This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

by
Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday



Thursday, December 20, 2007

Trevin Wax evaluates The Future of Justification

Trevin Wax, a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky has done what some of us would like to be able to do but are hindered from doing it because of time commitments. Trevin has posted an extensive series that critically engages and assesses John Piper's The Future of Justification. Find the index here.

25 comments:

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

I read Trevin Wax and he has many great things to say. One thing that has been hard for me to understand is this whole idea of Christ dying for our sins not being apart of the gospel. To me this seems more than a bit strange. Trevin commented saying that when Piper speaks of 1 Cor 15 he stops at Christ dying for our sins and does not speak much about the resurrection. I will give him that point. But I think that he commits the exact same error. Although it is true that Paul goes on further to speak of the Resurrection in that passage it is only because the situation at Corinth demanded it. He could have easily also went on about the fact that Christ died for our sins. And it also seems to me that both Christ dying for our sins and the Resurrection are of first importance; not just the resurrection. Could you comment on this Ardel? Also, even though some say that forgiveness of sins is an effect of believing in Christ as Lord is it not true that that effect is not apart of the gospel proclamation itself? And how do we respond to the question, "What is it in the gospel if not proclaimed the gospel ceases to be gospel?" Is that even a good question? Sorry for so many questions.

A. B. Caneday said...

Am I correct to link your question above with your questions and responses on Trevin Wax's blog here?

I will begin by responding to the question that you raised, a question that Trevin framed in his blog discussions and which he mentions in his comments: "What is it in the gospel if not proclaimed the gospel ceases to be gospel?" For example, in his most recent response to your queries, Trevin offers, "If “for our sins” is an essential component of what Paul means by “the gospel” (royal announcement), we would expect to find these three words every time he uses the word “gospel;” would we not? But alas, that is not the case."

I beg to differ with Trevin's expectation that we would expect to find "for our sins" every time the word gospel is mentioned, if the expression were essential to the gospel. I think that this may reflect two false implications, which, I am reasonably confident Trevin would not insist upon, if it were pointed out to him.

First is the false implication that wherever the gospel is spoken of in the New Testament, the actual word "gospel" (euaggelion) needs to appear, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Surely, Paul and all the New Testament writers may write of or speak of the gospel without mentioning the gospel with the noun euaggelion or the verb euaggelizomai.

Second is the false implication that the gospel is not so large and so manifold that a single statement can begin to capture the gospel's fullness. In truth, however, the gospel is so full, so rich, so manifold that aspects of the gospel may be spoken of throughout the New Testament without always being flagged explicitly with the designations euaggelion or euaggelizomai.

It seems to me that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" is an essential aspect of the good news, but in such a manner that one could speak of aspects of the gospel without foregrounding this aspect every time one speaks of the gospel, because the gospel is so multidimensional. God's reconciliation of all things (Col 1:19-20), which is surely essential to the good news in Christ, is grounded in the death of Jesus Christ as Paul says, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." And the reason for Christ's sacrifice centers entirely upon the fact that Christ is the Second Adam who reverses the curse brought upon the entire creation on account of Adam's disobedience (cf. Romans 8:22-24).

This brings me full circle to the question you asked at the end of your comment. You wondered whether Trevin's question is really a good question: "What is it in the gospel if not proclaimed the gospel ceases to be gospel?"

Trevin posed a Piper-like question: "What is the doctrine that if not preached in a sermon disqualifies the sermon from being a 'gospel message'?” Trevin's response is to say, "I would argue that if Jesus is not preached as the crucified and risen Lord of the world in a gospel presentation, then the presentation ceases to be 'gospel.'” To speak of Christ crucified is to say that Christ "died for our sins." Is it not? Apart from dying for our sins, there would be no purpose for Christ being crucified. Yes, Christ had to be crucified in order that he might reconcile all things to himself (Col 1:19-20). But the reason Christ had to be crucified to reconcile all things to himself is that all things became unreconciled to himself because of Adam's sin. So, to include "Christ crucified" as essential to the gospel, is to include "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" as essential to the gospel, also.

Thus, Christ as Last Adam (Second Man) is essential to the gospel. Yet, to insist that we need to say something about Christ as Last Adam every time we speak of the gospel would be to require us to say everthing about the gospel every time we speak of the gospel. This would be an excessive expectation placed upon us. Surely we can be true to the gospel without saying everything about the gospel every time we speak of the gospel.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Thanks Ardel. That was correct to link my question with that post. I agree with all you said!

jgb said...

nicholas,

I can see on the thread where Trevin talks about the Gospel that you guys have been talking back and forth so I'll try not to repeat what he has said.

I basically agree with Wright and Trevin on this point: the Gospel is essentially "Jesus is Lord." Wright was the first I heard make this point (several years ago now), but since that time I have found more and more people agreeing with this sentiment. My own examination of Scripture (although not exhaustive) has born it out as well as other articles like this one. I remain cautiously optimistic that this idea represents a key avenue for understanding and expressing our faith in Jesus.

However, strictly defining "the Gospel" as the announcement of "Jesus is Lord" leaves many (such as yourself) cold. It does not seem to correspond to the Gospel presentations to which they are accustomed. I think there are a couple of key things to understand here.

First, American Evangelicals are accustomed to systematic definitions of the Gospel (and many other doctrines). According to Wikipedia, Systematic Theology is, "...the topical collection and exploration of the content of the Bible, in which a different perspective is provided on the Bible's message than that garnered simply by reading the biblical narratives, poems, proverbs, and letters as a story of redemption..." Systematic Theology essentially takes everything that the Bible has to say about a particular topic (e.g. "the Gospel") and pulls it all together in one place, providing a comprehensive explanation of said topic. We typically understand "the Gospel" in this milieu. Therefore it is easy to equate what "the Gospel" denotes with what it connotes. In other words, its easy to mix up the definition of the Gospel with the more detailed explanation of the Gospel.

However, NT Wright is not a Systematic Theologian. Rather, he is a "Biblical Theologian." Biblical Theology, "...focuses on historical progression through out the Bible...seeks to follow the flow of "redemptive narrative" as it unfolds...reflects the diversity of the Bible." This gives Wright a certain nuance that is unfamiliar and oftentimes unsettling to those reading him (or hearing his ideas from others) for the first time. This nuance woks itself out at key points in theological discussions, mainly where definitions of theological terms are necessary. It is no surprise then to find that many disagree with him on semantic grounds (e.g. his definition of "gospel," "justification," "righteousness"). It is important to note that no one (as far as I know) is denying the importance of historical, orthodox ideas like the forgiveness of sins, penal substitution, etc. Rather, people are mainly wrangling over the strict definitions of theological terms.

Here is my take on the discussion between Piper and Wright over "the Gospel." Wright wishes to define the Gospel as a succinct message (i.e. "Jesus is Lord") with broad implications (including both the individual person and the entire cosmos - all creation). Piper wishes to define the Gospel as a longer message with more specific meaning for individual persons. As I mentioned before, I agree with Wright as I think the exegetical data supports his view more thoroughly.

You asked, "...even though some say that forgiveness of sins is an effect of believing in Christ as Lord is it not true that that effect is not apart of the gospel proclamation itself?" I think Wright would answer this question with a wholehearted, "Yes!" because the announcement that "Jesus is Lord" is bound to lead a fuller discussion of what that means and how it works but those two things aren't themselves the Gospel but rather the implications of the Gospel. I would point to both Peter's speech in Acts 2 and Paul's in Acts 13 for examples of how this worked.

In Acts 2 Peter essentially reinterprets Israel’s history with Jesus as its climax. He begins with his introduction (14-15), continues with a prophecy about the eschatological "last days" or "day of the Lord" (16-21), introduces Jesus (22-23), announces that God has raised Jesus from the dead (24), reinterprets a prophecy relating it to Jesus (25-28), explicitly states Jesus is their Messiah (29-36).

After Peter has made his main point, some of them ask, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter answers their question with, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself."

I think Wright would say that, the Gospel would roughly correspond to Peter’s speech in verses 16-36 (with special emphasis on verse 36). The explanation of repentance, forgiveness, baptism, etc. in verse 38 would be the implication of Peter’s Gospel announcement.

Paul's speech in Acts 13 works in much the same way with the therefore in verse 38 signaling that the "forgiveness of sins" which is proclaimed to them is a consequence or implication of Jesus' lordship announced in verses 16-37.

I apologize for the length of this post. Hopefully it was at least somewhat elucidating. :)

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

jgb,

Thanks for your reply to my post. I don't have much time but I understand the point that you are making concerning systematic theology. Although I am a big fan of studying doctrines systematically I agree that sometimes we can distort the truth by trying to pack it up into a neat little package. However, I think that the same can sometimes be true to Biblical theology. Sometimes our way of thinking in these terms can distort the plain meaning of Scripture as well.

I would keep pointing to 1 Corinthians 15 as an example. I can not help but see, in that passage, Paul 'defining' the gospel in terms of Christ dying for our sins and his rising from the dead. I am perfectly willing to accept what Paul says in passages such as Romans 10:9; but, nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 15 is gospel as well.

Although I would say that Wright has a broad definition of the gospel (for which I am thankful), in some ways it is confined when he says that forgiveness of sins can only be a result of the gospel and not a component of it. But I think Ardel is spot on when he says, "It seems to me that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" is an essential aspect of the good news, but in such a manner that one could speak of aspects of the gospel without foregrounding this aspect every time one speaks of the gospel, because the gospel is so multidimensional."

A. B. Caneday said...

First, I briefly offer a few comments about systematic theology and biblical theology. I have heard N. T. Wright described as a "systematic theologian" by a renowned American evangelical scholar. It is a rather curious and intriguing claim, given the fact that N. T. Wright views himself and presents himself as a historian and a biblical theologian. Whether one agrees with the American scholar's depiction of Wright, surely Wright is engaged in systematic theology to one degree or another, for he has been and continues to formulate his theological gleanings into some kind of system. We all do this. Don't we?

My concern with systematic theology is not that we should discard it. That is both impossible and undesirable. Rather, my concern is how we do systematic theology and what informs our systematic theology. Here is the bulk of the final paragraph of a piece concerning the interplay between biblical theology and systematic theology that I published on a now private blog in February 2006.

Systematic theology entails the abstraction of Scripture's teachings from one another for the sake of learning the various doctrinal strands of the Bible so that we become properly aware of Scripture's diverse teachings. However, what so easily happens is that young theologians get in the habit of making real these abstractions. Diversity trumps unity. Making real these abstractions eventuates in separation. But Scripture does not present its teachings this way. Scripture entangles the various strands together in such a way that to unravel them into individual strands, separating them from one another, turns Scriptures' teachings into an entirely different form. The multiform, multichromatic, and multi-textured teachings of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, takes on monoform, monochromatic, and mono-textured qualities when we unravel the strands from one another and present them isolated and separated from one another.

In a sense, then, is not N. T. Wright engaged in systematic theology when he endeavors to categorize what is entailed in the gospel? Is this not what Trevin Wax is doing? Is this not what John Piper is doing also? My concern is that all three of them seem too inclined toward reducing the gospel to a manageable one or two dimensional affirmation that can be captured succinctly. I am inclined to viewing the gospel as multidimensional, multifaceted, and full, so full that we do not and cannot adequately capture it or give expression to its fullness with any succinct statement apart from offering a disclaimer to that effect.

My concern is that we ought always to strive to do systematic theology and biblical theology rightly. There is a proper role and place for each, but they must mutually serve one another, rather than compete, and at the same time they must serve the proclamation of the Word. To do this, we must always strive against reductionism, toward which we are all much too easily inclined. We too easily separate what Scripture does not separate, even if Scripture does make distinctions. Or, we too easily confound two aspects that Scripture does distinguish but does not separate. As I read John Piper and N. T. Wright, many of the differences between the two men derive from these two proclivities, in which both do engage.

As a biblical theologian and a systematic theologian I am obligated, for example, to be able to distinguish faithfully between justification and sanctification without confounding the two but also without ever separating the two. Neither strand ever exists independently from the other. Scripture entangles these strands, along with many others, in such a way that we can and should distinguish them from one another but never make real any theoretical abstraction of one from the other.

Likewise, as a biblical theologian and a systematic theologian I am obligated to affirm and to proclaim the gospel message as a coherent whole in all its splendor but at the same time offer distnctions between the heart of the gospel message (the heavenly announcement of what God has done in Christ) and the call of the gospel message (the heavenly call to believe, with all that belief entails), and to do so without falling prey to reductionism which continues to plague this work.

A. B. Caneday said...

An afterthought to my last comment.

The tendency to reduce the gospel to a manageable summary resulted in fundementalist and evangelical reductionism. Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism have reduced the gospel to formulaic expressions, to formulaic preaching, to formulaic division of what many call evangelism over against what they call discipleship. An extension of this reductionism is the separation between evangelistic preaching and expository preaching. Where, pray tell, in Scripture do we have such division? I want to hear the gospel, in all its multiform and multidimensional fullness, proclaimed to me.

To preach the Word rightly necessarily entails preaching the gospel. To expound the Scriptures rightly necessarily entails expounding the gospel. To preach Scripture is to preach Christ. To preach Christ is to expound the Word. To expound the Word is to proclaim the gospel. Oh, the disaster that has come upon the church by those who thought that they were serving the church and Christ so well by holding forth their motto of "rightly dividing the Word of truth," abusing 2 Timothy 2:15 as translated in the KJV, and even worse, making their motto real by chopping up the Scriptures into dispensational segments!

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Thank you for those very important comments Dr.Caneday. Merry Christmas!

jgb said...

In regards to Systematic and Biblical Theology, I agree. Both can distort the truth if held in isolation from one another.

Nicholas, I definitely see your point regarding 1 Corinthians 15. I would like to see Wright's thoughts on that passage. My own reading of that passage yields a question in response to your assertion. It would seem that Paul not only delivered as "first importance" the facts, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," but also the fact, "that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." Yet you do not include that in your citation of that passage. Why is that?

Upon further reading of Wright last night I think I may have been unfair in my previous characterization of his position. I made it appear that Wright "strictly" defines the Gospel as the announcement of "Jesus is Lord." However, that appears not to be the case. It would seem that Wright views the assertion that "Jesus is Lord" as the center of Paul's Gospel, but not as its strict definition. In this article he says, "...when Paul uses the word 'gospel,' this is the very centre of what he is referring to: the annoucement that Jesus, the crucified Jew from Nazareth, has been raised from the dead by the creator God, and has been exalted as Lord of the world, claiming allegiance from all alike, Jew and Gentile, great and small, from Caesar on his throne to the poorest child of the humblest slave in the farthest corners of the world."

Furthermore, in Trevin's interview with Wright he says, "When Paul talks about 'the gospel,' he means 'the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.' Now, that's about as brief as you can do it."

I therefore think that Wright may not be as reductionistic as it may appear. As is clear from the quotations above, both the lordship and the crucifixion of Jesus are a part of Wright's Gospel articulation.

I think in all this Gospel talk Wright is trying to do two main things.

First, he is trying to find the essence, the statement of the Gospel that occurs more than any other and make it plain. His exegesis has yielded the nugget, "Jesus is Lord" as that central, most often occurring statement. I don't think this is to exclude other primary aspects of the Gospel. I agree with you Dr. Caneday, that the Gospel is multi-faceted and "full," but that doesn't exclude in my mind the idea that Wright's claim (as I understand it) might still be true.

Second, he is trying combat historical, protestant reductionism (of course some might argue he is "reducing" as much as anyone) that makes the Gospel a conditional offer of salvation or equates it to "justification by faith" or some kind of ordo salutis. I think Wright has a solid point here and I am thankful for having it brought to my attention through his writings.

As you pointed out, Dr. Caneday, it is awfully difficult not to be reductionistic at least at some level, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. I would like to see (perhaps he has already) Wright develop his Gospel definition more fully and perhaps address some of the legitimate criticisms that are coming his way.

A. B. Caneday said...

In view of the present discussion taking place in this string of comments I offer the following for two reasons: (1) to offer a small window into what I offered by way of my comments for John Piper in response to his request for my input on the manuscript that became The Future of Justification; and (2) to indicate that John did make adjustments in what he wrote and how he wrote concerning his critical responses to N. T. Wright's writings.

Below, then, are a few comments that I offered in response to a footnote that John raised up into the text in The Future of Justification and makes up the bulk of that segment that spans pages 45-46. It seems apparent that he welcomed my comments in such a manner as to adjust and to soften his criticism of Wright's words. Below are the observations I offered in John's manuscript. I believe that they are pertinent to the current discussion.

Is it conceivable that the statements that you cite in this footnote engage a less than charitable excising of crucial qualifiers that exist within their contexts? Consider the quotation lifted out of context on page 90. As I read the statement, I resonate with what N. T. Wright is saying. The gospel is principally an announcement of what God has done in Christ Jesus. Indeed, this gospel, this good news of God’s great acts of redemption in Christ, register a call upon all who hear the good news. This, N. T. Wright affirms.

Likewise, a charitable reading of Wright’s statement on p. 60 would not lead me to conclude that he disparages the gospel in any way. There is a subtle, sometimes not so subtle, criticism of an over-individualization of the gospel by many evangelicals. If I read Wright correctly, and I think I am doing so, I am sympathetic with this concern. The gospel is not principally a message about humanity; the gospel is fundamentally a message about God, particularly what God has done in Christ Jesus to show himself righteous when he declares sinners to be righteous. To the degree that this is present in Wright’s theology, I rejoice because I believe that this is right and that it is a necessary corrective to the
American evangelicalization of the gospel.

Thank God for the work that he has done through Billy Graham. Yet, Billy Graham was greatly influential within our generation to reduce the gospel to the kind of message that N. T. Wright is criticizing, and I think rightly so, even if his criticism is awkward, is British, and is not as clear to everyone as it ought to be. Can we thank God for both Billy Graham and for N. T. Wright, who perhaps more subtly than clearly offers correctives (perhaps over-correctives) of Graham’s popularized message that became
Americanized and evangelicalized? (If I may coin a term.)

A. B. Caneday said...

I should have made my point more emphatically clear concerning John's softening of his criticism of Wright's statements concerning the gospel. I will not post John's unpublished words, but I assure readers of this blog that his criticism in the manuscript was much stronger than what is in the book on pages 45-46. Whether my observations and comments had any ameliorating effect, I do not know with confidence, but I would like to think so, and if so, I am grateful.

I think that JGB's latest comments are on target concerning N. T. Wright's efforts to combat reductionism with regard to the gospel. JGB's reading of Wright is properly charitable wherein Wright distinguishes between center of the gospel and summary of the gospel.

jgb said...

Thanks for sharing those words, Dr. Caneday. They've been very helpful.

Merry Christmas!

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Thank you both for your comments. I am a young theologian so I have much to learn. Your dialogging has been very helpful. Just for clarification, the gospel is the proclamation of "What Christ has done" whereas evangelicalism has often reduced it to "If you do this you can be saved". Is that what you two are saying?

A. B. Caneday said...

Nick,

Yes, what you have succinctly stated captures much of my concern and I think N. T. Wright's concern. The call of the gospel has in large measure supplanted the gospel itself. And, in doing so, the gospel has become anthropocentric rather than theocentric. The gospel has become principally a message for humans rather than a message about God and from God. Certainly the gospel is a message of good news for humans, but it is this only because it is first and foremost a message from God about God and what God has done in Christ Jesus concerning his own wrath toward sinful humanity.

Without mentioning all the ways evanglicalism has reduced the gospel message, I will mention one more that still hangs heavily upon most evangelical preaching of the gospel, even among the Reformed. It is what I call the "individualized neo-Platonizing and personal eschatologizing" of the gospel. This entails two things.

First, it is a carry-over of neo-Platonic disparagement of creation, including our own bodies, accented by the notion that heaven and not this earth renewed is our ultimate destiny. Heaven is regarded as a place distinct from God and other than earth. This error entails the failur to regard heaven to be where God dwells so that in the consummation of all things, when the dwelling of God is with humanity (Revelation 21:1-4), heaven will be upon this earth because Christ, who is deity, will dwell with us.

Second, it supplants the apocalytpic-eschatological focus of the gospel upon the consummating advent of our Lord Jesus Christ when he shall raise the dead for judgment and bring about the consummation of all things. The Americanized and evangelicalized gospel replaces this with a focus upon the personal eschatology of the individual, namely the impending death that awaits each of us, as though our impending personal and individual death were the great apocalyptic end, as though my destiny were the greatest issue or concern that the gospel addresses. This contributes to the human-centeredness of the Americanized and evangelicalized gospel and robs the gospel of its Last Day Christ-centeredness.

The Race Set Before Us makes considerable efforts to offer correctives to these serious flaws in American evangelicalism without overtly saying so.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

jgb,

You said: "It would seem that Paul not only delivered as "first importance" the facts, "that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," but also the fact, "that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." Yet you do not include that in your citation of that passage. Why is that?"

You raise a good point. I should be more precise in my quoting of Scripture. After all, it sure does seem like that is of first importance as well. If I get the chance I am going to ask Don Carson the same question concerning his series title for his upcoming conference in Toronto. The title is "The Cross and Resurrection: Matters of First Importance".

Ardel,

I am really starting to understand both you and Wright. The more I understand, the more I agree. I started reading a book entitled "The Drama of Scripture". I can't remember the two authors' names at the moment. I am really enjoying it so far. I was also flipping through the Goldsworthy book "The Gospel and the Kingdom". One thing I noticed in that book was his definition of the gospel. He said that the gospel is what Jesus has done for us in Christ. But as I read on it seemed like he focuses solely on the salvation of the individual from his/her sins and did not include anything concerning the salvation of the cosmos. What do you think about that?

A. B. Caneday said...

Nick,

You may be referring to The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.

Goldsworthy definitely pushes the discussion in the right direction. Certainly, his focus is not fully wrong, in that he follows the storyline of the Bible concerning the redemption of humanity. At points he does need to broaden his scope somewhat to include the grander scale of redemption. I anticipate that Goldsworthy does more with the grander scale in the latter portion of his trilogy.

One who taught me so much concerning the grander scale is Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

I was looking at Hoekema's book the other day. I will take another look.

Burns said...

Happy New Year! I miss you Dr. Caneday. I love this:

"Oh, the disaster that has come upon the church by those who thought that they were serving the church and Christ so well by holding forth their motto of "rightly dividing the Word of truth," abusing 2 Timothy 2:15 as translated in the KJV, and even worse, making their motto real by chopping up the Scriptures into dispensational segments!"

A. B. Caneday said...

Thanks for stopping by, Burns.

Shhhhh! Don't tell any of my Dispensationalist colleagues.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Alright,

I have a couple questions. I didn't actually take time to read the whole paper, but on Theopedia I found a "A Narrative of Scripture and Justification by Faith" by Mark Seifrid. Commenting on Wright's construal of God's purpose for Israel, on page 16 Seifrid says, "It was Israel in the first place which was to be 'a light to the nations.' Did God intend Israel to die for the sins of the world? Had Israel been faithful to God, would it have fulfilled this role? How could the people who from the start were part of the problem themselves be the solution to the problem?" Would you be able to comment on Seifrid's questions, Dr. Caneday?

Second, I have reached 3:21-24 in Wrights Romans for Everyone. I know that Wright's interpretation of "Works of the law" is going to be crucial in the way he explains the text. Would you be able to help me understand Wright's interpretation of "works of the law" and whether or not you agree with him?

Sorry, I know this is a lot to ask but, "How can I [understand], unless someone guides me?" (Acts 8:31). ;)

A. B. Caneday said...

Nick,

Whew! You have asked two huge questions.

I will add a brief additional quote (bold) from Seifrid's paper to fill out his questions.

It was Israel in the first place which was to be 'a light to the nations.' Did God intend Israel to die for the sins of the world? Had Israel been faithful to God, would it have fulfilled this role? How could the people who from the start were part of the problem themselves be the solution to the problem? That these questions remain unresolved in Wright’s work clearly indicate that his understanding of Christ’s saving work is driven by his conception of “representation,” which takes the form of moral idealism. At the very least, his work requires considerable clarification at this point. Otherwise, the traditional
understanding of the atonement seems to ride along as nothing more than excess baggage.


I do think that Seifrid's complaint is correct. Wright is not fully clear how he views Israel's role. I believe that Wright, as well as many others, could improve his articulation concerning Israel's God-designed role throughout the period of non-age, under the law's jurisdiction. Israel's role was fundamentally foreshadowing Christ, who was to come, as was Adam's role. Both had representative roles in relation to all humanity, but both also had typological roles as foreshadows of the One who was to come. I make such a case in "'They Exchanged the Glory of God for the Likeness of an Image': Idolatrous Adam and Israel as Representatives in Paul's Letter to the Romans," available in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

It seems to me, thus, that Wright does not satisfactorily offer the biblical rationale or biblical-theological inner logic that is essential to avoid Seifrid's complaint. Incidentally, Seifrid's essay in the same issue of the journal, indicated above ("The Gospel as the Revelation of Mystery: The Witness of the Scriptures to Christ in Romans"), meshes well with my essay.

Concerning your second question, you are correct. Wright's understanding of "works of the law" in Romans 3:19-20 does affect his exposition of the text in 3:21-31. Wright understands "works of the law" in a way that enlarges upon James Dunn's view. Dunn has called "works of the law" "badges" in that they served as badges of Judaism. Dunn has viewed them as consisting principally of circumcision, holiness codes concerning clean and unclean foods, and the Sabbath (holy days). Wright identifies "works of the law" as "boundary markers" that distinguish between Jews and Gentiles.

For Wright, then, similar to Dunn, the principal issue that Paul addresses in Romans and Galatians concerns the inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel over against the exclusion of the Gentiles in and by the law of Moses. Certainly, this is an integral element of Paul's arguments in both Romans and Galatians.

However, Wright, in particular, has invested far too much in this over against what I believe is Paul's principal concern in both Romans and Galatians. It seems to me that, true as it is that Paul is distressed that Gentiles are excluded by actions such as Peter exhibited in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14), the apostle's principal distress is generated from a more basic root cause, namely the repudiation of Christ Jesus who has, by his coming, put an end to the covenantal function of the law, for all who believe.

If the law of Moses retains perpetuity so that it retains jurisdiction and is coextensive and coterminous with Christ Jesus, who has now come, then the roles of Christ and of the law have been inverted or reversed. Christ would be made the servant of the law rather than the law the servant of Christ, as it is according to Paul's gospel. If the law retains perpetuity as a covenant, then the universalizing work of Christ, the erasure of distinctions between Jew and Gentile, is nullified by the law's particularizing effect of discriminating between Jew and Gentile. Worse, see Abstract of Thesis for Essay for further elaboration on the effects of Peter's actions in Antioch and of the Judaizers in Galatia.

As you would correctly see, then, while I have appreciation for insights of NPP folks, I also contend that the centrality of Jesus Christ soteriologically is at the core of Paul's gospel. By this, I mean something fairly akin to the strong points of the traditional understanding of salvation in Christ Jesus, with various qualifiers tossed in to make it clear that definitions that others toss about are not necessarily my own.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

In my reading of Wright, it seems that there are large frameworks which control his exegesis. I am thinking of 'Exile' and 'Covenant with Abraham'. These seem to be really helpful at times , but do you think he overdoes it (I am currently wrestling with his treatment on Romans 2 and 3)? Sorry to be throwing so many questions at you. I try to read up on these things elsewhere but I usually don't understand a word some say!

jgb said...

This is a good article by Wright concerning his understanding of covenant. I haven't found anything as compact relating to his understanding of exile.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Thanks jgb!

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Ardel,

If you haven't already seen this, I found an interesting summary of Wright's Christian Origins series thus far: http://www.opensourcetheology.net/node/167