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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 

The Gospel and Jeremiah Wright

I have avoided speaking about Barack Obama's former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for about as long as possible. There are a number of reasons for this. Foremost among them is the irritation I have felt in seeing political pundits and news personalities (most of them unbelievers), attacking a pastor for view he expressed from a pulpit in a church. Now, don't get me wrong. I disagree heartily with what the man said, whether or not it was taken out of context. But I am very uncomfortable with a pastor being criticized publicly for his views by those outside of the faith. And yet, this has become the norm in the U.S. these days - and that worries me a great deal.

I recently wrote a comment on another man's blog about the criticism being heaped upon Wright (and consequently, Barack Obama), and pointed out that, while I am disgusted by the media's treatment of Rev. Wright, I do believe there are some upsides to the controversy, namely that it puts a spotlight on the inherent problems of Liberation Theology and its influence in the African-American church. I don't have the time, nor the patience (or really the education) to dive deeply into Liberation Theology, so let me offer a few links for further study:

An article, "What is Liberation Theology?" at GotQuestions.org
An interview with Eric Redmond, an African American Pastor in Maryland, by Albert Mohler
A partial transcript of that interview at Townhall.com entitled, "Is Jeremiah Wright Mainstream?"
Eric Redmond's post, "Jeremiah Wright’s BLT" (Black Liberation Theology), on his blog, A Man From Issachar

Suffice to say, the problems of Liberation Theology are vast, and they are a stumbling block to the gospel. As one commenter at Townhall.com wrote:
Liberation theology creates further division.
Liberation theology counters racism with racism.
Liberation theology is man-made and runs perpendicular to the gospel.
Liberation theology is no gospel at all.
I would agree with this assessment. And since Rev. Wright resurfaced a few days ago and today was blasted by Barack Obama for remarks he made at
the National Press Club Monday in Washington, I have been thinking even more about Wright and his theology. As I was considering this, I stumbled across Warren Kelly's post on Wright at his blog View From The Pew. Kelly discusses Wright's answer to a question posed to him by a moderator after his speech at the National Press Club on Monday. The moderator stated, "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.'" Then the moderator asked, "Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?" Wright replied simply, "Jesus also said, 'Other sheep have I who are not of this fold,'" seeming to indicate that indeed Muslims and those of other religions would inherit eternal life apart from a personal relationship with Christ. Sadly, applause followed his comment. Kelly noted,
Wright had what I call an Osteen moment. He had the chance to share the Gospel in front of millions. Not only that, but he had the chance to calm the fears of evangelical Christians that his church was somehow not really a Christian church. He could have done so much, but he decided not to.
He then wisely observed that, "Jeremiah Wright did to Jesus exactly what the news media have been doing to him -- taken [sic] a part of a sermon, quoted it out of context, and made it sound like something that wasn't intended."

Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. and blogger extraordinaire picked up on the story as well and explains what Jesus was actually referring to in John chapter 10:
When Jesus says that he has “other sheep who are not of this fold,” it’s likely that he is referring to Gentiles who would later come to faith in Christ. The sheep that are following Him at that point in the narrative are Jews, but Jesus aims to have followers from among the Gentiles as well. Whoever the “other sheep” are understood to be, they nevertheless have the characteristics of “sheep.” They listen to and follow Christ, and they are saved only by Him.
Additionally, he points out that, "To say that 'other sheep' refers to unbelievers (or followers of Islam in Reverend Wright’s case) simply runs roughshod over the plain meaning of the passage."

So, as I noted to the other blogger in my comments referred to at the start of this post, Jeremiah Wright's pulpit rhetoric doesn't really bother me - it's his misunderstanding of the Gospel and disregard for the fundamentals of the faith that worry me.

You say you are very uncomfortable with a pastor being criticized publicly for his views by those outside of the faith. But how do you feel about those outside other faiths criticising teachers of those faiths? It happens all the time.

Also I suggest that you interpret the Gospel differently from Wright. He doesn't "misunderstand" it.


Thanks for joining the conversation - or at least starting one.

As for your first question, let me point out that I am saying this in regards to American politics, not in regards to apologetic concerns. My concern is that those outside of Christianity will take what is said by Christians in the setting of their Church and, completely misunderstanding it, and for political purposes suggest that something they say has such consequences that it must be deemed "hate speech" or that it must be dealt with by the gov't.

This could easily happen with other religions as well. All religions in the U.S. should be free to teach what they want to their people. Having said that, they are not free to impose their beliefs on others outside of their religious institutions.

Let me explain. I am not free to force an employee in a secular work environment to believe as I do. However, I can have a set of doctrinal positions that must be agreed upon by anyone wishing to be a member and I can discipline anyone within the congregation because of non-compliance ("discipline" meaning within the civil law - not meaning physical harm).

And I should be free to teach on those doctrinal distinctives and I am uncomfortable when those outside of the faith for political purposes criticize that which they do not understand. However, I am not uncomfortable when, say a Muslim, criticizes my view of the Trinity, since that is not politically motivated, but rather religious motivated. He is seeking to critique me for the upbuilding of his religion and he should be free to do so.

I hope that is somewhat clear.

As for your concluding statement, I am not sure I understand what you are trying to communicate.

If you mean that we simply have two different interpretations and that they are equally valid, then I would sincerely disagree. Either he is wrong, or I am. The Gospel is clearly articulated enough that we can understand it and communicate it. When two who claim Christ preach two different Gospels, then one is right and one is wrong. There is no middle ground here.

So in Wright's case, I believe he misunderstands the Gospel because he makes it about earthly deliverance from poverty, poor living conditions, etc. But that is NOT the Gospel. The early Church believed in Christ and were persecuted, their possessions seized, and their lives destroyed. Yet, all the NT (especially 1 Peter 4) bears witness to the idea that suffering and persecution is in accordance with the will of God, not contrary to it. And the Great Commission is that we are to MAKE DISCIPLES, not allieviate suffering. To the extent that allieviating suffering brings about the Glorification of Christ and people are saved because of it, it is good. However, ending suffering is worthless if those who are suffering still enter Hell because they don't know Christ.

And as for Wright, if he teaches that the reason to come to Christ is for any thing other than to have a relationship with Christ eternally, to be forgiven for the sins we have committed that offend a Holy God and for which we would forever suffer in Hell, apart from the God of the universe, then he preaches a false gospel. We don't come to Christ for what He gives to us, for Christ is THE TREASURE!

If I have misunderstood you, Steph, please forgive me, but I hope what I have written serves to be a good word to you from the Lord.

You accuse Wright of misunderstanding the Gospel. I don't think he does or maybe you misunderstand it:-) but you both interpret it differently.

Well, Steph, you're right, I have accused Wright of misunderstanding the Gospel and it could be possible that I misunderstand it. But the possibility of my misunderstanding hasn't been established with any Biblical support. In contrast to that, I did set forth a case of why I believe that Wright misunderstands the Gospel. So while both may remain a possibility, one must go beyond suggestion to a defense in order for it to truly be a possibility.

If you would like to offer a case for how my "interpretation" of the Gospel (which, by the way, has been the Orthodox view now for about 2000 years), could be a misunderstanding, then you are welcome to do so. But simply suggesting the possibility is not akin to a legitimate accusation.

So, while one could suggest that it is possible that the sky isn't blue, that assertion means nothing if no legitimate evidence is presented. I have presented my evidence and upon 2000 years of Church History I stand.

There are many trained biblical scholars and theologians who can safely arrive at conclusions different from yours on "other sheep who are not of this fold" for example, on the basis of evidenced arguments. It is not so much 2000 years of church history which determines the outcome but the historical sources of 2000 years ago.


First, your statement, "There are many trained biblical scholars and theologians who can safely arrive at conclusions different from yours on 'other sheep who are not of this fold' for example, on the basis of evidenced arguments" is a logial fallacy.

The particular fallacy in question is known as an Appeal to an Unnamed Authority. Here is what one fallacy site said about this particular use of illogical thought:

A common variation of the typical Appeal to Authority fallacy is an Appeal to an Unnamed Authority. This fallacy is also known as an Appeal to an Unidentified Authority.

This fallacy is committed when a person asserts that a claim is true because an expert or authority makes the claim and the person does not actually identify the expert. Since the expert is not named or identified, there is no way to tell if the person is actually an expert. Unless the person is identified and has his expertise established, there is no reason to accept the claim.

This sort of reasoning is not unusual. Typically, the person making the argument will say things like "I have a book that says...", or "they say...", or "the experts say...", or "scientists believe that...", or "I read in the paper.." or "I saw on TV..." or some similar statement. in such cases the person is often hoping that the listener(s) will simply accept the unidentified source as a legitimate authority and believe the claim being made. If a person accepts the claim simply because they accept the unidentified source as an expert (without good reason to do so), he has fallen prey to this fallacy.

Now, let's evaluate the basis of your claim. Because some unnamed expert somewhere claims that on the basis of evidence which you did not put forth, my position is rendered no more valid than theirs? Is that what you are trying to say?

Steph, not only is that poor logic, it's poor blog discussion. If you want to debate whether I am correct, then do so. But trying to undermine my argument by suggesting that someone somewhere has bested it with some evidence, the basis of which I cannot evaluate since it is not given, is quite simply ridiculous.

Now, surely you are a better thinker than this.

As for my argument about 2000 years of Church History, I believe you missed my point. So let me clarify.

First, for 2000 years the Church has been saying the same thing over and over again from this passage - it is about Jewish and non-Jewish sheep. The sheep of "this fold" represent the Jews, and the sheep "not of this fold" represent Gentiles. Secondly, add to that the Bible's claim that the Holy Spirit would bring us into all truth and the clear and historical doctrine that neither God the Father, nor God the Spirit, lies. So, if the Holy Spirit has been inspiring 2000 years of Christians to view this passage in the same exact way, and now one man (and some unnamed experts which are not documented) say differently, then the burden of proof rests on them as to why 2000 years of Church History is wrong. And why the Holy Spirit illuminated this passage one way for 2000 years, but in these last 50 years or so (and there I am being generous), He has changed His mind and illuminated something else.

Finally, if you want to challenge my premise, then bring your own evidence and we'll talk. Otherwise, it is wasteful to talk about "supposed experts" whose arguments I cannot assess. Simply because antithetical arguments exist do not make them as valid as the one I have set forth. I could equally present "experts", but all that would be useless if the arguments of the two sides were not properly evaluated. What you end up with is a false test that pits expert v. expert and not argument v. argument.

Do you see how foolish this line of logic can be. So, my challenge to you, Steph, is to present arguments in favor of your position and argue them out. Now that would be a profitable exercise.

Why didn't you just ask for scholars rather than accusing me of a "logial" fallacy? For one approach try Maurice Casey and James Crossley. From another angle and for another view, those scholars on the American Jesus seminar (Burton Mack, William Arnal etc) You must know that even commentaries don't agree on interpretation. It is hardly a logical fallacy.

I am not interested in proving you wrong, I am interested in not accusing Wright of "misunderstanding.."

What would be better is if you said you disagree with Wright. It is less arrogant.


You said, "Why didn't you just ask for scholars rather than accusing me of a 'logial' fallacy?"

The reason I didn't ask for scholars is because that too is a logical fallacy. I asked you to present a case, to which you offered the logical fallcy of Appeal to an Unnamed Authority. I called you on it (and again asked you to present a case - not for a list of scholars), and you now resort to using it's big brother fallacy - Appeal to Authority (this time named).

Again, without setting forth an actual argument you cannot prove your proposition - namely, that my assessment of Wright is incorrect. Naming those who may or may not agree with me introduces skepticism, not a positive argument. Surely you see that?

All your arguments do is suggest that I possibly may be wrong. And that proves nothing.

As I said before, if you actually want to debate this and attempt to prove I am wrong, then do so, otherwise, this really is a waste of time. Neither I, nor my readers, are interested in the possibility that I could be wrong about Wright (oh yeah, and that 2000 years of Church History are wrong as well), that's far too important of a proposition to merely suggest the possibility of an alternative.

Since I have set forth an argument against Wright's position, per proper debate etiquette, it is your burden to prove me wrong. And as I said, if you want to attempt to do so, go ahead - the invitation is open. But logical fallacies prove nothing.

As for your accusation that I am arrogant, remember that you are a guest on my blog who has accused me (who put forth a proper argument for the defense of my position) of being wrong, with absolutely no supporting evidence (other than two logical fallacies) and yet have continued to write on, ignoring my appeal to you for actual evidence. To me, that's fairly arrogant.

I've handled literally dozens upon dozens of criticisms on this blog, I absolutely NEVER delete a comment (unless it is laced with profanity or is spam), and I answer any logical argument thrown my way, but because I debate in a matter-of-fact style and refuse to allow others to set forth arguments that are clearly logical fallacies, I am arrogant?

Steph, if you can't handle having your positions critiqued without resorting to personal attack, maybe you should find other bloggers with which you could disagree. But here, at my blog, we defend Orthodox Christianity with fervor and sharp logic. Our forefathers in the faith died because they believe that not one man, woman, or child could be saved without the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And here we honor their memories and our Savior whose blood was poured out for us by defending it boldly.

If that comes across as arrogant, well then I guess I am good company because Paul, Peter, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaus, Clement, John Crystostem, and Martin Luther, were all accused of being arrogant as well, since they too preached a Gospel of exclusivity and defended it against heretics.

One more thing, Steph - an honest question - was the comment written on Michael Westmoreland-White's blog under his post on Prince Caspian by "Steph" yours, and, if so, was the "him" you spoke of in reference to me?

Just curious, especially since the accusation of "abuse" seems quite ironic if indeed the two answers are "yes."


It seems Steph didn't have the intellectual honesty to step back up to the plate and address you further.

Apparently, he (I assume) had come to a battle of wits entirely unarmed.

Game, set, match.

There is one other possibility that has not been explored regarding Pastor Wright's grasp of Biblical concepts, and that is that his hatred for certain others in the world around him has so embroiled his very soul as to force him to abandon the Christ of the Bible for something not of God at all, but, rather, as the 'Church Lady' was prone to say "mmm...SATAN, maybe?"

The only encouragement I can find from the blatant apostasy residing in so many pulpits today is the assurances of God's Word that these things must happen as we approach the end times.

I find myself torn with a desire for the continued long-suffering of the Lord, wishing that none should perish, but have everlasting life yet unable to seal my lips and still every fiber of my being that cries out "Maranatha"! Come quickly, Jesus!


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Saw your comment on Ga Mtn Man; where I just left a comment.
I challenge you and your blog audience to take a thorough and prayerful look at Steven Miller's new book on Nixon and Billy Graham.
You should be able to google up the NY Times review easily or check the link at abpnews.com
As for Jeremiah Wright, you may want to take a look at the Pulitzer prizewinning book in nonfiction this year by Doug Blackmon, an Atlanta native; and the brick manufacturing place just north of Atlanta, famous in its time and the labor used for Atlanta's infrastructure.


I will look over your comment at GAmtnman.

But I am absolutely confused by your reference to these two books in relation to my post on Jeremiah Wright and his misunderstanding of the Gospel and his leanings toward the heterodoxical views of Liberation Theology.

Perhaps you could explain yourself better or simply let me know where you might agree or disagree with my assessment of Wright and his theology.

Jesus preached liberation theology but not at the point of a gun. His liberation was spiritual not homicidal.


A couple of comments. First, Jesus didn't preach liberation theology, at least not classical liberation theology. He did preach that one could be liberated from their sin and the punishment of their sin through faith by means of the grace provided through His substitutionary sacrifice on their behalf.

But that's not liberation theology. Classic LT teaches that Christ wants to liberate people from all types of oppression, financial inequality, and social injustice. That certainly doesn't describe what happened to the apostles and the Early Christians who were beaten and killed and joyfully had their possessions plundered for the hope of disseminating the Gospel to all nations.

The Gospel calls for people to lay down their lives, not for them to seek political, social, and economic equality.

Secondly, I have no clue what you mean by Jesus preaching liberation theology, "but not at the point of a gun." First, there were no guns at the time of Jesus. Secondly, what exactly does that have to do with any of what I have said?

Third, what do you mean that Jesus' "liberation was spiritual not homicidal." Again I have no clue how that fits in with this post. Certainly I would agree that Jesus never taught us to kill, but rather that we ought to lay down our lives for others. But what does that have to do with the heretical teachings of liberation theology?

Of course I meant spiritual liberation...:-)

"I am very uncomfortable with a pastor being criticized publicly for his views by those outside of the faith".

I must wholeheartedly disagree with this sentiment. It is of the most importance that all ideas and beliefs are subject to criticism. When ideas are not subject to criticism irrational and sometimes dangerous beliefs are allowed to flourish. Take Jim Jones for instance. Must I share his faith to point out it's flaw?


Thanks for your comment. I stopped short of saying here that is was wrong or inappropriate to comment on the views of another person unless you share their faith. I simply said I was uncomfortable with the criticism.

If you look back up to my first comment in which I answer steph, I point out the reasons there for why I am uncomfortable with criticisms being heaped at those from outside the faith.

Again, I am not saying it is wrong to criticism others with whom you do not share a belief system, but merely that I am uncomfortable with some who do so (again for the reasons I state above).

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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