Monday, July 14, 2008

N.T. Wright on Justfication

This is what he says (in The Shape of Justification): "By 'the gospel' Paul does not mean 'justification by faith' itself. He means the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. To believe this message, to give believing allegiance to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is to be justified in the present by faith (whether or not one has even heard of justification by faith). Justification by faith itself is a second-order doctrine: to believe it is both to have assurance (believing that one will be vindicated on the last day [Rom. 5.1-5]) and to know that one belongs in the single family of God, called to share table-fellowship without distinction with all other believers (Gal. 2.11-21). But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith (this, I think, is what Newman thought Protestants believed), but by believing in Jesus." (emphasis his)

This is what Paul says (in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8): "1. Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2. and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. 3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5. and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

Wright calls Justification by Faith a "second-order doctrine." He must have missed the three little words Paul used in 1 Cor 15:3--"for our sins"--which Paul included under that which is "of first importance."

I don't think N.T. Wright handled God's word correctly here.


John said...

Come on! Give the guy a break! Aren't you quibbling over words?

For a while I contemplated removing this post, since I thought well, since I'm placing so much importance on the little words, "for our sins" (and on Wright's leaving them out), why not play fair and impute importance to the little words in Wright's article? Little words like 'Messiah' and 'crucified'.

I thought some more and realized, saved us from what? Crucified from what? Jesus could have saved us from our weakness. He could have been crucified as an unfortunate victim. There are many ways to apply these terms 'Messiah' and 'crucified'. Then I was reminded of Dr. Gene Scott's idea that error creeps in when people "turn the focus meter a quarter turn", i.e., lose focus however slightly, on the key issues.

There are many helpful things in Wright's article, and much to learn. But when he says Justification by Faith is not a primary issue, huge alarms go off.

John said...

"I do not, in any way, drive a wedge between 'the gospel' and 'justification'. They belong intimately together, like fish and chips...."

Yes you do, because the texts that speak of the attributes and implications of the gospel (e.g., Romans 1:16-17) are then, according to your division, not necessarily including Justification by Faith.

The Gospel and Justification belong together like a Symphony and the Strings Section of that Symphony.

Fusion! said...

Right on Sir. Sad to say, many in the church (I know people who are Reformed, Pentecostal etc..) who just take this guy at his word with no visible discernment. On another note You know, I have a very good friend who goes to a Chinese Vineyard in Walnut. Oh, and He's Reformed too. I could arrange an intro-or a link to his blog. I will respond to your initial comment about worship soon.

John said...

Hi Fusion. Thanks for the comment. N. T. Wright is very subtle and learned, but I think he totally misses the point of Romans and Galatians, by saying "the righteousness of God" means "God's own righteousness", rather than "righteousness [for us] that comes from God".

Sure, send me your friend's bloglink.