Kris and I leave South Africa today and ask for your prayers for our trip home — a long one through Paris. But, the blog goes on! We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and are now at the point of getting into Wright’s understanding of justification.
Wright opens up part 3 of chp 4 with a little sketch of bell ringing and how very few know what is going on … and he sees the same in biblical theology times — most don’t what we are on about. Here he pushes back against a few scholars for their lack of attention to “covenant.”
God’s plan is to call Abraham so that through his family God could rescue the world from its plight (94). And folks in the criticize-the-new-perspective camp all the time claim Paul had very little “covenant” at work, and Wright observes that Paul’s uses of Gen 15 and Deut 30 are through and through covenant texts. Piper, he says, thinks covenantal readings belittle Paul. “Dealing with sin, saving humans from it, giving them grace, forgiveness, justification, glorification — all this was the purpose of the single covenant from the beginning, now fulfilled in Jesus Christ” (95). [I’m a bystander at times in this but why do the critics not like “covenant”? That’s not a Reformed thing to do.]
Covenant has four elements:
1. How Israel understood themselves as the people of the Creator God — perhaps we could call it “covenant people”;
2. The focus of this purpose on Genesis 15, 17, and Deut 27-30 — perhaps “covenant plan”;
3. The sense that this story was ongoing in an unbroken manner toward fulfillment — perhaps “covenant hope”;
4. Paul’s retrieval of the story and recapturing it in light of Jesus Christ, the one through whom God would fulfill his purposes – perhaps “covenant fulfillment.”
All of this makes clear why rescuing from sin and bringing together Israel and Gentiles is part of the covenant.
And finally, eschatology.
1. God’s single purposes have a definite goal, the redemption of God’s people and the rescue of the whole creation;
2. This was launched in Christ;
3. Paul believed believers were in the now and not yet zone of history.
What God had planned he had done already in Christ.
Here’s a summary: “Eschatology: the new world had been inaugurated! Covenant: God’s promises to Abraham had been fulfilled! Lawcourt: Jesus had been vindicated — and so all those who belonged to Jesus were vindicated as well!” (101). “Welcome to Paul’s doctrine of justification….”.
And that means also Christology: a big point is that Jesus Christ is the one in whom God’s people are summed up. The task of the Messiah was to offer to God the obedience Israel should have offered but did not. Israel had been faithless; Jesus was obedient/faithful. The “faith of Christ” therefore refers to Christ’s faithful obedience as the true Israelite.
Therefore, as the representative Israelite Christ is the substitute — the stand-in for Israel or his people. He is the substitute because he is the representative.
His resurrection launches the new creation. The Spirit makes justification’s declaration a reality. And this makes Jesus the judge on the last day.