Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP: 2009) is N.T. Wright’s attempt to explain once again his view on Paul’s use of justification. He wrote it as a summary of his view, and as a response to critics (primarily John Piper) who seem to not understand what he is saying.

The book is written with ironic humor and remarkable restraint, but the most amazing feature is the Biblical paradigm shift that Wright presents to his readers regarding justification. Though most of what Wright explains in this book he has written elsewhere, this book puts it all together in nice, orderly fashion, so that even if one does not agree with Wright, we can hope that they will now be able to critique his view with understanding.

As for myself, I am not yet fully persuaded of Wright’s view. His basic view is that justification is God’s law-court declaration that a person is in right standing (so far, so good) with God’s covenant. It’s that covenant part that raises questions, particularly since Wright’s definition of justification does away with the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Wright does not believe that through justification we receive the righteousness of Christ (p. 135).

And yet, what Wright takes away with one hand, he gives back with another. Wright argues that issues related to deliverance from the penalty and power of sin in our lives come through resurrection, not through justification (pp. 231-235). This, however, though a major doctrine, is a minor point in Wright’s book.

His main concern is to show how his view of justification makes more sense of the Pauline passages that speak of it. And with this, he is more than a conqueror. If, for example, you’ve ever struggled with what Romans 9-11 has to do with the rest of the letter, Wright’s view makes these chapters not only fit within the flow of Paul’s argument, but actually become the pinnacle and the climax of Romans. Wright’s strength in this is due to his insistence on reading the biblical text, not with twenty-first century eyes and sixteenth-century questions, but with first-century eyes and first-century questions. This, it seems to me, is the best way to read and study Scripture, and Wright does an excellent job leading the way.

If you want to understand some of the nuances to the current debate on justification, I recommend this book. If, however, you want to understand the thought flow of some of Paul’s letters (like Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans), this book must not be ignored. Take it up, and read.


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Comments

  1. Carl Matice says

    Thanks for this review. Very helpful. I will have to pick up the book. I hope things are going well for you guys.

  2. says

    Danny,

    Thanks for the link. I read the review…which is of Wright’s book “What Saint Paul Really Said” and not his more recent book, “Justification.”

    Reviews like this are exactly why Wright wroke this more recent book. He is making an attempt to clarify what he believes Paul teaches about justification, especially in passages like Romans 3:21ff. I read again the passage in “Justification” about Romans 3:21ff (which the reviewer mentioned) and I think Wright’s book clears it up beautifully (cf. pp. 201-210).

    As I read the review, and compared it with what I read in Wright, it appears to me that the reviewer has not fully grasped Wright’s point. And this, of course, is one main point in Wright’s new book.

    Part of the problem in this whole debate, I think, is a failure on all sides (Wright as well?!) to properly define “salvation” and “wrath” in Scripture (and Romans in particular).

  3. Danny says

    Hi Jeremy. I figured this review was written before his new book, but I thought I would link to it anyway. As for imputed righteousness, I’ve seen Wright argue that first-century judges couldn’t impute their righteousness to a condemned man. Duh! Humans can’t credit each other with righteousness, but God, who is NOT a man, can! Part of the problem with these debates is that scholars lose sight of the fact that God’s ways are above man. Now Jeremy, sum up Wright’s views on entrance into the Kingdom (notice that I didn’t say salvation). Since he believes justification is a matter of covenant and ecclesiology, and not Kingdom entrance, make a brief comment on how he still manages to link justification with final entrance in some indirect way (I know that he does).

  4. Danny says

    I should clarify that I realize that N.T. Wright would deny that final entrance is by works. Wright believes that works are a final vindication in the sense that they “prove” one had faith. Though Wright isn’t a Calvinist, his view of works-proving-faith is Calvinistic enough. You can ignore my request to link his view of justification (which is of course covenental/ecclesiological only in his mind as mentioned above) with “final vindication” and entrance. We already know that FG wins the day in regards to entrance, and the Social Science views strengthen the FG view of rewards, since vindication or lack thereof has to do with honor/shame and reward/loss of reward at the JSOC. No need to go into that territory as we agree that FG wins.

    Wright would be perplexed by our view of rewards, since he focuses on covenental and ecclesiological issues. It’s always one extreme or another, even in our camp. Wright focues on covenant and ecclesiology, which admittedly we are often prone to ignore, but he goes overboard and denies imputational righteousness. He never fully deals with the sin issue. We on the other hand understand imputational righteousness , and go on to ignore coventantal matters (only we don’t necessarily reject them, we just don’t focus on them).

  5. says

    Danny,

    I am not saying that I agree completely with Wright. Like you, I am not completely happy with his treatement of good works following faith, eternal rewards, and the terms “salvation” and “wrath.” I actually think his case would be strengthened quite a bit by the way we understand such terms.

    Similarly, however, after I read this book (and several of his others over the past year or so), I am beginning to think that his view on justification would fit well, and possibly even strengthen, a “Free Grace” perspective.

    He needs our view on salvation, wrath, and eternal rewards, and our case might be strengthened with his view of justification, while avoiding the mistakes he makes about works following faith…though really, his point about works is that they follow faith in the Holy Spirit…which is different, and which I could probably agree with.

    I am very pleased with how he deals with the forgiveness of sin, and am pondering the idea that the biblical teachings of “resurrection” and being “in Christ” accomplishes what theologians have attempted to do through “imputed righteousness.”

  6. Danny says

    Hey Jeremy! I didn’t mean to imply that you agree 100% with Wright. I know you still have issues with him. A while back I actually read one of his own articles on justification, and I did think to myself that it could fit with FG. But that was because in that article, he didn’t really deal with imputed righteousness like he has elsewhere, so it wasn’t that bad. But remembering his view on imputed righteousness had me raise a brow.

    As for his view that deliverance from the penalty and power of sin comes through Resurrection, and not justification – well, justification comes through His Death and Resurrection. Justification is rooted in His Resurrection. I myself don’t ever recall thinking of my justification and His Resurrection as disconnected. All of us in FG know that His Resurrection, and not just His Death, was necessary for our justification. He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25). And we all know that His Death and Resurrection continues to sanctify us experientially if we keep believing (1 Cor 15:2). So of course our rescue comes through His Resurrection. Perhaps most of us stressed His Death and Blood Atonement to the point where it seemed we were neglecting the Resurrection’s role and power in these areas.

  7. Danny says

    Neither did he deal with “future justification” and works-proving-faith in that article, at least not in detail, as I recall.

  8. says

    Danny,

    Thanks for the input. I enjoy “talking” to you about these things. I think i read the same article on Justification that you did.

    If nothing else…this new book by Wright solves very little, and the debate will continue for quite some time! There is lots of food for thought here.

  9. says

    I ndon’t agree with Wright’s New Perspective, but I don’t find the idea of imputed righteousness very convicing either.

    I think the NP and imputed righteousness are both excessively legal in their view of grace.

  10. says

    Matthew,

    I agree with you about their view of grace. I do, however, think that what the NP is saying could help in understanding a few passages. I try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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