Doug Wilson has a brief commentary today on N.T. Wright’s recent ETS appearance (HT: Trevin Wax). In short, Wilson argues that Wright’s clarification of “on the basis of” language is good but that there are still other problems with Wright’s views on justification. He writes:
“He consistently has set his views over against the ‘traditional’ Reformation view, and adherents of that view may be pardoned for thinking that he knew what he was talking about which, as it turns out, he didn’t. His area of expertise is not historical theology of the Reformation era, and it shows. And he managed to write an entire book responding to John Piper without really responding to him, which, let’s face it, looks fishy.”
Wilson goes on to interrogate the idea that righteousness means “covenant membership” when applied to people and “covenant faithfulness” when applied to God. Wilson makes the point with a brief look at Paul’s “unrighteousness” language. Piper made a similar critique in The Future of Justification arguing that Wright has confused the meaning of Paul’s righteousness language with a legitimate implication of it. “Covenant faithfulness” and “covenant membership” are legitimate implications of what righteousness means, but it confuses the issue to make them the meaning of the term. This confusion comes out clearly when one pays attention to the way Paul employs “unrighteousness” language, as Wilson cleverly points out. Read the rest here.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Wright’s book on justification, particularly his section on Jesus’ Torah-observance, and how he points out that we are justified by the death and resurrection, not via Jesus’ vicarious faithfulness to the Law. I think this was one of the clearest explanations of this tricky topic I have ever read, and answered many questions that I had in my own head.
That said, I hugely enjoy John Piper’s writings too – especially on desiring God – and I have a great deal of admiration for the way he sets out his arguments in a Christ-like manner.
I think perhaps we can celebrate the apparent Piper-Wright tensions as two people looking at the same truth from different viewpoints, just as we can celebrate Paul and James despite it appearing sometimes that they disagree.
Both Wright and Piper have a “perspective” of justification – perhaps it is just that – a way of viewing a great truth that we will never fully comprehend. But the efforts of both men can help sharpen our understandings this side of the resurrection, and for that they should both be commended.
I’m not adamant either way, I just know that I struggle to understand such lofty concepts and I am grateful to anyone who engages in this debate graciously, and anyone who makes an inward decision to pursue the gospel-truth honestly and purely.
I get so tired of the slavish obedience historical theologians pay to the dogmas of certain periods. So what if Wright isn’t an expert in the Reformation? Last I heard, it is Scripture that forms our creeds, not Calvin.
On a side note, Wilson could stand to learn some humility. His writing is as brash and arrogant as the mess propagated over at Teampyro.
It’s interesting that you say that… Ive always thought Doug Wilson to be one of the most humble, insightful people in the blogosphere.
Sometimes I think blunt honesty gets translated as arrogance when that isn’t at all the case.
“slavish obedience” Scott? Really? This is really caricature language, that really does little to further the debate.
I would also encourage you to realize that the critiques of Wright are much more diverse and driven from hard exegetical work, than Reformed confessionalism.
Couldn’t help but notice DW’s drive-by shot at Scott Clark. It should be pointed out for the uniformed that many of DW’s colleagues in the ‘Federal Vision’ ( particularly Mark Horne) are devotees of Wright on the subject of justification- but I notice DW never addresses them.
Michael Horton has also pointed out that it is certainly forgivable to lack expertise on Reformed thinking and scholarship, but not if you’re going to critique it and formulate “a new perspective” that seeks to replace a perspective that you haven’t well understood. Horton also made the point that there are times in which NTW has mistaken Reformed thinking with some of the more flimsy and subjective versions of modern evangelicalism, which are really not rooted in Reformed thinking at all.
Let me remind you that many critics of Wright’s soteriology are NT scholars (like Schreiner, Carson, Moo, etc.) and NOT dogmatic Protestant historical theologians. They all make a good case for imputation. I think you missed the mark on your remark above.
Also, I find Doug Wilson to be the most traditional within the FV movement on justification. Many people in that movement espouse things about justification that would have horrified Calvin (talking as someone who did extensive research on Calvin in a formal academic setting).
The use of unrighteousness seems to be a bit of a red herring. All the examples referenced are translating “Î±Î´Î¹ÎºÎ¹Î±”, which isn’t the opposite of the “Î´Î¹ÎºÎ±Î¹Î¿ÏƒÏ…Î½Î·” normally translated righteousness.
An “Î±Î´Î¹ÎºÎ¹Î±” is a wrong act, and so isn’t really in the same semantic area as either moral-failure as a quality, or covenant-exclusion as a status.
A reasonable approach, but it only shows the difficulty of trying to make detailed exegetical arguments in translation.