I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Professor N.T Wright is the world’s foremost and influential New Testament scholar at the moment. His work on the resurrection and Paul are probably among the most quoted books in apologetics and scholarship. Like many, he has influenced my thinking regarding many topics, his ability to explain complex theological ideas so everyone can understand and I have a huge amount of respect for him and his scholarship.
Well, at least I did. It was quite a punch to hear his views on marriage equality; in short he’s not in favour for it and his argument seems to be based around the dangers of redefinition of marriage. He goes as far as dismissing same-sex marriage as “nonsense”. Now I’m not going to address his views on marriage equality, that’s not the point of this piece, but what this has done has raised a very interesting conundrum for me and many others which was every eloquently stated by Samantha Field on Twitter:
Unpopular opinion (possibly): NT Wright’s asinine and ridiculous arguments about LGBT ppl makes it tough for me to respect him as a scholar.
— Samantha Field (@samanthapfield) July 8, 2015
Indeed on a private Facebook group I am a part of, Professor Wright was summarily dismissed on not just this issue but on pretty much everything he had written. They had lost so much respect for him that nothing else he had said on anything seemed to matter. So the question is, should this be the case? Should someones life’s work be dismissed on the basis of their view on one subject?
On the one hand it’s completely understandable. This isn’t a mere disagreement on which flavor of juice is best, this is about whether the LGBT community are entitled to the same legal rights as the straight community and N.T Wright is firmly in the “No” camp. The fact that he is using the scholarship and history (2 subjects he is famous for) to do it just leads to people think that he can’t be trusted on anything regarding those subjects; at the very least the trust has been broken. It’s hard to listen to someone on anything when you see them as de-humanizing people with their views.
On the other hand, Professor Wright has spent his entire life studying the Bible and reflecting on many subjects associated with it. It is completely possible to be wrong on one subject and be completely correct on another; at the very least still be taken seriously on those subjects. Plus when discussing subjects you should be debating the points that are actually being made, not on what was said on another subject.
Professor Wrights view on this has sort of come out of nowhere since he’s been staunch supporter of women in ministry, and I’m extremely unlikely to dismiss his views on that; and in a video a few years ago he said he didn’t know enough about homosexuality to comment and there was nothing to suggest he was against it. I have no idea what has changed in the meantime. To me, the reason the question of whether you should dismiss someones work because of other views comes up is because of what holding those views involves. There will be many that will regard N.T. Wright as a homophobic bigot and it’s kinda hard to argue against that. So anytime someone quotes Professor. Wright, it will be seen as quoting a homophobic bigot. Steve Chalke was seen as quoting an abuser in a recent book and this caused a lot of controversy. Steve Chalke’s example is slightly different as he was holding John Yoder up as an example of espousing good pacifist theology which is the complete opposite of an abuser, however as I said above Professor Wright is a big supporter of women in ministry. We would be holding Professor Wright up as an example of espousing good equality theology when he uses the same theology to deny another group legal rights (not just rights within the church) Would we be doing the same if we’re quoting him on the doctrine of Hell for example? (a subject he believes we have got very wrong)
When I sit down and think about it, I am uncomfortable with dismissing Professor Wright on other subjects, or indeed a scholar as a whole, because of his stance on marriage equality; but I certainly have lost respect for him as a person. Whether I like it or admit it, this has likely had an impact on how I see him as a scholar, but he’s not the only one. Ravi Zacharias, Michael Ramsden, Michael Licona; I’ve found I’ve lost a degree of respect for them as I find out their views on various subjects. But like with Professor Wright, those subjects are related to how people are treated, their use of the Bible to justify them. They are still excellent scholars, and it seems a little silly to dismiss their knowledge and research because of their views, but I just don’t see them the same way I once did and that makes me reluctant to listen to them on anything else.