Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Justification and New Perspective 2

posted by Scot McKnight

NTWright.jpgWe 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.


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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!

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Rick

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:45 am


“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.”
But why does He find that “favor”?
Simon Gathercole brought up this concern:
“Seeing justification as primarily addressing how Gentiles can be incorporated into the people of God can lead to a downplaying of sin. This approach to justification can lose sight of Paul’s vital concern for how sinners can be made righteous. One leading New Testament scholar has described his view of justification as God building an extra room in his house for Gentiles. But this view neglects the fact that Israelites as well as Gentiles are sinners and need to be justified.”
I don’t lean one way or the other (perhaps incorporating both, or taking some incorporation of Orthodox views), so I am curious.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:59 am


Rick,
Simon Gathercole is neck-deep in this discussion and knows it well. I don’t know where your quotation from Simon comes from, but that concern with “Gentiles” doesn’t mesh with what Wright is saying here about what justification is. Finding in favor is his big emphasis: justification is the status of having been found in favor, and he clearly — as we will see in posts that follow — sees it connected to being moved from guilty to acquitted/forgiven.
The critics of Wright tend to focus on the “how” God found in favor. And they explain that how as “double imputation.” Often the conversation shifts from what Tom is saying, and they frequently don’t disagree, to what he’s not saying (double imputation), which they want him to say — and he comes back and says, “show me that is what Paul is saying in this text.”
There is no connection for me in incorporating Gentiles — even primarily — with downplaying of sin. The only way that is true is if Tom downplays sin by saying something about sin that downplays it. Not talking about sin is not downplaying it necessarily. That’s what I call “imputation of beliefs” — I’d have to see Tom say he downplays sin. He doesn’t. I find in favor of him on that one.
Then he says “can lose sight … of how…” I’d like to know what Simon’s talking about here. The word “how” is not promising me because I’m not sure Paul tells us much about that. I’ve not heard this extra house … does Paul downplay both are sinners when he says God grafts Gentiles onto Jewish limbs?



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James R. Gordon

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:04 am


Thanks for this series, Scot. I find that there is much dismissal of the New Perspective without adequate understanding of the issues and arguments at hand. I hope this series will serve to fill in that gap of knowledge.
Grace and Peace,
James R. Gordon



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Rick

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:11 am


Scot-
Thanks. I’m enjoying your breakdown of the issue(s) and looking forward to the future posts in this series.
Here is the whole Gathercole article from CT:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/august/13.22.html?start=1



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Eric

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:32 am


Rick,
God’s dealing with sin is in fact a very important part of Wright’s understanding of these issues. Wright says that dealing with sin and incorporating Gentiles are in fact, very connected, and you can only make sense of passages like Romans 1-4 by looking at both (its both/and, not either/or).
In particular, for Wright, the story is that the Jewish people were always God’s plan to deal with human sin and benefit all, and to bring restoration to the entire world, including Gentiles (he points to Genesis 15 for that). They were not, however, faithful to the covenant, which brought about the curse outlined in Deut. 27-30. But God in his righteousness was faithful to the covenant and his promise to deal with sin through Israel, despite its unfaithfulness; He did so by sending his son as the representative, to be the faithful Israel that took on himself the curse of sin, fullfilling both sides of the covenant (Israel’s and God’s). In doing so, God fulfilled his own original plan to deal with the sin of all mankind and bring blessing to the whole world through Israel. In that way, dealing with sin and incorporation of Gentiles are part and parcel of the same thing. And its what Paul’s discussion of justification in Romans 1-4 and Galations 3 is about, according to Wright.



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Derek Leman

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:45 am


It comes down to getting the whole canonical narrative right, which Wright does remarkably well. The old theology based on a selection of verses from Paul, poorly integrated with the rest of the canon, is due for a paradigm change.
Ironically, the ones who are defending tradition as opposed to a rich reading of the inspired text are the ones whom we are supposed to think have a higher view of the text. And the supposed radical is gloriously explicating the inspired text.
Derek Leman



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T

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:34 am


The 4th point reminds me how much I heard the question about being “assured of my salvation” (which was equated with justification) growing up. That’s what the reformers have all wrapped up with double imputation and Wright isn’t playing along, seemingly leaving “assurance” more about follow through (on calling Jesus “Lord”) than they’d like. Within the reformed tradition, assurance of justification is a (the?) core pastoral and theological issue.
I remember, though, how shocked I was as a teenager when I read James, John, Jesus (and even Paul) raise “assurance” questions and overwhelmingly give a starkly different response than my teachers and chapel speakers had. My teachers would answer the “how can I be sure I’m justified” question, without fail, in “calling on the name of the Lord” terms, and be emphatic that one could be sure (and rightfully so) through the right sincere prayer. By contrast, Jesus and the apostles would talk about fruit or love of others or doing what is right or doing what Jesus said, or adding character to our faith, or the like. I remember asking myself, “How is it that these pastors can ask people the same question so often and never answer it the way that Peter (or James or Jesus, etc.) do?”
I think the same thinking that led my reformed teachers to never answer the assurance question the way Peter does, for example, is the same thinking leading them to be very concerned about Wright.



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T

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:39 am


Derek,
“It comes down to getting the whole canonical narrative right, which Wright does remarkably well. The old theology based on a selection of verses from Paul, poorly integrated with the rest of the canon, is due for a paradigm change.”
Very well said. I completely agree.



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John W Frye

posted May 6, 2009 at 10:03 am


Scot,
First, what stunned me was Piper’s *ex cathedra* dismissal of lexical help from 1st century documents. This refusal of a basic hermeneutical principle for the sake of preserving a theological tradition/ interpretation seems like a stubborn commitment to refuse to learn from the most pertinent historical and cultural context(s). But having pointed this weakness of Piper’s out, Wright goes on to build his case for “righteousness of God” from Daniel 9.
Second, how does Piper get away with a definition of “righteousness” that no biblical text supports and no skilled theologian in the past or present advocates? Are we free to make up definitions out of thin air to preserve a (Reformed) tradition/interpretation?
Third, why, in the midst of so important contemporary debate, does Piper ignore some of the most relevant New Testament texts? Are we free to pick and choose only the Pauline verses that (seem to) support our views?
Just wondering.



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Dave

posted May 6, 2009 at 10:30 am


Does anyone not think that there is something not simply Protestant but rather anti-Judaic in any position but Wright’s? I would include the neglect of Israel as a weakness of Catholic and Orthodox theology as well.



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MattB

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:11 am


I have not read the new work by Wright yet, but am very interested (especially as of late) in Jesus’ followers relationship to Israel, and Israel’s relationship to Jesus’ followers. Some comments from this thread (#5 Eric) leave me asking, who is Israel? Is Israel now fully represented in the risen Christ? Is Israel still represented by ethnic Jews? The assumption out there is that the majority of “Christianity” teaches replacement theology. Where is Wright on this? And, does anyone have a clear/concise recap of Wright’s position on Romans 9-11?



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Randy

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:20 am


Dave,
I appreciate what you are seeing, but I would put it somewhat differently: “Doesn’t Wright’s perspective take the Judaic covenant, history and ways of knowing (Here I am thinking of T#7′s comments about ‘assurance questions’} much more seriously than previous positions have?”
This is something I have deeply loved about Wright’s work, particularly as I am a historian by training. The “any position but” language leaves one open to be disproved by one example.
Peace,
Randy



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Rob

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:26 am


This is a purely Protestant debate
But isn’t Wright Anglican? :-)



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:32 am


In the midst of this debate, let’s at least be fair to Piper. To say that his views are out of thin air and lack the support of skilled exegetes and theologians is simply not correct. There are 500 years of skilled exegetes and theologians promoting his views, including many today (including Piper who is relatively well trained). Yes most of these are Reformed (which is no surprise), but even more neutral scholars such as Doug Moo give it credibility. Moo says in his smaller Romans (NIVAP) commentary on Romans 4 on imputation: “I am not sure myself about the idea (imputed righteousness), although it makes logical sense and has some exegetical basis (see, e.g. Rom. 8:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:20)” (p. 149-150). Moo’s larger commentary shows similiarities between both Wright and Piper. Read his section on Romans 1:16-17. He agrees and disagrees with both and often finds a “both/and” solution.



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Drew

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:33 am


I’m not a hyper dispensationalist, but I do believe dispensationalism has done a better job at taking the weight of Israel into its theology than the reformers have. Yet, they get all sorts of flack from people. Why is that? It seem this minority of people may be mor ein line with Wright than people relize. Also, if Wright is not denying the way we are saved, just the way we use the term “justification”, what’s the big deal?



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Eric

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:46 am


MattB,
Wright says that Jesus is the faithful Israel, and those who have faith in Jesus are incorporated into Him (this incorporation “in Christ” is the truth/reality to which the double imputation of the Reformers points, according to Wright), and they are the new descendants of Abraham. Wright seems to be on firm footing here, based on the text — see Galatians 3 and Romans 4. Also see Philipians 3, where Paul says “the circumcision — that’s us!”



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John W Frye

posted May 6, 2009 at 11:55 am


Brian (#14),
Have you read Wright? He is puzzled by Piper’s bizarre, idiocentric definition of “God’s righteousness.” For Piper it is “God’s concern for God’s own glory.” Wright acknowledges that God indeed is jealous of his glory, but to define “God’s righteousness” as such is far off the mark of the lexical and biblical and Pauline theological categories. Wright says he can’t find another Reformed theologian who defines “God’s righteousness” like that.



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BPRjam

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:05 pm


I, too, am hoping the real distinction between the two options in the statement:
“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.”
will be explicated in future posts. From where I sit, it is statements like these that drive confusion, since the difference between Wright’s position and Piper’s position is not readily apparent. It makes both parties seem like they’re simply being contrary.



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Jeremy Berg

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:09 pm


I’m so grateful for this discussion. I’m wondering if we will face head on the debate of “pistis christou” and whether Paul means “the faithfulness of Christ” (Wright, Hays) or “faith in Christ” (Piper).
How significant is this debate for the rest of the debate over justification? Is it central or peripheral?
Has anyone heard the conversation between Dunn and Wright on this issue? http://www.thepaulpage.com/Conversation.html
Don Carson also brings a robust critique of Wright and the New Perspective as well at http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/search/a/New%20Perspective.
Blessings.



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MattB

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:10 pm


Eric #16
Thanks for the insight into Wright’s position. So, is Wright’s position what many would consider to be “replacement” theology, or is it something other? Anyone?



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Your Name

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Drew,
I get where you’re coming from (I came from there myself), but I think the reasons that dispensationalists get all kinds of flack are many and varied. One is eschatology. Another is the opposition to gifts of the Spirit. Another is the practical separation of the teachings of Jesus from Christianity. Another is their doctrine on the kingdom of God, Jesus’ main topic. On just these (very significant) issues, traditional dispensationalists couldn’t be much further from Wright’s views, or from most scholars accross the denominational spectrum. Dispensationalism is, I think, Wright’s theological opposite (within Christianity) when it comes to Israel and the Church or even soteriology.



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Dana Ames

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm


T, I agree.
Dave @10, the Judaic thread is present in RC, but is mostly spoken of in relation to the Eucharist (Passover) when it’s spoken of at all. In Orthodoxy it’s not explicit, but it is woven into a lot of the liturgical hymns, especially during Lent- lots of recap of the narrative line of the OT. I think bringing in the historic, Judaic sources is one of the most important thing Wright has done for Protestants.
MattB @11, listen to Wright’s “Romans in a Day” audios (http://www.ntwrightpage.com -scroll down to Audio & Video). Not short, but very, very clear and well worth your time.
Brian @14, everyone wears a set of interpretive “glasses”. Moo and Piper have nearly the same “prescription”- old, but not old enough… And I’m sorry, but however much Piper has helped some people (and I will grant that he has), his god is not one I can worship.
Drew @15, Dispensationalism has a sort of “narrative” element to it. It seems to hold the weight because of that, and because it’s sort of logical and can interplay with a Systemic Theology sort of organization of thought. Wright is arguing about how we use the term “Justification”, but also about how *Paul* uses it. It’s a big deal because interpretation touches on Meaning, and people can get scared that when we change terminology we will take away Meaning, and then what will we be left with? Well, Wright is saying there are other options, which actually make Meaning larger, more comprehensive and coherent with the text.
Dana



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Travis Greene

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:29 pm


Drew @ 15,
Dispensationalism does focus more on Israel in some ways, but I think its overall scheme is deeply antithetical to Wright’s. Dispensationalism, at least at the popular level, is about the destruction of the world and God’s whisking away of a remnant. In Surprised by Hope, Wright is deeply troubled by all that sort of thinking, and instead argues for God’s redemption and recreation of this world, with us as his sub-creative viceroys.



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Dana Ames

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:42 pm


MattB @20,
Wright gets asked that question occasionally. He avoids the use of the term “replacement theology”, and I don’t think that what he thinks is strictly “replacement theology” as I understand it.
He thinks much of Paul is about “who gets to sit at the table with whom”; iow, who belongs to the People of God. It was God’s plan for any human being to be able to be part of it. Part of the good news is about reconciliation with one another as well as with God, as in Scot’s four-way description of reconciliation, and the breaking down of the markers that separate us. Israel was the most important part of the God’s plan for this to come to pass. Israel remains Israel- and now Jesus has made it possible for anyone from within Israel, or anyone outside of Israel, to be a part of God’s people. It’s not so much “replacement of” as it is “gathering from”.
Part of the confusion is the way the OT has been interpreted.
Dana



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 6, 2009 at 12:49 pm


John (17), I have read all of the Piper/Wright stuff to date, but not yet Wright’s newest. So I’m not familiar with the quote you are referring to. Wright would certainly know better than me, but it is still surprising. Even Moo, whom I referred to as before, in his Romans commentary says that he feels Wright is closer on the issue of God’s righteousness in terms of covenant but says that Piper’s emphasis on God’s glory is “close but too narrow.” So I still think that “out of thin air” is too strong. I think many Reformed have and would back him up.
Dana (22): “his god is not one I can worship” is a strong statement, and frankly is a denial of Wright’s God as well. Do you realize what they have in common? Here are just a few similarities that Piper himself acknowledges in his book: orthodoxy (in terms of scripture, resurrection, deity of Christ, virgin birth, God’s universal purposes through Abraham) (p. 15), scripture is final arbiter of truth (p. 17), penal substitution (p. 48), scope of salvation (p. 88), justification is present (p. 47), justification is forensic (p. 44, 53), justification is faithfulness/vindication (chap. 3), role of works in a believer’s life (p. 116).
Piper and Wright are more alike than they are different. Denying Piper’s God is denying Wrights as well.



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Dana Ames

posted May 6, 2009 at 1:42 pm


Brian,
I suppose it is a strong statement. I was not quoting Wright in my reply to you, simply trying to describe how we interpret.
I understand they have doctrinal points in common. Wright has said that making a check mark beside points on a list does not mean that one understands what the whole list is about; likewise, having a set of dots on a page to connect without the numbers can render all sorts of different pictures. I’m glad you have read the Piper/Wright stuff. I hope you will get around to reading Wright’s “big books” (NT & People of God, Jesus & Victory of God, Resurrection of Son of God). They are the key to understanding Wright, even his Paul work.
And I stand by my strong statement. I cannot worship a god who can’t manage to accomplish his purposes without willing people’s death. I can’t find the phrase “God is in control” in scripture; in trying to uphold God’s sovereignty, the very character of God has gotten twisted. Piper’s statements after the bridge collapse made me cringe. I know he can’t see it, but his god is a tyrant and the author of evil. I also know that Piper loves Jesus and wants to follow Him faithfully. I pray for him, especially for healing of his cancer. I fully expect to see him on the other side of the curtain. God is merciful- James 2:13
Dana



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John W Frye

posted May 6, 2009 at 1:50 pm


Brian (#25),
Thanks for the dialogue. The point is not whether or not there is some biblical truth in Piper’s words or that, according to Moo, Piper is “close, but narrow.” The issue is focused on serious lexical work with the inspired words in the sacred text. No one defines the Hebrew and Greek terms for “God’s righteousness” the way Piper does (except, perhaps, Piper’s devotees). That’s all.
I have read many of Piper’s books and have been deeply blessed. I am not anti-Piper, but I am committed to the ongoing reformation of the church and its freedom to continuing exegetical and theological inquiry (represented by Wright and others…like LeRon Shults).



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don bryant

posted May 6, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Thanks for your post, Scot. I am finding that I come back to your site more and more before I fire out a blog or email on something that rachets up my Richter Scale. You insist that both or all sides be heard, and it’s amazing what I am not hearing when I am riled up. There are times when I wish you would reveal a clearer point of view, but your refusal to ride hobby horses has been so very helpful to me. Thanks for the sanity



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 6, 2009 at 3:18 pm


Very fair comments John. And I think you and I are probably close on this. As much as I love Piper, I don’t think his The Future of Justification is his best work (nor is he always charitable in this conversation). I’ve read his exegetical works and he has the ability, but The Future of Justification is a work of presupposed systematic theology, not exegesis. Wright, on the other hand, is really grappling with exegesis. This is why Wright has convinced me of many points, though I’m still holding out for a way to have my cake and eat it too. This is why I’m intrigued by Schreiner, Bird and others (Moo?) who claim to split the difference. Of course, its hard to overcome my GRTS and Calvin background…they loom large!



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Matt

posted May 6, 2009 at 3:49 pm


I am reading Piper’s book before I get to Wright’s response. I am struck with Piper’s strange definition of God’s righteousness. In defining God’s righteousness in terms of God’s glory, Piper robs the word “righteousness” of any meaning. We could replace the word “righteous” with a nonsense word and say the same thing:
“What does it mean that God is ‘sdfsdf’? There is no book or law describing ‘sdfsdf’ to which God is subject. ‘sdfsdf’ is defined in relation to God and his glory. God is ‘sdfsdf’ and He demands that His people be ‘sdfsdf.’”
When we define terms like that they lose their meaning. What is the difference between the statements “God is love” and “God is righteous” if both righteousness and love are defined in relation to God and His actions? Which actions of God show that He is righteous as opposed to loving? Is it wrong to say “God is unrighteous,” if we quickly qualify by saying “but unrigtheousness is defined according to God’s character and actions”?
I think Wright is on to something when He says that God’s righteousness has to be understood in terms of covenant.



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Eric

posted May 6, 2009 at 4:21 pm


Matt (#30) — I had the exact same reaction in reading Piper’s book — his definition is in some respects tautological (in addition to the point, made above, that his definition is unprecedented in any tradition). Of his arguments in the book (some of which are somewhat stronger), this is one of his weakest.



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Peggy

posted May 6, 2009 at 4:41 pm


Reading this post, as well as today’s post out of James, reminds me again of why I have come to believe that the understanding of the very full concept of hesed is so vital to this conversation.
If you have entered into a binding covenant with God, then the faithful keeping of that covenant is paramount. Until the church really grapples with the truth about the fact that there is a proper response that we are to make to the saving work of Christ, we’ll just continue to “orbit” and not break out and get to where we’re supposed to be journeying. Too many focus on God as covenant-keeper and forget that we also have responsibilities for faithfulness.
That is why I have been so grateful, Scot, for your series on the book of James. The brother of Jesus certainly gets that … and his epistle, along with Hebrews, are important to understanding what our responses are supposed to be.
Sorry I didn’t have time to get into the rest of the discussion in the comments … sigh …
Blessings….



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Scott M

posted May 6, 2009 at 5:16 pm


I would tend to echo much of what Dana says in her comments. Over the past four years or so I’ve listened (often multiple times) or watched just about everything available online by Tom Wright. I’ve read many of his books, including some of his ‘big books’ and certainly including his biggest to date. I also own a number of his ‘Everyone’ commentaries, including the two volume set on Romans. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve absorbed the story of the God Bishop Wright serves and worships. And it’s very much an image of God compatible with those I’ve found in patristics, with those I’ve hears in modern Orthodoxy, and with the God I’ve encountered and worshiped for the past decade and a half or so.
The same is not true for a lot of the images of God I’ve seen and heard portrayed in the various corners of present-day Christianity. There are a host of such pictures of God which, if I ever came to believe they actually described God, would not describe a God I would ever consent to worship. Piper’s picture of God is absolutely one of those. It’s hardly the only such one. But it is one. If I did come to believe his God was actually the triune God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Israel, I don’t know what I would be. But I would definitely not be a Christian. If he’s right, I’m out. I don’t want anything to do with that God.
It doesn’t even really matter that much the particular labels for doctrines that N.T. Wright affirms. What matters is the story in which he embeds them and the way he describes God through them. Personally I don’t find the particular Reformation labels or categories particularly useful or helpful, but if he feels he has a chance to redeem them, I wish him well. I also don’t find some of the Roman Catholic labels or categories useful or helpful. But as an Anglican with a foot in both streams, if he wants to try to redeem some of them as well, again more power to the good Bishop.
Yes, that’s a strong statement and I mean it. But it is not meant to say that the Holy Spirit, that is to say God, which is to say grace cannot flow to some through Piper. I’ve noticed a lot of people take it that way. I think it takes a level of arrogance I lack to try to limit God. God is in the business of redemption. He is the life-giver and the lover of man. Piper’s image and speech of God, however flawed and repellent I find it, certainly gives God immensely more to work with than, for instance, some forms of deeply oppressive African ancestor worship. I don’t think you find anything approaching the fullness of grace and truth in or through or around Piper. But there is certainly some of both. And to say that is to say that God can be found there as he can be found anywhere. Do we offer eyes to see and ears to hear?



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Josh Rowley

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:12 pm


Helpful analysis, Scot.
The first difference with Piper named by Wright–that Wright has a “more robust” understanding of salvation–is not surprising. Piper is an American Evangelical, and American Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on the salvation of the individual soul (an emphasis heard in reductionistic slogans like “personal relationship with Jesus”). This emphasis arguably has more to do with the individualism of the modern Western world than with anything Paul wrote in the first century. Wright’s “more robust” view finds support not only in Romans 8, but also in Revelation 21.
It seems to me that the second difference identified–that of the prominence of the Holy Spirit in salvation (with Wright giving the Spirit a greater role than Piper)–also puts Wright on firmer ground. Piper’s understanding of the Spirit’s work may be the result of his Reformed theology. While at a Presbyterian seminary, I heard early and often that one of the weaknesses of the Reformed tradition was its lack of emphasis on the Holy Spirit (oftentimes this critique came from Methodist peers).
Before leaving this second point, I want to comment on what introduces it: “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.’” On this subject, I wonder whether other New Perspective voices would agree. Specifically, I wonder about the phrase “in our place”–commonly understood to refer to Christ’s atoning work as a substitution. Does the phrase “in our place” appear anywhere in the New Testament? Or is it one possible interpretation of the phrase “for us”? The phrase “for us” may also mean simply “on our behalf.” Here I have found Morna Hooker convincing:
“‘Christ died for us’. What does Paul mean by this? Some commentators assume that Paul is thinking of Christ’s death as substitutionary: they assume, that is, that Christ dies in our place. This does not seem to be an appropriate description of his teaching, however, for Christ’s death does not mean that Christians do not face physical death.” (PAUL: A SHORT INTRODUCTION, p. 92)
In short, we still die despite the fact that Christ died. If Jesus suffered the penalty of sin “in our place,” then why do we still suffer it as well? Perhaps it makes better sense to say that Christ shared in our experience of death, thus showing loving solidarity with us. This interpretation also has the advantage of connecting closely with the doctrine of incarnation, as both the life and the death of Jesus would have something to do with God showing solidarity with humankind.
About the third difference named, I would only add that Wright’s emphasis on Pauline eschatology likely owes at least in part to the influence of Albert Schweitzer (whose work I mentioned in a previous post). Schweitzer’s THE MYSTICISM OF THE APOSTLE PAUL opens with a lengthy section that shows eschatology to be one of Paul’s chief emphases, second only to mysticism (with which it goes hand in hand).



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Josh Rowley

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm


Dave@#10:
One motivation for the New Perspective (perhaps most obvious in Krister Stendahl’s work) was to combat anti-Semitism. Is it a coincidence that the Holocaust happened in Luther’s homeland?



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm


Scott and Dana, I appreciate your clear articulation of your views and concern over Piper’s. It has caused me to think a lot today.
It’s obvious that I appreciate Piper, so allow me this: please understand that his theology is also an attempt to embed the story of God. It is a reading of God’s narrative that sees a God who always works things out for his purposes, even if not explicitly stated that “God is in control.” Reformed theology, as you know, is not simply a list of doctrinal points, it is a faithful attempt to read and live out God’s story. So what we have are two attempts to embed the story of God with some differences (though, again, I think there are many, many similarities between Wright and Piper).
What is troubling is when I hear that Piper’s God is different. You both made some charitable remarks regarding his work, but to say that his God is different and not worth worshipping concerns me. It concerns me because, as previous discussions about the future evangelicalism have pointed out, the dividing line is being drawn (more like a wall being built). The Neo-Reformed/Puritan/et al camp on one side and Wright/Emerging/et al camp on the other. In my opinion the Neo-Reformed/Piper camp errors when they question the faithfulness of Wright and/or emerging Christians. In that same vain, I think you both error in saying that Piper worships a different and tyrannical God unworthy of worship. Both camps are setting up boundaries and want nothing to do with the other.
Please help me if I’m missing something.



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Eric

posted May 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm


Brian McLaughlin,
As someone who tends toward what you describe as the “Wright/Emerging/et al. camp,” I share your concern. We all worship the same God and share His one mission, and we are all part of one family. (That’s, incidentally, one of the main messages of justification, if you believe Wright).
Josh Rowley,
Wright has a more nuanced view of substitutionary atonement than the traditional Reformed folks. I suspect it will be covered in more detail in one of Scot’s later posts regarding this book, but, in short, its more along the lines that Christ suffered the curse of sin as the representative of Israel, in fulfillment of the covenant, and the promises of blessings and curses in the OT.



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Josh Rowley

posted May 6, 2009 at 9:02 pm


Eric@#37:
I’m eager to learn more about Wright’s understanding of substitutionary atonement. Hooker also speaks of Jesus as a “representative” (but not as a substitution).



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Dana Ames

posted May 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm


Brian,
I agree that God works things out for his purposes. I suppose I would disagree with Piper about what God’s purposes are, and in which sorts of ways God works them out. I think God’s purposes are bigger than simply getting as many souls into “heaven” as possible. I realize that Piper is more nuanced than that. At the same time, that is what the Puritan end of things emphasizes, and with Phillips of a previous generation, I say “[That] god is too small.” I don’t think God is all about God’s Glory; there’s not much room there for the self-giving love that is the Trinity. I don’t think man’s basic problem is sin; I think it’s Death (which sin feeds). I don’t believe God is angry at people; I think God went to astounding lengths to rescue humanity, and all creation. There’s more, but perhaps from this you can see something of my point of view, even if you can’t share it.
As to the faithful embedding, reading and living out of God’s story, I have very little sense, from what I’ve read of the Reformed end of things, of the embeddedness of the story of God in the actual history of Israel, and particularly the meaning of Jesus wrt his acutal historical context in the first century. All Reformed folk I’ve encountered jump straight to Paul, thinking Paul’s writing is clear (!), and pretty much skip the Gospels. But there are too many loose ends in the Reformed reading of Paul without an understanding the meaning of Jesus in the Gospels; all of scripture needs to be viewed through that lens. Wright acknowledges this and does it. There is much talk about covenant in Reformed theology, but RT never succeeded in helping me understand its meaning (not its definition, but its *meaning*), nor did it explain to me why the Law was good. Wright has done both.
You’re a better man than I for trying to soften the dividing lines and avoid splitting into “camps”. This is admirable. What you’re missing is that Scott M and I both see the dividing line not between Wright/emergent and Piper/puritan/reformed, but rather between the development and approach of the western church (Roman Catholic and all the Protestants) and the eastern church. There are significant differences.
I was unaware of the differences until 3-4 years ago. For some time before that, my received Protestant theology had been crumbling away under my questions about many, many things; I won’t take up Scot’s combox describing them all. I’ve been reading Wright for eight years, and along the way I discovered that about 85% (my subjective number) of what he expounds is Eastern Orthodoxy, though he doesn’t claim this in any way. I thought I could manage to remain a Protestant by being a kind of reasonable, “Wrightian” middle-of-the- road “conservative mainliner” with Celtic Christian sensibilities :) That didn’t work, precisely because of where the dividing line lies.
Wright can remain in the West because he is an English Anglican (where there is room on the theological spectrum for overlap with EO, and which actually has been aware of and in dialogue with EO for a long time). But in these last few years my gaze has turned more and more toward EO because that’s where I find the God Whose story Wright tells. And I’m on may way in, because I found that I already believe what Orthodoxy describes as reality, and my conscience requires me to do something with what I now know- not simply intellectually, but increasingly with my whole being.
Thanks for your good-hearted questioning. I appreciate it.
Dana



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Brian McLaughlin

posted May 7, 2009 at 9:27 am


Dana, thanks for the response. I think I do understand where you are coming from and I share much of it. Interestingly, in my journey it was being introduced to Reformed theology that opened up the scope of salvation to all creation, introduced me to more of a narrative (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation), overcame a sacred/secular divide, emphasis on new earth, God’s overflowing love (in J. Edwards) etc, etc. Of course, coming out of dispensationalism you can see how RT can do that! I have very little knowledge or experience with EO, so perhaps that would open things up even more for me!
I agree that RT spends too much time with Paul and NT Wright is providing some very helpful corrections and pulling some pieces together. I have one of his “big books” I just haven’t cracked it yet, but I’ll get there.
In the end I enjoy a robust debate and hope we can debate more, but I find joy in the fact that we worship the same God now and forever.



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George Malin

posted May 11, 2009 at 10:15 pm


Josh Rowley,
I agree with much of what you say, but your point on substitutionary atonement misses the mark. Albeit I have no exact exegetical research to back up my statement, but I believe the death Christ died manifests itself not bodily and physically, but more spiritually and inwardly. After all, Christ death is not so much physical as it is spiritual when he says, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” I think many would agree this the death Christ died in our stead, that is the spiritual death we sinners were supposed to die.



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