Trevin Wax on NT Wright’s latest polemic
What on earth is going on with NT Wright lately? It seems he’s becoming more and more embittered about America and Americans. So much so that he takes a perfectly reasonable and common question about eternal verities and uses it as a launching pad to hack at American culture, wealth and power and to, as an afterthought, give a notorious heretic a gentle pat like an old chum.
What drives NT Wright into these rhetorical flights of obsession? Were NT Wright a celebrity, he would be coming close very to jumping the shark. Were he a Stand Firm commenter he would have been banned long ago for compulsively inserting his favorite topic into comment threads. As an academic he’s sounding less and less scholarly and more like a grumpy old man.
Here’s Trevin Wax on Wright’s latest polemic:
Wright asks “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” in order to consider the context of the question. He implies that Americans may be asking this question because of deep-seated feelings of guilt for our economic prosperity or our nation’s foreign policy. I’m afraid this simply won’t work as an explanation. The U.K. was just as invested in the Middle Eastern conflicts as the U.S., and yet he claims he is rarely asked about hell in England.
Furthermore, the idea that only Americans are asking about hell seems reductionist. When I lived overseas, I discovered Romanians to be very interested in future judgment. Visit Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and other parts of the world where there is a strong evangelical presence and you will find people grappling with these issues. The fact that few in the UK ask Wright about hell says more about the paucity of evangelical witness in England than it does any lopsided obsession with hell in the States.
Frankly, there are other, better reasons behind the recent dustup over hell. We’re coming out of a decade or two in which some of the sharp edges of Christian doctrine have been blunted and softened. Much of American preaching has centered on practical ways to better one’s present life. Newer gospel presentations sidestep the question of hell altogether and focus instead on God’s calling us to join him in the mission life for this world now. We’ve been told that people aren’t that concerned about the life of the age to come (this, despite the number of books about heaven and hell that linger around the summit of the New York Times bestseller list).
Perhaps, the reason why the subject of eternal destiny has come roaring back is because people do indeed wonder about these things, the Bible does indeed speak to them (quite often, in fact), and people who read their Bibles regularly (evangelicals in the U.S.) can’t miss all the references to final judgment. Like Wright, we should indeed ask the question behind the question, but not if our intention is to downplay the importance of the question…more
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