I just received the newest issue of JETS and was glad to see that they’ve published the plenary papers from the 2010 meeting (Schreiner, Thielman, and Wright on justification). As he works through some preliminary points in his paper, “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and Forever,” Wright touches briefly on method in Protestant theology in response to some of his critics:
Now I discover that some from what I had thought were Protestant quarters are accusing me of something called “biblicism.” I’m not sure what that is, exactly. What I am sure of is what I learned forty years ago from Luther and Calvin that the primary task of a teacher of the church is to search Scripture ever more deeply and to critique all human traditions in the light of that, not to assemble a magisterium on a platform and tell the worried faithful what the tradition says and hence how they are to understand Scripture. To find people in avowedly Protestant colleges taking what is basically a Catholic position would be funny if it was not so serious. To find them then accusing me of crypto-Catholicism is worse. To find them using against me the rhetoric that the official church in the 1520s used against Luther – “How dare you say something different from what we’ve always believed all these centuries” – again suggests that they have not only no sense of irony, but no sense of history. I want to reply, how dare you propose a different theological method from that of Luther and Calvin, a method of using human tradition to tell you what Scripture said? On this underlying question, I am standing firm with the great Reformers against those who, however Baptist in their official theology, are in fact neo-Catholics (p. 51).
Lest I appear to be merely a cantankerous critic, I’ll say first that one of the things I appreciate about Wright’s work is the way in which it pushes us to coordinate the biblical themes of reconciliation with God and reconciliation between Jew and Gentile. Whether he gets all the details worked out perfectly or not, the relationship between Jew and Gentile is a prominent issue in Paul and one that I probably take more seriously because of Wright underscoring it.
All the same, I think one of the problems in the paragraph quoted above is the insinuation that the theologians of the Reformation prized a methodological breakthrough over a material one. If Wright’s understanding of justification is in some ways at odds with that of the Reformers (and Wright himself certainly seems to indicate this in endeavoring to provide a sturdier account of justification), I’m not sure that appealing to methodological continuity would generate a great deal of acquiescence if he, Luther, and Calvin were somehow granted an opportunity to have a conversation together about justification. It seems to me that such a claim to be heir to Luther, Calvin, et al. based on (real or perceived) formal consonance overlooks how much the Reformation theologians valued the conclusions of their exegesis and not simply the ways in which they arrived at those conclusions. This is not to claim that Wright is wrong so much as it is to question how fitting the invocation of Luther and Calvin is at this point.
Any thoughts on this?