Just finished reading N.T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. I don’t really feel up to writing a full/exhaustive review or thoughts from it. So here’s a few brief thoughts:
-As most know, Wright can write. His pen is sharp and quick, which is bad for his real opponents but less helpful during friendly sparring. One will not be bored or feel tedious at any point in this book.
-Wright lets his frustration get the better of him at times, comparing his opponents to pre-Copernican geocentrists and other bits of “Why can’t they be as brilliant as me?” pepper the book (though unfortunately more in the book’s beginning.) I’m more of a make-your-argument-THEN-take aim guy, and I feel Wright might have found more sympathy by going in peacefully and working the disagreements from there. You almost wonder why he isn’t as conciliatory in the beginning than one finds him in later portions. Smugness is never a virtue, and portions border on it. I’ll include here the few frustrating bits where he says things like “I didn’t say that, PAUL said that” as if people are disagreeing with Paul directly and not with Wright’s interpretation of Paul.
-Wright has a lot to teach the “Old Perspective” guys. His skills in synthesizing great canonical themes are a treasure to the church and provide some great insight. He and the NPP guys are right in continuing to throw the Jew/Gentile conflict background at us, especially in Romans and Galatians. His chapter on Galatians is excellent.
-Wright hates the medieval language of “merit” being introduced in the exegetical topic of “justification.” Rightly so. That was the Reformers playing on the Catholic’s home turf and having to invent some fancy passing schemes to go around the mud if you ask me. And yes, sometimes guys let that language slip in where it really doesn’t belong in the subject of imputation.
-Wright emphasizes the concept of union with Christ, which seems to be a huge topic for Paul, was ironically a pretty big topic for Calvin from what I’ve read of him, and which many common Evangelical traditions have pretty much ignored.
-At times, it seems like Wright bends over backwards to avoid using the language of imputation, even when describing his own views. His take on the pistos tou Christou issue is that of the subjective genitive (Faithfulness of Jesus Christ) as opposed to objective (faith in Jesus Christ), but that reading implies that Jesus’ faithfulness is imputed to us, it seems to me. I wrote in the margin several times after some of his sentences…”so X is credited/given/dealt/reckoned to us…kind of like it is imputed to us?”.
-Wright has some amazing cards in his hand. Sometimes he overplays them. (kind of like in RSG where he’s dealing with the Intertestamental literature and pretends like a mere belief in “heaven” but not “resurrection” wouldn’t have given people enough hope to be martyred. I agree that Resurrection of the body is the biblical teaching…but the other conclusion has been proven to be false by countless historical examples.) He’s good at slipping in unwarranted (but usually GREAT sounding) conclusions after making a good argument overall.
-The issue I most had questions about going in (after hearing some of the Reformed critiques of Wright, some better than others, which had to lead to some of that written frustration here) was that of how this “future justification” works with the present justification in his scheme. now maybe he saved all that for his forthcoming Paul book or he deals with it in the recently released “After you believe”(?-help from any readers of that?) Ironically, he barely discusses it in detail. He makes a brief mention of it at the end of Galatians (in Gal. 5, though “hope of righteousness” could mean either “hoping for [future] righteousness” (as he takes it) or “hope produced by righteousness”. He doesn’t discuss the options but kind of launches into a prelim of what he’ll do in Romans 8.), but even the mention of it in Romans is small. It has something to do with actually living out righteousness in the power of the Spirit, making sense of the “reward”-type texts of Scripture, and somehow assurance and “resurrection life” fits in. I came in confused and left confused at that point. At points his description sounds (ironically) very similar to Reformed guys like Piper (justified in Christ now, future judgment vindicates/justifies the life lived by the Spirit…), but apparently they disagree with him there and I simply hope he’s making a fuller case elsewhere for his view. Many of his objections in this sections go more towards the Keswick-type pietism than his Reformed critics.
-I would still take “righteousness” as going deeper than “covenant faithfulness.” It does include that, which is why it works very well as a definition at some points, but I think it goes beyond just God conforming to the norm of a covenant, but to the kind of God who makes good covenants in the first place. Expanding this takes righteousness back to creation and better answers the problems of Genesis 3-11. (Piper’s view of the term narrows off in a different direction.)
-Longest chapter on Romans. “Greatest document ever penned by a human being.” Didn’t leave out chapters 9-11. Did leave out 12-16, which explicitly highlights that theme of Jew/Gentile relationships as core to Paul’s motivations for writing the letter.
-Since the nature of review largely focuses on disagreements, I’ll add that I thought he brought out a lot of great stuff in many places in the text.
-No mention of the pastoral epistles. I know why, but disagree.
-In all, Wright asks a lot of good questions. I didn’t always agree with his answers, but those are good questions. The OPP and NPP concerns must both be dealt with, and Scripture (not tradition) is our only way forward. At times, both sides (even Wright, though he attempts a middle ground in many places) wrongly go for an either/or when a both/and conclusion is warranted.
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