In this and future posts I will be sharing my notes on N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth your time.
In light of the talk in some segments of current American Christianity about the “plan of salvation,” I find Wright’s subtitle ironic, and exactly to the point. Usually “plan of salvation” refers to the explicit steps an individual needs to take to get saved, which in this context is the equivalent of getting eternal fire insurance. Wright holds the OT and the NT much closer together, seeing “God’s plan of salvation” as stretching from Abraham, through Israel and the church, to the current day. God’s objective is not merely to rescue individual sinners (more, not less!) from hell, but to rescue all of broken creation, damaged, marred and corrupted as it is by Adam’s sin.
This particular volume is a response to John Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. Wright’s account of justification has been seen by the hard-core Reformed as insufficiently biblical (by which, according to Wright’s account of their account, they mean insufficiently in line with the tradition of reading the bible on justification stemming from Luther and moving onward). Wright, along with many others associated with the so-called New Perspective on Paul, believe the starting point to understanding Paul is neither Augustine vs. the Pelagians nor Luther vs. Medieval Catholicism. Instead, Paul must be read as thoroughly immersed in the OT. To the extent that we miss Paul’s close reasoning about Jesus from the OT (his Bible), we will fail to understand his teaching on justification (and just about everything else).
Wright identifies four themes, marginalized by Piper and the narrow version of the reformed tradition he represents, that come together in Paul’s teaching on justification.
Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. Jesus’ Messiahship cannot be understood apart from the call and story of Israel.
Based in the story of Israel, Paul’s approach to justification is thoroughly covenantal. Justification in Paul follows more or less directly from God’s covenant with Abraham.
Justification is lawcourt language. It has to do with the verdict God the judge pronounces. It has nothing to do with moral performance – either positive (Jesus) or negative (ours).
Justification in Paul is mixed up in eschatology. There are two movements, present and future (or final) in justification.