“Justification” brief impressions…

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.


A simple test for pastors, leaders, etc.

Here’s a simple test question to ponder for Christians who lead others in any capacity:

If everyone at my church, job, etc., lived as I am living today, would they look more or less like Jesus?

1 Corinthians 11:1- “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Jesus and Paul on Marriage…

I find it interesting that between Jesus’ teaching on marriage in Matthew 19 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7, each of them take a slightly different angle on it…

In Matthew 18, Jesus proclaims the utter difficulty of marriage (the requirement for hearts joined to one’s spouse that endure even the toughest situations) so much so that the disciples ask “Who in their right mind would get married if it’s that tough?”  Jesus replied that some can’t, but rather dedicate themselves in a eunuch-like (read “Celibate”) devotion for the kingdom of God.  Marriage is for the tough.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul approaches and proclaims his personal preference for single living.  He says though, that it’s tough and temptation will arise, if you’re not tough enough for this, go ahead and marry rather than burn with passion.  Celibacy is for the tough.

There are different kinds of toughness presented here, different objects of dedication.  Often we in the Church tend to as married or celibate people to either proclaim our own toughness in our respective situation as a badge of honor over the other, or at best we give a kind of token pity to the other side.  (I wonder how many terrible blind dates have been inflicted on Christians by well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ as a result of such pity.) We must remember, though, that Scripture declares both lifestyles as requiring toughness and dedication.  They each bring their own challenges.  Perhaps, rather than the pride that may come from our marital status or the pity for the other one (an alternate form of pride-“If they were only as I am”…implying my situation is better), we might embrace a heart of prayer, remembering not only the challenges the other faces but our own liabilities as well.

“Justification and Variegated Nomism”

Over the past three decades, something called “The New Perspective on Paul” (NPP from here) has taken much of the world of New Testament studies by storm.  Or at least so it seems.  The work of men like E.P. Sanders, James G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright has caused many to re-examine commonly held perceptions of Paul and his theology, especially in the doctrinal area of “justification.”  Their work, though branching in some different ways, has caused whole new debates over terms like “covenantal nomism”, “getting in versus staying in vs. being in”, and “present/future justification.”  Most popular interaction with NPP has occurred in the last few years with the publishing of John Piper’s personal response to the views of N.T. Wright on the issue of justification and Wright’s recent monograph on that same topic.  While I haven’t read all of either Piper or Wright’s works on the topic (though through various interviews online, I’ve heard each man give the gist of his view and his perception of the other), I think that to focus on the debate where they are at would be a mistake.  To use a terrible metaphor, Piper and Wright are launching water balloons from the rooftop of two nearby skyscrapers.  Rather than deciding which man has the better balloons and better aim, it might be smart to start at ground level and see which skyscraper has a good foundation.

For that, I believe a helpful resource for those who can handle a book with footnotes, is the two-volume work Justification and Variegated Nomism, edited by DA Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid. Volume 1 and Volume 2 were published in 2001 and 2004 respectively.  In essence, the works aim to evaluate the claims of the NPP from the foundation up.  So Volume 1 focuses on the complexities of Second Temple Judaism, while Volume 2 then helps shed light on Paul’s work and view of justification in light of the discoveries made in Volume 1.

To note, this review won’t be very in-depth or academic.  For one thing, I had to return the books to the library and so I’m pulling everything from memory.

Volume 1 essentially walks through various texts of Second Temple Judaism and evaluates them in light of the “covenantal nomism” that E.P. Sanders claimed was the real view of the Jews in Paul’s day.  For those with limited time, editor Carson writes an excellent summary chapter at the end of Volume 1, providing summaries of the salient points of each preceding essay.  (I would work backward from there as you find interesting material to investigate.)  Essentially, in summary of Volume 1, the covenantal nomism of Sanders is sometimes found in the Judaism of Paul’s day and the scholars are happy to acknowledge such.  However, the full counsel of texts written at that time show that it was not the only or even the majority view.  Other views of election and grace and covenant membership were also popular as well.  Sinlessness was thought achievable by some.  Others clearly believed in merit-earning righteous acts.  The most indicting evidence against the NPP’s use of Sanders’ covenantal nomism is the Old Testament word studies done by Mark Seifrid attempting to establish the relationship between the term/concept of “righteousness” and those of “covenant faithfulness.”  Essentially, the massive work done revealed very few connections and no equations of “righteousness” with “covenant faithfulness.”  Being faithful to the covenant is an element of righteousness, but the converse is not also true.  Righteousness language primarily goes beyond covenantal ideas to creation ideas–namely the way God rules and structures the universe.  This point seems especially important in the Wright/Piper debate as Wright’s view on justification rests on a foundation that “righteousness”=”covenant faithfulness.”  The other texts don’t seem to agree.  (I do think Piper is also mistaken here as he pulls “righteousness” too far from “covenant faithfulness” and beyond the creation themes.  From what I understand, he argues that righteousness is the inherent moral character of God, which seems to be more metaphysical than the usage in either Biblical testament.)  Hence, the varieties of law-keeping in Second Temple Judaism is the origin of the volumes’ title “Variegated Nomism.”  I would also add that like many religions, we may also add that the “man on the street” theology was even more variegated than the writings themselves show.  I think that has always been a flaw with the NPP is that they assume Paul was only interacting with the kinds of Jews who wrote the source material reflecting covenantal nomism, rather than his average “fellow-kinsman” on the street.”

In volume 2, the focus shifts from the foundation issue of what kind of Judaism is Paul and his cohorts reacting against, to what is Paul’s reaction.  Since this NPP debate largely centers around the topic of Justification, the primary areas of study in Volume 2 are Romans, Galatians, and Paul himself.  (Though historical theologian Timothy George adds a nice piece about the way Luther gets abused and misunderstood as well.)  Peter O’Brien has two articles worth reading along the lines of “Was Paul a Covental Nomist” and “Was Paul Converted?”  Moises Silva’s article on the issue of “Faith(fulness) of Jesus” in Galatians is superb on that issue.  Essentially, here, I think, is where the NPP faces the toughest challenge.  Most of the NPP readings of texts in Romans and Galatians (not to mention Philippians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5) place a more difficult grid of interpretation over these letters.  I’m a huge fan of Ockham’s razor.  The simplest explanation that accounts for all the data wins.  The essays dealing with Sanders, Dunn, and Wright in Romans do a good job of showing how muddled and difficult the NPP wants to make some rather simple texts at times.  (The writers have also done a good job of not always lumping various NPP authors together, but acknowledge the “variegation” of the NPP as they deal with various views.)  Paul wasn’t writing to people trained in higher criticism who had read all the stuff even the authors in this volume had.  Often, he uses simple language and style with lots of word pictures to teach theology to largely illiterate Christians.  Often his attempts to be simple is what leaves us scratching our heads because we wished he’d have explained a little more detail in certain spots. (Romans 9-11 for sure!)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve left out anything particularly striking, but I can’t.  Maybe some kind patron will endow me to read more in these areas.

So for those interested in the issues raised by the NPP and especially in the debates over justification, I do recommend these two volumes of Justification and Variegated Nomism for you on your quest.  Even fans of the NPP will find good thoughtful responses throughout to questions raised by the NPP, and hopefully they will expand their definition of what Second Temple Judaism entails on the basis of Volume 1’s findings.  If nothing else, the footnotes alone can direct one to countless primary and secondary sources on issues of Pauline theology and Biblical studies.

Lewis, Justification, Collision: Coming Soon…

Hey.  I’m getting ready for a DiscipleNow retreat weekend at my church, so basically, no updates or thoughts this week.

But next week, hopefully, a few thoughts on…

-new documentary “Collision” featuring the debates between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson

-“Justification and Variegated Nomism”- set.

-CS Lewis reflections

-Maybe some more from my slow journey through Matthew’s Gospel.

Christus Victor and Penal Substitution

I’ve been working on the 4th lesson of our Wednesday night study of the atonement in youth group.  The series is called “The day God died…”  So far, we’ve looked at propitiation, reconciliation, peace (corporate), and this week we are looking at victory.

I find it so hard to believe that many who push the “Christus Victor” model of the atonement flat out deny the validity of penal substitution.   My main text I’ve been looking at has been Colossians 2:13-16.  Here, Paul’s argument is not just that Christ disarmed the powers by “letting evil get its best shot in” on the cross and exposing it as fraudulent.  His argument is that our legal debt from our trespasses was wiped out on the cross.  Only then, are the rulers and authorities disarmed and disgraced.  The lesson to be taken away is not that Christ’s subversive act of submission to death merely puts a stink-eye on improper uses of power.  Rather, Christ freed us from the death sentence we were due by taking it upon himself in our place.  Now, as Paul says in Romans 8, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  The accuser of the brethren is thrown down because he no longer has grounds for accusations.  “The just indictment (my translation of “righteous requirement” based on its use in Romans 1:32) of the law is met in us who walk not according to the flesh but to the Spirit.”  Who can bring any charge against God’s chosen ones?”

The victory of Christ over the forces of evil, including Satan and demons, is found not apart from propitiation and the satisfaction of legal demands, but precisely in those things.

Leadership through the Lens of Romans 12:8- Dr. Bill Victor@121Forum

Leadership through the Lens of Romans 12:8-Dr. Bill Victor

Gifts in Romans 12:8-

7 Gifts listed: 5 of these are expected from Senior pastors (the bold ones):

Prophecy, Service, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading, Showing Mercy.

This will frustrate, burn out pastors, cause isolation, fostering “professional ministry” list.

What if though we focused on “leading” for those called as pastors?

What does “leadership” mean?

Too many times, definitions are 20th century definition of leaderships shoved back into this passage.

What did Paul intend his readers to hear by “leadership”?  What would his audience have heard by it?

The NT does not give a definitive view of church leadership in the early church. Remember that each church could not read the other texts already written.  ( You don’t find the church at Rome reading Galatians while hearing Romans for the first time!)

Were there two levels of Leadership in the Early Church?

Spiritual: Apostles, prophets, teachers

Practical: those who give, those who lead, those who show mercy

Two types of associations Paul’s readers were familiar with had these Spiritual/Practical divisions:

Voluntary association (Guilds, etc.)- Spiritual- Priests/Practical-Patrons (provided meeting places, representation, wealthy people who offered resources to lesser members in the society)


Spiritual Leadership- rabbis, scribes

Practical- Synagogue Rulers (very similar to patron)

The term “prostomenous”

The difference for Paul is that wealth and prestige alone were not enough to be a ruler; Paul believed that it was a spiritual gift!

Primary meaning- “Be at the head of…rule and direct..” “Standing before or going before someone for protection”, used in LXX for household manager, used for governing, Apostolic use in the early church equivalent to “elder”, most commentators view this as one who presides, protects.

“A gifted person who by virtue of wealth or  position was able to “act as a champion” of the rights of the congregation and its socially vulnerable members.”  But Paul demanded sign of God’s Spirit working.

Survey of Pauline View of Church Leadership

Early Paul

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “those who diligently labor, have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction…”

Meeks- The First Urban Christians:

Same root word as the noun for “patron”, informal, brotherly patronage though, called a “love patriarchal” system, led by an example of hard work providing protection and leadership

Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

Prostatis: most translations have “helper” or “support”, ESV- patron; HCSB, NRSV- benefactor.  Two feminine forms of this word are found in Jewish inscriptions in Rome, referring clearly to patrons.

1 Corinthians 16:15-16- Paul urges the Corinthians to submit to the household of Stephanus, who have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints.  Position is not the basis of his respect.  It is the example of servanthood.  They appointed themselves, not in a spirit of self-assertion but one of service and humility.

Later Paul

Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe…for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

Prostatis: most translations have “helper” or “support”, ESV- patron  HCSB, NRSV- benefactor.  Two feminine forms of this word are found in Jewish inscriptions in Rome, referring clearly to patrons.

Philippians 1:1- Elders/Overseers Part 1

Overseer: episkopos

Overseer or guard.  Connotation of someone as a “watcher”, “protector” or “patron.” Duties were to govern, administer, and oversee the affairs of the community.


Leadership/care of overseers/elders. 1 Tim. 3:4, 5:17

Choosing suitable people to care for the congregation.

General thoughts:

No “fixed” pattern of leadership in Pauline churches.  Waited to see leadership emerge and affirmed it.  The most obvious quality was a willingness to serve and care for the church and its needs.  These people were uniquely situated with resources but also had to be gifted and called by the Holy Spirit.

“The one who leads”- possible roles of a “gifted” leader (Remember the separation of Spiritual/Practical roles within the church!)

-See to it that the words of the prophet, teacher, or exhorter were carried out in the day-to-day life of the congregation.  Other duties: providing or securing meeting places, representing members before civil authorities and perhaps overseeing the provision of material goods to those in need.

Some questions for us…

Is there a place for this type of “patron” leadership in our churches today?  Do we need wealthy/powerful people to step up and fulfill these roles today?  Room for wealthy churches to “patron” poorer churches and advocate them in society?”

What about the temptation to put the wealthy and powerful into leadership?

Remember Paul’s observation of willingness to serve!

Is there a place for spiritual/practical leadership distinction?

Does this give hope to gifted communicators/thinkers, etc. who aren’t administrative or leadership, or leaders who can’t teach?  Can we even admit we might be deficient in one of these areas?

My Thoughts:

Dr. Victor’s study of the term “leadership” certainly had the right focus and methodology.  A proper exegetical/Biblical theology seeks to define terms in their  context before systematizing them, and Dr. Victor provides a helpful survey of “leadership” in this regard.  We certainly have provided many ministry situations where the pastor is supposed to be “Superman” and have every spiritual gift essentially.   We don’t!  Feet simply don’t function well as hands or mouths in the Body.

One of the limitations of the time for this session was that we didn’t find out very much about places where Paul such as Titus where Paul commands the appointment of elder(s) in each town and how the leadership functions relate to the character lists given in the pastorals.  I was glad to see though that this session was not a John Maxwell speech plugged into a Biblical prooftext!