Thursday, August 6, 2009

Barth on Romans (re Piperighteousness and Wrighteousness)

I appreciate very much the engagement with my post below linking to Gerald Bray's editorial re the Piper, Wright exchange on righteousness and Romans.

Yesterday I had a few minutes to indulge in a visit to the John Kinder Theological Library where a copy of Wright's Justification book was on its new books stand. A few minutes dipping into it assured me that Wright has not indulged himself with a superficial flirt over the issues. (Though it was not long enough to be able to say that at every point in his argument he offers a depth that Bray implies is not there in the book).

Anyway, it happens that I am very slowly making my way through one of those books which fall into the rather large category called "Books I should have read much earlier in my pretentious life as a scholar". In this case it is Karl Barth's commentary on Romans. This comment from his preface to the second edition is worth reproducing here:

"For example, place the work of Julicher side by side with that of Calvin: how energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears."

A wonderful statement of the goal of hermeneutics ... and a challenge for our assessments of Piper and Wright: who breaks down the walls between the first century and the twenty-first century?


  1. Peter, Paul Helm has, it seems, read Wright's new book, supports a number of Piper's criticisms on Wright's understanding of 'covenant faithfulness as God's righteousness' as much too limited an understanding, and thinks Wright may be clawing his way back to the Reformed position on atonement, substitution and imputed righteousness (even if he avoids such language):

    As for Calvin, it seems that not many Anglicans have made much of the quincentenary of his birth (unlike the Presbyterians and Baptists). Is this becaude Anglicans are more focused on the 500th anniversary of the accession to the throne of the founder of the Church of England? :)
    One measure of a writer is whether people are still reading and responding to his or her writing centuries later. As Helm puts it, an essential requirement for a narrative-based theology (whether reconstructing history, as Wright attempts, or 'telling God's story' more generally, as is the wont of much modern theologizing), is the need to connect Systematic Theology (and her majesty's cousin Philosophy) with Biblical Studies. After all, Socinians, latter day Arian Jehovah Witnesses,old style Bultmannians (if they still exist) and postmodern feminists can all do 'biblical studies', and some with absolute faith in the truthfulness of the text.

  2. It will be interesting, Anonymous, to see who is still being read in 100 years and in 500 years time. I think Wright might still be read in 100 years time, not least because of his brilliant style, which will serve his heritage better than the average scholar today. My pick for 500 years time, from the past 100 years, is Barth ... who combined biblical theology with systematic theology!