Thinking Anglicans

Marmite Man

Richard Burridge recently reviewed two books for the Church Times. The review was headlined Dissecting the thinking of Marmite Man.

The primary reference is to Paul the Apostle, as Burridge explains:

ST PAUL is, to use a current phrase, a “Marmite Man” — which means that you either hate him or love him. For some, Paul is the great Christian hero, the first theologian of the Church, and the proponent of justification by faith. According to this view, the rediscovery of this through the atoning death of Christ drove the Reformation, and has given Christianity its distinct em­phasis ever since, especially in the Evangelical traditions.

For others, however, Paul is the bad guy: a convert to Christianity, even an apostate from his own Jewish faith, and a reactionary bigot whose letters have oppressed many groups down through history, notably women and, more recently, homosexuals.

But, one of the two books reviewed is Justification: God’s plan and Paul’s vision by Tom Wright. Burridge continues:

The Bishop of Durham is also a Marmite Man, who has legions of devotees. His talks sometimes generate an atmosphere akin to a pop concert or political rally, while the internet is awash with webpages about his work, complete with videos across YouTube. The books pouring from his pen are bought in such quantities that he has single­handedly kept SPCK afloat in difficult times for publishers.

Yet, like Paul, he is not without detractors. Many in the liberal tradition, especially in the Episcopal Church in the United States, view him as an inquisitor, sent to bring them to heel through the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant.

What is perhaps less well known among Church Times readers is that Bishop Tom is also viewed with grave suspicion by the conservative tradition, especially the ultra-Reformed, who want to preserve the emphasis on personal justification by faith derived by Luther from Paul. This is because he is the best-known exponent of the “new perspective on Paul” — indeed, he invented that phrase in his Tyndale lecture back in 1978!

Burridge goes on to explain further about the “new perspective” and to discuss the other book under review, and then concludes:

Love him or hate him, Tom Wright is a crucial figure in New Testament scholarship and the life of the Church today. Even more important, however, similarly loved or loathed, Paul remains the tower­ing figure at the centre of attempts to grasp what God has achieved for the whole human race through Jesus Christ.

Both these books help us under­stand our contemporary arguments as well as the eternal Plan. To assist further, however, we “wait with eager expectation” for Bishop Tom to put aside these wrangles, and complete the promised fourth volume of his magnum opus, devoted to Paul — with or without Marmite.

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JPM
JPM
10 years ago

>>>we “wait with eager expectation” for Bishop Tom to put aside these wrangles, and complete the promised fourth volume of his magnum opus, devoted to Paul — with or without Marmite.

Sorry, but he’s too busy lecturing us naughty colonials to be bothered with scholarship, or even running his own diocese.

drdanfee
drdanfee
10 years ago

The tool box – skilled means for reading and understanding the scriptures which give rise in our times to this new view of Pauline thinking – is pretty much the same set of tools or scholarly practices which give rise to modern corrected readings of the six or seven clobber verses, used to maintain negative definitions of queer folks. It’s quite curious then, that a notable scholar should be able to manage critical change studies of one topic, changed views of Pauline thinking; and be completely deaf and blind to critical change studies of the other topic, queer folks. Well… Read more »

Bill Moorhead
10 years ago

+Wright drives me crazy. I just finished “Justification,” and although I don’t pretend to have understood everything he said, I have come away from the book with the sense that “I think I finally get what Paul was really talking about.” (I’ve always thought that the Reformers as well as the medieval western catholic tradition were pretty much “not getting it.”) I also greatly appreciated the first three volumes of “Christian Origins…” I have several other of his books on my “one of these days” shelf. But he’s going to destroy himself as a biblical theologian not only with his… Read more »

Rev L Roberts
Rev L Roberts
10 years ago

How totally compelling – Not.

I can(‘t) wait — yawns …

Are you sure that’s really Marmite ya got there ?!

toby forward
10 years ago

There is a suggestion in this piece that to be a ‘marmite man’ is in some way to be a towering figure. How about some other ‘marmite men (and women)? Tony Benn, Enoch Powell, Ann Widdecombe, Margaret Thatcher, Nick Griffin, Chris Moyles, Ricky Gervais, Jade Goodey, Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Richard Dawkins. The fact that N T Wright incites strong feelings in people says nothing at all about his value either as a scholar or as a bishop. If I were to put these people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ lists I know which side I’d put… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
10 years ago

Dr Dan wrote: “It’s quite curious then, that a notable scholar should be able to manage critical change studies of one topic, changed views of Pauline thinking; and be completely deaf and blind to critical change studies of the other topic, queer folks.”

Well… Dunelm (as Tom) perhaps contributed to popularise the New Perspective but didn’t as I understand have anything to do with inventing it.

Saunders is the name I’ve heard.

Ian Montgomery
Ian Montgomery
10 years ago

Do the conclusions determine the value of the study that leads to them? I read above stuff from folk who do not like +NTW’s conclusions concerning the homosexual debate as he finds them in the Scriptures and then contributes them. His conclusions on other things (Justification being one of them, life after death another) do not excite such vitriol and are arrived at with the same painstaking scholarship. It is not that he has ignored to pieces of recent argument in favor of reinterpreting the Scriptures in favor of changing the historical teaching on sexuality – he has in fact… Read more »

Göran Koch-Swahne
10 years ago

All is well, all is well…

toby forward
10 years ago

Ian Montgomery says that N T Wright ‘is not afraid to go against past received teaching when he is convinced that the Scriptures say otherwise’. That raises a lot of questions. First, is the use of the word ‘Scripture’ when most of us would say ‘Bible’. ‘Scripture’ makes a lot of assumptions about the status of the Bible that not everyone would accept. Following on from this is the value we place on Tradition and on modern scientific scholarship, when it conflicts with things which may be found in parts of the Bible. Then, there is the question of how… Read more »

john
john
10 years ago

‘His voice is rather too loud and too often heard for my liking.’

Absolutely, though this seems like a very good response to a certain Toby forward above …

JCF
JCF
10 years ago

I don’t hold St. Paul responsible (for poor translations, mistranslations, and addenda to his works, leading to) contemporary bigotry, discrimination and oppression.

Tom Wright on the other hand… >:-/

drdanfee
drdanfee
10 years ago

I still stand by my observation that the opening up of a new perspective on Pauline writings in the NT goes one way, and the closed down readings used to maintain trash talk about modern queer folks, goes just the other way. My guess? We’d be a whole lot better off as Anglican believers if we stayed in hermeneutical bounds and had qualified peer referees whose main job was to watch us doing it – which is actually, I think, what the global bonds of affection are all about? Our three-legged stool image? I’d prefer we Anglicans used every energy… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Father Ron Smith
10 years ago

“Why is it, then, that conservative thinkers who can change their big brains about Paul, and a growing list of other hot topics by talking across scholarship groups and tolerating modern research, simply collapse into pat, neat negatives when queer folks come up for scholarly believer consideration?” – drdanfee on Sunday – Big brains don’t necessarily make right thinkers! Dr. Dan’s reference, above, to Bishop Tom Wright’s selective hermeneutic shouldn’t put us off the real task of sussing out the ‘Gospel content of St. Paul’s theology. Granted, Paul was influenced by his Old Testament background – as was Jesus, to… Read more »

JPM
JPM
10 years ago

Does anyone else think that Marmite, manufacturers of a delicious and wholesome product, should sue the author of this article?

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