[Reflective rambling alert, to those who prefer more substantive stuff.]
I’ve answered this question before, but it was brought back to me over this past weekend when someone who knows me well enough to know better described me as “a solid evangelical.” Say what? He definitely intended it as a compliment, but I was somewhat surprised.
That infamous quote from N. T. Wright and his framing of thousands of years of debate about the imparting or imputing of Christ’s righteousness as ‘muddle headed’ is breathtaking. Either Wright is as much of a lone figure reformed as say Martin Luther himself, pointing back centuries before him to another lost truth that makes Luther as much in error as the Pope of his time, OR Wright, however bright a scholar he is, is very wrong. I believe Piper has shown how very wrong Wright is. Join me over the next few days as we explore how he does this.
When I read something like this from Adrian, surely an evangelical, I have to doubt whether I want the label. It’s not that I think Adrian or Piper are being discourteous. It is just that they split doctrinal hairs down so many times. To me, N. T. Wright is conservative. I understand the differences between him and other evangelicals. I just don’t see the critical importance of the difference in the way Adrian states it. (I will certainly be following Adrians comments, though I doubt that I will read the book.)
In fact, I don’t think the Bible itself manifests anything like the unity in describing human sin, redemption, atonement, and God’s expectations of people that appears in this very tense reformed evangelical theology. N. T. Wright is not, in my view, all that opaque. He’s extremely thorough with impeccable scholarship. And as for Martin Luther, while I appreciate some of his reform efforts, I truly do not think he said the last word on understanding Paul.
Reformed interpretation of Paul has gotten muddle headed and it has done so simply because theological propositions have been given preeminence over an exegesis of the text. In addition, an assumption that the Bible teaches a single theology tends to paper over the differences.
Labels are such slippery things. Any label that manages to acquire a positive connotation will also tend to spread, as people want to claim the label, even when they are not in the center of the definition. “Fundamentalist” has had a bit of a negative connotation, and so it hasn’t become nearly so diluted. The label “orthodox” (lower case ‘o’) is generally very positively perceived in Christian circles. It’s definition started with those who toed the doctrinal line put out by the church councils, and these days very few Christians want to be called “unorthodox.” I like to say that being “orthodox” means you can say the apostles creed without crossing your fingers. Trouble is, of course, that people have very different tolerances for reinterpretation before they feel obligated to cross their fingers.
In my previous answer to this question I mentioned the evangelical commentators on Daniel I have found, including Earnest Lucas who wrote the Daniel volume in the Apolos Old Testament Commentary series. Lucas maintains that one can assert Biblical inerrancy and also a 2nd century date for the book of Daniel. When I mentioned this to an evangelical friend, he said, “Well, that series is published by InterVarsity Press and they’re pretty much just another liberal publisher any more.” Note that Lucas does not exclusively affirm a 2nd century date, but simply asserts that either is possible for one who believes in inerrancy.
So an evangelical commentary on Daniel can assert a 2nd century date, and InterVarsity press can be considered liberal. Such are the wanderings of labels over the conceptual landscape.