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



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gerald Bray Reviews Wright's Justification

Gerald Bray, with whom I shared a study alcove at Tyndale House during my sabbatical a couple of years ago, has published a critique of N. T. Wright's latest book, Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision.

Read Bray's "The Wrighteousness of God."

22 comments:

Bruce J. Russell, Sr. said...

So it appears that John Piper took a 6 months to focus entirely on the justification issue and N.T. Wright ripped out a reply in his spare time.

Can we say that Piper views justification as exclusively soteriological and primarily as an "Already" reality in the life of the Believer, whereas Wright views justification as primarily a soteriological "Not Yet" which is enjoyed in advance by the power of the Holy Spirit?

Who is going to write a book to clarify these things for informed laymen?

A. B. Caneday said...

Because my comment is too long, I need to post two consecutive entries.

Can we say that Piper views justification as exclusively soteriological and primarily as an "Already" reality in the life of the Believer, whereas Wright views justification as primarily a soteriological "Not Yet" which is enjoyed in advance by the power of the Holy Spirit?

I wish that it were as simple as this. However, I am not so convinced as I endeavor to show in this entry some time earlier. More on N. T. Wright and John Piper Concerning Justification

Wright's view is much more complex. Principally, Wright views justification in terms of ecclesiology, addressing the question concerning who is in the covenant family, rather than the soteriological question concerning how one comes into the covenant family, which is John Piper's whole focus.

So, much of the debate amounts to talking past one another, not only between Piper and Wright but also between their advocates.

As I have attempted to show, both are neither wholly wrong nor wholly right. Piper is right in so much of what he says concerning justification, but the whole of what he has to say would be enhanced if he would make the case that justification is fundamentally the present eschatological visitation of the Last Day Judgment by virtue of God's emptying of the wrath of his judgment upon Christ Jesus on the cross for us. Already God's judgment of the Last Day has been executed for us in Christ Jesus.

This is the crucial central or core declaration of the good news. I know that John Piper essentially agrees with this, as did Martin Luther and John Calvin. However, it could be articulated with much greater clarity and force by providing an even-handed and equally clear articulation of the fact that justification entails the not yet aspect as well, for justification is still fundamentally eschatological in that justification has to do with God's judgment in the Last Day.

A. B. Caneday said...

This is precisely why justification is what we call a legal imagery or metaphor. Justification derives out of the Day of Judgment, which is legal in character and is yet to come. The fact that the legal imagery of the Last Day already applies to us in Christ testifies to the fact that God's pouring out of his wrath upon Christ Jesus while on the cross renders the cross God's Judgment Seat against sin in the midst of history. God's judgment against sin has already taken place for us who are in Christ Jesus when he poured his wrath upon him. This is the message of John 3:16-21. God's condemnation of his Son upon the cross is God's verdict, his judgment, concerning sin in advance of the Day of Judgment yet to come. Christ Jesus interposed himself on our behalf before the Judgment Seat of God, taking upon himself God's wrath. Herein is justification. Because Christ Jesus has borne the wrath of God already we already stand acquitted before God so that even though the Day of Judgment has not yet arrived, we may face the Last Day confidently through faith that the verdict God has already declared over us in his Good News as it is in Jesus will be ours in that Day that is yet to come.

In Christ Jesus we already stand justified before God, not on account of anything in us or that we do, but solely on account of Christ's sacrificial death. This is God's declaration over us who are in Christ Jesus by believing in him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Romans 4:25).

Yet, biblically speaking, justification also entails a not yet dimension or aspect. Justification necessarily entails God's full, public, and entirely open declaration of our righteous stand before God which will take place in the Last Day (Romans 8:23-39). God's justification of us already through believing the good news as it is in Jesus sweeps us forward in full continuity with his fully public justification of us not yet realized when he owns us openly as his own by welcoming us into his eternal kingdom with the words "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21, 23).

Andrew Cowan said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thanks for these reflections. I agree that a more eschatological already/not yet perspective could enrich Piper's presentation of justification. I did have one question about your comments, though.

Should we understand the function of resurrection in justification to be simply that God raised Jesus from the dead so that our faith is like Abraham's--a faith in the dead-raising God? This is the perspective that I hear in your comments. I ask because I have been very attracted to a part of Wright's perspective on this aspect of the issue. Wright understands Jesus' resurrection itself to be God's justification/vindication of Jesus. This places resurrection closer to the heart of justification, and it strikes me as plausible, especially when one notes the central place of "life" in several of the OT texts that Paul frequently evokes when discussion justification (i.e., Hab 2:4 and Lev 18:5). What do you think?

A. B. Caneday said...

Andrew,

Should we understand the function of resurrection in justification to be simply that God raised Jesus from the dead so that our faith is like Abraham's--a faith in the dead-raising God?

You have rightly understand my comments. I acknowledge that it was not N. T. Wright who influenced me to see this. I am not sure whether any particular individual has shaped this understanding for me other than the apostle Paul. It has been my teaching of Romans throughout the years that has shaped my understanding the most concerning Romans 4.

You point out an aspect of Wright's perspective that attracts you. In particular, you say, Wright understands Jesus' resurrection itself to be God's justification/vindication of Jesus. This places resurrection closer to the heart of justification, and it strikes me as plausible, especially when one notes the central place of "life" in several of the OT texts that Paul frequently evokes when discussion justification (i.e., Hab 2:4 and Lev 18:5).

I fully concur. Here, again, it is not Wright that shaped my understanding but Geerhardus Vos and Richard Gaffin have both influenced me considerably. Thus, when I wrote my dissertation concerning Gal 3, several years ago now, I recognized the vast interplay between justification and life in Paul's argument in Gal 3. In other words, this perspective is hardly a "new perspective on Paul" as some might suppose. I have held this understanding since I read The centrality of the Resurrection: A study in Paul's soteriology when it was published in 1978, 31 years ago.

Recently I read a helpful book on the interplay between justification and life. See Daniel Kirk's Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God.

I have long desired to write an essay on the interplay between justification and life, particularly with a focus upon Romans 5:17. Perhaps I shall yet accomplish that desire, even if only for my own satisfaction. I have not yet read anyone--commentator or essayist--who addresses the issues that I see so significantly in the passage.

Andrew Cowan said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thanks for your response. I will have to take a look at your dissertation while I am doing research for my thesis next year (which is on the interrelation between justification and life in Galatians 2-3).

I too have read and appreciated Gaffin's book, but I had read Wright first. I thought that the virtue of Wright's work was how it grounded the connection more firmly in the world of Second Temple Judaism, but Gaffin (and apparently Vos) had clearly made the connection before Wright. Also, I am currently at work on a review of Kirk's book, and dialogue with him occasionally on his blog.

Anyway, I'd love to read your paper on Rom 5:17, if you ever get around to writing it. I think that the implications and significance of the connection between justification and life have not yet been fully brought to light.

It sounds like we really think along similar lines on this issue. I hope that means that we are both seeing things rightly.

A. B. Caneday said...

Andrew,

Yes, I'm with you on your expression of hope. I, too, hope that we're both on the right track. If not, better men have erred on the matter, for we have both received guidance from men of some renown.

Do you plan to publish your review of Kirk's book? If so, where? I would like to read your review when you have finished it.

Are you mostly favorable? It's a few months since I read the book, so I may not remember sufficiently, but I thought that he could have hit some portions harder to show the relationship between resurrection and justification. All in all, however, the book makes a helpful contribution to show the linkage.

On my dissertation, it is like most others. Reading it humbles me. I would write a far better one today. It is a good thing that following the writing of a dissertation we proceed through a ceremony called commencement, a beginning, rather than an ending. Education brings repentance from beliefs poorly grounded, ineptly expressed, or wrongly embraced and ends when we breathe our last, not when we don the Ph.D. regalia.

A. B. Caneday said...

Andrew,

To whet your interest concering Gaffin, I will post an entry with some salient quotes.

Andrew Cowan said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thanks for the post on Gaffin and the others; I really like his way of putting things. I think that the advantage of Gaffin over Wright on this aspect of the issue is that Gaffin connects justification and resurrection/life without making justification primarily ecclesiological.

My review of Kirk will be published in SBET. I don't have a tremendous number of words, so I'm not sure how much detail I'll be able to include, but I'll try to let you know when I have finished it.

I haven't finished the book yet, either, but I presently have mixed feelings about it. I like some of the overall moves that he is making with respect to the meaning of Romans and the significance of resurrection, but I am less enthusiastic about the degree to which he buys into the NPP and his claims regarding Paul's hermeneutics (he closely follows his supervisor, Richard Hays; I am closer to my teachers, Beale and Carson). Nevertheless, I do feel like it is well worth reading, and offers good exegetical insight on a number of points.

A. B. Caneday said...

Andrew,

I agree that Gaffin's formulation is better than Wright's in that it retains the soteriological categorization of justification.

I also concur with your brief comments concerning Kirk's book. My sense is that his indebtedness to the NPP may induce missing aspects that would actually have strengthened the linkage between justification and resurrection in Romans. In part, what I mean, is that in his eagerness to carry water for the NPP he missed crucial exegetical matters, including things concerning 5:17.

Kirk shows no knowledge of Gaffin's work nor that of Vos. He indexes neither in his book.

I want to float an exegetical question for you concerning Romans 1:17. To pose the question does not indicate embrace of the interpretation.

δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται· ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται.

What if Romans 1:17 meant something like the following? Assume for the sake of the argument that N. T. Wright and Douglas Campbell are onto something to take δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ as speaking of God's character, "God's righteousness," and not to refer to justification of the human ("a righteousness from God," as the NIV).

Likewise, assume for the sake of the argument that Hays and others are onto something to take ὁ δίκαιος as a messianic reference and that ἐκ πίστεως is a reference to Messiah's faithfulness not the faith of the human who believes.

What if ζήσεται were a reference to resurrection? You may say, "What? How is this possible?"

What if the ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται should be translated something like "The Righteous One [Messiah] from faithfulness will live? There is a case to be made that ἐκ πίστεως is modifying ὁ δίκαιος and not ζήσεται. In other words, what if Habakkuk's statement ultimately has in view Messiah's faithfulness set over against Israel's unfaithfulness (cf. Rom 3:1-8) and that for his faithfulness to God, unlike Israel, he will be raised from the dead, that is, "he shall live"?

Is this a foreign concept? No, Paul has already spoken of this connection in Romans 1:4. Has he not? Also, keep in mind Isaiah 53:11, After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Thus, what if Paul's citation of Habakkuk 2:4 bears whispers of Isaiah 53:11 within it, thus laying the groundwork for Paul to see justification and resurrection so intimately linked, but linked in Christ Jesus. The Righteous One who took upon himself human sin and thus took upon himself God's wrath against sin cannot be held captive to death (Romans 6:9-10) but was raised from death as promised of old (Isaiah 53:11; Habakkuk 2:4?). It should not pass notice that in Romans 8:31-36 Paul crisply alludes to Isaiah 53:6, 11-2 and Isaiah 50:8-9 when he poses his three questions, clearly dependent upon the three questions Isaiah poses in his prophecy. There Paul intimately links Christ's resurrection with our justification.

Surely, who will quarrel with the theology? The question is whether this is the theology of Romans 1:17. In other words, is this good theology from the right text or good theology from the wrong text?

Your thoughts?

I would have thought that, given Kirk's thesis, he might have explored these things.

Bruce J. Russell, Sr. said...

Ardel:

Since the apostles in the book of acts closely unite believing, repenting and baptism, is not baptism being used as a symbol primarily of union with the resurrected Christ, who was, unlike Israel, faithful to the Torah unto death? And since Jesus was raised for His and our justification, couldn't we say that the ecclesiological and soteriological aspects of salvation are fused in the sacrament of baptism?

A. B. Caneday said...

To say these things, of course, would require expertise at funambulism. Some kind of safety net below would also be indispensable, not just to protect one from any potential fall but to protect one from the crowd that might be waiting below to rend the funambulist apart.

Andrew Cowan said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thanks for your stimulating proposal. If I grant the two points that you suggest for the sake of argument, then I think that the reading you propose almost follows naturally. It is very plausible, to say the least. Although I will be working in Romans rather than Galatians, one of the major options that I will be exploring in my thesis next year is reading "will live" in Hab 2:4 in terms of resurrection/eschatological life.

The key piece, however, where I am not persuaded by the reading proposed here is the messianic understanding of ὁ δίκαιος and the suggestion that ἐκ πίστεως refers to Christ's faithfulness, modifying ὁ δίκαιος. While at Wheaton, Dr. Moo persuaded me against the subjective reading of pistis christou (sorry, I don't know how to use the Greek font other than cut-and-paste), and so the reading of ἐκ πίστεως as a reference to Christ's faithfulness seems unlikely to me. Nevertheless, I have gone back and forth on that issue, and I'm looking forward to reading the new volume addressing these matters edited by Bird and Sprinkle (including an essay written by you, I believe).

Thus, what interests me more is reading ζήσεται as a reference to resurrection/eschatological life without the messianic understanding of ὁ δίκαιος.

On Kirk, it is pretty odd that he makes no reference to Gaffin in the index. He mentions that Gaffin "tuned his ears" to listen for resurrection on the first page of the preface, but points to little of this influence in the text of his book. I was unaware of the work of Vos on this point, and will have to check it out.

Bruce J. Russell, Sr. said...

I'm on the practice wire and among friends!

A. B. Caneday said...

Andrew,

You state, Thus, what interests me more is reading ζήσεται as a reference to resurrection/eschatological life without the messianic understanding of ὁ δίκαιος.

This was going to be my next proposal. Even not granting the first two premises on (1) ὁ δίκαιος and (2) ἐκ πίστεως, what if ζήσεται is still a reference to resurrection and that this is the linkage between justification and Habakkuk 2:4 that needs to be teased out?

Thus, whether one reads Habakkuk 2:4 messianically or not, it seems to me that ζήσεται still may hold far more promise than has yet been teased out.

Here may be your dissertation topic.

Vos' work on these matters is not as developed as is Gaffin's, but Vos influenced Gaffin as did Ridderbos.

On Moo and πίστις Χριστοῦ, you may know that he was my dissertation advisor. My work on Galatians 3 may have caused him some anguish and peptic distress, particularly during my oral defense of my work in the fall of 1991. It is not as though my oral defense was contentious at all. Rather, it struck me that Moo and Harrise (my readers) found it painful to pass on a dissertation with which they so earnestly disagreed. The experience was more difficult for all than necessary. The PhD Program Director, Nigel Cameron, saw to it that their personal anguish did not become any further unnecessary pain for me. He stopped any blockage of my passing. As it is, of course, if I had the opportunity to rewrite my dissertation, I am fully confident that it would be a far better piece of work than it turned out to be. But such is the case with all dissertations.

It has always remained a puzzle to me why it is so very painfully difficult for so many evangelical NT scholars to recognize that we evangelicals who make a case that the apostle Paul plausibly may have intended πίστις Χριστοῦ as subjective rather than objective are not subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ in any way. It seems they invariably cannot get past the notion that somehow it necessarily subverts the gospel. Indeed, there are those who have argued for taking the subjective genitive understanding who have reduced Jesus Christ to an exemplar. This, however, is entirely unwarranted and unnecessary. Galatians 2:16 (ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν), not to mention other passages, makes this abundantly clear.

My essay in The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical and Theological Studies should put that notion to bed permanently. I fear, however, that it won't.

As I have repeatedly reasoned, if we take πίστις Χριστοῦ as a subjective genitive, it actually strengthens the Reformed doctrine concerning Christ's obedience/faithfulness as the sole ground of our justification. It does not weaken sola fide or sola Christus in the least. It takes absolutely nothing away from sola fide or from sola Christus. But, alas, I may continue speaking and writing to the wind on this matter, for it seems that only those who have not yet entered the state of hardened categories are willing to engage these matters with patient consideration.

I have found evangelical arguments against taking the subjective genitive reading to be dweak, strained, uncreative (repeated from others), and unpersuasive, even if one does not accept the subjective genitive reading. In other words, they really do not engage the issues substantively and deeply. It is all too superficial and too dismissive to be convincing.

I would never go to the wall for either a subjective or an objective genitive reading of πίστις Χριστοῦ. For rightly understood, neither does any injury to sola fide or to sola Christus.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Dr. Caneday,

I haven't read all your comments but I have noticed how you say Piper see's justification in terms of sotieriology whereas Wright sees it more in terms of ecclessiology. Could we say that one sees the question of justification in terms of "how is one made right with God?" While the other in terms of "Who is made right with God?" I see both in Paul. Here is something I made up. Do you think it's legit?

Who are the people of God?:
• The Opponents: The ones who live as Jews by keeping the law (particulary the badge of circumcision)
• Paul: The ones who are marked out by their faith in Jesus

How are people made right with God?:
• The Opponents: The ones who keep the law are the ones who will be vindicated, declared not guilty, before God.
• Paul: The ones who believe in Jesus are united to him and his sacrificial death and vindication counts for them.

Why God’s people aren’t defined by the law: The law was temporary in the plan of God. It was meant to keep God’s people in check and show them their sinfulness until the Messiah came. Now that the he has come we do not need to go back to that ‘temporary’ time.

Why we can’t be vindicated by the law: The law cannot justify, earn us the status of righteous, because no on can put God in their debt. Also, the law points out sin so the only status we receive under the law is , “Guilty”.

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

Yes, I agree in full with your first paragraph. I make that point somewhere in this note.

On your proposal, I believe that you rightly frame your first question and the two answers. On the second question, I would modify it slightly, because the way you frame the answers gets to the who question more than to the how question.

You frame the matter this way:

How are people made right with God?:
• The Opponents: The ones who keep the law are the ones who will be vindicated, declared not guilty, before God.
• Paul: The ones who believe in Jesus are united to him and his sacrificial death and vindication counts for them.


I would frame the two responses this way:
• The Opponents: "If you are not circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses you cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).
• Paul: We believed in Jesus Christ in order that we might be justified" (Gal 2:16).

I think that these expressions get at the how question more explicitly.

Your thoughts?

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Dr. Caneday,

Thank you. I agree with your improvements. I was just reading N.T. Wright's little devotional on Galatians, which I do love, and I noticed that he frames Gal. 2.15-21 under the question, "Who are the people of God." However, and I don't think I'm being too picky, I think the text more naturally answers the question, "How do people receive righteousness (i.e. declaration of innocence and vindication as sons)?"

A. B. Caneday said...

Nicholas,

I agree with your comment on Wright's title for Gal 2:15-21. "How" is the featured issue of the passage rather than "who"? This is not to say that "who" is not at all present. But the real issue is "how" in the sense of "by which covenant"--the law covenant or the Christ covenant.

John said...

Dr. Caneday,
You write:
"...justification is fundamentally the present eschatological visitation of the Last Day Judgment...."
"...the verdict God has already declared over us in his Good News as it is in Jesus will be ours in that Day that is yet to come...."

Is it a little clearer if we reword that slightly: "... IS OURS NOT ONLY TODAY BUT ALSO in that Day that is yet to come...." ?

I am excited to hear that you are working on the link between justification and life. I am a mere infant when it comes to my grasp of NPP, but I have long wondered if this link is given the attention it deserves. Is it merely that in justification the believer has entered in advance into the legal standing that he will be (or may be? for some NPP folk) given on the Day of Judgment? Or is it not rather that the Day of Judgment is the ultimate public pronouncement of the judgment already made, in fact, at the point where believing eis Christ occasioned the granting of eternal life? The perfects of Romans - "we have been justified" or "God has justified" - and the related "no condemnation", seem to correspond remarkably to the echei of John 6:47 and esp.5:24, where eternal life is the very antithesis of condemnation. In John 6:37-44 the whole thing comprising the Father's gifts to the Son is a group of people who all come to him (i.e. believe) and who are all raised "at the last day". In the same way, the justified and the glorified, in Romans 8:29-30, are the same group. Just as resurrection, though future, is part of the package of the present gift of eternal life (Jn6:40), so, for Paul, glorification (the glorious revelation of the sons of God) is certain for the justified. In short, in God's court, it is the innocent who have life; the guilty are dead. Justification (being judged "clean" in the eyes of the law) and life belong together both in Romans 2:5-13 (cf Luke 10:28) and Romans 5 and 8. If you don't stay in - if you're not found in at the end - you never were in. If the believer already has the life of the age where there is no mourning or death, eternal life, as distinct from potentially-eternal life, then his present "justification" has to be the Judge's final verdict on him.

Justification is inseparable from life - as it is from holiness - in the sense of being as different and free from guilt as God is. Since justification renders us holy, it qualifies us for sonship and hence family communion. But you have to be rendered holy and an heir in order to be part of the fellowship of the saints, the true covenant family. The resurrection of Israel, the Son, vindicated him (and in him us, the circumcision of God) as clean in court. Hence, we live. And hence we are together with all who live. Not all in Israel are Israel. You must be clean in court before you can be not just "with" but "of" God's clean people.

John said...

Sorry; I did not give my name, John Rowse, an Australian normally working in East Africa. Since I didn't put my name, do I need to submit again what I wrote?

A. B. Caneday said...

John,

No, what you posted is acceptable. Thanks for sending your fuller I.D.

I will offer a response when I can take some time to do justice to your comments. I'm in the midst of final examinations this week.