N.T. Wright Responds to Dr. CraigMay 05, 2019 Time: 20:30
N.T. Wright clarifies his view on the Second Coming of Christ in response to Dr. Craig.
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, many people have asked us about this YouTube video. It is called “Responding to William Lane Craig’s Criticism” on an episode of Justin Brierley’s show called Unbelievable – you’ve been on that program – called “Ask N. T. Wright Anything.” We want to play a clip here. We can’t play the entire clip because it is a long clip. But we do want to interact a little bit here with what this criticism allegedly was, what N. T. Wright had to say, and see if we can tease some things out on this. It becomes evident in this clip that N. T. Wright has great respect for you as you have respect for him. Justin Brierley is a real fan of yours. He loves to have you on and loves to talk about you on his program. We are all trying to figure out what this criticism is. It was somehow dealing with the eschaton, or the second coming of Jesus, as you recall.
DR. CRAIG: Yes.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s play the beginning of this clip to set it up. This is how it begins with Justin Brierley and N. T. Wright.
JUSTIN BRIERLEY: Let’s turn to Anders in Stockholm, Sweden who emails in to say, “Jesus’ second coming is something we are all waiting for. But, according to William Lane Craig, N. T. Wright’s view is quite different, and I would like some clarification.” To set the scene, William Lane Craig is a well-known Christian philosopher in the USA. I know that he has been working on his own research in atonement and so on. Obviously, he is looking into your views. Anyway, this is the piece that is quoted by Anders from William Lane Craig saying, “N. T. Wright has this very peculiar view that the Son of Man returned in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.” Anders is looking for clarification on that quote.
DR. N. T. WRIGHT: Sadly . . . I’ve known Bill Craig for quite some time. We’ve argued in public and sometimes we’ve agreed in public, as well as disagreed. And that’s fine.
KEVIN HARRIS: I want to stop right there because [laughter] he was going to say, Sadly, maybe I haven’t clarified it very much, but he interrupts himself and says, Sadly, I’ve known Bill Craig for some time. [laughter]
DR. CRAIG: Yes, I hope that wasn’t a Freudian slip! [laughter]
KEVIN HARRIS: Here is how he continues.
DR. N. T. WRIGHT: Yes, he is working on atonement, and yes he disagrees with my view on that. That is fine, too. This is how we learn from one another, hopefully.
KEVIN HARRIS: He will go on to try to clarify his view which he admits could have been misunderstood on the second coming. Do you disagree with him on the atonement?
DR. CRAIG: N. T. Wright wrote a book called The Day the Revolution Began which is a book on the atonement of Christ. I mainly disagree with his characterization and presentation of traditional atonement theories. He loves to portray his own views as radical and even dangerous in comparison with the traditional atonement theories. He characterizes these as neo-pagan theories of the atonement. He says that according to these atonement theories, God so hated the world that he killed his only Son. I protested to him that this was a gross caricature of tradition atonement theorists. When you read the church fathers – St. Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Turretin, Grotius – none of these traditional atonement theorists would have espoused that sort of hateful model of the atonement. They all see the atonement of Christ as a manifestation of God’s love to bring about our redemption and salvation. It seemed to me that it was a caricature of these good people who have presented these atonement theories. It was a smear of their character and their views that was unworthy. But in terms of what Wright himself believes, if you dig below the surface, he actually affirms the same things. I think that N. T. Wright, when it comes to the atonement, is sort of a sheep in wolf’s clothing. That is to say, he likes to present himself as very radical and different, but in fact, at the end of the day, he thinks that Christ died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins, to expiate our sins, and to propitiate the wrath of God, which is exactly what these traditional atonement theories affirm. So our disagreement is not on one of substance. I think we both are traditional Reformation atonement theorists. But our difference is in the mode of presentation. I think that we need to represent more accurately these traditional atonement theorists rather than to caricature their views in order to use them as a kind of foil to set ours in sharp relief.
KEVIN HARRIS: You’ve recommended his 800-page book The Resurrection of the Son of God.
DR. CRAIG: Absolutely.
KEVIN HARRIS: Are there areas on the resurrection that you've interacted with him on?
DR. CRAIG: Yes. We both were in one of the Greer Heard Forums at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary several years ago where I offered a response to his argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God. What I suggested is that N. T. Wright's book is the fullest development of that third leg of the three-legged stool that is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. The first leg is the evidence for the empty tomb. The second is the evidence for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. The third is the very origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. In Wright's book, he presents the fullest argument for the historicity of the disciples suddenly and sincerely coming to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite every predisposition to the contrary. He describes the belief in Jesus’ resurrection as a sort of mutation of traditional Jewish beliefs about the resurrection. Now the disciples believe in the resurrection – not of a corporate group of people, but of an isolated individual, and not of an eschatological resurrection at the end of the world, but of a resurrection that has already taken place within history. Wright poses quite correctly the question: What is the best explanation of this radical mutation of traditional Jewish beliefs about the resurrection? His answer to that, however, is peculiar. His answer is the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances. In other words, he uses the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection as evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances. I see it quite differently. I think that these three legs of the stool are all independently established so that you can establish historically the credibility of the empty tomb narrative. You can establish the credibility of post-mortem appearances of Jesus. And then quite independently you can establish that the earliest disciples came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite every predisposition to the contrary. And then I argue that the best explanation of all three of these facts is the one that the disciples gave; namely, God raised Jesus from the dead. Wright, in his book, prescinds from that inference. His book is not really an argument for the resurrection of Jesus. It's an argument for the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances of Jesus on the basis of these mutations of traditional Jewish belief. Having then arrived at the conclusion that the empty tomb and the post-mortem appearances of Jesus are historical, he then asks: what is the best explanation of these facts? And here he punts. He says, This is a worldview question, and worldview questions involved deep assumptions and presuppositions, and I simply invite someone to look at this from the perspective of the Christian worldview and see if it doesn't make good sense of these facts. If you ask what about alternative explanations of these facts, he throws the ball to Gary Habermas. He says Gary Habermas has dealt with these alternative theories; please see his work on this question. So Wright's book is not a complete case for the resurrection of Jesus. It is a full and impressive case for the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection despite every predisposition to the contrary. That's what it really does. But a full-orbed case for the resurrection will also include a study of the Gospel narratives of the empty tomb with a view toward assessing their historical reliability, and a case for the post-mortem appearances of Jesus based upon Paul and the Gospels’ testimony, and then we’ll make an inference to the best explanation of all three facts. So I see his work on the resurrection as extremely helpful. We definitely agree. But I would plead for a fuller and more powerful case for the inference to the resurrection of Jesus as the best explanation.
KEVIN HARRIS: Doesn't he conclude that work with, that's why as an historian, I cannot account for all of these things unless Jesus got up out of that tomb. Is that in that book?
DR. CRAIG: I don't think that's in the book. I think that quotation, which I often use in debates, is from a Christianity Today article.
KEVIN HARRIS: I see. It was from an interview?
DR. CRAIG: I believe so. And he certainly does believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that this does explain all the facts. But the book itself, as I say, leaves that largely between the reader and God to work out as to what is the best explanation. He just says: ask yourself if your worldview provides a good account of this, or whether or not maybe by considering a Christian worldview these facts might be more plausibly explained. It's a very invitational kind of approach rather than an argumentative approach.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let's continue this portion of this clip – the beginnings of his explanation for what he means about Jesus’ second coming.
DR. N. T. WRIGHT: But he's wrong in terms of saying that I say that in – this is Mark 13 and Matthew 24 and Luke 21 and so on – that the Son of Man is returning at AD 70. The problem comes with the idea of the coming of the Son of Man. When you read Daniel 7, which is one of the most important biblical texts for the early Christians and for Jesus himself, you have to realize what's going on. And sadly I may not have made this clear in Jesus and the Victory of God, but I had a whole long chapter on this and I thought I had made it clear. The way that Daniel 7 is being read in the first century is not about somebody called the Son of Man coming downwards from heaven to Earth but about this figure one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds to be seated beside the Ancient of Days, who is God.
KEVIN HARRIS: So he gets into the book of Daniel there and how to interpret the book of Daniel and how the New Testament writers and the people at the time would have interpreted it.
DR. CRAIG: And Jesus himself in Mark 13. The linguistic distinction he makes here is the returning of the Son of Man in AD 70 versus the coming of the Son of Man in AD 70. His point is that Mark 13 in his interpretation is not about the return of the Son of Man. It's about the coming of the Son of Man into the heavenly throne room where he will be seated beside the Ancient of Days. And this is exactly what I took him to be saying. It seems to me that N. T. Wright has a peculiar view that is rather analogous to the distinction that dispensationalists make between the rapture and the return of Christ. He differentiates between what Jesus is talking about in Mark 13 and the return of Christ at the end of human history. What he believes is that Mark 13 is not about Jesus’ return; rather it's about his coming into the heavenly throne room to be seated beside the Ancient of Days. We don't see that obviously because he doesn't come to Earth. He comes into God's presence in the heavenly throne room. The visible manifestation of this coming and being seated beside God is the destruction of Jerusalem and particularly the destruction of the temple which shows that Jesus has been vindicated. So what Mark 13 is about in his view is not the return of the Son of Man, but rather it's about his coming before God and being seated next to God in the heavenly throne. That's exactly the way I represented the view. N. T. Wright believes that there will be a return of Christ at the end of the age. There will be a return of Christ. That's still forthcoming in much of the New Testament, but he thinks that in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed these prophecies that Jesus gave about the coming of the Son of Man were all fulfilled in a sort of invisible way just as dispensationalists think Jesus will come back and rapture the church in a kind of invisible coming and take us out of the world. That was the view that I went on to criticize. I just find it really implausible that there is this differentiation between the return of Christ, which will be visible, bodily, everyone will see it, and this supposed coming of the Son of Man that he sees in Mark 13. I don't see that these are two separate events.
KEVIN HARRIS: So many things hinge on AD 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem. And it's interpreted in so many different ways. He mentions it here in this clip. I also wonder if some of the passages skeptics criticize Christianity by saying that Jesus said, Many of you standing here will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. They take that to mean the second coming when it could have been more along the lines of what N. T. Wright is talking about.
DR. CRAIG: I think that is his view. It is that these prophecies were fulfilled in AD 70 with the coming of the Son of Man, not indeed to Earth in a visible way but rather coming before the Ancient of Days and being seated beside him. I find that to be implausible. You can see my Defenders lectures on this. But what strikes me as odd about Wright’s response here in the interview is his apparent claim that I've misunderstood his view. It seems to me that I've perfectly understood the view as he explains it.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let's skip to the end of this interview segment and see if we can draw some threads together.
DR. N. T. WRIGHT: In other words, Matthew and Luke interpreting Mark (and I think it's so in Mark but with Mark it's very dense and can be misinterpreted) are quite clear that the Son of Man passage in Daniel 7 refers to Jesus’ vindication that the destruction of the temple a generation later is the ultimate sign that God has vindicated and is vindicating Jesus. People have said, Oh, this means N. T. Wright doesn't believe in the second coming. No! Watch my lips: of course the second coming is real. That's there all over the New Testament. But these texts are not about the second coming; they're about the vindication of Jesus.
DR. CRAIG: So it seems to me that that final conclusion shows that he believes exactly what I thought he believes. Namely, he does believe that there will be a return of Christ at the end of human history at the end of the age, but in the meantime in AD 70 there was the coming of the Son of Man which is a distinct event before God to receive power and glory, and this was manifest on Earth in the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. So what he says is, of Mark 13, these texts are not about the second coming. And that is what I'm skeptical of. It seems to me that these texts are about the second coming. So whether we agree or not, he doesn't respond to the critique of that. What he says to Justin is that I've not understood him. But then as he explains his view it seems to me that it's exactly what I understood him to say.
KEVIN HARRIS: I wouldn’t want to be accused of misrepresenting him. I have been trying to study N. T. Wright and go through his book on the resurrection and watch some of his YouTube videos as well. He thinks we Americans are really crazy on this rapture thing.
DR. CRAIG: Oh, I do, too! I don’t agree with that. What I think is funny is that it is his view that is kind of like a funny peculiar rapture view.
KEVIN HARRIS: He does not hold to the rapture.
DR. CRAIG: No, no. Of course not. For N. T. Wright, the coming of the Son of Man is not an invisible return to Earth to rapture or snatch the church out of the world. Rather, the coming of the Son of Man is Jesus’ vindication in AD 70 and being seated next to God in the heavenly throne room.