Tag Archives for Luther

One Gospel — it’s what Christmas is all about

From a Reformation Day sermon, as posted by Paul McCain:

The different ways people read God’s Word are not merely variations on a theme but radically different Gospels.  The Reformation of Luther is not about competing interpretations but about the one Gospel which is true and others which are false.  If you read St. Paul’s letters, you hear him warn the people against departing from the truth that He delivered to them.  He was not offering one version of the truth but the only truth that saves — the truth of Jesus Christ. We face exactly the same challenge today.

Christianity is not the domain of differing but equally true ideas about God.  Christianity is not some umbrella religion of many different truths that all claim to be right.  Christianity is about the one, true Gospel that has the power to forgive, save, and give eternal life.  The other gospels are false gospels that are powerless to do anything for you.  Luther’s battle was not with a pope or a council but with a false gospel which had robbed the Church of the Word that does what it says, delivers what it promises, and bestows what it speaks.

Merry Christmas!

New at The Gospel Uncensored

Gospel Certainty

I’ve had the following quotation by Martin Luther open on my desktop for the past couple of weeks, thanks to my friend Steve:

“Let us thank God, therefore, that we have been delivered from this monster of uncertainty and that now we can believe for a certainty that the Holy Spirit is crying and issuing that sigh too deep for words in our hearts.

And this is our foundation:

The gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection, but at God as he promises, and at Christ himself, the Mediator…

Read more here.

Even in the Darkest Moments

For children, as you may recall, the world is a very unsettling place. Parents often take the place of God for children, which is one of the reasons I believe God invented them. Parents model God to their children. Parents, though, are all too human (I’m a parent, so I am painfully aware of this fact); sometimes they let us down. However, I understood early on that while parents and other people can and will fail us, God never fails. He is perfectly trustworthy, always, even when it seems He isn’t listening.

Of course, the reality about trusting God is that you don’t need to do it — or at least it’s quite easy — when everything is going well. When we really need to trust God, it’s typically because we’re in some kind of crisis. Either we are fearful of the future, or we are fearful of the present. We find ourselves in some situation where we know we lack control, and distrust our own ability and the abilities of those around us.

The rest of the time, we probably don’t even think about trusting in God; we can take God for granted. Even when we think we are trusting God, often we are merely trusting in something we can see, and imagine that God is standing behind the scenes, pulling strings like some invisible Geppetto. For example, I can trust God for my finances because I happen to have money in the bank. If that were not the case, I’m sure I’d look at life a bit differently.

I do hate when my ability to trust in God is really tested. The first time I can recall really having my faith challenged was the day before my fourteenth birthday. We were having a terrible rainstorm, and I was in our entryway trying to keep rain from pouring under the door, when my aunt came bursting in. Within a few moments we understood that my uncle had been in a terrible car accident at an intersection about a half-mile from my house. Had it not been storming so hard, we probably could have heard the impact and could have seen the crash site (I lived on a country gravel road). Of course, had it not been raining so hard, my uncle may have seen the other car coming.

I recall sitting in our car outside the hospital emergency room, praying harder than I had ever prayed in my life that my uncle would be okay. Eventually, my parents came out to tell me he had been dead at the scene.

At that moment, I was confused. Could we or could we not trust God? Why were my prayers completely ignored? I don’t recall how I eventually worked through the issues, but I do know that my faith in God remained, even if I never understood why God didn’t save my favorite uncle.

Trust is like grace; you aren’t aware of how much you need it until you need it. The whole concept of trusting God would be moot if we didn’t have the need to trust in God. Because we live in an imperfect “world, with devils filled” that “should threaten to undo us,” as Martin Luther wrote (A Mighty Fortress), our ability to trust will be tested. This is not to say that God “tests” our faith to see whether He’ll save us or not. Rather, I think it’s like testing a parachute — you only really know it works after you’ve jumped out of the plane.

I am not claiming any kind of unique ability to trust; in fact, I’ll claim the opposite. I admittedly am a very weak and often undisciplined person. I have never been “religious” simply because I fail at it so miserably. I require loads of grace, even to get through one day. Part of the grace that I have been given is the knowledge that God is there, and that I have to trust Him, no matter what.

I am often unable to put on that strong, “man of faith” persona that some people expect from Christians. I don’t think trust requires us to be brave or strong at all. Trust by definition requires us to be weak, to recognize that we’re completely helpless without God. There are times when I am totally freaking out. I have occasional panic attacks. I have suffered from nearly every stress-related condition you can think of. However, deep down I know without a doubt that God is there, and I have no choice but to trust Him, even — or perhaps especially — in the darkest moments.

Questions:

  1. Think back to your childhood; how did you learn to trust?
  2. When has your ability to trust been really put to the test?

From Luther, With Love

Growing up Lutheran, I was well acquainted with Martin Luther. As I’ll talk about a bit later, he has always been one of my heroes. Luther, like many Roman Catholics of his day (not to mention most contemporary evangelicals), was heavily influenced by St. Augustine, with his doctrines of man’s total depravity, original sin, and inherited guilt.As anyone who has seen the movie Luther knows, Brother Martin struggled with his sin, his guilt, and the need to know that he was forgiven.

The torment of his guilt was such that when he finally saw that God operated by grace and love and not by our ability to live pious lives or follow men’s rules, he was willing to die rather than retract his teaching. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther responded to the demand that he recant with these words:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.

Like Luther, the reformer John Calvin was also greatly influenced by Augustine, and we can see Calvin’s Augustinian influence throughout much of the contemporary evangelical church, even in groups who do not identify themselves as Calvinists. However, Luther discovered what Calvin seemed to miss: The primacy of God’s Love. It was the knowledge that God was motivated by His love for us – rather than the need for God to assert His holiness, vengeance, or glory – that finally set Luther free.

I have no doubt that Luther’s beliefs were firmly founded on his reading of Scripture, as he stated at Worms, though I suspect his own personal experience of grace and God’s love that accompanied his theological breakthrough reinforced his commitment to the Gospel. Luther wrote,

“Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through an open door into paradise. The whole of scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven . . . .”

Having this revelation of God’s love, Luther was able to make such bold statements as, “Love God and do as you please” and the oft-quoted and often misunderstood, “Sin boldly.” Anyone who has read Luther will know that by no means was Luther encouraging licentiousness or sinfulness. Rather, Luther was convinced that we did not need to become holy before we can approach God; furthermore, he knew that we couldn’t if we tried. Being human, we will fail – however, that should not keep us from drawing near to God. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16 KJV)”

How else can we ever hope to boldly and with confidence (Heb. 10:19) enter God’s throne room, unless we are first convinced of God’s love for us? Even if we fully believe in the mechanics and legalities of our salvation, without being confident of God’s love, walking into God’s presence would give us a moment of pause. Is He perhaps just a little angry that we got in? Should I have given a dollar to that homeless man yesterday, or tithed more regularly? Will I be one of those to whom God will say, “I don’t know you?”

The true legacy that Luther gave to the Evangelical movement (which later became known as the Lutheran Church) is this certainty that we are indeed loved by God, the Creator of the universe.

It was, then, this rich heritage into which I was born, and for which I am eternally grateful.

Questions:

  1. Do you have a sense of having received a spiritual legacy, either personally, or in the church group you belong to?
  2. How does this flavor your present spiritual experience?

Exploring the Twain 2

In the first post in this series, I introduced my thesis that Western theology is so tainted by a number of influences that did not affect the Eastern Church that the best way to evaluate Western theology is to start at the beginning, exploring where the West diverted from the East. I also proposed that the true “great schism” was a worldview split, and without understanding this aspect we can’t really appreciate the theological issues.

Father Michael Azkoul (an Orthodox Priest) appears to be a contemporary authority on this issue. He writes in a 1994 article:

Following the Holy Fathers, Orthodoxy uses science and philosophy to defend and explain her Faith. Unlike Roman Catholicism, she does not build on the results of philosophy and science. The Church does not seek to reconcile faith and reason. She makes no effort to prove by logic or science what Christ gave His followers to believe. If physics or biology or chemistry or philosophy lends support to the teachings of the Church, she does not refuse them. However, Orthodoxy is not intimidated by man’s intellectual accomplishments. She does not bow to them and change the Christian Faith to make it consistent with the results of human thought and science.

Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, places a high value on human reason. Its history shows the consequence of that trust. For example, in the Latin Middle Ages, the 13th century, the theologian-philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, joined “Christianity” with the philosophy of Aristotle. From that period til now, the Latins have never wavered in their respect for human wisdom; and it has radically altered the theology, mysteries and institutions of the Christian religion.

This difference of “philosophy of philosophy” explains much of the difference between East and West.  While Eastern scholars will make references to Plato, etc. (as does the Gospel of John with its discussion of the logos), it only borrows concepts as illustrations.  Augustine, who belonged to the Latin side, not the Greek, took a different approach.

Augustine – Saint or Heretic?

Augustine was a Manichaean as well as a neo-Platonist before he was a Christian, and a major focus of his thinking was merging his philosophical ideas with Christianity – ideas which included a continued belief in the eternal forms of Plato as existing alongside God, dualism, and the fallen man.  Augustine, who was largely unknown in the Eastern Church until the 14th Century or so, is the major shaper of Western Christianity, introducing – I’ll even say inventing – concepts like the doctrine of original sin and the total depravity of man.  His views not only heavily influenced the Roman Catholic Church, but also is the foundation for Reformed theology (Calvinism).

While accepted as a saint by the Orthodox, his ideas are largely rejected by them, with some recent Orthodox scholars taking the position that he was a heretic, and see him (rightly, I believe) as a major cause of the East-West schism.  Of course, the Orthodox don’t consider the Church Fathers to be inerrant, and some are more inerrant than others.  Augustine is seen as being in the “more” category.

What this means is, of course, that many of the doctrines and concepts that we take for granted, such as original sin, inherited guilt, total depravity, penal atonement, dualism, a Roman judicial interpretation of justification, and the concept of the “angry God” do not exist in the early church or in the Eastern church.  Furthermore many of these concepts are not Biblical or derived from Apostolic tradition, but began as philosophical beliefs that Augustine felt needed to be reconciled with Christianity.

Aquinas to Ockham to Luther

Thus began a Western tradition of basing theology on philosophy.  Subsequent to Augustine was Thomas Aquinas, who followed Aristotle instead of Plato.  Aquinas’ shift away from Plato caused a bit of strife in the Roman church, but eventually the majority of the church adopted his rationalistic approach. While Thomas still believed in a God limited by the eternal forms, he further altered Christian thought by basing all revelation on our 5 senses.

It wasn’t until William of Ockham (or Occam) – one of my heroes – that we got rid of the eternal forms, and finally back to a Biblical concept of God who actually had free will, who was not limited by some external ideals of “good,” “just,” and so on.   This is what Occam’s Razer was all about, but that’s another topic.  It was this school of thought – away from the limitations of Plato and Aristotle, and Augustine – that provided the backdrop for Martin Luther’s theology.  As I stated in my prior post, Luther also saw the error of basing theology on reason.   Luther also saw the error of Augustine’s concept of the angry God, instead finding that the Bible taught a loving God.  While Luther inherited much from Augustine – as did everyone – his theology was a major correction in a number of areas, and is probably the closest to the Eastern church than any other major Western theologian, even teaching the concept of theosis.  Calvin, however, is another story, and I’ll get to him soon.

So?

We now have a Western church tradition that has been tossed to and fro by every wind of philosophy.  Meanwhile, back East, nothing has changed.  They’ve had 7 major church councils to deal with some issues, but essentially nothing’s changed.  No new theories about the nature of God, no new theories about justification, and no need for a reformation.

My original question was, how can we find a pure expression of Christianity that is unaltered by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine or the Enlightenment?  Especially after Descartes, in the west, we’re pretty much toast.  Our worldview – our entire context for understanding the Bible and early church teaching – has been hijacked not once, but several times.  In this context, it seems that to even try to discuss evangelical theology is pretty much a bust.  Even if the church is semper reformanda (always reforming), it’s reforming into what? To the 1800′s?  The Reformation?  Augustine?  It seems to me that the only way to evaluate theology is to compare it to that of the Eastern Church; even if you don’t accept that as “true,” you have to admit it is the only theology free from all of the Western baggage.

Again, I’m still a rationalist.  But, God does call for us to think, just not to let our ability to understand control our belief.

NOTE:  A friend on Facebook questioned my comment, “I’m still a rationalist.”  It was a poor choice of words, or at least not adequately explained.  What I meant was that I’ve been steeped in Western rationalism, and still naturally think like a rationalist.  However, I am not a rationalist in the sense that I don’t limit my ability to believe on my – or someone else’s – ability to understand or explain something.

Martin Luther is still my hero

Therefore a distinction must be made between reason left to itself without restriction, which runs about unbridled and is carried around by its reckonings, which judges and decides on the basis of its own principles, which are common notions, perceptions, experience, etc., and reason restrained by God’s Word and kept in obedience to Christ. This judges and decides on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of God’s Word, which has been set forth in the Holy Scriptures. The mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason considered in the latter respect, but they are contrary to reason considered in the former respect. (from a yet-unpublished translation of Luther, as posted by Paul T. McCain)

Martin Luther is still my hero.   While Luther’s comments on reason (a longer quote is posted on McCain’s site) have been ridiculed by atheists as showing the irrelevance of Christianity, it is only because they are not understood in context.  Obviously, Luther relies on well-reasoned logic in this very analysis.

This quote by Luther, I think, reveals an area of protest with regard to the Roman Catholic Church that is often overlooked, and which I’ll be writing more about soon in my series on “Exploring the Twain“: The Roman Church’s theology was being subjected to a philosophy that was more and more governed by man’s ability to make things appear logical.  While Luther saw and opposed this direction, the rest of the protestants – Calvin and Zwingli, for example – continued to embrace a reason-driven theology, which paved the way for our modern evangelicalism.  Luther’s position here places him more in like with the Eastern Church, which had and has a different approach to theology and philosophy.

Luther probably doesn’t get all the credit he deserves for his remarkable insights, I think primarily due to his patently unmodern commitment to apostolic Christianity.

Luther is still my hero.

Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura 2

In my last post, I discussed a few of the issues surrounding the concept of sola scriptura, that doctrinal authority is limited to that found in the Bible.  I discussed that the doctrine has evolved from its original intent into what could now be called “solo” scriptura – in other words, my interpretation is all that matters.  Luther, however, understood the authority behind the Bible. While Luther did not have the benefit of the vast history of the Eastern Orthodox churches (very few of the early writings were available in Latin, much less German), he was still aware that the authority of Scripture depended upon the teaching of the Apostles. As I quoted,

Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it.

For most modern evangelicals, tradition (regardless of whether it is capitalized or not) is thought of as the rumors, myths, hearsay, and old-wives tales of an ancient Christianity that is sometimes interesting but of very little value when it comes to either theology or practice.   This anti-historical bias is, unfortunately, a key element of the modernism which has permeated evangelicalism.  We assume that what we know now is automatically more factual and reliable than what someone would know in, say, the 2nd Century.  Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries didn’t read, for the most part, and probably didn’t think critically.  Aside from Paul, that is.  And, since much of “tradition” was passed along orally, who can trust it?  Right?

We now have thousands of fragments of various books, and through modern analytical processes, we obviously are better able to understand the meaning of the Gospels and Epistles then those who understood 1st Century Israel and actually knew what all of the words meant.   Right?

Well, isn’t it?  After all, who needs to know what 1st and 2nd Century Christians like Polycarp (who actually knew John and some of the other disciples) thought?  Did you even know that there was a guy named Polycarp who knew some of the disciples, and who taught other guys like Irenaeus who also wrote stuff?  It doesn’t matter, because now we have John Piper.

Okay, so I’m being facetious.

The thing is, the Gospel began as oral tradition.  There are dozens of places in the Epistles where the writers speak of the Word of God as something which was presented orally.   Furthermore, the Gospels we find in our Bibles are thought to have been written after many or all of the Epistles.  The Gospel – the Word of God – is presented throughout the New Testament as authoritative, even though it was at that time oral tradition. The Word of God, in fact, existed before there was a Bible. (Athanasius was the first person that we know of to list the same 27 books we have in our modern New Testaments – in 361AD.)

Now, consider the Bible itself.  The Canon of Scripture – those books which were considered authoritative – was disputed for hundreds of years.  Luther himself questioned 4 of the books – including Hebrews, James and Revelation – though he left them in the Bible he translated to German.  Still today there are disagreements about the books we refer to as the Apocrypha.  The Bible is a product, if I can use that word, of Tradition.  The Canon (i.e. the list of accepted books) was not handed down on golden tablets; it came about “the old-fashioned way”: by prayer, study and debate.

Now, if that isn’t enough, let’s consider more recent forms of Tradition.  Many Lutherans, when faced with issues of Biblical interpretation and Doctrine, don’t just wrestle with the text; they go to the Book of Concord and Luther’s writings.  Reformed folks (and many others) look to Calvin.  For that matter, much of what we accept as Biblical Doctrine is not “the plain meaning of Scripture,” but the opinions of Augustine (original sin, anyone?).

The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are a part of Tradition.  The concept of the Trinity, argued so famously by Athanasius at the Council of Nicea, is tradition.

Whether or not we want to admit it, we all rely upon the some church tradition.

When considering the place of tradition, there are some considerations. First, is a tradition that started in the 15th Century more or less reliable than a tradition that dates back to the 1st Century?  Also, we have to consider the possibility that the 1st and 2nd Century Christians actually passed down what they had received from the Apostles?  (btw, we know from the New Testament that not everything was written down.  We also already know that we can trust Oral Tradition, otherwise we would have issues with the four Gospels.)  Third, do we think that the Christians of the 1st – 3rd Centuries actually understood what was passed down?  Can we trust their opinions? Finally, how authoritative is “Tradition?”

In my next (and probably last) post in this series, I’ll discuss various church traditions’ thinking on tradition.

NT Wright’s Justification, Pt. 4: Wright’s Big Picture

In the prior 3 posts in this series, I have pointed out a number of places where I am in disagreement with NT Wright’s most recent book, Justification.  Now, let me summarize some things I am in agreement with.

One of Wright’s goals, it appears, is to counter the standard Western Evangelical motif that salvation is about “going to Heaven when you die.”  This is the theme tackled in “Surprised by Hope,” and it is also taken up here in dealing with the title subject, justification.  Overall, I would tend to agree that justification goes beyond an individualized transaction where my decision to have faith is exchanged for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and therefore my eternal destiny is secured.  This does not mean that justification doesn’t have a personal, individual application.  Each one of the Israelites was personally saved when they crossed the Red Sea; that, however, doesn’t mean that God parted the Red Sea for any one person.

Wright sees justification and salvation as having a larger application, that of “setting the world to rights.”  This is not a foreign concept to Paul, who talks about the redemption of creation, which “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)

Wright’s “big picture” goes like this: God’s one and only plan was to choose a people – Israel – in order to bless all of creation, and therefore established the Covenant with Abraham. While the Israelite people failed, God did not, and sent Jesus – the heir as identified by Paul in Galatians – to complete that goal.  Jesus’ resurrection began that “setting the world to rights” process.  The Church, now – consisting of both Jews and Gentiles – continues this mission.   Therefore, as Romans 8 says, all of creation waits for the “sons of God to be revealed.”   We are living out the Abrahamic Covenant as adopted descendants of Abraham (and God).

In this sense, justification is not about individual salvation, it is about the redemption of Creation.  Wright, in fact, writes that his understanding of Galatians is that it is a “theology of justification which includes all that the old perspective was really trying to say within a larger framework which, while owing quite a bit to aspects of the new perspective, goes considerably beyond it.” (p.140)

This was always my understanding of Wright’s views on justification: the so-called “old perspective” may have been wrong only in that it was somewhat short-sighted.  For justification to be properly understood, it needs to recognize the larger context of the redemption of all creation.  In this sense, I don’t find Wright’s theology to be dangerous in any way, as some would think.

But, I still have three chapters yet to go.

NT Wright on Justification, Pt 3

Continuing my series on NT Wright’s latest book, Justification, I promised to address the issue of Covenant.   Wright chooses (starting at p. 71) Calvin over Luther, doing Luther a disservice, in my opinion.  The difference between the 2, as Wright paints it, is that Luther saw Moses “as the bad guy” (ridiculous, of course, as Moses was just the messenger) while Calvin pictured the Torah as “the way of life for a people already redeemed.”

While Wright is, I think, at least partially correct in seeing the Mosaic Law within the context of the prior Abrahamic Covenant, I think he is a big myopic to cast Israel as having been already “redeemed” at that point.  The Exodus is obviously metaphorical (I don’t mean to imply it didn’t happen) of a greater redemption, but I don’t think Israel’s escape from Egypt qualifies them as having been already redeemed.  In fact, I can see no justification (again, pun intended) for this claim, and Wright provides none.  One of the big critiques of this book is that Wright doesn’t support many of his claims, he just expects people to except them at face value.

The clear fact is – and Paul is clear on this – that there was no real redemption at that point. There was the covenant promise, which was and is being fulfilled in Christ.  I would agree with Wright that the Law was more or less a “covenant charter” – but not given to a “people already redeemed.”  They had been saved from one master, but were in no manner “redeemed” in the Pauline sense.

Wright also got a bit under my skin on page 112 with his comment about Luther’s “wonderful and deeply flawed commentary on Galatians.”  Wright disappoints over and over in this book with these off the cuff comments, casting mild insults upon any who don’t have his viewpoint.  I don’t think that Luther imagined that Paul was fighting off the Roman church – though he was perceptive enough to identify both Rome and the Anabaptists as having fallen into the same error as the Circumcizers, turning from grace to works of men.

Here, Wright starts to reveal his – in my opinion – greatest error:  He sees justification mainly in terms of breaking down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.  For Wright, the primary Pauline issue is community.  At this, I still have to shake my head in surprise; to me this is as far off as liberation theology.   Talking about Paul, Wright states (page 115):

He is talking about ethnic identity, and about the practices that go with that. And he is about to show that in the gospel this ethnic identity is dismantled, so that a new identity may be constructed …

So when Paul says that “we are not justified by works of the law” he is talking about being part of God’s one people.  He admits that “justified” is a lawcourt term, but he states (p 116) “But Paul is not talking about lawcourt, he is at a dinner table.”

I think Wright may have forgotten what the Letter to Galatians is all about.  Paul is not talking about dinner here, he is talking about circumcision!  This is not about fellowship, this is about giving in to demands of the Torah as opposed to the Gospel (remember the Gospel?).  So sin is not the problem here, it is fellowship.   He goes on (p 117) to say that Paul’s reference to “Gentile sinners” was a cultural reference, not referring to any real moral issues.  Thus, Luther’s “simul lustus et peccator” (simultaneously saint and sinner) is way off base.

Unless, of course, one is to simply read Galatians and take it on its face.

For Wright, righteousness “denotes the status enjoyed by God’s true family.”  Justification, then, “denotes the verdict of God himself as to who really is a member of his people.”

Wright doesn’t totally deny that the problem of the law is an issue, however he relegates this to a “subtheme.”  I will conclude with this section from page 123:

But the problem is not simply that the law condemns (though it does), shows up sin (though it does) or indeed encourages people into self-righteous “legalism” …  The problem is that the law gets in the way of the promise to Abraham, …by threatening to divide the promised single family into two.

Strange, indeed.

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.