NPP Reading No. 4
Excerpts taken from: Thomas Schreiner, Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…and Why it Still Matters (Zondervan, 2015)
Problems with Wright’s View of Justification
 I see three false polarities in Wright’s thought. First, he wrongly says that justification is primarily about ecclesiology instead of soteriology. Second, he often introduces a false polarity when referring to the mission of Israel by saying that Israel’s fundamental problem was its failure to bless the world whereas Paul focuses on Israel’s inherent sinfulness. Third, he insists that justification is a declaration of God’s righteousness but does not include the imputation of God’s righteousness.
Ecclesiology or Soteriology?
 Let’s begin with the first point of discussion, which fits with the idea that justification is more about the church than the individual. Wright mistakenly claims that justification is fundamentally about ecclesiology instead of soteriology. Let’s hear it in his own words, “Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.” And, “What Paul means by justification, in this context, should therefore be clear. It is not ‘how you become a Christian,’ as much as ‘how you can tell who is a member of the covenant family.’”
 Justification has to do with whether one is right before God, whether one is acquitted or condemned, whether one is pardoned or found guilty, and that is a soteriological matter. Continue reading “Thomas Schreiner’s Critique of N.T. Wright’s View of Justification – Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 7”
In 1541, the Emperor Charles V convened a theological conference at Regensburg (also known as Ratisbon) bringing together the top Catholic theologians Johann Eck and Albertus Pighius to meet with some of the greatest theologians of the Reformation at that time, Philip Melanchthon and Martin Bucer (John Calvin was there merely to keep a watching brief). The Emperor hoped that resolving the doctrinal conflict between the Roman Catholics and the Reformers would bring unity to the empire.
The theologians quickly reached agreement on the issue of original sin and Pelagianism. The Roman Catholics made unexpected large concessions in their debate on the doctrine of justification. The conference eventually issued a statement on the subject of justification by faith which even acknowledged that it is by faith we “are justified (i.e. accepted and reconciled to God) inasmuch as it appropriates the mercy and righteousness which is imputed to us on account of Christ and his merit, not on account of the worthiness or perfection of the righteousness imparted [communicatae] to us in Christ… Although the one who is justified receives righteousness and through Christ also has inherent [righteousness]…nevertheless, the faithful soul depends not on this, but only on the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift, without which there is and can be no righteousness at all. And so by faith in Christ we are justified or reckoned to be righteous, that is we are accepted through his merits and not on account of our own worthiness or works.” [Anthony Lane, “Appendix I: The Regensburg Agreement (1541), Article 5” in Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment (T&T Clark, 2002), p. 235.]
However, Article 5.4 requires a closer examination: Continue reading “NPP – Regensburg (1541) Redux? Reformation Forensic Justification vs Transformative Justification: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 6”
Justification and Union With Christ – A Via Media Between Abstract Forensic and Transformative Justification
It has been suggested that Reformed theologians defending forensic justification and imputation of Christ righteousness have misread, if not misrepresented the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) as a serious threat to the Reformation. This must surely be a wild exaggeration to suggest that Reformed theologians who have been debating the issue with the best of the Roman Catholic theologians for 500 years would feel insecure and threatened by NPP, the new kid on the block? In any event, Reformed scholars have often risen to the defence of “forensic justification and imputation of righteousness” not because it is ‘The Centre’ of Paul’s theology, but simply because this aspect of justification has been directly challenged by various theological movements throughout history which include Roman Catholicism, Socinianism and more recently, NPP.
Admittedly, it is possible for the heirs of the Reformation to over-react to these challenges. Thus some of the more extreme scholars of Lutheran scholasticism not only ascribe justification as the absolute central tenet of faith, but uphold justification to be above Christology. One wonders whether in the process, justification has become an abstract event detached from Christ. Continue reading “Justification and Union With Christ – A Via Media Between Abstract Forensic and Transformative Justification. Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 5.”
N.T. Wright asserted in his debate with Richard Gaffin at the Auburn Avenue Pastors Conference in 2005, and elsewhere in his numerous writings that the debate on justification in Gal 3:14 is not about the gift of righteousness as it is about determining the grounds for inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant. As Wright writes,
“Justification” in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God. It was about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people. In Sanders’ terms, it was not so much about “getting in,” or indeed about “staying in,” as about “how you could tell who was in.” In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church. [What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 119]
Gaffin who seems to be a far better scholar than a debater failed to challenge Wright understanding of righteousness and justification with evidence based on biblical linguistic-theology or to question the coherence of Wright’s view from the logic of systematic theology.
Given below are excerpts taken from Douglas Moo’s excellent commentary on Galatians which offers a more plausible reading than Wright on the linguistic meaning of righteousness and justification in Gal. 3:14. Continue reading “Righteousness and Justification in the Book of Galatians: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 4”
What Wright Really Said About Forensic Justification and Imputation
Reading N.T. Wright is like eating the Indonesian snake fruit (Salak). Some people find it delicious because of its moist and crunchy sweetness, but others find its slight astringent aftertaste less than appealing. A similar divide is evident among readers of Wright. Wright writes with verve, wit and engaging rhetoric. His friends and critics would acknowledge that it is a pleasure to read him even when he is expounding some of the most difficult and profound issues of historical revelation of Christ and Pauline soteriology. Evangelicals and Reformed scholars welcome Wright’s affirmation of scriptural authority and traditional marriage. They value Wright’s book on the resurrection of Christ which many consider to be the most robust biblical defence on the subject in recent times. His call for kingdom building through social reconciliation and restoration of creation is a vital challenge to Christian mission to be holistic. Continue reading “What Wright Really Said About Forensic Justification and Imputation – Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and NPP. Part 3”
Students entering the seminary are often told that systematic theology should be rooted in biblical theology, and biblical theology in turn is grounded in biblical exegesis of Scripture. After all, Scripture is the source of Christian theology. It is suggested that the biblical interpretation and the theological enterprise follow three separate and distinct phases:
1) Exegesis: Linguistic analysis of the biblical texts, using Greek and Hebrew lexical tools to arrive at a reasonable and coherent meaning of a biblical passage in its original context.
2) Biblical theology: “Sets forth the message of the books of the Bible in their historical setting…expounding the theology found in the Bible in its own historical setting, and its own terms, categories, and thought forms. Biblical theology is primarily a descriptive discipline.” Donald Hagner in George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, revised ed. (Eerdmans, 1993), p. 20.
3) Systematic theology: Organizes and synthesizes key ideas of the bible in their logical relations in dialogue with philosophy and Christian theological tradition.
John Murray wrote that ‘Systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.’ [Collected Writings, vol.4, (Banner of Truth, 1982), p. 19]. It may be concluded that the systematic theologian relies on the spadework done by biblical scholars in the exegetical vineyard. Continue reading “No Exegesis Without Theology; No Theology Without Exegesis”
Douglas Moo, whose commentaries on Romans and Galatians are among the best recent writings on Paul has just written a superb review essay, John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul in the free online journal Themelios.* Barclay’s book has also been acclaimed as “one of the most important books on Paul in recent years.”
The excerpts of the review given below give a glimpse into his surefooted and balanced assessment of the controversy between the Reformation and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP).
Moo welcomes Barclay’s book as a via media between the Augustinian-Lutheran tradition and the reconfiguration of the NPP. He recapitulates the history of the controversy:
“In the first stage, the key figures in the movement, Tom Wright and James Dunn, began their invasion of the “old perspective” redoubt with seminal articles that appropriated E. P. Sanders’s “new perspective on Judaism.” Sanders’s reconfiguration of Jewish soteriology as “covenantal nomism” posed a significant problem for the interpreters of Paul: just who was it that Paul was attacking when he denied that a person could be justified by “works of the law”? Since, according to Sanders, Jews were not trying to be justified by doing the law, some other problem within Judaism had to be identified as the culprit. Building on Krister Stendahl’s stress on the importance of corporate thinking in Paul’s world, Dunn and Wright identified the Jewish tendency to confine salvation to their own nation as that culprit. I might just note here that this “new perspective” on Paul grew out of a profoundly conservative impulse. Continue reading “Apostle Paul’s Gift-Grace and the New Perspective on Paul”
It is no longer chic to be a scholar who advocates the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Its advocates have backtracked somewhat from its audacious claims that the Reformation has misread Paul. Furthermore, the New Testament guild has since moved on to new fashions like studies on social identity, and the gospel and empire. Indeed, the latest flavor in town is on the ‘Apocalyptic Paul’.
On the other hand, that the NPP is no longer chic does not mean that it is no longer interesting or relevant. After all, the NPP touches on crucial methodological issues like early Judaism and historical hermeneutics, and central elements of salvation concerning covenant and justification. Continue reading “D.A. Carson’s Lectures on the New Perspective on Paul”
Related Post: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 1
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 1
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 2
Engaging NPP with Pastoral Concerns and Confessions of Faith
Someone suggests that we should ignore controversial scholarship represented by N.T. Wright and NPP if deprives us of our child-like faith. We should instead focus on more productive matters like evangelism. But, surely wrong teachings must be corrected as they distort our understanding of faith and invariably give rise to wrong practices. For example, NPP claims that Paul could not be addressing legalist perfectionism since first century Judaism, described as ‘covenantal nomism’ was not a legalistic religion. If NPP is correct, it will be necessary to discard the Reformation understanding of justification as God’s answer to the futility of seeking righteousness through works of the law.
Evangelicals cannot simply retreat into a safe cocoon of faith that is indifferent (and possible afraid of) to genuine scholarship. Evangelicals may not simply appeal to authority to settle theological controversies as final authority rests on Scripture alone. This being the case, evangelicals must work hard to master the primary sources, offer constructive criticism of NPP scholars, and publish robust exegesis to demonstrate why the evangelical doctrine of justification provides a more coherent reading of Scripture than NPP. Continue reading “Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 2”
For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19)
Definition: Justification may be defined as that legal act of God by which he declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Related Post: Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 2
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 1
Second Thoughts on New Perspective on Paul. Part 2
I. Righting What is Wrong in Wright’s Teaching of Justification
Someone emailed to KrisisPraxis a question:
“Do you have a view of N.T. Wright’s view? My own take is that it is also not correct to limit our view of Paul’s writings to only through the eyes of Luther or Reformation theology – why should we be filtered or limited or “Lutherised” in our view of the Gospel and only understand Paul the way Luther and the reformers understood Paul? As much as I respect these great spiritual giants, they need not and should not have the last say. We should be allowed and encouraged to go back and find new jewels from Paul’s own words and discover new truths that can give us even more answers for today’s questions.
First, let me stress that I do not critique the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) because I slavishly follow the Reformers. In actuality, my understanding of Paul is based on careful exegesis of Scripture /1/ which takes into account the shifting positions of N.T. Wright and James Dunn in the course of the debate on NPP. I shall presently focus on the Wright’s controversial view of justification. Continue reading “Debating Justification with N.T. Wright and New Perspective on Paul. Part 1”