Wednesday, October 14, 2009

N. T. Wright, Justification

Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of N. T. Wright's hugely selling book, Justification. This book does not so much set forth Wright's views as it defends them, particularly against John Piper's The Future of Justification, which is an attack on Wright's position. Because of its defensive posture, and because Wright spends so much time engaging the debates raging (mostly) among evangelicals, the book can feel a little off-putting. Nevertheless, Wright's understanding of justification is hugely important, and mainstream Christians do well to pay attention.

The book has two main parts, an apology/argument and an exegetical section.

Wright believes that the Reformation traditions have narrowed justification to a matter of personal salvation. In Wright's view, justification is part of something much greater, God's rectification of the whole cosmos. This, Wright maintains, has been God's plan all along. It's why God called Abraham (read Gen 12:1-3), why God worked and works with Israel, and why God has worked decisively through the true Israelite, Jesus. Justification is not just about declaring individual Christians "innocent." It's not about making them righteous by imputing righteousness to them. Justification is about God vindicating the faithfulness of Jesus, which makes it possible for those who believe into Jesus to share his status and -- eventually, through the work of the Spirit, grow into righteousness themselves.

In the previous paragraph I used several related words: justification, rectifiction, and righteousness. All of these derive from common Hebrew and Greek roots, which have to do with the legal verdict that one has been declared to be in the right. (Read the parable of the widow in Luke 18:1-8.)

I happen to think Wright is powerfully correct. He points out -- and he's obviously correct about this as well -- that Jews of Jesus' day were not preoccupied with going to heaven after they died nearly as much as they were about God fixing the world and redeeming Israel. Jesus' work and teachings make sense precisely in this context, as does Paul's appeal to the "righteousness of God" -- we know God is righteous because in Christ God makes good on God's covenant with Israel.

Finally, so what? The point is that too many churches and Christians have a narrow, individualistic take on faith. The gospel is about participating in something even grander than that -- not just God's plan to fix things for me, but God's gracious inclusion of me (justification, declaring me a part) in the plan to fix the whole world.


Chris E said...

Much appreciate your final paragraph. "declaring me a part" as synonymous with justification does help me wrap my head around the concept a little better.

Sabio Lantz said...

So, if Wright is right and justification is about those who believe in Jesus share his status and grow into righteousness, do we have any evidence for this.

If justification means personal future salvation, we can only wait to see it is true. But if Wright is right, we should be able to objectively see the outcome -- better lives among Christians. I guess we'd have to say, 'true Christians'.

Wright's definition would put Justification open to empirical verification -- and that is not something I think you really want to happen.

Luke said...

i enjoy the concept of communal and here and now justification and salvation. thanks for the review Greg!

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