Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Justification and New Perspective 16

posted by Scot McKnight

NTWright.jpgReading Paul in the context of the Bible’s Story, with the result that Paul sounds like he fits into the concerns of the Bible, has been the intent of both the new and old perspective. Reading Paul’s version of the Story — his “wiki-story” of the Story — in the context of his Jewish context has been the quest of the new perspective. In some important ways, the old perspective failed in this regard and it is to Tom Wright’s credit, in Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, to point that out without ignoring that sometimes new perspective folks have exaggerated their claims too.

Tom Wright’s understanding of “God’s righteousness” as his covenant faithfulness enables him to reshape what Paul means about Jewish privilege in Romans 2. In particular, the privilege the Jew has is that God has chosen Israel to bless the world. Along with privilege, comes responsibility, and here’s the sticking point for Paul in the new perspective of Tom Wright: Israel failed in its task to bless the world and to be a light to the nations. There is in the new perspective a Jewish privilege — God chose Israel, not just for personal salvation, but to be a light to the nations. And Israel did not deliver, but Jesus did.

This is why Romans 3:1-2 is so important: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” Israel’s privilege is being given the Torah. Entrusted means given something in trust for a purpose. Israel’s unfaithfulness is its failure to bless the nations with that Torah.

And Paul’s question in this section of Romans 3:3 is about whether or not God will be faithful to his covenant promises — will God be righteous in that regard.  Thus: “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?” Doesn’t 3:5 then prove that “righteousness” means covenant faithfulness by God? “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?”

Because of Israel’s failure, they join Gentiles in the lawcourt dock.

So God has to figure out how to be faithful to himself and to Israel and he must find a way of Israel being faithful — the Messiah will be that Israel.

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posted June 8, 2009 at 12:31 am

Here is a very important piece of discussions on justification, the fate of the Jews, and the letter of Romans. Although this is a bit anecdotal, I feel as though many Christians have been approaching the ‘Jewish Question’ in Paul (esp. Romans) from precisely the wrong direction. And this is another reason to appreciate NTW’s take on the Pauline context – justification is not about us, it is about God. Thus, when we try and answer the ‘Jewish Question’ we have Paul asserting what God has done through Messiah and then making the strong assertion that there remains hope for the Jew along with the Gentile even though both are guilty of violating the Law of God.
I see the crux of this debate (at least, this particular point) as completely directional. That is to say, are we reading these words in the same direction as Paul wrote them?

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david yates

posted June 8, 2009 at 5:41 am

Here’s a thought, nothing set in stone!
“God’s plan was through-Israel-for-the-world. The light for those in darkness, the teacher of the foolish … this is how God will solve this problem” (p.170, GB)
“for Israel’s commission to work, Israel would have to be perfect” (p.170, GB).
“Israel, as it stands, cannot be the means of the rescue operation that God’s plan intended” (p.175, GB).
Well, actually, Israel would not just have to be perfect and teach people, it would have to redeem them. But, just as Israel, Christians cannot be the means, not being perfect. What was God’s means, then? Jesus. That was the one plan of God. For Wright, on the contrary, the enacted story from Abraham, through Jews, through Christians is the effective salvific occurrence, and the crucifixion of Jesus is a minor incident to enable the rest. How does Wright see the plan, the salvific occurrence, being effected now through Christians? See his two recent lectures (online) “The Mutilated Mountain” and “The Power of Heaven Let Loose on Earth”.
Wright has inadequate views on the new age having been inaugurated. He says we are in a ‘now, not yet’ situation. But we have been in a ‘now, not yet’ situation since the promise of redemption at Gen 3.15. Salvation, effectively through faith in Christ, was already available to Abel (Hebrews 11.4), we were already in the new age then. Wright asks, would Jews have felt they had returned when they were in the promised land under Roman domination. No! But how about asking, has true Israel (Jew and Gentile) yet returned from exile, so that this world is the promised Kingdom. No! Then, we can only live in this world to a certain extent as if it were the Kingdom. The Universe needs a tremendous change before it will be the Kingdom, and not a change that Christians can effect. So, I don’t think it is for Christians to try to set up a Kingdom on Earth now, by all getting together in some socio-political agenda, so that when Christ comes he will just put the last lick of paint on. Wright seems to have a Jehovah’s Witness type vision of future life on Earth. Everybody sitting round having family picnics on the grass, with lions and tigers strolling about. But, will we even be confined to the Earth? So, what will spiritualised physicality be like? I think Wright encourages totally inadequate ideas about the coming Kingdom. And because his ideas about the Kindom fall so short, this means he can overinflate what we might be doing now, because our present life looks to him very nearly what it will be. Wright also underestimates the extent to which Christians still sin. Looking at world history, including the OT, where there were effectively Christians, it looks like that is a bad mistake. If Christians tried to make a Kingdom on Earth, we would be in trouble! Aren’t Christians rather supposed to be the salt of the earth. No progress of the required kind ever has been made since Abraham, nor does it look like it will happen, nor does it look like it has even been promised to happen.

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Derek Leman

posted June 8, 2009 at 8:07 am

It is important to note, as do both Michael Wyschogrod (Body of Faith) and R. Kendall Soulen (The God of Israel and Christian Theology) that God’s choice to bless the world through Israel is a fool-proof plan.
In the potentiality of Israel’s success as the priestly nation, God’s plan succeeds, as the nations learn righteousness from God’s Torah and welcome God’s redemption in whatever form he sends it.
In the potentiality of Israel’s failure as the priestly nation, God’s plan succeeds as well: because Israel continues through mere birth and not by virtue of faith or works and also because God’s plan to redeem through Israel comes with or without Israel’s active participation.
And, as I hope everyone in this discussion realizes, God’s plan of mutual blessing comes back on Israel (Romans 11:11, 15) so that, in the end, all Israel is saved (I don’t take this as Jewish universalism, but as Jewish renewal in Messiah a la Deut. 30 at the end of the age).
God will circumcise the hearts of Israel and all Israel will love him heart, mind, and soul. In the end, Israel and the nations will be renewed through Messiah in God’s plan of mutual blessing.
Derek Leman

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posted June 8, 2009 at 8:39 am

“Israel did not deliver, but Jesus did.”
To me this seems like a contradiction. If we agree with Wright that Jesus is indeed “one man Israel,” then, how can we then assert that Israel failed to deliver?
What’s just as confusing to me is how Christians could suggest (a la Chris Wright’s book “The Mission of God”) that Israel failed in her mission to bring God to the Gentiles/nations. The very existence of a church throughout the world is due to the successful outreach of Jesus’ Jewish apostles (empowered by the Spirit through the grace of God). How then can the Church say Israel ultimately failed in her mission vis-a-vis the nations?

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posted June 8, 2009 at 9:33 am

Yahnatan, it is, I believe, an intentional contradiction. Israel didn’t actually fail because Jesus is Israel’s blessing to the world. The very existence of the Church to be the ushers of God’s mission is also only possible through Christ. Not I, but Christ who is in me.

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Paul D.

posted June 8, 2009 at 9:36 am

“So God has to figure out how to be faithful to himself and to Israel and he must find a way of Israel being faithful — the Messiah will be that Israel.”
(Scot, is this Wright or your summarization?)This sounds like the Messiah is God’s Plan B. There must be a better way to phrase this point to affirm that the Incarnate Word was God’s plan from the beginning. Though on a Monday morning I’m having trouble myself . . . maybe after another cup of “Carpe Diem” coffee.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

Paul, my words… I hope they sum up Tom fairly and accurately. He doesn’t anchor this in a some kind of stop-gap and desperate act of God, but as part of God’s plan in working things out in history. The “Had you been obedient, I would have …” contingencies of the prophets make this sort of thing clear.

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posted June 8, 2009 at 10:49 am

I?ll be up front in admitting I?m incredibly wary of ?plan B? terminology when discussing Jesus or the Church – years of dealing with Dispensationalism will do that to you.
However the way Wright articulates his understanding of Jesus, Israel, and the Church never set off those alarm bells for me.
I think he does an admirable job of explaining the role of Israel and how in the end it is only in the Messiah that their role can truly be fulfilled.

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John W Frye

posted June 8, 2009 at 10:52 am

Scot, it wearies me that some who reflect on NTW’s contribution to this discussion on justification do not see how Paul as a literary genius is building his case. Even the quibble with the wording “…God had to figure out…” tips the hand that people are not reading Paul narratively, but through petrified systematic categories. These posts so far are setting us up for the sheer beauty and genius of Romans 9-11 which as been noted usually are in the OPP a parenthesis in Paul’s logic or a knotty diversion from his main point. NTW welds those amazing chapters into the biblical historical sweep of salvation. God does not have plan B, what unfolds is his purposed plan. Praise to be God etc as Romans 11 ends!
David Yates (#2), I don’t even know who you are commenting to. Certainly not anyone in this discussion. What *are* you trying to say?

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Scot McKnight

posted June 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

John Frye,
The genius of the Bible as Story perspective is to see the powerful drama at work in the pages of the Bible. There’s a constant “what will happen next?” if you read the Bible attentively… and in Revelation we get a glimpse of the end to draw us forward.

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Derek Leman

posted June 8, 2009 at 4:20 pm

John Frye:
No disagreement that Romans 9-11 deals with the overarching theme of the Bible (mutual blessing from Israel to the nations) as applied to a particular situation (Christians disdaining Jews and feeling as thought they had replaced or made Israel obsolete). Romans 14 is, I believe also about the same issue. And as usual, God’s word to any group feeling rather superior is, watch out that you don’t fall and don’t assume that you are better than they (after all, the church is grafted as wild branches to Israel’s tree and Israel’s calling is not revoked nor will it ever be).
Derek Leman

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david yates

posted June 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm

John W Frye (#9), I was trying to address the issue: ‘God has chosen Israel to bless the world’ (Scot’s introduction).

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John W Frye

posted June 8, 2009 at 7:43 pm

David (#12),

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