Saturday, December 10, 2005

NT Wright, Justification, etc

This is triggered by reading this. NT Wright writes about his view of justification here. I've done a bit more reading around than that, but not a huge amount.

My gut reaction is that it's yet another example of poor communication. When people criticise Wright, quite a lot of what they write tends to show they haven't actually understood what he wrote, or if they have understood it, they haven't checked whether what he says is right. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that Wright is helping his cause by some of the language he is using. Historically, my loyalty would be to the people who are criticising him for being too liberal in his views of justification. Currently on this one, I think he gets a bit more of my sympathy though.

For example, Biblically, of course justification is past, present and future. That is the way the word is used. It doesn't tend to be how the word is used in historic evangelical theology though, largely because evangelical theology (as many other types of theology) tends to be defined by what it has fought against. So in the Reformation, Luther et al were fighting against a wrong, process and work-based view of salvation, which included nonsenses like indulegences and so on. As a result of that, their theology adopted a strong emphasis on the initial action of God to save us, and underemphasised the fact that God's saving and justifying action is past, present and future. Because it is God's action, the past guarantees the present and the future. As I understand it, NT Wright is trying to re-emphasise the balance. The problem is that people see him trying to re-balance what Luther stated in an unbalanced way, and think he is agreeing with Luther's opponents.

On the other hand, there are omissions in what Wright says that I don't fully agree with. For example, Wright's article that I link to above doesn't even mention "sin", which is a fairly important concept with relation to justification. He does however say that "'Justification'... is God's declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status 'righteous'." Wright also validly emphasises God's incorporation of those he has made righteous into his people, though does so without mentioning the key element, which is incorporation into Christ. It is through our incorporation into Christ that we are united as a new people.

That's just a few of my quick thoughts. I'm not meaning to judge or accuse anyone, but I think we could all do with trying to understand other people and where they are coming from before disagreeing with them. Irony duly noted.

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