A few weeks ago I got my shiny new American version of Tom Wright's book on justification. It has since garnered dust in my growing "books to read" pile. Therefore, in the hope that I'll actually read it, here's what I intend to do. Since bunches of bloggers have already weighed in on Wright's book, I plan on coming approaching it from a different angle. I'm going to read Wright's book in conjunction with Piper's book, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each construal of justification. I hope to determine where the heart of the disagreement lies, and suggest some potential ways forward.
I think it's especially important that those of us in the Reformed camp listen to Wright with great care. Given the ruckus generated by his work, I'm surprised how often he is sympathetic to Reformed tradition. For example, listen to this interaction from a recent Q & A with Ben Witherington;
Q. You seem to argue that initial justification and final justification are on the same basis, but you also take seriously that there will be a judgment of human works, including the works of Christians. Are you saying that apostasy is possible for Christians, or do you take the more Reformed view that those who fall away were probably not Christians in the first place, being self-deceived?
A. The initial verdict is the true anticipation of the final one because God will complete the good work he has begun (Philippians 1). That doesn't lead Paul to a careless, oh-well-I'm-going-to-make-it-so-who-cares stance, because there is always the possibility that he is self-deceived and that having preached to others he himself will be a castaway (1 Cor 9). But I see that possibility as self-deception about genuine faith rather than faith today and apostasy tomorrow. Pastorally this may be a hard call for oneself and for others, which is why all the time the focus has to be away from oneself and towards God. Which is why the disciplines of scripture, sacrament and service to the poor are all vital...
I think Piper, Schreiner, and Calvin would each answer the question similarly. Wright clearly subscribes - in Witherington's words - to the "more Reformed view".
People get quite anxious over what Wright has said about justification. I understand some of the concern, and take issue with a number of points in his articulation of justification. However, statements like the following should caution us against fecklessly throwing Bishop Tom under the Pelagian bus. His work is far too thoughtful and complex to merit such a response.