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).
I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity (as of yet) to read N.T. Wright’s new book on justification. I have had the opportunity to follow several blogs work through it, and I wanted to chime in on a certain point. I was reading Scot McKnight’s analysis of the volume recently (which has been incredibly helpful), and he noted Wright’s decision to read “the righteousness of God” as “covenant faithfulness” (see this post specifically). I was surprised to see how the comments on this post expressed the conviction that while this position is not new to Wright, it was still seen as “new” nonetheless. One commentator states that while this is not idiosyncratic to Wright, it is certainly not from the reformers. I think this is a bit naive, and is using “reformers” in some sense like “Calvin.” Note this quote from Jonathan Edwards:
“So the word righteousness is very often used in Scripture for his covenant faithfulness; so ’tis in Nehemiah 9:8, “Thou hast performed thy words for thou art righteous.” And so we are very often to understand righteousness and covenant mercy [to] be the same thing, as Psalms 24:5, “He shall receive the blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of [his salvation],” Psalms 36:10, “O continue thy lovingkindness to them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright,” and Psalms 51:14, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness” and Daniel 9:16, “O Lord, according to thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away” and so in innumerable other places.” (Y9:114-115)
Edwards continues on to add, “God’s righteousness or covenant mercy is the root of which his salvation is the fruit.” In a debate with Piper, this would have probably come in handy! My worry with this debate (without having read it yet), is that “reformed” can be taken in too narrow a sense, thereby ignoring the insights of the later reformed orthodoxy. Has anyone noticed the actual debate taking this turn at all? Have both sides been fair to the historical issues?
Over the last few decades, the doctrine of justification has received a great deal of attention from across the Christian spectrum. Theologians in some circles want to discard altogether the “forensic” articulation that has held sway as the standard view among Protestants at least since Calvin. Others have worked to reaffirm, bolster, or complement the traditional Protestant view according to fresh readings of Paul, Luther, Calvin, or Karl Barth.
Considering that Luther confessed grasping the breadth and depth of this doctrine only in “poor rudiments and fragments”, we should not be surprised that in the present-day the doctrine of justification is surrounded again in debate and discussion.
Having looked at a fair amount of the literature coming out of this debate, there seem to be at least four interpretive angles that have been opened up on the doctrine of justification (I welcome your feedback on this little mapping exercise).
1. Corporate / Covenantal
This angle works to reinterpret justification according to corporate, covenantal categories, shifting justification’s meaning from a declaration of an individual’s right standing before God to a corporate, covenantal identity. Continue reading