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.