Reading N.T. Wright’s Justification

I am reading through N.T. Wright’s recent book, Justification, which is written as a response to John Piper’s criticism of Wright’s views as presented in other books. This comes at a very interesting time for me, as I have just finished writing my own book (with Ken Blue) which contains a chapter on justification. I have also just finished reading Three Views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, which also addresses justification from both evangelical and Orthodox viewpoints.  I have not read Piper’s book, and probably won’t; I am neither a Calvinist nor a Piper fan.

Those of you who know me or have followed this blog for any length of time know that I often refer to NT Wright; he has influenced my thinking more than anyone with the exception of Martin Luther.  Now, anyone who has read Wright’s Justification will know that Luther is “old perspective” and Wright is “new perspective,” which means I am having to understand the differences and think a bit harder than I often like to.

So far, while I find myself agreeing with much – possibly most – of what Wright has to say, I am finding myself thinking that Wright must have misplaced a few of his exegetical marbles. I can find myself agreeing with him as he works through many arguments, only to have him suddenly take a shift to the left that leaves me thinking, “What??”

Wright’s viewpoint on the subject seems, in part, to be a reaction against a merely forensic, transactional, individualistic view of justification that seems to prevail in the West, in which justification is seen as a “ticket to Heaven.” He talks about viewing justification as giving us a new moral makeup, which is not a view I am familiar with. I have always understood justification to change our legal status, not change our moral reality.  However, I can see no justification (pun intended) for Wright going in the directions he is.

God’s Plan

In general, I tend to agree with Wright’s “big picture” that it was God’s plan to bless all of creation through Israel, and that this is an essential element of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Messiah, Jesus, fulfilled this purpose and has instituted the Church to both be blessed under the Covenant and to participate in Jesus’ mission to bless and ultimately redeem all of creation. I think this meta-narrative is in line with Paul’s writings in Galatians and Romans.

However, Wright, for whatever reason, does not want justification to be primarily about sin. He sees it rather as primarily about belonging to God’s family and, by the way, your sins are taken care of as well.

I will, over 2 or 3 subsequent posts, discuss some specific issues Wright raises as I attempt to work out my own thinking.

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