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Atlanta ETS Impressions

One View of Atlanta

Just a few quick observations after returning from attending the Evangelical Theological Society Conference in Atlanta:

Among the many conversations, sessions and memories, I am left appreciating:

The many levels at which gifted scholars are working to show the reliability of the Bible and the unparalleled supremacy of Christ.

The overwhelming case that can be made for the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The value of hearing ideas explained, challenged, and clarified.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Justification by Faith”.

Over 100 academic papers were read in various sessions looking at the subject from many theological and historical perspectives.

The primary concern was to weigh something called “The New Perspective on Paul” which (ironically) has for 30 years been challenging the Lutheran and Reformed view of Justification.

At the heart of the current debate are views of Anglican Theologian N.T. (Tom) Wright who has been one of our generation’s most able defenders of the resurrection of Christ and the historical integrity of the Bible.

Many, however, have wondered whether Wright’s advocacy of “The New Perspective on Paul” meant that he departs from Orthodoxy on the nature of “justification” a central point of the Gospel. All week long, many raised and developed questions about whether Wright was, on the issue of justification, a friend or foe to the way Protestants have understood Paul’s words regarding “justification,” and that “the just shall live by faith.”

Only with Wright’s scheduled appearance on Friday morning, and a chance for other scholars to personally challenge him on the issues, did much of the fog clear. While some questions and “fine points” of interpretation and theology remained unanswered even after the morning long “discussion,” I found the process both electrifying and clarifying.

Hearing Wright explain what he had actually said and meant–in the presence of those who feared he was saying something else– reminded me of what happened when an ancient delegation of Israel avoided a civil war by personally confronting brothers who were rumored to have fallen into idolatry (Joshua 22:10-31).

So why all of the concern and questions about what he was saying? Wright’s message to the conference was titled, “Justification, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” He explained that just as we all affirm that there are three tenses to our salvation in Christ (past, present, and future—from the penalty, power, and presence of sin), so justification has different tenses (and dimensions) as well. His concern is that many have failed to see the bigger picture in both “justification” and “the Gospel” by not giving careful enough attention to the different points Paul makes at different places in his letters. Wright maintains that what we usually mean by “justification by faith” is one important element of the whole good news of what God has done through the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah to bring both Jews and gentiles into a covenant relationship with himself.

While this may raise questions as to how I’m describing this, or what all  of the fuss was about, my main point now is to recognize how helpful and important it was to see scholars “around” the same table—clarifying and agreeing about what is most important and foundational to the Gospel while graciously agreeing to disagree on some finer points of interpretation.

Reminds me how many bitter conflicts and lingering resentments could be resolved by getting our facts straight—before going to war—at all levels of our own lives.

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30 Responses to “Atlanta ETS Impressions”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    I am enjoying your presentation this morning Mart, your excitement comes through your writing.

    it reminded me of my first conference I attended as a representitive from my church. I was young and came away feeling that what I belonged to was way bigger than the little gathering of believers found there in my local church…somehow it made me feel safer, and strengthened my faith.

    I was also taken by your remarks concerning Wright. Almost as if his comments or thoughts came with *authority* over what you or others thought.

    You fellows who are a part of a world of attending top notch meetings, conferences, and seminars with other church leaders from around the world, are very far removed from people like me.

    I find that in most cases I never know what people like Wright may say or think…I have only my faith, my Bible and the Holy Spirit to guide or influence my thinking.

    What I often read from such top leaders of huge church groups is a departure from traditional beliefs, in an attempt to modernize our shared Christianity.

    Sometimes just to play to the changing attitude of a modern world view of Christianity.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like I am down playing your conference, I am not. I think it is great for Christian *leaders* to come together and be encouraged by each other.

    Yet Paul would be the first to remind us, that our faith is about Jesus of Nazareth, not Paul.

    I am amused how your colleages were in anticipation to hear what Wright had to say himself, so as to clear up what others had either misinterpeted or did not understand what he had said.

    Just like here…We do our best to be clear in what we say and communicate, but somehow what we say completly changes when read by the mind of another, into something else altogether.

    Thank you Mart for taking us to the conference with you.


  2. poohpity says:

    I agree with Steve when he said, “Just like here…We do our best to be clear in what we say and communicate, but somehow what we say completely changes when read by the mind of another, into something else altogether”. So many times Mart when you write something it is misinterpreted or something else is read into it but I guess it goes with the territory down through the years.

    Today’s ODB talks about the mind of a child with faith because they take things without presumptions or preconceived notions which tarnish their minds. They are the first to call it as they see it. I guess that is why Jesus told us to have a mind of a child when it comes to our faith and their praise is pure.

  3. SFDBWV says:

    Once again Mart I am amused at your reporting that there were over 100 academic papers read on the subject “Justification by Faith”.

    It kind of dwarfs our little group discussions on the same matters….certainly most of us would never consider ourselves to be theological experts nor academic in our presentations.

    Yet somehow there is a liberal amount of theological wisdom presented here by a broad spectrum of people from all walks of life.

    I get several emagazines and paper magazines from various theological news groups. I must admit, I am not impressed sometimes when these people somehow have to have a consensus of opinion, from within their own ranks in order to state that, Jesus did raise from the tomb…

    Wasn’t that fundamental in becoming a Christian in the first place?

    Sometimes I am reminded of what it must have been like when Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin, and all the *important* people awaiting what it was that Caiaphas had to say concerning the matter of Jesus of Nazareth.

    It is interesting also to me that when the Protestant faith was established, that it traded one Pope for many.

    Not picking on anything Mart, just rying to get a discussion going….


  4. poohpity says:

    I think it is a very important topic because there are those that still believe that one can loose their salvation by not knowing that they are justified by faith.

  5. SFDBWV says:

    You are quite correct poohpity, salvation is a very serious matter.

    If our theological braintrust can’t agree on fundamental issues, then their doubts and unbelief trickles down to the sunday school classes and pulpits they *control*.

    Creating an avelanch of confusion, and dismantling the fabric of our social ntework of faith.

    It is from such experts that we get the flood of new translations of scripture. Which is one reason I stay with the older versions for myself. I do not advocate for any one to imitate my behavior, I am just explaining myself.

    Good evening to all, from the mountains of West Virginia.


  6. davids says:

    I always find it ironic that this most basic of Christian beliefs is so widely misunderstood. People outside the church have little understanding of grace. They want to fit Christianity into the Karma-based thinking.

    But even among those that call themselves Christians I find the idea that there is a heavenly scale based on justice. Movies and shows perpetuate this with old myths like St. Peter and the Pearly Gates.

    Tucking my 8-year-old into bed tonight, I had to reinforce this message. My 13-year-old started playing “what-if”. Justification by faith is just such a hard thing for the world to accept, since it seems to cast God as unfair (to the Hindu that never heard the Word, for example).

  7. Bob in Cornwall England says:

    We talked about Daniel in church this morning, he brought a whole nation back to God because He would not waver or give in to the crowd. He was justified by his faith not his theology!


  8. poohpity says:

    Steve you do not have to explain yourself about the translation you use. That is totally up to you. It is very interesting to read about how the translations got to be. I am so glad that there is a variety out there to choose from and I enjoy reading from several different ones and am totally thankful for all the work that has been done by linguists for a better understanding.

  9. SFDBWV says:

    I went to newseum this morning and have the Newspapper headlines from Wellington New Zealand.

    They have pictures of many of the miners still underground at that countries current coal mine blast.

    Reading the comments from family members is heart breaking, as they pray for a miracle.

    Once again, I am reminded how the reality of life at the moment can put religious beliefs both to the forefront and in the back of ones mind.

    The wonderful rescue of the miners in Chile cannot be compared to a coal mine explosion. They were very different incidents.

    People who have their lives torn asunder give little attention to theological debate, they cling to Christ in simple and desperate need.

    I believe God made the way of salvation simple, so that no thought of how to achieve it, other than to just believe it, is how it is offered.

    A broken heart has no more strength left to argue or debate, it just needs comfort and reasurence…

    God offers both at no cost to us other than faith.


    Hello to you Annanvalley in Africa

  10. scout1 says:

    I give an “amen” to you Steve. The simple gospel message can be understood by a child. Praise the Lord for that! I know that as a child, a loving father is not complicated, he’s just love and all that that encompasses. Jesus showed so many examples of that. Lynda

  11. dja says:

    I give an “amen” to what you have written, also, Steve. “But God demonstates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

  12. poohpity says:

    I fully am so thankful for all the scholars and translators because we would not have bibles into English Language and for all the current translators who are now translating the bible into many other tongues for instance the different languages in Africa and Papua New Guinea who now are able to read God’s Word for themselves. Biblegateway where there are 100 translation in 50 different languages and all available for anyone to check out. If there was not those folks who’s life goal is to get the bible into as many people as possible hands then that would not allow all the folks on this planet to even have the conversations we have everyday on this site. So the conversations that the folks at ETS are to benefit more than just a select few and are also increasing their knowledge as well.

  13. davids says:


    You are so right. I am not one that looks for signs of the end times in current events and focuses on all that. But with the translation of the Word into ever more languages, and the exciting growth of the church in Africa, Asia, and other places, I am confident that we are drawing closer to the the time when the Word will be spread “to the ends of the world.” (Acts 1:8)

  14. Bob in Cornwall England says:

    I still can’t get away from the fact that simple faith and trust is all we need.
    Daniel saved a nation by faith and trust that his God would deliver and, like Jonathan and his shield bearer, he was not bothered if God did not deliver becaues he knew and trusted “Jesus” to be there no matter what the outcome.
    David stood against Goliath when no one else would because he knew that the same God that parted the waters of the Red sea to deliver Israel was with him.
    The early church also stood on this simple trust and faith.
    It seems things started to go wrong when in AD 300 ish the then established church held it’s big theological debate and started to seperate/distance christian traditions from Jewish worship and tradition.
    Our lives and our nations will be transformed when we simply trust God and commit our very lives to Him.


  15. Bob in Cornwall England says:

    There is too much debate and not enough child like trust in the word of God, the Bible.
    Faith is by hearing and hearing is by the word of God!
    Sharper than any two edged sword, able to seperate the very innermost parts of our soul and spirits. Able to transform us from the imperfect to the perfect.

  16. poohpity says:

    You know Mart in my life I have seen so many, many conflicts over people not getting facts straight. I have been on the side of pushing things without having all the facts and have had to go with head hung low and admit it. It would have been so much simpler to ask for more information then to start all the problems that it caused. Or to just clarify what someone else was saying before offering lip service. As you said it would have prevented many wars. I guess that is why James talks so much about taming the tongue.

  17. Regina says:

    Good Evening All,
    It’s been awhile since I talked to you via this blog site. I’ve been busy with the usual…work/chores, etc. I hope all is well in your lives.

    Off topic here (and about 6 topics behind this one)… My husband told me on 11-15-10 that he thinks we should start preparing to go our seperate ways and get a divorce. Earlier today, he said that we needed to discuss the division of property and assets, but he decided to do it later because he wanted to go workout.
    More transparency here…
    We’ve been living seperately/divorced in the same house (I sleep in an extra bedroom and he sleeps in the master bedroom, and we have seperate bathrooms) for 4&1/2 to 5 years. We were married in 1988, and if ever there were two people who should have NEVER married it’s me and my husband. Our son has lived through the gradual demise of our relationship since he was around 6 years old, but I think it became his familar because he didn’t understand it.
    For many, many years my husband showed me that he didn’t want a wife, he wanted someone whose every action he could control. There’s so much I could share with you… the years of terrible lack and valley of the shadow of death experiences, but God is faithful and He did not require me to go through more than I could bear.
    When I got married I didn’t know anything…seriously, I knew nothing about what it meant to be a wife. I knew even less about what I should look for in a husband. I was young, shy, naive and was desperate to leave a dysfunctional family. I didn’t know that I was leaping out of the frying pan into the fire!
    Please pray for/with me, as I go through this next juncture in my life, that I will trust in the LORD with all my heart, and that I won’t lean on my own understanding. That I will acknowledge God in all my ways and trust Him to direct my path. I also need prayer that my husband will not try to take advantage of me. We had a disagreement the other day (we’ve disagreed frequently since the day we married), and he reminded me (out of spite) that we won’t be together for very much longer.
    I know that God is in control of this situation, and He will work all things together for my good.

    Thank you so much for your prayers!

  18. Regina says:

    Forgot to share the weather forecast for Texas today…

    Cloudy and warm – 79 to 80 degrees.

  19. dja says:

    Dear Regina,
    I’m sorry that you are going through this, but thankful that your faith is in the One Who knows all and is over all. Please know that I am praying for you.

  20. Loretta Beavis says:

    Dear Regina

    Jesus is our Light in the darkness. I will pray for you and others in our situation who may read this blog (but not necessarily speak up).

    Strength will come as you wait upon the Lord for the answers in your tribulation.

    I recall the trials and tribulations many have shared on this blog, they went through and are going through–we just gotta keep going forward with Jesus.

    Something I’m learning about the bad in life is that it keeps pointing me to the Good, and that is my Jesus.

    As Mart said, it was ‘electrifying and clarifying’ to speak to the author/theologian (Wright) in person about his work.

    Won’t it be so exciting to speak to the ‘author and finisher of our faith’ in person one day!

    Love you alll

  21. Bob in Cornwall England says:


    I will be praying for you as well. I know a little of what it is like to “live” in the same house with someone but have no relationship with them, I think it is called co-dependency or something like that.
    I have always felt a bond with you down there in the warm sunshine of Texas. Like so many others on this blog, it seems we all have strife and pain in our lives but we cling ever stronger to Jesus as each day goes by because He is the only sure Rock and fondation that will never be moved.


  22. BruceC says:


    I will pray for you friend. Way too much pain in this world. I look foward to that moment in time when I shall see Him face to face; and He shall wipe away every tear. And we all; as believers, have tears.
    God be with you.


  23. SFDBWV says:

    Regina dear friend, I am so sorry for you to have to deal with this struggle, only compounded by the holiday season.

    What I do know of you is that you are a strong intellegent person with the wisdom to have accepted our Lord as your salvation.

    No divorce is pleasent, only sad and painful. I will be in prayer for you, and am sure out of this darkness, God has a better plan for your future.

    Hugs accross the miles from the mountains of West Virginia…


  24. poohpity says:

    So sad to hear that you are going through this along with your children. We will pray for the peace and comfort of our Savior to be with you all at this time. Also will be praying for very wise decisions.
    Love Deb

  25. Ken says:

    I have not sumitted a comment for many months but when I read your sad news I thot I have to say something.
    We went thru a similar situation with our daughter. She is also a believer. From what you said her situation was almost identical with yours.
    I will pray for your strength and peace and all that but I will also be praying that you find a good lawyer, preferably one that is a believer as well. I know that we as Christians do not believe in divorce. We do not believe in violence either but if we get shot we have to deal with it we cannot ignor it and hope it will go away.
    I want to encourage you by saying that there is a good life beyond this. God does have a plan for your life. My daughter is a good example of this. It will be a rough road but God is good. Cling to Him.

  26. pegramsdell says:

    sorry regina. been there done that. still hurts though. you are not alone and never will be. and you will be in my prayers girlfriend. love, peg

  27. phpatato says:

    Regina, know that I am praying for you. You have something many people in your situation don’t. Faith in Jesus Christ! Cling fast to that wonderful knowledge, He is your mainstay. If the burden of the heavy stresses begins to weigh you down, reach out to Him to find your rest. His arms are open wide waiting to hold you close.

    Love you dear Sister


  28. Regina says:

    Good Evening All,

    Thank you all SO much for your prayers and comforting words! I’m overwhelmed by your encouragement, advice and understanding. :-)
    Today was a better day. My husband didn’t say anything about our impending divorce. He was strangely quiet today. I know that’s your prayers working on my behalf. He told me yesterday that he wants to wait until after the holidays to tell our son. I guess that’s when I’ll tell some of my family members too because I haven’t told anyone except you all.
    Jesus has shown me on numerous occasions that He’s right here with me in the midst of this trying situation.
    As I go through this valley, the greater the uncertainty the more I depend/lean on Jesus to carry me through the trial. Our son is home (from college) for the holidays, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he enjoys his time with us as a family.
    Thank you again for your prayers, love and encouragement. I’ve been walking through this valley for a long time now, and I rarely ever share what I’m going through with anyone, but you all have helped me to understand and feel comfortable with sharing my trials and adversity.
    There’s a scripture in the Bible that says we are to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. I’m going to cling to Jesus in this situation, and I’m SO glad that He’s my friend.

    Love & Blessings,

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