Last week I posted a notice about Tom Wright’s forthcoming response to John Piper on the issue of justification. The work is titled Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. The book will be available in Great Britain from SPCK on February 1, and in the United States from Intervarsity in June.
First, I think it’s noteworthy that many (though certainly not all) of the names on this list hail from the evangelical left or the emerging church. In terms of the latter, I’m thinking of Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Scot McKnight. I take this as one more indication that significant portions of the emerging movement are shying away from what evangelicals have traditionally held regarding justification.
Second, in the endorsements I detect an underlying current of, “If only those traditionalists understood Wright correctly . . .” or “If only those reformed types would read their Bibles as closely as Wright.” I don’t think this is a good way to set the table for debate. It patronizes those who disagree with Wright as if they cannot or do not read. That may be a helpful way to explain away critics, but it’s not a good way to engage an opponent in theological debate. It tends to shutting down conversation rather than opening it up. I don’t agree with Wright’s perspective on justification, but I would never say that he doesn’t read the Bible closely. He does read the Bible closely, and so do his detractors. I think it would help if both sides could acknowledge that much.
Third, though the book is touted as an “irenic” response to Piper, I would have to say that some of the endorsements are not very . . . well . . . irenic. Without naming names, here’s a sampling:
“Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots–the neo-Reformed–by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text.”
“[Wright’s book] will give Wright’s critics a clearer sense than ever of what they are rejecting when they cling to their cherished old wineskins of conventional thought.”
Once again, I don’t think this is a helpful way to engage in theological debate. My hunch is that these kinds of remarks are more likely to evoke name-calling and ad hominem responses than they are thoughtful dialogue on a crucial biblical doctrine.
In any case, I’m looking forward to Wright’s book. The mounting critiques of Wright’s position (e.g., Piper, Seifrid) deserve a response, and I for one will be waiting with bated breath to read it.