I’ve been posting, off and on, on Tom Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Haven’t finished yet. Reviews have starting appearing, and I was particularly interested to read that of Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Blomberg writes:
Throughout his prolific writing career, Wright has increasingly centered his attention on the breadth of the gospel message being much more than how an individual attains salvation, defined as life in heaven after death. Instead, Wright wants to keep reminding us that God’s plan for his creation extends to the re-creation of the entire cosmos, climaxing in new heavens and new earth.
Wright (says Blomberg) repeatedly demonstrates his wish to retain all of the major theological emphases of the Reformers (especially Calvin), with the single exception of a version of the doctrine of imputed righteousness
that insists that Jesus had to live a sinless life (in addition to dying a representative, substitutionary, atoning death for the sins of humanity, which Wright warmly affirms) so that the “active” obedience of his life and not just the “passive” obedience of his death could replace our sinful status in Gods eyes.
Wright understands dikaiosunē (usually translated ‘righteousness’) as God’s ‘covenant faithfulness’; that is, his faithfulness to his promise to bless Abraham and his offspring and through them to bless the whole world. This promise was fulfilled in Abraham’s most illustrious descendent, Jesus the Messiah, making all of Jesus’ followers – Jew and Gentile alike – the true seed of Abraham.
Paul’s focus in his discussion of ‘the works of the law’ is especially on those works of Torah that distinguished Jews from Gentiles.
Ironically, those who fail to observe this focus can get so caught up in rejecting the positive roles for Torah (as fulfilled in Christ) that Paul does acknowledge, or be so concerned about good works more generally becoming inappropriately the basis on which humans try to earn God’s favor, that they wind up creating a separate assize for Christians beyond Judgment Day. Thus they imagine eternal rewards creating degrees of status in heaven, based on an even more explicit theology of merit than the one they so rigorously deny applies to “mere” (!) salvation.
Those who cling to the traditional view of ‘the works of the law’ are liable to struggle with those Pauline texts that assert a judgment according to works, Rom 2:6-11, 13-16, 25-29; 1 Cor 3:10-15; and 2 Cor 5:10. For example, Gal 5:6; Phil 2:12-13; Eph 2:10 stress the importance of a transformation of life in the justified person.
Of course, no one is justified by works, in the sense of God’s legal declaration of right standing with him. But the Spirit (note, e.g., his crucial role in Romans 8 and Galatians 5) proceeds to indwell the justified person, enabling one to obey God’s righteous standards, not perfectly or anything close to it, but in a way that one could never have done before. The justified are thus marked out as living to some degree in morally virtuous ways that demonstrate the reality of their experience with Christ. To this degree they can be said, in the final analysis, to be judged favorably on the basis of their works.
Blomberg is not convinced by Wright’s repeated attempts to render pistis Christou as ‘the faithfulness of Christ (to the covenant)’, rather than ‘faith in Christ’. But since Christ was God’s faithful servant, and since in the relevant passages the need for believers to have faith in Christ appear nearby anyway, this translational debate is not critical.
Blomberg is particularly struck by Wrights comment on Ephesians, which
unambiguously juxtaposes the Reformers’ emphases in 2:1-10 (salvation by grace through faith producing good works based on Christ’s atonement for us as we are united with him) and the new perspective’s emphases in 2:11-22 (Jews and Gentiles united on equal terms in the Messiah as the culmination of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel).