Thursday night I spent about 35 to 40 minutes discussing a particular lecture by Tom Wright, bishop of Durham, author extraordinaire. Those who actually listened know that it was sort of a basic introduction, since many are not familiar with Wright and his books. I mean, I sat here and just went through some major titles from the past decade or so, gave a little bit of background, and then most of what I did involved reading Wright himself and making some very brief comments as we went along. During those comments I mentioned the fact that many before me have noted the difficulty of nailing down a very specific definition of where Wright stands on specific issues since, quite simply, he at times says “yes” and at times says “no.” And I noted that Wright’s most vocal supporters and promoters are quick to say, “You simply misunderstand him,” seemingly as if you have to be a fan to fully enter into the discussion or gain the proper amount of “enlightenment.”
Predictably, one particularly vocal proponent sent us an e-mail criticizing me for not understanding Wright’s epistemology. I was expecting that one, actually, since my comments at that point included material from a discussion with a leading scholar regarding a forthcoming book on that very subject. I appreciated, at least, the fact that the writer was irenic, in general, in his criticisms, but those criticisms were almost “template” like as I have seen them coming from devotees of Wright’s theological position.
As I walked into my office this morning to do a quick check of my e-mail, however, I noted that my mail program was displaying a little icon next to one of my e-mails which indicates it might contain strong or offensive language. My eyes traveled over to the “from” column, and I knew why. Here’s the e-mail:
“Today’s Dividing Line Will be Live at 7pm EDT
Topic: Ruminations on N.T. Wright (aka, “Tom” to those who love and adore him so!). Just a quote to warm you up:
God forgive us, within modernity, when often we as Christians thought that the way to use the Bible to address the world was to abstract large chunky doctrines from the Bible and hurl them at the heads of people who believed large chunky modernist doctrines. You have to deconstruct the Bible in order to do that. Much better to let the Bible be what it is, which is a story, and stories are far more subversive and damaging to other alternative worldviews than large chunky doctrines ever were, which are basically shorthand versions of stories.”
There’s just no other word for it, James. You are an ass.
The Christian Counterculture Project
Now, someone might question the wisdom of posting this e-mail. If I had not already encouraged Mr. Schlapfer to repent and look to his language and attitude, I would not let others see in the open what he does in secret. But this is not the first e-mail like this I have gotten from him. Since my preceding attempts have been ignored, and he insists, over the name and URL of his ministry, to behave in such a fashion, I think others need to be aware of it. Up until barely a month ago I thought Schlapfer was a really neat guy. I didn’t know him well. We had only exchanged e-mails, but I had no reason to suspect that he engaged in such behavior. At one point he had even offered to help webcast the Dividing Line (which was very encouraging), and he and the others at The Discerning Reader had always been kind to me, and even posted a great picture of me on my motorcycle on the page that featured my books. Indeed, around Christmas I even received a gift certificate to their bookstore (I was not completely certain who sent it, but I assumed it was from him). But then in late May I received an e-mail from him recommending I use Wright’s materials to prepare for the debate against Doug Wilson in November. I wrote back indicating that such would not be possible since I disagree so strongly with Wright on his formulations regarding dikaiosune theou and many other related issues. Well, my breath was taken away at the speed at which I went from “recommended author” and good buddy to a bumbling writer who is worthy of personal insult. There was no transition period. There was no discussion. Wright is right, anyone who says otherwise is wrong, ignorant, unlearned, etc. and etc. And, if you do not accept that instantaneous condemnation, you are…well, you can read the above for yourself. When Mr. Schlapfer first used that line, I invited him to repent and to seek the assistance of his elders. Evidently, my admonishment went unheeded.
One will note this morning’s e-mail is not exactly intended to be a compelling argument. I have yet to receive from Schlapfer such compelling arguments. When I sought to raise particular issues, such as Wright’s interpretation of 2 Cor. 5:21, I received nothing but insults and condescension in response, no exegesis. When I referred him to the work of someone like J. Ligon Duncan (such as this article), he dismissed such sources without offering the first word of interaction or rebuttal. Wright is right. It is axiomatic.
It is possible that the other folks at Discerning Reader and christiancounterculture.org do not stand with Schlapfer in his views and his behavior. I sure hope so. I have sent many folks their direction over the years. At one point Schlapfer said he intended to overhaul the website so as to make available the full spectrum of Wright’s materials, which I could only interpret to mean he intends to use his full weight to promote New Perspectivism, in whatever form that most pleases him, via those ministry websites. The truly discerning reader would want to know that.
I continue to pray for Rob. I have given him the best direction I can, not on the Wright issue, but on how he treats folks he once promoted and applauded and appreciated who labor in the ministry. I somehow do not think Tom Wright would appreciate Schlapfer’s approach, either. Maybe someone else, who has not already been dismissed as, well, as irrelevant, can give him counsel? Let’s hope so.