Paul Helm, following Piper’s critique of Wright, suggests that God’s righteousness cannot be defined as covenant faithfulness (see post here). I want to think out loud a bit about Helm’s argumentation, and would love to hear your thoughts after reading his post and after reading my impressions here. First, Helm states,
I think we need to pause for a moment or two on this claimed identity between righteousness and covenant faithfulness. It means, for one thing, that there is no other way that God could express his righteousness than by way of covenant faithfulness.”
Now, presumably, if Wright is equating God’s righteousness with covenant faithfulness then this statement presupposes its conclusion. Note Helm’s assumption that God must have “righteousness” behind his covenant faithfulness. This seems, in light of the argument, to be both unhelpful and presumptuous. Next, Helm claims,
Yet it is not merely a question of some definition of righteousness not being adequate, of how we are to understand that righteousness. It is also, and more fundamentally, the question of the coherence of any account of divine righteousness that does not begin with who God is. Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being.”
Likewise, with characterological boldness, Helm continues by adding, “But Piper has put his finger on an inherent weakness with such approaches. To be contributions to Christian theology they all need what a mere narrative, a mere sequence of events , does not and cannot deliver. They need a doctrine of God.” Therefore, in this segment of the argument (this is clearly not a robust summary, please read the post itself), Helm and Piper critique Wright for having a “narrative” as opposed to a truly “metaphysical” account of God. But this critique doesn’t stop with Wright, but is a critique on the tendency to see God’s righteousness and covenant faithfulness, and therefore deal with God’s economy apart from his nature (or so the argument goes).
My question here does not concern the validity of these critiques against Wright, but if these critiques are adequate for equating covenant faithfulness with righteousness. Interestingly, as noted on this blog prior, Jonathan Edwards (a person of interest for both Piper and Helm) held to the same view as Wright’s. Edwards states:
“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.” For Edwards, “righteousness” is a unrealized perfection of God, and therefore not a metaphysical “property” but a potentiality – for the very reason that it is relationally defined. God creates to give his unrealized attributes “exercise.” Both Wright and Edwards offer exegetical reasoning for arguing that God’s righteousness is in fact his covenant faithfulness, and Edwards, contra Piper and Helm, offers a solution with his metaphysically rich doctrine of God (regardless of what you think of it). In this sense, like mercy, God has the attribute but doesn’t have reason for it to be exercised. Righteousness, or God’s faithfulness, isn’t exercised until he creates. This does not mean that there isn’t an account of righteousness in his doctrine of God, only that he understands righteousness to exist only in relation.
But I’m not convinced this is where you would need to go (the route of unrealized attributes). Does God, for instance, need to have a matching attribute (metaphysically speaking) for everything that is true of him. Does he have the attribute of “able to be incarnate” for instance? This is certainly a relational attribute. Cannot God have underlying attributes that find exercise in a variety of ways without necessitating their own attribute? Therefore love, truthfulness and justice would seem to be enough metaphysical grounding for righteousness to be covenant faithfulness. It seems to me that Piper and Helm assume from the outset that God has to have righteousness as a property of his being in order to be considered righteous, and I just don’t know if that is necessary.
Am I off here? What do you think? I do find it interesting that the likes of Wright and Edwards landed on the same point from exegesis. Without making an exegetical argument, what would it take to truly argue against their position? Is it that obvious that God must have a metaphysical property or attribute of righteousness in order to act righteously?