Saturday, 28 February 2009

Right Justification

The writer intends that his readers should find this enormously comforting. What Jesus has done, in dying as a sacrifice for us, to procure the complete forgiveness of sins spoken of in Jeremiah, and to establish God's new covenant with us, is complete. It does not need adding to, let alone repeating. To suggest either of these would be to suggest that there was something incomplete, something left undone which Jesus didn't quite manage to do the first time round. When as Christians we look for assurance that we have truly been forgiven, we don't look - or we shouldn't look - at anything we do, at anything the church does, at anything Christians ministers, clergy, priests of whoever do. We look back to the event outside Jerusalem on that dark Friday afternoon, and thank God for what we accomplished fully and finally on our behalf. - N.T Wright, Hebrews for Everyone page 112 (talking about Heb 10:11-18)

The above quote from N.T Wright seems to me the standard reformed protestant definition of justification. That is, we are saved because of what Jesus did, not because of what we have done. Solus Christus (Christ alone). Out good works do not earn us salvation, they do not make us pleasing in God's sight, we do not rely on them for salvation but rather salvation is a gracious gift from God. Sola gratia (Grace alone). Out faith in the power of Jesus's death for us is what saves us. Not our works or anything else. Sola fide (Faith alone).

John Piper has written a book called The Future of Justification which you can download here (2.2mb pdf). Piper doesn't think N.T Wright has understood justification correctly. I should be fair and say that the only direct thing I have read of N.T. Wrights is his Hebrews for Everyone book and I have to say that I found him quite orthodox and reformed throughout. In Pipers introduction of The Future of Justification on page 15 he says:

My conviction concerning N. T. Wright is not that he is under the curse of Galatians 1:8–9, but that his portrayal of the gospel—and of the doctrine of justification in particular—is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. It may be that in his own mind and heart Wright has a clear and firm grasp on the gospel of Christ and the biblical meaning of justification. But in my judgment, what he has written will lead to a kind of preaching that will not announce clearly what makes the lordship of Christ good news for guilty sinners or show those who are overwhelmed with sin how they may stand righteous in the presence of God.

Now I haven't read The Future of Justification so I am not sure how strong Piper's argument about Wright is, but has anyone out there read something by N.T Wright that has him moving away from the quote at the top of this page?


  1. Brother, Wright's quote here is a good one, but be assured, he has written considerably more on the topic! Reading Piper's book might be a good introduction, as he will (and I haven't read it) almost certainly reference Wright as he interacts with him. You're on the precipice of the New Perspective debate, the details of which can be incredibly dense and immense. Not a bad debate to look in to, but it can become all consuming. If the following MP3 is the same on as what I listened to last year, hopefully you'll find it helpful as an introduction.

  2. hey vella,
    Much of the debate surrounds what Wright is carefully attempting to unpack about Paul's use of righteousness language, which includes 'justification'. Part of your confusion here (if you don't mind me calling it that!) is that you're looking at a passage in Hebrews (almost certainly not Pauline) that is without reference to righteousness language.

    I'm quite sure that Wright would say that we're saved by christ, by grace alone through faith alone, but that righteousness language (ie. justification) does not relate to soteriology (salvation) as to ecclesiology (specifically, how you can tell that someone is a member of God's covenant community). So Piper is concerned about the trajectory with which Wright's interpretation of Paul will take him.

    The most caricatured accusation thrown at Wright, which I'm not sure is fair, nor that Piper makes since I haven't read Piper) is that by emphasising eccesiology, that Paul somehow insists that belonging to church comes before believing - Roman Catholicism!!

    As James says, Wright has written so much that it's difficult to interact with him. In fact he's written so much for so long, there are clearly changes in his thoughts which make it difficult to know which Wright to talk about!!

  3. Hey James and Dave,

    thanks for both posting.

    I kinda posted the above quote as a response to some things I have heard people say about NT Wright. On iTunes U you can download 3 talks by Carson about the new perspective on Paul. In the fist talk (around the 20-22 minute mark) it has Carson saying that he thinks NT Wright doesn't hold to inerrancy and isn't a Calvinist. Also people like Piper and Ligon Duncan have disagreed with him quite strongly.

    After hearing all this, I must say I was hesitant to listen to what he had to say on Hebrews, so I also downloaded and listed to the sermons by Kent Hughes and John Piper. But I have to say that they all agree with each other. All three are strong Calvinist. Especially when dealing with Hebrews, it is quite clear Wright holds to the perseverance of the saints and that Jesus is the center of like everything.

    Now admittly Paul didn't wright Hebrews and maybe all I've have to say missed the whole controversy of the new perspective on Paul, but I have not found the calls about N.T Wright to be true. He seems quite reformed to me.

    Later this year I plan on reading Who was Jesus? and if I have time What St Paul Really said (which Piper cites a few times in his book), so we'll see how that goes...