Scot McKnight’s 20 posts review of NT Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision ” all in one place

I had previously posted 13 of Scot McKnight’s posts on NT Wright on Justification. Ultimately McKnight wrote 20, so here are all of them in one place. Wright’s position is that “final justification” includes the Christian’s works. There is plenty of biblical texts to support him in this instinct if not in his actual exegesis of this or that text. I am friendly to Wright’s concern and his attempt to call the usual Reformed soteriological formulas to task for simply erasing biblical data that indicate the serious place of works of the believer in final judgment, though NT Wright would not use this manner of expression.  I continue to have serious concern about what I perceive to be radical strains of antinomianism within some Reformed circles. There is simply no room for moral effort and no drama to their description of sanctification. It is not only counterintuitive to our moral nature, but the deep decisionism of the New Testament documents seems to require an awareness that grace puts us to work and something is to be lost when that working is clearly nonessential to one’s eternal relationship to God.

Read these posts for yourself and get ready to pay serious attention.

Justification and New Perspective 1

Monday May 4, 2009

We begin today a new series about the new perspective, and we will be discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision ). Today I want to begin with two preliminary comments, and I’m open to corrections if my sketch below is not entirely accurate.

How do you understand the “new perspective on Paul”? What do you think is its primary contribution? Which of the new perspective writers do you read the most and why and what do you like about them? How significant do you think this debate is?

First, there is no such thing as the new perspective if one think it refers to some body of doctrine. The New Perspective, therefore, deserves a brief sketch as to how it arose and what it means. It begins with Krister Stendahl’s famous chapter in his book Paul Among Jews and Gentile . This was back in 1976 and Stendahl argued that the post-Reformation doctrine of justification was rooted, not so much in 1st Century Judaism or the apostle Paul, but the “introspective conscience of the West.”

Many folks thought Stendahl’s major point was brilliant; the essay was formative. But it was EP Sanders who took the substance of Stendahl and established it on the basis of evidence from Judaism.

So, in 1979 1977 EP Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion . Like it or not, this is the most influential book of the second half of the 20th Century when it comes (1) to our understanding of Judaism and (2) how to understand Christianity’s relationship to Judaism in light of #1. This book simply must be read by all seminary students. Sanders argued that Luther imposed his complaints with Roman Catholicism upon Paul’s complaints with Judaism. Sanders argued that Luther got it wrong and that Judaism was not a works-righteousness religion. It was instead a religion of what he called “covenantal nomism.” The covenant got you into relationship with God and the law was given to maintain that relationship. Therefore, much of our reading of Paul since the Reformation has been wrong.

Not long after this, in 1982 to be exact, Jimmy Dunn began to use the expression “the new perspective” as he tried to express his enthusiasm for the fresh discoveries that were occurring in Pauline studies. (The “new perspective” was used first by Tom Wright in a lecture in 1978.) This piece can be found in a collection of Dunn’s studies on Paul and the law (Jesus, Paul and the Law and now see The New Perspective on Paul ). Then Jimmy went on to write his two-volume commentary on Romans (Romans ) and then his book theology of Paul (The Theology of Paul the Apostle ). There is some development in his own thinking about the implications of Sanders’ conclusions but Dunn made a strong case for a more sociological perception of Paul’s mission, gospel, and understanding of Judaism-justification. In other words, Paul was against the boundary-marking characteristic of Judaism that kept Gentiles out, and that Paul’s mission was to get Gentiles into the one covenant God had made with Israel.

Then along came, and only then did along he come, N.T. Wright. Wright built upon Sanders and Dunn, to be sure, but he paved his own ground — building in important ways upon CH Dodd and GB Caird — by pursuing the “end of exile” themes in his early Pauline studies and then his Jesus studies, and then returned to Paul when the New Perspective had taken hold — and he added to it, supplemented it, and has taken much of the heat by the critics. Wright has refashioned justification less in terms of personal conversion and more in terms of “who is in the people of God.” And he has now added to all of this a new dimension, an anti-imperial reading of Paul and earliest Christianity — and that had little to do with either Sanders or Dunn.

But at the bottom of these folks is a belief that Christians have misunderstood Judaism as a works religion and at stake is a profound (changed) orientation to the human problem in much of Reformed and Lutheran thinking: namely, that humans want to earn their place before God, that their fundamental problem is the attempt to establish themselves before God. The New Perspective, in one way or another, does not see this as the problem Paul himself faced and therefore to read Paul in light of this problem misreads Paul in important ways. I call this traditional reading the Augustinian approach to Paul, and I wish more of the critics of the New Perspective would give this Augustinian basis, which most of them think is actually Pauline, more attention. The New Perspective says, “well, yes, perhaps” but that is not what Paul was going on about when he was engaged with his opponents. The issue was not anthropological but both salvation-historical (more Sanders) and ecclesial (both Dunn and Wright). That’s how I see things.

The issue then is how to read Paul in his historical context. This is the Protestant approach and many of us think that far too many of the critics of the New Perspective, instead of re-examining the Bible in its historical context, have appealed instead to the Tradition as established by Luther and Calvin. This leads me to another point…

Second, until someone has read Sanders, Dunn, and Wright, and then examined both the Jewish evidence and the New Testament evidence afresh, one should be very careful about criticizing the new perspective ideas. If one does not do these things, one is not being Protestant. Right or wrong, the New Perspective is the most Protestant move made in the 20th Century — and by that I only mean that it seeks to get back to the Bible and challenge our beliefs in light of what we find in that Bible.

I have heard plenty of folks say “the new perspective is wrong” and even one person saying “anyone who believes in the new perspective is not Christian.” I have heard these things far more often from those who have not even read EP Sanders’ famous book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, do not know that Jimmy Dunn “invented” the expression [added: as a label for] “the new perspective on Paul” for a lecture he gave at the Manson Memorial Lecture, think Wright is the New Perspective, and do not know that Sanders, Dunn and Wright differ in some significant ways. I hear that the New Perspective — as it is a fixed body of belief — often from folks who have no idea what the Jewish texts say about faith and works and covenant and justification.

Perhaps this is a third point: to extrapolate from the exegesis in historical context of Stendahl, Sanders, Dunn, or Wright to “what they must believe theologically” is dangerous business and more often than not simply unfair. In other words, to say they have denied the Reformation etc requires that they say that very thing. Often I hear critics “extrapolating” to what these New Perspective folks must believe and then engaging with this “reconstructed theology” to show that that reconstructed theology is not consistent with the Reformation. Hold on I often say. Let’s see what these folks have to say about these things. One example: Tom Wright is not alone in saying that it is more than a little difficult to prove that Paul believed in double imputation. That does not mean that Tom Wright thinks we stand before God on our own righteousness. It only means that, in his view, the Reformers’ doctrine of double imputation is a development of Paul and not something Paul actually states explicitly. That’s an example.

Justification and New Perspective 2

Wednesday May 6, 2009

We are discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision ). In the prologue to the book, Wright sketches out what is to happen in this book.

“Piper,” Wright observes, “is one of an increasing number who, supposing the great Reformation tradition of reading and preaching Paul to be under attack, has leapt to its defense, and every passing week brings a further batch of worried and anxious ripostes to the ‘new perspective on Paul’ and to myself as one of its exponents” (9). Indeed, this is the issue: today many think the New Perspective, and the critics focus on Wright, has denied the Reformation.

Wright sees three issues at work in this book:

First, the question about the nature and scope of salvation. Wright, leaning as he often does on Romans 8:21 (“in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”), sees redemption/salvation in more robust terms than does Piper and Wright reminds here that other Reformers — and Kuyper came to my mind immediately — have had a more robust sketch of redemption. Let it be clear: Piper thinks he’s accurate; so does Wright.

Second, Wright says this of Piper: salvation is accomplished by the sovereign grace of God, operating through the death of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf, and appropriated through faith alone. Wright’s response: “Absolutely. I agree a hundred percent. There is not one syllable of that summary that I would complain about.” But, he asks, where is the Holy Spirit? Part of Wright’s plea is to take the Spirit more seriously in redemption.

And, third, the meaning of justification. Justification, Wright has been saying all along, “is the act of God by which people are ‘declared to in the right’ before” God (11). Piper insists, according to Wright, that double imputation is the point. Wright: “Paul’s way of doing it [comprehending justification] … is not Piper’s” (11). Why?

1. Justification is about the work of Jesus the Messiah of Israel — and the long story of Israel must be given its due weight. He thinks Piper doesn’t do this enough.

2. Justification involves the covenant — “the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized” (12). Wright observes: “For Piper, and many like him, the very idea of a covenant of this kind remains strangely foreign and alien.”

3. Justification is connected to the divine lawcourt — and Wright sees the image to be God’s finding in favor of those who believe in Jesus Christ. For Piper the issues becomes the transfering of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner — double imputation again.

4. Justification is connected to eschatology — Wright and Piper have a both-and dimension, but Piper — he observes — focuses on the present justification. Wright, Piper thinks, has too much suspense here and thinks Wright gets entangled in moral effort — and back to Wright: “I insist that I am simply trying to do justice to what Paul actually says” (13).

Now to put this in perspective: “Piper claims to be faithful to Scripture; so, of course, do I” (13).

The issue is about what the Bible meant in its context. This is a purely Protestant debate. Ad fontes!

Justification and New Perspective 3

Friday May 8, 2009

We are discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision ) and we want to dip today into chp one and Tom’s graphic opening image.

But first another point: read this book, please read this book. If you don’t like the new perspective and all things Tom Wright or Jimmy Dunn or EP Sanders, you especially need to read this book. And if you do like Tom Wright, you’ll read this book anyway. Know what he is saying before making the claim that new perspective stuff is wrong-headed.

Back to his image: Tom imagines having a friend who thinks the sun revolves around the earth; he tells the friend it’s not so and provides evidence and charts. The friend takes him to the edge of the village early in the morning and watches the sun rise and says, “Well, there you go.”

This illustration immediately sets the tone — it’s kind of enough but it suggests that the critics of the new perspective can at times sound pre-Copernican. Wright says this: “And the problem is not that he [Piper], like many others, is disagreeing with me. The problem is that he hasn’t really listened to what I’m saying” (21). Well, I don’t know I’d put it that way and I want to explain myself …

When I first taught the book of Galatians from a new perspective angle way back in the late 1980s, one that emphasized a salvation-historical approach that came more from Sanders than even Dunn, I had a strange experience. One of my students was a Lutheran and the entire semester, no matter how hard I tried to explain myself in simple and clear prose — and I’m confident that what I said was clear and he affirmed my points were clear — this student couldn’t get it. And it wasn’t because he wasn’t sharp; he was a very good student.

The problem was a paradigm shift at such a level that everything was different — but until the whole was comprehended, the parts couldn’t be comprehended. This student’s experience has been typical for me whenever talking new perspective stuff to those who are thoroughly Lutheran or Reformed — and, as I have indicated, the issue is an Augustinian anthropology and starting point for the problem the gospel actually addresses and resolves. So I think Piper does listen; he just thinks about the very same texts is different ways.

Back to Wright… “My friend [here he’s referring his critics] has simply not allowed the main things I have been trying to say to get anywhere near his conscious mind” (21). Wright is saying that the anti-New Perspective critics operate in a Reformed view that is imposed from without and not from the meaning of the texts in Paul’s context. In other words, it is the defense of a tradition instead of exposition of the letters of Paul.

And Wright thinks the primary question that his critics think Paul is addressing is the individualistic one: “What must I do to be saved?” But we are not the center of the universe Tom observes. We are in orbit around God and his purposes — that is what this debate is about for Tom Wright.  And he thinks a cultural shift is at work that makes this issue — this very issue about the new perspective — so volatile (25-26).

In one of the more personal sketches, Wright makes it boldly clear that there is no such thing as the “new perspective” and that there are major differences between these scholars, and plenty who rarely get mentioned — Richard Hays, Douglas Campbell, Terry Donaldson and Bruce Longenecker. Then he observes how so much is simply left out in the sketches of Paul’s theology in its Jewish context by those who are in the Reformed and Lutheran camps and criticizing the new perspective (he says a few things here about Stephen Westerholm).

Justification and New Perspective 4

Tuesday May 12, 2009

We are discussing Tom Wright’s new book , a book that responds to John Piper’s criticism of Wright and the New Perspective (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision ).

The 2d chp of this book deals with the rules of engagement. Here is Wright’s simple approach: “The rules for engagement for any debate about Paul must be, therefore, exegesis first and foremost, with all historical tools in full play, not to dominate or to squeeze the text out of shape into which it naturally forms itself but to support and illuminate a text-sensitive, argument-senstive, nuance-sensitive reading” (51).

In other words: (1) read the text (2) in its immediate, authorial, biblical context, and (3) all in their historical contexts so far as we can discern them.

John Piper counters this method by suggesting in his book that Wright gives too much credence to non-biblical sources and to novel interpretations. Piper thinks too much biblical theology has become too fascinated with historical context that is then used to reinterpret Paul’s plain sense. For some reason (Piper, The Future of Justification, 34-35), Piper thinks our knowledge of the NT is more secure than our readings of non-biblical texts. This, so it seems to me, begs the question and it is simply not accurate: this all depends on text and scholar. I know plenty who know more about the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Rabbis or the Pseudepigrapha than they do about the New Testament. Still, Piper’s point is of importance: there is a history of interpretation, accurate or not (is the point), that can guide us in NT reading and some bring issues from elsewhere to the NT and then reinterpret the NT and get it wrong. But Wright’s point then needs to be clearly stated: that interpretive history Piper defers to may be wrong, and when it is wrong it can be stubbornly resistant to change.

This is the problem many of us have observed at times in the critique of the new perspective, and we sense it when John Piper says things like this: “The future of justification will be better served, I think, with older guides rather than the new ones” (The Future of Justification, 25). As Wright observes, Piper quotes Scott Manetsch who argues for a return to the 16th Century Reformers …. well, yes, I say to myself. But …. but … but … Is this even Protestant except in a traditional sense? Isn’t this the very approach the Reformers themselves protested? Yes, it is.

I say, ad fontes! Back to the sources … and that is exactly what Wright will do, and it is what Piper did in his book. The issue then is one of method. I contend that we should say it as did Wright:

1. The author’s text.

2. In that author’s context and in the biblical sweep of context.

3. In their historical contexts.

Now the issue will become — Was the 1st Century context of Paul the context that animated the Protestant Reformers and the way justification has been understood in the evangelical tradition, namely as concerned first and foremost (and almost entirely) with personal salvation? That, my friends, is the question at work in the debate about the new perspective. Wed and Friday we will look at how Tom Wright understands the principle terms of debate.

Justification and New Perspective 5

Wednesday May 13, 2009

Tom Wright made a fascinating suggestion in chp two of his book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision , that I did not mention in our previous summary. He suggested that Ephesians may have begun the new perspective.

Until you know what that kind of claim means you should be very careful about criticizing the new perspective. A brief on what he’s saying: what happens to Romans or Galatians if we read them through the lens of the theology of Ephesians? Instantaneously, Romans and Galatians would become more ecclesial. Why, Wright is asking, do so many critics of the new perspective have a theology that does not really make way for the ideas of Ephesians — like cosmic redemption and that God’s plan was to include Jews and Gentiles in the people of God and the powerful role of the Holy Spirit? Well, you get the picture. Of course, the reverse point is being made too: Ephesians has been read through the lens of Romans so much that many have treated Ephesians the way those who deny Pauline authorship have treated it: ignore it. (Wright is not saying that Ephesians should be skipped or that Romans should be too – no, he’s arguing we need both.)

In chp 3 of Wright’s fine book, a book noted for clarity, candor and courtesy — with no hyped-up accusations, Wright begins with a sketch of what Jews in the 1st Century were hoping for, and he makes his oft-made point: it was going to heaven when they died. The tide carrying everyone along was the “hope that Israel’s God would act once more and this time do it properly. Individual hope fits within that. If you want proof, close your computer screen and read the first two chps of Luke. (Then come back to finish this post.)

So what was at work in Judaism (the bulk, mind you, not for each person) at the time of Jesus and Paul?

1. They were living out a continuous narrative from Abraham to the consummation. They were part of it. They knew that because they knew what the Bible said. They were living in a world that knew God was true to his word and that had an ending that had not yet come.

2. Tom next says they were living in a world that thought like Daniel 9 — that the exile had not completely ended. Israel has come back to the Land but things are far from satisfactory — not only have some of the themes not been fulfilled (God returning to the Temple, for instance), but foreigners were in command in the Land. That’s enough right there to establish that for Jews at the time of Jesus and Paul there is still a sense of expectation. This is the controlling narrative at the time of Jesus and Paul. Too many today, Wright observes, would rather “settle back into the comfort of a non-historical soteriology the long and short of which is ‘my relationship with God’ rather than ‘what God is going to do to sort out his world and his people’” (61). This is the big issue at hand.

3. Wright then quotes at length from Daniel 9:4-19, which I’ve also included at the bottom below (read it). Righteousness here is connected to God’s covenant faithfulness and to Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness. Wright is suggesting this is the kind of text that reflects what was going on in Judaism and what was going on for Jesus and Paul. And it leads to his next section — the meaning of “the righteousness of God.”

Daniel 9:4″O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame–the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 O Lord, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing upon us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.  15 “Now, O Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 O Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. 17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

Justification and New Perspective 6

Friday May 15, 2009

We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision , and discussing the new perspective. Wright’s a book is an apologetic for his views, and a response to the critique of his book by John Piper.

The question: What does “the righteousness of God” mean?

Piper understands God’s righteousness as God’s concern for God’s own glory (see Piper’s The Future of Justification, 62-71). Wright thinks Piper’s wrong, “not massively wrong, just out of alignment and lacking in precision” – 64). How so?

1. There is a huge mass of scholarship on “God’s righteousness” and, as Wright observes the idiosyncratic focus of Piper’s revisionist definition, “I am not aware that any other scholar … who thinks that ‘God’s righteousness’ actually means ‘God’s concern for God’s own glory’” (64). Nearly all think it refers to conformity to a norm and therefore of God’s conformity to God’s own norm. Wright quotes JI Packer who is on Wright’s side here. God’s plan is to put things to rights through Israel (and through Christ) and his righteousness is his fidelity to that covenant promise. [I must confess that Piper’s definition is a revisionist definition wherein he captures the meaning of a biblical term into the grid of his theology, and it is a theology that deserves respect but which is asked to do what it need do here: let the word mean what it means and then show that fits into his focus on “glory of God” in his theology.]

2. Double imputation theology struggles to make sense of righteousness as God’s concern for his own glory. Romans 4:20-22 distinguishes glory from righteousness. The covenant God has made is to bless the world through Abraham and his family. God’s righteousness is to be faithful to that covenant promise. [Not sure Tom is all that clear in this 2d point.]

3. Piper does not adequately engage Romans 3–4 to examine Wright’s own thesis that God’s righteousness refers to his covenant faithfulness. God has a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin; Israel failed to be faithful; what is needed is a faithful Israelite; Jesus Christ is that faithful Israelite. This faithful one removes the curse against Israel’s unfaithfulness.

4. Piper downplays the lawcourt metaphor and here again Wright gets into it with Piper about double imputation, in particular the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. Wright argues that the “righteousness” of the vindicated defendant is not the same as the judge’s. It’s about a person’s standing in the view of the court and law.

5. Piper sees the issue to be God’s concern for himself. But the biblical framing of issues is God’s unwavering gracious concern for everything else (70). This, too, Wright says often enough will redound to God’s glory. The theme of God’s covenant faithfulness and righteousness has a biblical direction toward others, not toward God himself (though it does bring glory to God). Wright: “God’s concern for God’s own glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel and an undeserving world” (70-71).

Justification and New Perspective 7

Monday May 18, 2009

We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, and how the new perspective (Tom Wright’s version of it anyway) is playing out today.

What about the Law then? How does Wright understand the Law?

Wright begins by sketching, in bold figure, how Luther saw the Law as the bad guy and then quotes Edmund Clowney, in a book edited by DA Carson, who says this of Calvin’s view of the Law: “It was to a delivered people that God addressed the words of his covenant at Sinai.” The irony, Wright observes, of it all: that is, the Calvinist view of the Law is not unlike Ed Sanders’ “covenantal nomism”: “now that you’re in the covenant, here is the law to keep” (72).

Something I’ve often thought too: Wright observes that had the Calvinist view of the Law been the dominant one, there would never been a need for the new perspective. The new perspective responded far more to the Lutheran sketch of Judaism than it did to the Reformed view. Wright sums it up and says he can’t tell if he’s summarizing Sanders or Calvin!

He sketches the 2-volume set edited by Carson that, in some ways, confirms what Sanders argued for Judaism but which, in other ways, shows that Sanders may have played his hand too hard. The point is this: the Law followed covenant and followed election.

Wright now pushes back against Piper. Piper’s theory is that Judaism and humans are essentially and incurably legalistic and works-righteousness-minded and self-justifying. Where, if the above sketch about law following covenant, does the idea of legalism and self-justification come if it doesn’t come from a supposed interpretation of the Jewish world? This is a powerful pushback question from Wright.

Wright sketches how works fit into covenant:

1. The question is not about individual salvation but about God’s purposes for Israel and the world. The Pharisees said those who obeyed the Torah would enter the Age to Come [this gets individualistic in Wright]. Those who would be vindicated then are those who obey Torah now.

2. 4QMMT connects, as does Paul in Romans 10, Deut 30 to specific works that indicate who will be justified…. Paul sees that Torah anticipated in Deut 30 to have been fulfilled in Christ.

 

Justification and New Perspective 8

Wednesday May 20, 2009

We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. The book purports to be a response to John Piper’s The Future of Justification, but it is far more than that: it is a brilliant sketch of Wright’s own views.

Chp 4 opens with a question that is second to none in this debate: “What is the question to which the ‘doctrine of justification’ is the answer?” He then moves to Alister McGrath’s famous study on the history of what justification means (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification ), and makes three points:

1. McGrath distinguishes “concept” from “doctrine”: the former refers to the biblical ideas and the latter to how that idea has developed into a full-scale, centralized doctrine in the Church, esp after Luther. [It makes me think Wright should have had “concept” at the top of this chp.]

2. McGrath says the “doctrine” has gone well beyond what is found in the Bible, especially as taught by Paul.

3. McGrath says the “doctrine” still has much value.

Wright’s observations about this shift from the biblical “concept” to the Church’s “doctrine”: those who read the “concept” in light of the “doctrine” will misread Scripture’s concepts, will not see Scripture’s points, and will give biblical warrant to “doctrines” because of the above two. This is the problem of method, the problem of reading back into the NT what was framed much later by Luther (and less so by Calvin).

In the history of the Church, particularly the Lutheran and Reformed branches, justification covers it all — and McGrath’s books show just this: it has come to mean the entire picture of God’s reconciling action toward the human race.

Wright sets the tone: The dikaios root “does not denote that entire sequence of thought” but instead it denotes “one specific aspect of or moment within that sequence of thought” (87). Making it the whole and the center is like making a steering wheel the whole of a car.

Wright’s definition now: Righteousness “denotes the status that someone has when the court has found in their favor” (90). It does not denote the moral character they are then assumed to have or the moral behavior they have demonstrated which has earned them the verdict. The whole world is in the dock and that means justification means acquittal and forgiveness. It does not mean “make righteous” as if it meant transformation of character. Therefore, it refers to a declaration that gives someone a status.

Wright argues that Piper sees justification in moral terms — that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to someone. But righteousness in Paul is not about morality but about status.

 

Justification and New Perspective 9

Friday May 22, 2009

Kris and I leave South Africa today and ask for your prayers for our trip home — a long one through Paris. But, the blog goes on!  We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and are now at the point of getting into Wright’s understanding of justification.

Wright opens up part 3 of chp 4 with a little sketch of bell ringing and how very few know what is going on … and he sees the same in biblical theology times — most don’t what we are on about. Here he pushes back against a few scholars for their lack of attention to “covenant.”

God’s plan is to call Abraham so that through his family God could rescue the world from its plight (94). And folks in the criticize-the-new-perspective camp all the time claim Paul had very little “covenant” at work, and Wright observes that Paul’s uses of Gen 15 and Deut 30 are through and through covenant texts. Piper, he says, thinks covenantal readings belittle Paul. “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification — all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ” (95). [I’m a bystander at times in this but why do the critics not like “covenant”? That’s not a Reformed thing to do.]

Covenant has four elements:

1. How Israel understood themselves as the people of the Creator God — perhaps we could call it “covenant people”;

2. The focus of this purpose on Genesis 15, 17, and Deut 27-30 — perhaps “covenant plan”;

3. The sense that this story was ongoing in an unbroken manner toward fulfillment — perhaps “covenant hope”;

4. Paul’s retrieval of the story and recapturing it in light of Jesus Christ, the one through whom God would fulfill his purposes – perhaps “covenant fulfillment.”

All of this makes clear why rescuing from sin and bringing together Israel and Gentiles is part of the covenant.

And finally, eschatology.

1. God’s single purposes have a definite goal, the redemption of God’s people and the rescue of the whole creation;

2. This was launched in Christ;

3. Paul believed believers were in the now and not yet zone of history.

What God had planned he had done already in Christ.

Here’s a summary: “Eschatology: the new world had been inaugurated! Covenant: God’s promises to Abraham had been fulfilled! Lawcourt: Jesus had been vindicated — and so all those who belonged to Jesus were vindicated as well!” (101). “Welcome to Paul’s doctrine of justification….”.

And that means also Christology: a big point is that Jesus Christ is the one in whom God’s people are summed up. The task of the Messiah was to offer to God the obedience Israel should have offered but did not. Israel had been faithless; Jesus was obedient/faithful. The “faith of Christ” therefore refers to Christ’s faithful obedience as the true Israelite.

Therefore, as the representative Israelite Christ is the substitute — the stand-in for Israel or his people. He is the substitute because he is the representative.

His resurrection launches the new creation. The Spirit makes justification’s declaration a reality. And this makes Jesus the judge on the last day.

 

Justification and New Perspective 10
Monday May 25, 2009

NT Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision , has a very interesting format (in the American version I’m using — I had an English copy but gave it to my colleague): the first four chps are called “Introduction” and chps 5-8 are called “Exegesis” and have chps on Galatians, Interlude on Phil, Cor, Eph), Romans, and Conclusion. In other words, the debate about the new perspective is not the critical thing; the critical issue is how to read Paul!

Before I say another word: a huge, huge word of thanks to RJS for looking after this blog while we were in South Africa. RJS has made this blog a better space for all of us. Thanks RJS.

Now to NT Wright and Galatians…

If Tom Wright has a challenge to sum up Galatians in a few pages, I have a similar challenge: to sum up his chp in a few words. I highlight.

Wright has a suggestive idea for Galatians 2:11-21. What does justification mean in this context? (The text is at the bottom.) Here’s Wright’s observation:

First, it does not mean to be granted free forgiveness of your sins or to come into right relation with God… but, second, rather “to be reckoned by God to be a true member of his family, and hence with the right to share table fellowship” (116). The point is to be in the family of God and it has to do with the coming together of Jews and Gentiles. Notice how the terms of this passage shift when the table fellowship is given importance here.

What does “works of the law” mean? It means to live like a Jew and separating Jews from Gentiles (cf. 2:14, 15). They are not here about the moral good works that humans intent on proving themselves before God seem to like (in the Reformed tradition). Works of the law here connect to not eating with Gentiles.

And we are justified by “the faith of Jesus Christ” — is this faith in Christ or Jesus’ own faith? Justification then is triggered by the obedience/faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And Christians believe in this Messiah. The law never could promote justification … it reveals sin.

Point of emphasis: 2:16-21 is the Jewish experience with salvation and table fellowship in Christ through the lens of Peter’s and Paul’s life. The “I” of these verses — “I am crucified with Christ” — is the Jewish “I.”

11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15″We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. 17″If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

 

Justification and New Perspective 11
Wednesday May 27, 2009

In the 5th chp of NT Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision , Wright explains the significance of Abraham in the middle of Galatians. Three issues emerge in chps three and four, and it gets to the heart of Tom Wright’s proposal within the new perspective — and it is not a denial of personal salvation but a placing of personal salvation within the context of what God is doing in history — and that dimension is too often ignored in the old perspective and another context is given — God’s plan for personal salvation is what drives that reading of Scripture. Here are the three major themes for Galatians 3-4:

1. The covenant and promise to Abraham.

2. The Law

3. The Messiah

The the point of the section is to show how the Law fits into all of this: “it gets in the way of the promise to Abraham” (123). How? It chokes the promise within Israel’s failure, it threatens to divide the family of God, and it locks up everything in the prison house of sin. God thereby makes his purposes clear: to carry on the single plan with Israel (and Abraham) on the basis of faith and the Torah makes that faith-response the clear implication of the whole plan. Even the curse passage (3:10-14) is connected — not to human sin — but to the inclusion of Gentiles in Abraham’s blessing and that we might receive this promise on the basis of faith.

Here it is:

“Scripture has concluded everything under sin, so that the promise, on the basis of the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, might be given to those who believe. God’s single-plan-through-Israel -for the-world has turned, as God always intended, into God’s-single-plan- through-the-faithful-Israelite for-the-world-now-including-Israel-too.” (I have made this all italics and split some words up to spread it out.)

The NT Wright version of the new perspective is all right here: the theology of Paul is about how God’s covenant with Abraham to bless the world has found its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and this history of Israel focus is more central than the how do I get myself saved? focus of the older perspective.

Sin and God’s plan through Abraham to bless the world are connected tightly in Paul’s argument. Torah can only be understood within this plan for history context for Paul, instead of simply within the personal salvation issue. God designed the Torah to keep Israel in check.

 

Justification and New Perspective 12
Friday May 29, 2009

The issue in the debate about the new perspective is how best to read the apostle Paul’s theology in its historical context, and one of the more important debates is how to read Galatians … and we finish the 5th chp today of Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision where he discusses how to read Galatians.

What is the point of having the Torah after all? Wright about Galatians 4: “This is perhaps the fiercest thing he ever says about Torah: that because it was God’s gift to Israel for the time of slavery … it functioned for Israel as the tutelary deities of the nations had functioned, to keep them in check prior to the coming full disclosure of God’s purpose and nature” (137). And the agitators were tempting the Galatians to treat the Torah now as an ethinc tutelary deity! Strong stuff, indeed.

When one normally hears Paul speak of “slavery,” how is that understood? Is it not most often understood as personal shackles to our sinful nature? How does Paul speak here of slavery? Wright has some ideas…

Galatians 4:1-7, and here Wright shows the significance of reading terms in the narrative context of the whole Bible, gives the Galatians two options: return to the slavery of Egypt or move forward into freedom. The slavery of Egypt is to return to the Torah’s badges and, at the same time, to reject Christ as the representative Israelite. (I don’t think enough appreciate the profound christological centrality of this view of Wright’s, and it fits in very nicely with the early Christian theory of recapitulation.)

Further, in Galatians 5:5-6 Paul speaks of the hope of righteousness because, for Paul, justification was an eschatological reality. In the meantime — between now and then — we are to be known by “faith working through love.”

 

Justification and New Perspective 13
Monday June 1, 2009

In a remarkable piece of insight, Tom Wright once asked what Pauline theology would look like if we began with Ephesians and Colossians instead of Romans, and in just a few pages (168-175) in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, he discusses the vision of Ephesians. (By the way, it could make a huge difference.)

Notice these words: “And of course it is in Ephesians that the two ‘halves’ of the Pauline gospel emphasis are laid out side by side. Ephesians 2:1-10 is the old perspective: sinners saved by grace through faith. Ephesians 2:11-22 is the new perspective: Jews and Gentiles coming together in Christ.” And, he continues: “they belong intimately together” (168).

Here is the temptation: the old perspective can downplay the second as central; the new perspective can downplay the first as central. Is this the central theological difference: seeing Paul through the personal salvation mode or seeing Paul through the union of Jews and Gentiles mode?

This incipient (universal) ecclesiology, Wright observes, merely “a pleasing decoration, a side-comment on what a fine thing the gospel is” (168). This whole Jew-Gentile thing “is part of the reality of the gospel” (169).

Ecclesiology, so devalued into a voluntary society for low church evangelicals, is at the heart of the Pauline gospel.

From Eph 2:9-10 Wright distinguishes salvation from justification: “justification is God’s declaration that someone is in the right, a member of the sin-forgiven covenant family, while salvation is the actual rescue from death and sin” (170).

And saved not by works but for works, the standard Protestant approach, is not far from what the new perspective actually teaches (here, here). Wright thinks the point of “good works” is an ecclesial face of the presence of God’s redemptive work in the Messiah (171). So, he wants “good works” to be a little more robust, and not just individuals doing virtuous things.

And the destruction of the dividing wall, if anywhere, shows that Torah is understood very close the boundary markers that Jimmy Dunn has so emphasized: Christ destroyed what separated Jews from Gentiles. We are staring here then at Galatians 3:28-29: we are one in Christ — and that is what the gospel does! This is the mystery of the gospel (Eph 3:1-7). This union is the sign to the principalities and powers that the time is up (173).

He brings it back: low ecclesiology works against these texts in promoting too radical of an individualism.

Maybe more of us need to teach Paul’s theology through the lens of Ephesians. Any takers?

 

Justification and New Perspective 14
Jun 3, 2009 @ 0:07 By Scot McKnight 18 Comments

Tom Wright devotes no less than 70 pages to Romans in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, and… well … it is hard to sum up the denseness of this stuff without doing disservice to you, our readers, and to Tom, our author.

Tell me, what is the hang-up over Tom Wright’s understanding of the “righteousness of God” as God’s covenant faithfulness? How does that understanding undermine Reformed views?

So, let’s have some short posts that sum all the sections of Romans in this study… Today we look at Romans 1:16-17

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

And immediately an issue comes up that distinguishes Wright’s view: what does “the righteousness of God” mean? It means something about God: “God’s faithfulness to his covenant with Israel to redeem the world through Israel.”

This Wright says makes sense best of a number of issues in Romans, including:

1. In my view, the entire theodicy-like sweep of Romans 9-11that, if seen as central to Romans instead of a some kind of “why does Paul bring this up?” approach, reorients our entire reading of the book into something that “justifies God’s way with Israel and the world.” Anyway, that’s my take.

2. Wright sees Rom 9-11through this lens and thinks it makes best sense of Rom 9-11; also Rom 2:1-16 and 2:17-29 and esp 3:27-31 and 4:16-17 and 10:6-13 and the climactic verses of chp 11.

3. Also, the “gospel” is declared in 1:3-5 — it’s about Jesus being the risen Lord of the world — but 1:16-17 is about the impact of the gospel — salvation. The gospel in this text focuses on its inclusion of Jews and Gentiles and the reason Paul refers to Hab 2:4 is to evoke the national crisis Israel was in and the need to remain faithful during that crisis.

 

Justification and New Perspective 15
Jun 5, 2009 @ 0:03 By Scot McKnight 39 Comments

One of the stickiest points in all of this new perspective vs. old perspective discussion is what to make of Romans 2:1-16, and Wright makes it clear that he thinks Paul means exactly what he says (Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision,). [I posted the text at the bottom of this post.]

First, he says this is no charade — no pretending someone can be justified by works so we can set them up for the hammer in chp. 3.

Second, doers of the Torah will be justified. That’s what Paul says in 2:13. (It’s in your Bible too.) Wright argues that one does the Torah through the Spirit. But this is not the synergism that says “I do part” and “God does part.”

Third, the scene is the great assize — last judgment — and Jesus is the judge. The judgment is based on works — and Paul says that in Romans 2 and 2 Cor 5:10 and it is implicit in Rom 14:10-12. And Wright enters here into a clear set of lines about how important works is in the Pauline sense of judgment.

All this stuff, fourth, about pleasing God is not the logic of merit but the logic of love and relationship.

Fifth, this again makes the Holy Spirit important — more important than in the old perspective.

2 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”a  7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile;  10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  11 For God does not show favoritism. 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.  13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.  14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law,  15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)  16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

 

Justification and New Perspective 16
Jun 8, 2009 @ 0:14 By Scot McKnight 13 Comments

Reading Paul in the context of the Bible’s Story, with the result that Paul sounds like he fits into the concerns of the Bible, has been the intent of both the new and old perspective. Reading Paul’s version of the Story — his “wiki-story” of the Story — in the context of his Jewish context has been the quest of the new perspective. In some important ways, the old perspective failed in this regard and it is to Tom Wright’s credit, in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, to point that out without ignoring that sometimes new perspective folks have exaggerated their claims too.

Tom Wright’s understanding of “God’s righteousness” as his covenant faithfulness enables him to reshape what Paul means about Jewish privilege in Romans 2. In particular, the privilege the Jew has is that God has chosen Israel to bless the world. Along with privilege, comes responsibility, and here’s the sticking point for Paul in the new perspective of Tom Wright: Israel failed in its task to bless the world and to be a light to the nations. There is in the new perspective a Jewish privilege — God chose Israel, not just for personal salvation, but to be a light to the nations. And Israel did not deliver, but Jesus did.

This is why Romans 3:1-2 is so important: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” Israel’s privilege is being given the Torah. Entrusted means given something in trust for a purpose. Israel’s unfaithfulness is its failure to bless the nations with that Torah.

And Paul’s question in this section of Romans 3:3 is about whether or not God will be faithful to his covenant promises — will God be righteous in that regard.  Thus: “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” Doesn’t 3:5 then prove that “righteousness” means covenant faithfulness by God? “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?”

Because of Israel’s failure, they join Gentiles in the lawcourt dock.

So God has to figure out how to be faithful to himself and to Israel and he must find a way of Israel being faithful — the Messiah will be that Israel.

 

Justification and New Perspective 17
Jun 12, 2009 @ 0:06 By Scot McKnight 7 Comments

We are looking at the new perspective debate and to do that we are working our way through Tom Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision.

Wright’s argument is that one can’t simply read 1:18 and then 3:19-20 and conclude that in between all Paul was saying was “So all are sinful and need saving” (202). Instead, Wright sees more of a theodicy at work: God is showing himself faithful to his covenant promises to redeem the world through Israel.

Romans 3:25-26 show that Paul is concerned with “God’s own righteousness”, and I quote from the ASV: “whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his ighteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.”

Wright observes that the NIV’s “justice” misjudges the evidence … but there is no reason here to get into translations. The reason for Abraham is not illustrative but substantive: he emerges because of God’s promises to Abraham, not simply because he proves that it is all by the individual’s exercise of faith.

The problem here is Israel’s unfaithfulness and the solution is the faithfulness of Christ, the embodiment and representative of Israel (see p. 203). Here is one of the significant debating points: what does “faith of Christ” (pistis Christou) mean? So, “faith of Christ” in Romans 3:22 (contra NIV: ” through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”; see KJV: “by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”) means “Christ’s own faithfulness” instead of “our faith in Christ.” Without “faith of Christ” meaning “Christ’s own faith” one runs the risk of “to all who believe” being totally unnecessary. Christ’s faithfulness is faithfulness unto death.

Justification now anticipates justification in the Eschaton. It is a status in Christ. Wright insists that the judge has not clothed the one in the dock with his righteousness. We are then to put our faith in Jesus Christ, the representative Israelite, for salvation.

Why faith? Because Hab 2:4 and Gen 15:6 show it to be the badge of God’s redeemed people; because it is how one responds to the gospel/Jesus as seen in the Gospels; and last: “Faith of Abraham’s kind is the sign of a genuine humanity, responding out of total human weakness and helplessness to the grace and power of God, and thus giving God the glory” (209). If the Messiah is noted by faith, so too will his people be.

This faith is evoked by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Justification and New Perspective 18
Jun 15, 2009 @ 0:02 By Scot McKnight 22 Comments

One of the fiercest debates about the new perspective, from the old perspective angle, is the issue of double imputation and whether there are “two principles” at work in the human soul: the principle of works (self-merit) and the principle faith (no self-merit).

Tom Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision  next section (pp.210-216) takes both on through the lens of Romans 3:27-28. I’ll quote that text, quote Wright, and then ask a question:

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle [Greek: nomos or Torah] ? On that of observing the law? No, but on that [nomos/Torah] of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

The translation of “nomos”/law with “principle” is a much-disputed translation, and one Wright does not agree with. Wright believes the people of God keep the Torah through faith vs. those who aren’t who keep the Torah through works.

Here is Wright on double imputation, which is worked into this text by the Reformers:

“Imputed righteousness is a Reformation answer to a medieval question, in the medieval terms which were themselves part of the problem.” More: “The idea that what sinners need is for someone else’s ‘righteousness’ to be credited to their account simply muddles up the categories, importing with huge irony into the equation the idea that the same tradition worked so hard to eliminate, namely the suggestion that, after all, ‘righteousness’ here means ‘moral virtue,’ ‘the merit acquired from lawkeeping’ or something like that. We don’t have any of that, said the Reformers, so we have to have someone else’s credited to us, and ‘justification’ can’t mean ‘being made righteous,’ as though God first pumps a little bit of moral virtue into us and then generously regards the part as standing for the whole.”

For Wright, righteousness/justification means the status of those who have been found in favor by the judge.

Now the questions: Do you think there is any NT text that teaches double imputation? Do you think there are texts combined that teach double imputation? Is double imputation something the Reformers developed or something that can be found prior to the them? Is it a development of the NT or part of the NT?

 

Justification and New Perspective 19
Jun 17, 2009 @ 0:06 By Scot McKnight 16 Comments

Another debate in the new vs. old perspective on Paul debate is how to understand Romans 4 and Abraham. Is he an example of faith? Or, as  Tom Wright, in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision , puts it: “Pull out Abraham, and you won’t just pull out a single loose thread from the sweater. You will unravel the whole thing.”

For Wright, Abraham is not an example of faith so much as the substantive person in the original covenant itself. Abraham is part of the “who is the family of God” question. The issue is not about what Abraham found but whether we have found Abraham to be our father (218).

The promise to Abraham was that he would have a family as numerous as there are stars in the sky, and that through him the Gentiles would be blessed. The promise was not going to heaven when he died (220).

Wright’s contention then is that chp 4 of Romans is not about how Abraham got saved by faith but about God’s faithfulness to Abraham to bless the whole world through the one covenant and that through faith (not works that separate Gentiles from Israel). We see in this the dividing line between old and new: is the animating issue personal redemption from the works-principle of distorted humans or is it the one covenant with Israel to bless the world? (Not a simple dichotomy here, but an orienting perspective.)

 

Justification and New Perspective 20
Jun 19, 2009 @ 0:05 By Scot McKnight 12 Comments

We finish this series on Tom Wright, in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision . We will look into his treatment of Romans 6 and then offer his summary of what is being said:

“Paul does not, ‘I am in Christ; Christ has obeyed the Torah; therefore God regards me as though I had obeyed the Torah.’ He says: ‘I am in Christ; Christ has died and been raised; therefore God regards me — and I must learn to regard myself — as someone who has died to sin and been raised to newness of life.”

And: “To know that one has died and been raised is far, far more pastorally significant than than to know that one has, vicariously, fulfilled the Torah” (233).

Wright goes on about Romans 5–8 and then 9–11, and you can fill in those lines of thinking by reading his book — but his major ideas are already on the table and have been emphasized often. With one exception: Wright’s theology of Paul is robustly filled with the Spirit, and this is not always done in those who focus on justification. Wright gives plenty of space to the Spirit at work in us now.

The Story of the Bible is the Story of Jesus Christ. This Story goes through Abraham and into Jesus Christ and through the Spirit and for the whole of creation. The creator God called Abraham to bless the whole world and to do this by forgiving its sins and the curse of death and find blessing and the promise of life. The metaphor at work here is the law court and God has brought forward his judgment into history in Christ — those in Christ are in the right. The sign here is faith.

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