Tuesday, November 25, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is for Tom Wright to Finish the Fourth Volume in Christian Origins and the Question of God... (part 1)

I know I'm asking a lot. After all, the brilliant bishop has penned around 200 books in the past five years. Moreover, he's published a little work on Paul which gives us his take on the apostle in summary form. However, I want more. Back in 2003, when Wright completed the third volume in his epochal, apocalyptic, earth-shattering Christian Origins and the Question of God series, we knew there would be a fourth installment, and that this volume would be devoted to St. Paul. Wright has already distinguished himself as perhaps the premiere scholar of his generation. But I'm a man with questions. Wright has doled out appetizers to his readership, but I'm ready for the main course. And when Tom finally does release this tome, I'd be elated if it addressed three questions in particular, one of which I will address today...

Question 1. Why do you define justification as a bare delcaration? Wright states that justification, "is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian
" [What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); 125]. Elsewhere he says that, "...dikaioo is...a declarative word, declaring that something is the case, rather than a word for making something happen or changing the way something is" [“New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006); 258]. However, as masterful exegete and blogger extraordinaire Michael Bird states, "this reduces justification to an analytic judgment based upon regeneration...." [The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (PBM: Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007); 103]. The crucial question is this; is God's justifying activity merely declaratory, or does it also bring about a new state of affairs?

In a number of detailed studies, Mark Seidfrid has convincingly argued that the righteousness of God is to be understood against a creational backdrop, and refers to the creative action of God whereby he saves/vindicates his people, judges his (and their) enemies, and establishes justice in the world [“Righteousness Language in the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seidfrid (vol. 1: Tübingen/Grand Rapids: Mohr Siebeck/Baker Academic, 2001); “Paul’s Use of Righteousness Language Against its Background,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism: The Paradoxes of Paul, ed. D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seidfrid (vol. 2: Tübingen/Grand Rapids: Mohr Siebeck/Baker Academic, 2004); 39-74]. When God asserts righteousness by “justifying” his people, this is not a bare verdict, but corresponds to a justifying act/event ("Paul's Use of Righteousness Language," 41). In fact, justification in its forensic sense is intimately bound up with redemption and salvation (Ibid., 41). That Paul understands justification thusly is borne out by his Christological conception of the doctrine. Jesus' death (Rom 5:9) and resurrection (Rom 4:25) jointly comprise the enactment of our justification. Justification for Paul is therefore inextricably tied to an event. Piper [The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007); 98], believes Romans 5:1 also creates problems for Wright’s view. From his previous argument (1:18-4:25), Paul draws the inference that, on the basis of justification, believers have peace with God. This presupposes that justification effects a situation wherein peace with God is operative. However, this doesn’t make sense within Wright’s construal, for justification is God’s declaration that the believer has already been saved and brought into the family of God. While Wright could respond that this verse refers to believers’ awareness of peace with God, such an interpretation does not appear amenable to the context, which has to do with states of affairs created by God’s righteousness. In short, Wright’s contention that initial justification is simply declaratory assumes that a declaration can exist without a corresponding act or event. The literature of the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism, as well as Paul's own words, mitigate the plausibility of this interpretation.

Additionally, Wright might be guilty of inconsistency on this issue. Surprisingly, he acknowledges that God’s declaration in final justification will consist of an event; namely, the resurrection (See N.T. Wright, “New Perspectives on Paul,” 260; this is pointed out by Piper, The Future of Justification, 100). If however God’s act of final justification consists of bringing about a new state of affairs, then it is not a bald declaration that something has happened. Accordingly, should not this caution us from understanding initial justification as a simple declaration that something is the case? Wright suggests that water-baptism is the event which corresponds to initial justification (Ibid., 260), but this begs the question; what changes at the point of initial justification? Wright has yet to explain how justification can sometimes be wholly declaratory, yet at other times refer an event which brings about a new state of affairs.

I'm sure Wright has thought through these objections (he's probably thought through just about everything). I'd just like him to respond to his detractors in greater detail...by Christmas.


Daniel said...

Great summary of Wright's stance on the issue. I too am anxiously waiting for the fourth volume. Maybe we can convince Ben Blackwell to encourage the good Bishop to expediency. I will be interested to see how his full description of Paul's justification teaching takes shape when he has more room to give the subject than in Paul or What Saint Paul Really Said. In a number of lectures I have heard from Wright, he clarifies his justification work from his books and it often sounds like he is arguing for a mediated position. It will definitely be quite interesting to see his fully developed and nuanced approach in light of Bird and Watson's monographs and Jewett's commentary. I hope he interacts with these in his discussion.

Jeffrey said...


thanks. I hope Wright gets a free weekend soon so he can churn this one out.

Anonymous said...

I was at lunch with Bishop Tom about 5 weeks ago and he mentioned that he has another little book about Paul coming out in early 2009 (sort of a reply to Piper's book) and he is not planning on writing the big book until his sabbatical - so expect a 2010 publication at the earliest.

link - http://www.giammona.com/?p=849