Is N T Wright’s Book on the Psalms a Dangerous Gateway Drug?

What do you do with a helpful book on an important subject written by a man who is in serious error in a central and crucial area of Christian doctrine? In this case, the error is so fundamental that some would even call him a heretic, or at least that he believes or teaches heresy in this one area.

I’m talking about N. T. Wright who has written a short book on the Psalms and why we should sing them, a subject that is especially dear to my own heart. He writes so eloquently, so originally, persuasively, so TRUTHFULLY.

And yet Wright has also been responsible for popularizing one of the most dangerous and devastating redefinitions of justification by faith in history, a distortion that is continuing to wreak havoc in churches and in individual lives.

I started reading Wright’s book on the Psalms a few days ago, not really expecting much from it, and was immediately overwhelmed by the power of his prose, the force of his arguments, the startlingly fresh insights, and especially the beauty of his writing. I posted a couple of quotes on social media and within minutes: “How can you quote a heretic?” emails started arriving.

I’d love to review the book on this blog, summarize Wright’s insights, provide sample quotations, point to strengths and weaknesses, etc.

But should I?

What are the options?

1. Don’t read anything by Wright on any subject because he’s in such error in a central Christian doctrine. But that would rule out people like C.S. Lewis, John Stott, Alexander Whyte, and Thomas Chalmers, all men who wrote outstanding Christian books, and yet who made serious errors in other important areas, at least at some points in their lives.

And where do we draw the line? Is John Piper off limits because he believes in continuation of the charismatic gifts? Is Tim Keller off limits because he believes in some version of theistic evolution?

2. Read the book and learn from it, but don’t tell anyone, share anything from it, or review it favorably. For my work, I have to read quite a lot of books that I wouldn’t want to publicly discuss because of the possibility of younger Christians reading them without discernment.

It’s been argued: ”We have other reliable articles and books on Psalm singing. OK, they are not very accessible or enjoyable, but at least they are sound.”

Soundly unread.

Whatever else the Wright conundrum teaches us, it’s that we need to work and pray for far better communication skills. Why is it that the devil is so skilled at dressing up ugly error in beautiful clothes, while we seem to be experts at covering up beautiful truth in ugly layers of literary mediocrity?

3. Read, review, and even recommend the book but repeatedly point out that Wright is in error on justification (though it doesn’t appear in this book). The problem with this is that some may not pick up on the warnings. They might hear, “Oh David Murray recommended N. T. Wright on the Psalms,” go off and buy it, enjoy it as much as I did, and it becomes a gateway drug to theological heresy. Throughout his book on the Psalms, Wright repeatedly references and recommends other books he’s written, all of them attractively titled, but some of them containing dangerous error.

So I’m torn; pulled in different directions. Wanting to bless people by using this book to advance the cause of Psalm singing. Yet, terribly afraid of being a curse to people by opening the door to soul-destroying error.

I started out this post inclining towards #3. But as I close, I’m inclining to #2. Much though I’d love more Psalm-singing, you don’t need to be a Psalm-singer to get to heaven. But go wrong on justification by faith, and the consequences are terrifying.


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8 Benefits of Forgiving Others

The most painful experience in life is being seriously and deliberately harmed by someone else.

Car crashes, even fatal ones, are accidents; no one sets out to deliberately injure or kill with their car. Cancer is also an impersonal attacker, an internal cellular malfunction.

But when someone willfully abuses us – verbally, physically, financially, emotionally – that feels altogether different. That pushes our pain levels off the scale and can feel worse than the most serious physical injuries or diseases.

It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a mistake, it wasn’t a malfunction. Someone purposely decided to wrong and damage us. There’s a personal choice, a human will, behind the pain.

That’s searing agony.

Was that not the worst part of Christ’s sufferings? Not so much the nails or the thorns, but the malice of the soldiers, the denial of Peter, the desertion of the disciples, the betrayal of Judas, and, above all, the felt abandonment by the Father.

Avoid or Attack
Our most common responses to being abused are either attack or avoid, retaliate or distance, both of which result in even greater damage to ourselves and others, including anger, bitterness, resentment, and even depression. But there is an alternative to taking vengeance or taking cover, and that’s giving forgiveness.

Full forgiveness
The fullest and best kind of forgiveness is when our attacker or abuser confesses his sin, asks for forgiveness, and we are enabled to do so from the heart, just as God for Christ’s sake did for us. This kind of reconciliation is one of the greatest joys for any Christian to experience. It is so liberating, so refreshing, so exquisite.

However, what if there is no confession, no repentance, no request for forgiveness? We’ve maybe tried to bring the offender to repentance and reconciliation, but without success. What then?

Are we doomed to carry around this burden for the rest of our lives? Do we just keep turning our back or looking for an opportunity to get our own back? Or do we just forgive anyway, regardless of whether the person wants any forgiveness?

Lesser forgiveness
The answer is not avoidance, nor attack, but neither is it unconditional forgiveness, giving full forgiveness where none is sought. There is a fourth option: maybe we can call it “lesser forgiveness.”

Lesser forgiveness has two parts. First, there is a forgiving attitude, being ready to forgive, eager to forgive, even praying for the opportunity to forgive. It’s about being forgiving without actually giving forgiveness.

Second, there is a giving of the matter over to God. It’s saying, “I’m not going to carry this around any longer. I’m not going to attack or avoid, but neither can I reconcile. So I give it over to God, I let it loose from my heart, and I say, “The judge of all the earth will do right.”

Giving up by giving over
There is a giving up of the hide-and-seek, a giving up of the search-and-destroy. There is a giving up of the matter to God. It’s a letting go and letting God.

There is no pardoning and there is no reconciliation. But neither is there condoning, excusing, minimizing, or tolerating of the offense, which is what unconditional forgiveness results in.

Both of these kinds of forgiveness, full and lesser, are patterned after God’s forgiveness and required by the prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

And although this is not the full forgiveness that we crave to give, it is better than the alternatives, and better for us too.

Bitter or better?
Although psychologists lack the theological basis for offering true forgiveness to their clients, they recognize that forgiveness helps bitter people become better people. In The How of HappinessSonja Lyubomirsky argues that whereas “preoccupation, hostility, and resentment that we harbor serve only to hurt us, both emotionally and physically” empirical research confirms that forgiving people are:

  • Happier
  • Healthier
  • More agreeable
  • More serene.
  • Better able to empathize with others
  • More spiritual or religious.
  • More capable of reestablishing closeness in relationships

That’s seven major benefits of forgiving, to which we can add the benefit of an improved relationship with God as well (Matt. 6:12, 14-15).

Amazingly, Lyubomirsky’s first strategy for practicing forgiveness is to appreciate being forgiven! It’s a pity that it’s taken scientists a couple of thousand years to discover that what Jesus was teaching all these years ago is true.

Horizontal and Vertical Motivation
Of course, “scientific” forgiveness is only on the horizontal plane. To motivate us, Lyubomirsky asks us to recall an instance of when we did wrong to someone and were forgiven. However, if such relatively minor offenses against such relatively minor people can help us to forgive, how much more being forgiven by a holy God for offenses not just against His law but against His love? As Jesus said, He who has been forgiven much, the same loves much.

For more on this subject, read Mike Wittmer’s review of Chris Braun’s excellent book, Unpacking Forgiveness.


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Four Beats of the Leadership Rhythm

I rarely host guest posts, but I thought this one from Nicholas Macdonald was worth making an exception for.

Leadership books can be complicated, giving loads of leadership principles that can leave leaders feeling bogged down and helpless. While these books are helpful additions to any leader’s library, sometimes it’s nice to hear leadership laws boiled down to the essentials. What does it look like on a daily basis to be an effective leader?

That’s why I’ve boiled hundreds of leadership books and articles down to what I call the “Leadership Rhythm.” Every leadership tidbit I’ve found falls under one of these sub-headings, and when I find something useful, I tuck it under one of them. Invest in these four rhythms on a daily basis, and you’ll keep yourself doing what leaders are supposed to do while magnetically attracting followers along the way:

1. Direction. Leaders, first and foremost, know where they’re going. In a world lost in apathy, we gladly submit ourselves to someone who’s carved a clear picture of the future, and resolutely sets a steel face toward that end. It doesn’t matter if it’s building a Fortune 500 company, or WWII – people flock to those who know exactly where they’re going:

  • Do you have clear, written goals in your personal and corporate life?
  • Do you embrace core values in your own life and in your organization?
  • Do you keep appointments, accomplish tasks on time, and keep your project/action lists updated?
  • Do you regularly spend time reading, studying and memorizing the Bible for spiritual direction?
  • Do you regularly seek out wisdom from others in your field?

2. Connection. The new IQ is EQ (Emotional Quotient), and the reason is: people with IQ know what to do, but people with EQ get things done. Leadership is all about relationships. If you can’t connect, you can’t lead. Personally, I’ve come up with a “relationship flow” that I try to incorporate into my daily life, that looks something like this:

  • Greet – Do you look people in the eye, smile, and use their name when you see them?
  • Listen – Do you ask good, conversation-geared open-ended questions? Do you regularly re-articulate what others say in your own words?
  • Affirm – Do you regularly affirm people’s positive qualities and accomplishments, publicly and privately?
  • Memory – Do you remember people’s names, goals, and prayer needs?
  • Sharing – In all of your tasks, connections and activities are you constantly thinking, “Who else can benefit from this?”
  •  Asking – Do you know people’s strengths, and regularly invite them to use those strengths?
  • Reconciling – Do you honestly apologize when you make a withdrawal from a relationship, or do you make excuses?

3. Expression. Great leaders don’t just have a clear picture of the future in their heads – they paint it in the most compelling way imaginable. If you can’t express your vision creatively and powerfully, all the direction/connection in the world won’t induce followers, just friends (which are great!)

  • Do you regularly spend time writing out your thoughts on topics, issues and problems?
  • Do you spend time learning expression through literature, non-fiction and great speakers?
  • Do you connect through social media (twitter, facebook, blogging)?
  • Do you make strategic time to communicate to your vision to your organization at least once a month?
  • Do you have a personal journal in which you express your thoughts/feelings about life?

4. Energy. Finally, for the above three components to work, a leader needs incredible drive and energy. I think of celebrities like Robin Williams and Will Smith – these guys don’t necessarily give us a clear vision of the future, but their pure energy makes them magnets for millions

  • Do you regularly exercise?
  • Do you know how much sleep your body needs, and carve out time for it?
  • Do you understand how your personality is energized (introvert/extrovert, etc.)?
  • Do take at least one day off a week to find energy for the rest of the week?
  • Do you know your body’s diet needs for maximum energy?
  • Do you regularly retreat to find energizing beauty in nature, literature, music, movies, art, etc.?

Take some time today to evaluate which areas are weak and strong. Then, plan some strategic time tomorrow to carve out for each rhythm. Not only will you become a more effective leader, but at the end of the day you’ll discover a happier, healthier you.

Nicholas McDonald is passionate about creatively communicating timeless truth. You can visit his daily blog, www.scribblepreach.com, learn about himhere, or connect with him on Twitter @NicholasMcD


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