we’re not supposed to so it’s cool” we should instead be pointing people to the only source of hope, and yes, answers.

Be blessed; be a blessing
Kenn Chipchase

Comments

  1. Thank you! I was amazed at how blasé the article was. Of course, anything published in Time Magazine could hardly be anything more, in which case Wright shouldn't have bothered if he was going to handicap his own writing.

    I found the whole article very odd considering how respected and profound I understood him to be from my friends.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment