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My friend Andrew Cowan has offered to write an explanation of what is and isn’t going on with regard to Wright’s comments on justification at ETS. I’m grateful for his careful work on this.


Did N. T. Wright adjust or change his view of justification at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society?  The claim is now making its way around the internet that Wright indeed has reformed himself (to one degree or another) on this issue, and this claim is occasionally accompanied by the insinuation that he is being less than forthcoming about the degree to which he has changed.  (Here I do not have in mind A. B. Caneday’s comments highlighted earlier on this blog.  The careful reader will note that Caneday’s suggestion is that Wright has failed to communicate his position effectively in the past, not that Wright has changed his position and is seeking to cover it up.  The difficulty that many have had in understanding Wright points to some validity within Caneday’s concerns.)

In my judgment, however, the claim that Wright has changed his view on justification is misguided and results from the misreading of Wright that has been rampant in the Reformed world for quite some time.  I will explore this issue through asking and answering four questions.

1. What did Wright say at ETS to incite such controversy?

The issue under debate is Wright’s understanding of how the believer’s Spirit-inspired good works relate to what Wright calls “final justification.”  In his lecture at ETS and the following discussion, Wright stated that he understands final justification to be “in accordance with” works, and not “on the basis of” works.  In fact, he said that he does not remember ever using “basis” language to describe this relationship, and would be happy to adjust future editions of books if others would point out to him where he has made such statements.

Minutes later, Tom Schreiner pointed out one place in Wright’s work where he had spoken of final justification “on the basis of the whole life lived,” and bloggers have drawn attention to a number of other instances of similar language in his books and articles.  In response to one such post (written by Denny Burk), Wright claimed (in a blog comment!) that he has not “retracted anything that I meant in my many, many earlier statements on this subject.”  He said that after receiving Tom Schreiner’s paper (in which he was critiqued for using the word “basis” in his descriptions of the role of works in final justification) he did not have access to his works to check whether or not he had used the language of “basis.” After recognizing the examples produced by Burk, Wright then wrote, “I have always made it clear, as I did yesterday, that I did not mean or intend the kind of thing that clearly some theologians think that word ‘must’ mean.”  Wright thus agreed that he had used the word “basis” to describe the relationship between works and final justification, but suggested that the context of these statements clarifies that he has never meant by this word what many of his critics have taken him to mean.

2. What have Wright’s critics taken him to mean?

One of the most prominent critics of Wright’s views on justification is John Piper, who devoted an entire book to the topic (The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright). Chapter 8 of this book discusses Wright’s view of the relationship between works and the final judgment.  In this chapter, Piper first admits that he finds Wright’s view “ambiguous” (p. 117), but after extended analysis, he concludes that Wright’s denial of the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ “results in a vacuum that our own Spirit-enabled, but imperfect, obedience seems to fill as part of the foundation or ground or basis alongside the atoning death of Jesus” (p. 128, emphasis original).  Piper hastens to add, “I say ‘seems to,’ since I would be happy for Wright to clarify for his reading public that this, in fact, is not what he believes” (pp. 128-129, emphasis original).  Nevertheless, Piper’s tenuous portrayal of Wright’s position has become common among Wright critics in the blogosphere and elsewhere, particularly among folks who self-identify as Reformed.  These critics suggest that the Spirit-inspired obedience of the believer stands as the believer’s righteousness in Wright’s understanding of final justification in the same way that Christ’s lifetime of perfect obedience stands as the believer’s righteousness in the traditional Reformed view.  Thus, they understand Wright to be teaching a sort of Augustinian works-righteousness.

3. What has Wright really meant?

Are the critics right?  The keys to adjudicating this question are Wright’s understanding of the meaning of “righteousness” language in Paul and his understanding of the trial to which justification stands as a verdict.

In his ETS lecture, Wright indicated once more what he has stated many times: in his view, when Paul applies the word “righteousness” to a human being, it means “covenant membership.”  (This is slightly different than when the word is applied to God, in which case it often, but not exclusively, means “covenant faithfulness” according to Wright.)  This definition of “righteousness” should immediately cause us to question the reading that suggests that Wright understands the believer’s Spirit inspired works to be the believer’s “righteousness” in final justification.  If “righteousness” is covenant membership, then righteousness does not and cannot consist in good works themselves, either the believer’s Spirit-inspired works or Christ’s works on the believer’s behalf.

This becomes even clearer when one considers Wright’s understanding of the trial to which justification stands as a verdict.  According to Wright, the question under consideration in the divine courtroom is not whether or not one measures up to God’s moral standards, but rather whether or not one is truly a member of God’s covenant people.  Thus, the trial is meant to determine which people are truly covenant members, and to be justified is to be declared a covenant member.

According to Wright, present justification occurs immediately after conversion.  In Wright’s understanding of conversion, God sends the Spirit to produce faith in one who hears the proclamation of the gospel (Wright thinks that Paul refers to this event with the word “call”).  Thus, faith is the first evidence that one has become a member of God’s covenant people.  Present justification follows immediately.  Present justification is “by faith” because faith in Christ is irrefutable evidence that God has indeed made one a member of his covenant people through the work of his Spirit.  Thus, in Wright’s view, when Paul speaks of present justification by faith, he means God’s declaration that one has been brought into the family of his covenant people.  The evidence that God cites to demonstrate that one has already been brought into covenant membership is the presence of faith.

Wright’s understanding of the function of Spirit-inspired works in final justification is identical to his understanding of the function of faith in present justification.  Just as Spirit-produced faith is the initial sign that God has made one a member of his covenant people, so in final justification, Spirit-produced good works serve as the sign that one was truly a member of God’s covenant people from the point of one’s conversion on.  When Wright has said that good works are the “basis” of the believer’s final justification, he has meant that Spirit-inspired works serve as the evidence that one truly is a covenant member.  They are the “basis” for final justification the same way that a paternity test may serve as the “basis” for the verdict in a paternity lawsuit.  A paternity test does not make one a father; it demonstrates that one was a child’s father all along.  So also, Spirit-inspired works do not make one a covenant member in Wright’s view; they demonstrate that one has been a covenant member all along.  The assertion that Wright understands Spirit-inspired works to be the believer’s “righteousness” in final justification misconstrues both his understanding of the meaning of “righteousness” language and his understanding of the question under consideration in the divine courtroom.

[Two parenthetical comments:

(1) In his writings, Wright has sometimes muddled this issue by his responses to critics.  Wright has two arguments for why his position does not promote any kind of works-righteousness, as his critics claim.  The first is his understanding of the trial and “righteousness” language as detailed above, and the second is his assertion that the works considered in final justification are Spirit-inspired.  This second argument does not satisfy many of Wright’s critics, and sometimes that is the primary response Wright makes to such charges.  When Wright focuses on this argument rather than the first, his critics often become confused and don’t realize how the broader framework of his understanding of the trial and “righteousness” language make the works-righteousness interpretation of his writings impossible.

(2) A second point where confusion has arisen is through the claim that Wright understands justification to be primarily “ecclesiological” rather than “soteriological.”  Although Wright once expressed this contrast himself (What Saint Paul Really Said, 119), he has more recently decried this depiction of Paul’s meaning as a false dichotomy, suggesting that here we have a “both/and” (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 132-133).  Nevertheless, careful attention needs to be paid to how he describes the relationship between justification and soteriology.  He relates justification to soteriology in two distinct ways: (1) he insists that declaring one a covenant member is to declare that one is indeed saved because the blessings of covenant membership include forgiveness of sins, etc. (Paul: In Fresh Perspective, 121-122); (2) he wants to broaden our understanding of the term “soteriology” to include deliverance from the plight of Genesis 11, in which humanity was fractured into different nations, in addition to deliverance from the plight of Genesis 3, in which humanity fell subject to death through sin (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 133-136).  In Wright’s view, justification directly “saves” humanity from this plight by creating one cross-national covenant people of God, and is thus a directly “soteriological” act because it directly reverses the plight of Genesis 11.  Thus, when Wright claims that his view of justification is both ecclesiological and soteriological, he does not mean that his view of justification is soteriological in the precise sense that some of his critics mean.]

4. What is the meaning and significance of Wright’s assertion at ETS that final justification is “in accordance with” and not “on the basis of” works?

We return now to our original question: has Wright changed his view by denying that final justification is “on the basis of” works?  In short, the answer is no.  Nothing that he said indicated that he has changed his understanding of the meaning of “righteousness” language in Paul’s writings.  Nothing that he said indicated that he has changed his understanding of the trial to which justification stands as a verdict.  On the contrary, he reasserted his position on both of these points.

What then did the denial of “basis” as an appropriate way to talk about the relationship between final justification and Spirit-inspired works mean?  The most responsible reading of this statement is that Wright is denying the interpretation of his writings that insists that he equates the believer’s righteousness in final justification with Spirit-inspired works.  I think that everyone in the room who has read his works carefully was probably stunned to hear him say that he did not remember using the language of “basis” in this way, but I think that his lapse in memory on this point demonstrates that the language of “basis” is so inessential to what Wright has always meant that he can dismiss it without realizing how frequently he has used it in the past.  Basically, Wright’s shift in language simply means that he is using new wording to express what he has always been saying, but in a way that is less apt to be misunderstood than his previous statements.  He still holds that Spirit-inspired works serve as the evidence that one is truly a member of God’s covenant people in final justification, and this corresponds to his understanding of the function of faith in present justification.  He has not changed his view at all, but he has finally offered the clarification for which Piper hoped by denying that he understands works to be the “basis” of final justification in the way that Piper understands Christ’s righteousness to be the “basis” of final justification.  One might wish that he had made this clarification clearer in his book-length reply to Piper (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision), but we may all be grateful that he is now speaking in a way that perhaps fewer people will misunderstand.  Also, perhaps the debate can now shift from this red-herring to the real points of disagreement: Wright’s understanding of the meaning of “righteousness” language and his construal of the question under consideration in the divine courtroom.  On these points, Wright should be engaged and evaluated with an open mind, an open heart, and, not least, an open Bible.  The discussion at ETS was a fine example of such engagement, and we should all be thankful to the panelists for modeling a charitable dialogue on this issue focused on the exegetical details from which the differences arise.  May God give us wisdom as we continue to consider His Word together.


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54 thoughts on “What N.T. Wright Really Said”

  1. Bruce Russell says:

    …So then, N T Wright is expounding Romans 2 in opposition to Lutheran and Dispensational conceptions of the Final Judgment.

    Good for him.

    God commends those who seek after glory, honor and immortality and rewards them with eternal life. But those who are self seeking and do not obey the truth will receive God’s indignation and wrath; their souls will suffer tribulation and anguish.

    To be saved a person must diligently seek glory, honor and immortality, but he must commence, pursue, sustain and finish this work on the ground of Christ’s faithfulness.

    This is the obedience of faith.

    1. Alex Greaves says:

      I’m a bit of a novice at all this, but I’ve been wondering something based on your comment first, and others below.

      It seems that people are looking at Romans 2:6-11 and saying that “salvation” and/or “final justification” must have works in it *somewhere*. Why don’t people take Romans 2:10 (“glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good”) in the light of Romans 3:12 (“no one does good”)? My reading of Romans has always been:

      1. If a person were to do good, then that person would be given eternal life, in the same way that a worker is given his/her wages. (Romans 2)

      2. No person does good, so all people are under God’s wrath. (Romans 3)

      3. A way to “be good” (i.e. right with God) has been made available *apart* from doing good: faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 3-4)

      Or perhaps I’m just not reading people correctly, and this is indeed what they are arguing for. Either way, clarification would be greatly appreciated!

      1. Bruce Russell says:

        Alex:

        Most evangelicals are working from abstracted constructs of Law and Grace that miss the mark the biblical mark. When you read Law or nomos in Galations or Romans, be careful not to interpret that as “Moral Law.” Paul means the Old Covenant Torah.

        The Torah obligates the Old Covenant believer to regular confession and sacrifice for sin. Perfect obedience to the Torah does not mean perfect moral righteousness, it means obedience to the Torah and heart submission to its provisions for sin.

        So, when Jesus says in John 5:28-29 the “those who have done good will rise to life and those who have done evil will rise to condemnation.” He means precisely what Paul does in Romans 2. A believer can and must do good in covenantal terms to obtain eternal life.

        All modern translations have made the understanding of Romans a muddy task. The thesis text, Romans 1:16-17 has I believe should properly be translated this way:

        1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faithfulness to faithfulness, just as it is written, “The Righteous One from faithfulness will live.”

        Note this simultaneously gives place to human faith in verse 16, but places Jesus covenant faithfulness as the ground and power source of salvation.

        Blessings,

        Bruce

        1. Alex Greaves says:

          So, then, is faith a covenant work for initial justification – and for final justification for those who don’t have the opportunity for other works (e.g. the second criminal, crucified next to Jesus in Luke 23:39-43) – according to Wright? Faith is a work (note “works” in Romans 2:6)? That doesn’t seem to match with how either word is used in any of Paul’s writing.

          1. Bruce Russell says:

            Alex:

            The Gospel unveils Jesus as King, the Son of David, the Son of God. He was delivered up on account of our sins and was raised for our justification.

            The resurrection from the dead is a compelling testimony that He is God.

            The only proper response is to believe and obey Him. As He is unveiled in Scripture, believe in Him, and render to Him the obedience of faith.

            Jesus has provided the perfection, now you obey the New Covenant, which includes regular provision for forgiveness of sins. Thus in the crucial covenantal sense, you are no longer a sinner, you are righteous because you are in Him.

            Romans 2:13:

            New International Version (©1984)
            For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. This is doing the Torah in Romans 2:13…

            Romans 2:13
            For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

            1. Alex Greaves says:

              I agree with what you said, but I’m not sure if it answered my question: Is faith to be considered a work? Furthermore, is it a work of the Law? (I’m not sure if I’m reading you correctly, but this seems to be what you’re arguing by quoting Romans 2:13).

              Consider also Romans 10:5-13. Verse 5 is very reminiscent of Romans 2:13. But, if we are to say that there is a strict continuity of salvation by (or “in line with”) covenant works, then the “but” that begins verse 6 wouldn’t make sense. That is to say, if we are supposed to be declared righteous based on obeying the Torah (either by fulfilling the old works, or by the New Covenant), then the contrast between Law and faith should not occur. In chapter 10, Paul clearly makes the argument that salvation by faith is *attested to* by the Law, but not achieved *by works of the Law* – compare with Romans 3:21 and Romans 3:28.

              This is my reading of the matter: To be saved (from God’s wrath on the last day) under the Law, a person would need to keep the whole Law by the letter – that is, that person would need to be without sin (Romans 2). To be saved under the grace of the New Covenant, that person would need (only) to trust in Jesus’ propitiation for our sins, which is set in contrast to works of the law (Romans 3).

              However, I don’t know Greek (or church history, or anything except the plain reading of my Bible), so I’d be happy to hear different views from you and/or others.

              1. Bruce Russell says:

                Alex:

                Faith and works are harmonized in Jesus.

                Jews and proselytes who continued to observe the Torah while rejecting Jesus Christ are the target of Paul’s polemic in Romans.

                The Gospel calls us to the obedience of faith…but you can’t obey Jesus until he has been disclosed to you. It is crucial that faith can only begin when one sees the Risen King through the Gospel.

                Once you see Him you must either follow or rebel.

                Jesus provides the perfection. You must run with endurance the race that is set before you.

                Note that you don’t “earn” your reward as a laborer works for pay. You receive you reward as a son receives an inheritance.

                Blessings.

                Bruce

            2. John Thomson says:

              Alex

              No, faith is most certainly not ‘a work’. paul goes to great lengths to contrast faith and works in Romans. The key passage that underscores faith is not a work is Roms 4.

              Rom 4:1-16 (ESV)
              What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ​​​​​​​​“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; ​​​​​​​​blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring-not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

              Paul’s point is that any work-righteousness of man gives him a reason to boast. God will allow no man to boast before him. All must be of his grace. Faith looks to God to ‘work’ righteousness. As soon as we define faith in terms of ‘a work’ we have undermined Paul’s point here.

              Yet…yet…faith works. Faith will be faithful. It will constantly look to God and find in him the resources for every aspect of salvation.

              Both these understandings of faith must be held in tension. If inclined to legalism we must remember faith is not a work, it looks to God; if inclined to indifferent antinomianism we must remember that faith works and that faith that does not work is dead.

        2. Shiloh says:

          Bruce, I am a bit confused. When Paul says “no one is righteous, not even one”, is here referring to righteousness with respect to the Mosaic Law or just general, universal righteousness? Does that imply that Paul says that Jesus’s death and resurrection atones for failure to obey the law, but not general moral law?

          By the way, what do you mean by this: “A believer can and must do good in covenantal terms to obtain eternal life”? How is it not salvation by works, if salvation belongs to the Lord?

          You also said: “but places Jesus covenant faithfulness as the ground and power source of salvation.” Please tell me if I am twisting your words, but does this sort of imply human effort at some point? My worry is that this subtly “pushes back” God’s role in our salvation.

          Some background: I’m new to this whole debate and I’m just trying to get a handle on the nuances of N.T. Wright’s view. So I don’t have all the right terminology and jargon etc. Please bear with me. :)

          1. Bruce Russell says:

            Shiloh:

            Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 in Romans 3:10. The quote refers to fools who say in their heart that there is no God. The scripture references the reality of righteous men everywhere. In fact, without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

            Remember that salvation has an Already, Not Yet aspects. Christ died for the ungodly. They are to look at Him and live. Then they are to live for Him by His power.

            There is legal imagery in scripture and it has its proper place, but it improperly dominates popular theology.

            The dominant Pauline imagery for the Christian life is running the race.

            Jesus him self states the necessity of being good in John 5:28-29.

            So, the foolish and wicked are called to repent, and to commence a death and resurrection fueled race of pleasing their Father in union with Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

            So build worship and good works into the daily fabric of your life: forgive those who sin against you and therebye enjoy the forgiveness of your own sins, love your brethren and enemies, exalt Jesus, enjoy covenant perfection (WHICH IS NOT SINLESS PERFECTION).

            Blessings, Bruce

            Bruce

            1. Shiloh says:

              Thanks for your reply, Bruce.

              I don’t want this to come across as antagonistic, but I am asking the following question because all theology has personal implications. Do you think that you have covenant perfection?

              1. Bruce Russell says:

                Shiloh:

                Seeing I have a Perfect Covenant Head, yes I do have covenant perfection.

                I believed in Jesus and received forgiveness of my sins many years ago, I followed Him in Baptism, and have pursued the communion of the saints these many years. When I sin, I repent and seek the cleansing that is in Jesus, when someone sins against me I forgive them. In all these ways I continue to confidently grow in my experience of covenant perfection, as will all who follow Jesus.

                Bruce

  2. A very clear and helpful explanation. Thanks!

  3. Brian Weed says:

    Have we all agreed that “dikaiosune” means “covenant faithfulness” on God’s part and “covenant membership” on ours. I’m just so biblically unconvinced about this….

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I am totally unconvinced as well.

  4. This was a very clear and thorough explanation for which I’m most grateful. Thank you, Andrew and Justin.

  5. John Thomson says:

    Bruce

    You are probably right about modern dispensationalism, however, no less a dispensationalsist than J N Darby (the founder of the dispensational schema) wrote,

    ‘The apostle when he speaks of those who seek for glory and honour and immortality, supposes Christianity, for the knowledge of these things depends upon a revelation. God will give eternal life, without distinction between Jew or Greek, to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek these things. God would have the reality of divine life, not a mere external form. Those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, must expect “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” All will be judged, every one according to his works, according to the light which he has possessed, without respect of persons’

    or W Kelly (Kelly and Darby together framed dispensational thinking)

    ‘ For there is a righteous judgment of God, “who shall render to each according to his work: to those that in patience of good work seek for glory, honour, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those that are contentious and disobey the truth and obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath.” (Ver. 6-8.) The appraisal and the rendering are individual; and, as we shall see farther on, the secrets of the heart appear.

    It is important to note that eternal life is viewed not only as a present possession for the believer in Christ, but as the future issue of a devoted pathway for His name. The Gospel of John develops the former; the other three show us the latter; as our apostle elsewhere in this epistle (Rom. 6: 22, 23) gives us both brought together in the same context. But now, says he of Christians, “being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” On the other hand, the wages of sin, though death, are not death only, but after it the judgment, as Hebrews 9 states in accordance with what we have here.’

    Although no longer a dispensationalist, I have read a fair bit of early dispensational writers. Interestingly Wright’s view on IAO is pretty well the same as these writers.

    The difference between Wright and many of his present critics is the difference such as Darby and Kelly shared with their critics; it is the difference between those who approach the bible exegetically and those who approach it confessionally.

    This is not to say I always side with Wright (far from it). Yet I find it refreshing that he argues on the basis of how he understands Scripture and not that of a confession.

    PS I would have included Calvinists in your list.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      John:

      That’s a pretty cool history concerning Darby. Also, I like the idea of confessional vs. exegetical approaches to understanding scripture. Darby was a Greek scholar, right? And Scofield confessionalized Darby into the system. Likewise the Calvinists are great systematizers.

      Of course exegesis is hard work, but it is too rewarding to withhold from the people.

      Bruce

  6. Well stated, Andrew. I believe that you Wrightly understand Wright. ;)

    There was rapprochement evident within the ETS plenary sessions, but, as Tom Wright observes somewhere, it came largely from Tom Schreiner and Frank Thielman who acknowledged agreement in a couple of areas. I think that you capture rather well Tom Wright’s “concession” when you state, Basically, Wright’s shift in language simply means that he is using new wording to express what he has always been saying, but in a way that is less apt to be misunderstood than his previous statements.

  7. Charlie says:

    Very helpful and clarifying. Thanks you Andrew Cowan for this post and you Justin for posting it.

  8. Theologian says:

    Justin,

    2 Things:

    1) Thank you for having Andrew Cowan post on this topic. Very well done.

    2) I notice that in the Christian blogosphere it is common to use the language of “friend” when referring to others. Can you and/ or Andrew define for your readers what the term “friend” means in this context?

    1. dkm says:

      You are kidding right? Define friend?

      It is an intimate term that communicates a desire to listen to, and understand the person to whom you speak.

    2. Justin Taylor says:

      I usually avoid the term “my friend” when blogging—but the word “friend” has its normal usage—someone with whom you have a friendly relationship.

  9. Danny says:

    I always knew the gospel was uber complicated. I feel sorry for the uneducated that can’t understand the real gospel. All this time I thought I was saved. Wright keeps changing the message and unless I get a personal email on each change I remain in and out of salvation.

    1. Bruce Russell says:

      Danny:

      The Gospel is profoundly elegant, but it is not complicated.

      People, on the other hand, are just the opposite.

      Enjoy the voyage! :)

      Bruce

    2. Theologian says:

      Danny,

      I think Andrew is correct. It is not that Wright has changed his message, it is just that he has changed one of the semantical approaches he uses to describe his stance. This is actually a step in the right direction with regards to achieving successful communication. While I agree with you that the good news of Jesus is for all people that does not mean that everyone understands the nuances of what God has done for His people in Christ. I would encourage you to re-read Cowan’s response and see if that does not assist you in processing through things.

      1. Danny says:

        I don’t want to read anymore Wright or his apologists. He makes me sick. He gets a 10 point head start with his British accent. His theology is/was developed to give him an avenue to involve politics in his dialogue. He did a lot of Bush/America bashing for about 7 years. It abruptly stopped 2 years ago….for the life of me I can’t figure out why??? Times they are a changin’ and so your “semantics” must change as well.

        1. Theologian says:

          I would not in any way characterize the response by Cowan as an apology for Wright. Cowan is simply describing the landscape.

  10. Nick says:

    I think that Wright needs to be pressed on “over-doing the metaphor”. At times I think that Wright’s view is too forensic (which is kind of ironic because he was being accused of heading towards Catholicism). He wants to bring the ideas of 1) lawcourt; 2) covenant; and 3) eschatology into the mix but I think these three components would mix better if he didn’t press justification as a forensic declaration so hard. Someone who has been very helpful on this point is Michael J. Gorman. He holds these three ideas together but does not reduce justification to a declaration of covenant membership. Justification, for him, is about dying and rising with Christ (cf. Rom 6; Gal 2). It is about acquittal AND transformation.

  11. Chris says:

    It still seems as if Wright does not grasp the reformed view of Justification by faith alone. For the flaw he has is still basing justification by what one does.

    I pray the N.T. will become a justification by faith alone guy. He has a huge voice in the Christian world, and correct doctrine from his lips could do wonders for the glory of God.

  12. Wright Advocate says:

    Chris, I admonish you to read this article more carefully (or Wright’s works even).

    I’m grateful for this essay. Well done.

  13. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    I wish Wright was as clear and adamant on justification as he is on egalitarianism (and women’s ordination).

  14. Melissa Fitzpatrick says:

    This is very helpful, Andrew. I think Susan may need to set you up your own personal blog. You two could co-write?

    Thanks again,
    Melissa

  15. Andrew Cowan says:

    There is one line missing just under question 2. It should say, “One of the most prominent of Wright’s views on justification is John Piper, who devoted an entire book to the topic (The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright).”

    1. Andrew Cowan says:

      Whoops, change that to “One of the most prominent critics of Wright’s views on justification is John Piper, who devoted an entire book to the topic (The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright).” (It is so easy to make little mistakes in editing!)

  16. Daniel says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for restating your thoughts about wright’s position. I still disagree with with your opinion that wright’s view is just evidential and not instrumental. We talked about this a while back on Denny Burk’s blog. It seems that good works are both the evidence that we are in the new covenant and the condition to receive the covenant blessings (convenant nomisim).

    http://www.dennyburk.com/panel-confronts-wright’s-view-of-justification/

    1. Danny says:

      Covenant blessings are dispersed not earned. Begin backtrack in 3-2-1. Semantics…right?

  17. Brian LePort says:

    Andrew,

    This is an excellent summary and clarification.

  18. Chris Donato says:

    Geez, it only took several years to figure out this red herring. Watching some of my Reformed evangelical compatriots read and engage Wright has often caused my eyes to bleed.

  19. John says:

    Thanks, Andrew. I have been thinking similar thoughts for a while, and it is nice to see them written down.

  20. John Thomson says:

    Justin

    You may be interested in this link to John Richardson’s blog. N T Wright is discussing his use of ‘on the basis’.

    http://ugleyvicar.blogspot.com/2010/11/clarification-from-tom-wright.html

  21. I find D.A. Carson’s comments on Wright interesting. He says he knows Wright since the time when they were at Oxford and Cambridge doing their Ph.D.s and spending time at Tyndale House together in the summers. So they go way back. Carson thinks Wright has always responded with complete acceptance of the gospel as someone like Carson accepting Reformed theology would be looking for, but he has to be pressed on particular points to accept certain points. But then such conversations never affect how he uncarefully says things or undermphasizes certain things and overemphasizes other things in his next book.

  22. Steven Bowers says:

    Very clear and helfpul – seems clearer than Wright to me.

  23. Chris H. says:

    What does it say about a minister that his understanding of justification is so cloudy that he himself does not remember his own view of it? Perhaps NTW should write less and pastor more.

    If my view of justification was so cloudy that my own people did not even know what I thought, that to me is grounds for resigning the ministry. How can a minister not be clear on the most important subject of Christian preaching?

  24. Tony P. says:

    Very helpful post. I will be able to read Wright with much more clarity, now. It seems to me that the real issue is the meaning of justification. Is it the imputed righteousness of Jesus or not? I think it is. Where Wright probably helps is that he brings out some of the broader aspects of being in the covenant, the relational aspects. Righteousness language is not limited to imputation. It also speaks of God’s faithfulness to his covenant and our being declared to be His people, bringing us out of exile and into the land. This is a very important element, I think. But, in this broadening, one must be careful not to lose the heart of the gospel. Christ became sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It is His righteousness as our covenant head that is credited to us. This is how God brings us into the covenant and it is this righteousness by which we will be accepted on the final day.

  25. Jacob Z says:

    as one who was converted and grew under “new calvinism”, including the gospel coalition and its many related pastors, YET who now considers himself a “new perspective guy” I really appreciated this article.

    It has moved past the hasty, angry, defensive rhetoric and given some clarification with disagreement. It seems you have actually read NTW, which is unfortunately sometimes rare among his detractors.

    thanks again, andrew, I hope this is a step in reconciliation and fellowship among these groups.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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