Al Mohler's contribution to this edition of Tabletalk, an article entitled "Rethinking the Gospel?" is simply superb. And let me tell you why.
First, he acknowledges Wright's gifts. He is "brilliant, creative, provocative, and fascinating." He also acknowledges that, as a matter of emphasis, Wright has some real contributions to make when it comes to our understanding of the scope and sweep of the gospel. In his rejection of modern individualism, "Bishop Wright deserves to be heard." Mohler also says "there is truth in Wright's lament that far too many Christians have little appreciation for the cosmic significance of the gospel." I am grateful that Mohler sees this, and I echo his appreciation at these points.
But Mohler then critiques Wright for adopting a false dichotomy with regard to the emphasis of Scripture -- either cosmic salvation for this planet or individuals getting saved. (As a side note, Wright knows that individuals do get saved, and he is obviously not against it. But he teaches that if the cosmic message of Christ's Lordship is proclaimed, the personal benefits are as a result "thrown in." Wright rejects an emphasis on personal salvation as a major first century motivation.) Now Mohler grants that for those evangelicals who do not incorporate God's larger (indeed, cosmic) purposes into their thinking about personal salvation, Wright provides a valuable corrective. This acknowledgment of Mohler's is absolutely essential.
But the new idea being presented is that first century Jews (and Christians) really did not walk around wondering how they, individually, were to be saved, and that this was a later contribution from introspective weird beards in the monasteries. To this we must respond on two levels.
First, this requires us to think that people could believe in two ultimate destinations for human beings, and not have it occur to them that this meant that they personally would wind up in the really good one or the other one. But once it occured to them (as it would), this meant that if the really bad one could be avoided, steps should be taken. Now Wright is absolutely correct that the steps they would take would not be the same steps as a moralistic monk some centuries later, but nevertheless, they would take steps and they would do so for the sake of personal salvation. This idea that they would not simply stretches credulity, and betrays an ignorance of how real people in all ages actually function.
Despotic rulers of old would have people hauled off to be tortured because, despite their cosmic designs to conquer the world, they knew that incentives and disincentives still worked on the individual level. This was not modern Enlightenment individualism, for pity's sake. It was an awareness of where the foundational decisions were made, and how those decisions were connected to individual nerve endings. In short, a cavalier dismissal of final judgment as a motivating factor at the individual level in the first century simply does not know how people (of all ages) tick.
Secondly, this reality can be plainly seen in the pages of the Bible, and these verses are not downstream from Descartes and the birth of individualism. Mohler cites one of them -- Paul refers to the gospel "by which you are being saved" (1 Cor. 15:2, emphasis mine).
I will not weary you with an exhaustive list, but the scriptural evidence for this is simply everywhere. Wright does see the many texts that speak of the omelet, invisible to many evangelicals. But it does not follow that there are no texts that speak of individual eggs. The eggs are not just an inference. Jesus and the apostles talk about them, and Bible believers since then have talked about them as well, learning by imitation.
The issue in the texts below is where salvation is located, how salvation is naturally and routinely spoken of at the individual level. And I say this granting (with Mohler) that this salvation corporately includes far more than just the individual, but all other believers as well, along with the heavens and earth. Emphasis mine in what follows, and there are plenty more where these came from.
"If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor. 3:15).
"To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5).
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15).
"Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee" (1 Tim. 4:16).
"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39).
"Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1:21).
"Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (Jas. 5:20).
"Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world" (John 11:23-27).
And just one more . . .
"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).
Who is supposed to fear? Whose soul is it? Whose body?
One last point. Imbalance breeds imbalance. So instead of freaking out over Wright's new imbalance, we evangelicals need to spend a little bit more time lamenting our centuries old, "this world is not my home, I'm just passing through" older imbalance. Mohler does this well, and is a model of the kind of balance we need in this discussion.
"As is so often the case with those who suggest a recasting of Reformation doctrine, the problem is not so much with what Wright proposes to add to our understanding, but what he wants to take away." And with this I wholeheartedly agree.