Sunday, September 6, 2009

Follow up on Wright's Justification

I have now read Tom Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, alerted to it, and its confrontation with John Piper's The Future of Justification, by Gerald Bray's Churchman editorial.

There is much to like in Wright's book, notably, its large vision of the single purpose of God ("God's-single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world"), its comprehensive reckoning with the whole of Romans (offering an explanation for the chapters evangelicals are not so good at explaining, 2 and 9-11, as well as the much debated ones, 3-4, 5-6, and 8), and its generally inclusive approach to the 'old perspective' and 'new perspective' on Paul, illuminatingly offering Ephesians as the first Pauline writing to provide such combination. The style is brilliant - one of those rare theological books that reads like a thriller - hard to put down, easy to follow.

What's not to like? I would love to see a larger book, or a second volume, one which extended the thesis proposed here to engage with Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, and also with other NT material on justification. The former interests me because (not being well versed in "impartation") I would like to be clear whether Wright's critique of "imputation" is mutatis mutandis an affirmation of "impartation" or not; though in the same breath I need to say that Wright, as myself and others do, constantly attempts to transcend the medieval divide between impartation and imputation with emphasis on the Christian being the one who is "in Christ"; and, further, does not deny imputation so much as minimise its importance within the greater scheme of the true Pauline doctrine of justification.

But a more important "not to like" is that I am yet to be convinced that "righteousness", as Wright conceives it, is unambiguously "covenantal faithfulness". In the book itself Wright is convincing on this, but turn to Romans itself and take in a passage here and there, and "righteousness" seems often to be an antonym for "sin": righteousness is right living as much as it is right relationship (as I was taught in my old vicar Dick Carson's Youth Tea Bible study), where "right relationship" certainly coheres with "covenantal faithfulness". In other words, Wright who is ever alert to the need for "both ... and" rather than "either ... or" as he sets out Pauline theology as far as he is able according to Paul himself, may fall down at this, actually key point: righteousness is obedience to God's commands as well as faithfulness to God's covenant.

Enough for now, suffice to say in conclusion to this post - I may return later with further thoughts - Wright has my very great admiration for being thoroughly evangelical! For evangelical means going to Scripture, wrestling with Scripture, listening to Scripture, and testing all voices of theology with the light of Scripture. Wright does this. He seeks to be beholden to Scripture alone (in this case, to Paul himself and not to his interpreters, even though they be of the stature of Luther and Calvin).

The great challenge for his critics, and a point I think Bray misses in his editorial, is that Wright is only incidentally saying "X is wrong on doctrine of justification". Wright's main thrust is: "This is what Paul is saying justification is through the total of Paul's writing, and it is a little different to what some of his interpreters are saying he says when they work with less than all Paul's writings - I may be wrong, but if I am, you must show me with an explanation of the whole, and not a convenient part of Paul's body of work."

That is quite a challenge!

No comments:

Post a Comment