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.