Justification – N.T Wright

5 02 2010

I expected this book to be downright heretical and controversial. I found was that it was neither. In fact Wright is a lot more orthodox than most people give him credit for – myself included. Wright’s specialty is to tie the text to history and the overall story of scripture. I must say that this way of looking at scripture has been an eye opener for me over the past few years. I read some of the reviews of this book, and many reviewers claim that Wright is not letting Paul speak for himself. I find that a strange comment. If we locate Paul within first century / 2nd temple Pharisaical Judaism, something which Paul claimed to be a part of, is that not the best way to hear Paul? How else are we to make sense of what he says? He did not write his letters in a vacuum, but was just as socially conditioned as any of us are today.

I was not particularly convinced by Wright’s exegesis of 2 Corinthians – it was very brief to be fair and Wright did make an excellent point about imputation. If we are going to speak of imputed righteousness, why don’t we speak of imputed sanctification and imputed wisdom? The passage would demand that. While I accepted the point I didn’t feel that his exegesis there was strong. Sorry if that seems vague. However, the more I read the book the harder it was to to argue with his exegesis. When you tie the text to history, and the overall biblical narrative, you make a very strong case. What I think Piper should have done in writing his book was to do a brief chapter on his concerns about Wright’s interpretations, and then take him to task exegetically showing where he believes him to be in the wrong. Instead Piper I felt Piper appealed more to “tradition” – if I can use that word – instead of to Biblical exegesis. I found that ironic coming from someone who claims to be Reformed. Semper Reformanda? Ad Fontes? What happened to that? What I didn’t like is that at times Wright seemed to Caricature the “old perspective”. The standard reformed view of the Law is that people did not use it as a way to earn their salvation. The law was given after God had rescued his people from Egypt. That’s a given in good evangelical reformed theology. But I admit that as a Christian for much of my life I grew up thinking Jews were legalistic self help moralists who used the Law to earn their salvation.

Whether or not you agree with Wright’s assesment is not my concern. I think everyone should read this book to be at the very least, informed about current debates. As Paul said – each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. Wright & His new perspective theology is not the threat I once it thought it was. For a long time I found myself caricaturing Wright. Now that I’ve read most of his books (including all 3 Christian origins and the question of God series) I see that much of what the Reformed tradition asserts Wright affirms, but he takes us deeper and forces us to rethink our traditions in light scripture. He could certainly tone down his own polemic for sure, but his exegesis for the most part is sound. I welcome his challenge and reccomend this book to anyone interested in the debate.

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One response

8 02 2010
Mason

Hey Grant, good to see some posts from you, and glad you gave “Justification” a look.
I went through it and posted a couple times last summer when it came out, and I really enjoyed the way he laid out and wrestled with a very difficult topic.
When Pipers book came out I read that as well, and thought he was one step away from appealing to the Magesterium for all the times he essentially argues “Wright is wrong because he disagrees with tradition”.
It doesn’t make Wright right, but when it came to the context, history, and the exegesis I thought his book was on a whole other level.

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