Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All I Want for Christmas is for Tom Wright to Finish the Fourth Volume in Christian Origins and the Question of God... (part 3)

By Jeff Bruce

Today we cap off our series with one final question.

Question 3.
Why do you minimize the soteriological meaning of justification?

The following is one of Wright's more popular remarks about justification;

In standard Christian theological language, [justification] wasn't so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; no so much about salvation as about the church.
[What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); 119].

Wright conceives of justification as membership language. Paul employs such language to answer the question, "how can one tell who is in the family of God?" In fairness to the bishop, he does not - like some - reduce the word to a social-scientific term employed for purposes of group legitimation. However, in so emphasizing the social dimension (or implication) of justification, Wright neglects to adequately explicate the relationship between justification and Jesus’ death on the cross. Simon Gathercole [“Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood: The Evidence of Romans 3:21-4:25,” 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); 147-184] has carefully traced Paul’s argument in Romans, noting that Jesus’ propitiatory death (3:24-26) is God’s judicial condemnation of sin (cf. Rom 8:1). God’s forbearance toward humans is permissible because his wrath has fallen on Jesus. The corollary is that humans can be justified by God even in their ungodly/unrighteous state (Rom 4:4-5; cf. 5:6-9). Paul encapsulates this line of thinking in Romans 4:25, when he says that Jesus was, “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (ESV). Paul conspicuously juxtaposes the cross and justification (see also Rom 5:9). Further, given that the cross is - quite literally - the crux of salvation, it becomes difficult to comprehend how Wright can maintain that justification has more to do with ecclesiology than soteriology. Here are a couple quotes that sum up the matter better than I can...

...by reducing (or more properly over-emphasizing) justification to a legitimisation of Christian identity, there is the danger that Paul's theocentric language of divine vindication and his apocalyptic framework of human rebellion, redemption and cosmic renewal are wrongly sidelined. Yet justification is fundamentally a vertical category where God's wrath against sinful humanity is propitiated and believers emerge as acquitted rather than condemned by God's righteousness.
[Michael Bird, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification and the New Perspective (PBM: Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007); 101-102]

...justification is not something God does in the abstract, and on a merely individual basis. In sending his son, God has provided the means of justification. So inseparable is Christ's death from justification, that if justification were possible through some other means, such as the Law, then Christ's death would have been in vain (Gal 2:21). The atoning death of Christ is, for Paul, the ground of the justification of the ungodly. Sin has been punished in Christ, hence the ungodly can be justified (Rom 4:5). Sin has been reckoned to Christ, hence sin is not reckoned to the blessed person whose sins have been forgiven (Rom 4:6-8). All this is accomplished by the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and who justifies all who have faith in him.
(Simon Gathercole, "Justified by Faith, Justified by his Blood," 183)

It looks as though I'll have to wait awhile for my wish to be answered. In the mean time, I will continue pleading that Tom take a weekend sabbatical and crank out this book.

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