Faith As A Badge

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N.T. Wright has some trouble seeing that old scoundrel Pelagius in places where I think we should be able to see him quite plainly. For example, Wright says, “Once we release Paul’s justification-language from the burden of having to describe ‘how someone becomes a Christian’, however, this is simply no longer a problem. There is no danger of imagining that Christian faith is after all a surrogate ‘work’, let alone a substitute form of moral righteousness. Faith is the badge of covenant membership, not something someone ‘performs’ as a kind of initiation test” (What St. Paul Really Said, p. 125).

Now my point here is not that N.T. Wright is Pelagius. My point is that Wright is being too much of an English gentleman to be able to identify what that heterodox British monk is capable of getting into. Who can always slip a trout of self-righteousness into the punchbowl of orthodoxy? Pelagius, that’s who.

Faith is a badge, not a work, Wright says. Pride is therefore out, he argues. But has he never met people who were proud of their badges? Depending on how many badge-happy people you have been around, it might be harder to find someone who wasn’t proud of his badge. I have met more than one Calvinist who was proud of the fact that he held to a theology that excludes all pride. Handwaving over the spot (“Oh, no. Faith is a badge, not a work.”) doesn’t deal with any of this — only grace experienced in truth (not just affirmed) deals with it.

I once heard a speaker addressing egalitarianism in the workplace, and he said (wisely) that you could go into an office, give everyone the exact same kind of desk, the exact same kind of phone, the exact same kind of office chair, and exactly the same number of pencils, all yellow. You could make your workers all dress exactly the same, lecture them on the need to be good little clones, and then stomp out. After the door slammed shut behind you, one of the remaining workers would say something like, “My desk is closer to the window.”

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