The doctrine of justification is a doctrine that covers a single history with two distinct (but not separate) aspects: the now (the once) and the not yet (the future). This history is the history of Jesus Christ as it takes up our own history in a mighty act of God. The once refers to the objective reality of justification that Christ has brought about – a reality in which all are dead and risen, accused and pardoned. This once and for all event, this once and for all act of God, is true of us whether we apprehend it and receive it or not. Continue reading →
Wolterstorffs take on justification is interesting. Whereas Wright emphasises the fact of God’s covenant faithfulness, Wolterstorff tries to really focus on the content of said faithfulness – namely, the justice of God’s covenant faithfulness. Wolterstorff .holds that that the topic of Romans is more about justice than covenant faithfulness alone (Wright). God’s inclusion of Gentiles is thoroughly just in the tradition of the Old Testament teachings about the justice of God. The inclusion of the Gentiles does not violate justice
I’ve been reading Wright’s ‘Justification’ alongside Barth’s C/D IV.1, specifically the sections on justification. The similarities are interesting, as well as the differences. Both see justification as being a declaration, and both see Jesus’ vindication in his being raised from the dead. Wright places considerable weight on justification being the declaration that one is a member of the people of God, while Barth places more emphasis on the act/event of justification in the context of the relation of the man of sin to God, who stands over against him as Judge. I’ll read more on Barth though, as this is an area of his thought I’m not super familiar with.
The debate surrounding justification essentially boils down to one thing: the starting point of the discussion. Is it anthropological, or theological? To put another way, what is the purpose of the doctrine of justification – is it to answer the question of ‘what must I do to be saved?’, or is it ultimately about (to borrow from Wright’s new book) the faithfulness of God? If the former is the answer, as it was for Luther and pretty much all of Protestant dogmatics for the next 500 years, then you end up with, more or less, the idea of imputed righteousness (on a historical note, the idea of imputed righteousness stems from medieval notions of merit-theology, which is why the Eastern church has never really had this debate). If the latter, then one ends up with what is broadly recognized as the ‘new perspective on Paul’, though this is a pretty misleading and possibly even obsolete term.
It seems to me that Wright is substantially correct in his take on the doctrine – yes, he is mistaken or weak in some areas (I find his christology to be a weak point) and places a lot of weight on the Second-Temple return from exile theme (which may or may not be correct, that’s a matter of debate) but broadly I see his interpretation to be correct in terms of Justification being about God’s covenant faithfulness, starting with Abraham in Genesis and reaching its climax in Christ (along with all the various points about law-keeping, ethnic boundaries, lawcourt, etc). I’m fairly firm in my belief that justification is not about answering the existential question of ‘what must I do to be saved’ but 100% about God’s faithfulness – to phrase it in a Wright-ian way, it’s not about how I get right with God but how I get to be in the right with God.
I’m pretty much fully in line with N.T. Wright as regards justification – namely, seeing justification as a declaration of being in the right. This makes sense of Scripture and overarching themes in the biblical narrative -placing God and his covenant faithfulness and purpose at the very center of the doctrine. Calvin seems quite close to Wright, at times, in his understanding of Torah, which is interesting and quite different than Luther’s.
“Either we are fools for the world because of Christ or we are fools for Christ because of the world. O how short-lived is the sound of a word of the world! If the world would say to us ‘fool,’ the world will die and its word will die! What then is the value of its word? But if the heavenly, immortal ones say to us ‘fool,’ that will neither die nor is it removed from us as eternal condemnation.” + St. Nikolai Velimirovich