N.T. Wright on Justification

I recently spent a little time looking at Trevin Wax’s blog, Kingdom People. I noticed that one of the more popular posts was an interview he held back in early 2009 with N.T. Wright in which Wright discusses the varying differences between his and Piper’s understanding of the word justification.

I have explained some of the in’s and out’s of the ‘new perspective’ on Pauline justification here. But Wright does a fantastic job highlighting the differences in these words below:

N.T. Wright: Well, I set justification within the larger Pauline context, where it always comes, of God’s purposes to fulfill his covenant promise to Abraham and so to rescue the whole creation, humankind of course centrally included, from sin and death. Piper holds that Abrahamic context at arm’s length.

Second, I understand justification as basically a law-court term, where it means the judge’s creative declaration that a person is ‘in the right’ in terms of the lawcourt, whereas Piper holds that justification involves the accrediting to a person of the moral, not the forensic, ‘righteousness’ of Christ – something Paul never says (as J. I. Packer admits).

Third, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification as eschatological, that is, the justification of the faithful in the present time is both the fulfilment of the long story of Israel and the anticipation of the eventual verdict to be delivered on the last day, as in Romans 2.1-16 and 8.1-30.

Fourth, in line with many Reformed readers of scripture, including Calvin, I understand Paul’s doctrine of justification to be of those who are ‘in Christ’, whereas Piper and others don’t make that a central element in justification itself. Conversely, for Piper the center of justification is the ‘imputation’ of ‘the righteousness of Christ’, seen in terms of ‘righteousness’ as a kind of moral achievement earned by Jesus and then reckoned to those who believe. I believe that this is an attempt to say something close to what Paul actually says in Romans 6, namely that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is ‘reckoned’ to those who are ‘in him’. Putting it the way Piper (and one part of the Reformation tradition) puts it is a pointer to something which is truly there in Paul, but one which gives off misleading signals as well.

Finally, for Piper justification through Christ alone is the same in the future (on the last day) as in the present, whereas for Paul, whom I am following very closely at this point, the future justification is given on the basis of the Spirit-generated life that the justified-by-faith-in-the-present person then lives. In fact, the omission of the Spirit from many contemporary Reformed statements of justification is one of their major weaknesses.

To read the full interview, click here.

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