Jamie Smith’s Incomplete Counter-Reformation

The Calvinist philosopher James K.A. Smith has written a clever blogpost on N.T. Wright’s  How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. Smith’s main frustration with Wright is the following:

notice the subtitle: Wright is offering us the “forgotten story of the Gospels.” This may be a publishers’ ploy, but having heard Wright talk about this argument in several different contexts, he clearly affirms the claim: for hundreds and hundreds of years, we have not been able to properly read the Gospels. And now Tom Wright has come along to give us what we lacked: the backstory of Second Temple Judaism, the historian’s read of Israel’s expectations, the secret keys we need to finally read the Gospels. […]
There’s another layer here that adds to my frustration: Wright regularly faults the catholic creedal tradition as the villain that tempted us to miss this “forgotten story.” Nicea and Chalcedon are blinders and screens that prevent us from seeing what Wright, “the historian,” has uncovered. The creedal tradition, on Wright’s account, was fixated on ontological questions about divinity and humanity and thus missed the backstory of Israel’s covenant which really makes sense of the Gospels. And so when he frames his argument, even if he doesn’t reject “Nicene Christianity,” he certainly dismisses it and sees little if any value in it. For those of us who have been struggling to get evangelical and Reformed folk to remember they are catholic, it is disconcerting to have yet another teacher come along and promise a new “secret key” to unlock the Bible.

Hmm, this sounds a lot like Counter-Reformation complaints about Protestantism. As one commentator puts it, “Why criticize Wright and not Luther?” Why indeed? Maybe it is time for Smith to do what he is “sometimes wont to do,” and show his commitment to being “catholic” by becoming Catholic.

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