Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Both Wright And Not Wright

Okay, the early results of my N.T. Wright campaign are just starting to trickle in.

I got about half way through Justification, and jumped over to The Challenge of Jesus. I got the gist of where he was headed with the first book, but also realized that that book really is a response to other theologians (primarily John Piper) response to much of Wright's earlier work. Particularly they are responding to Wright's attempt to re-frame our understanding of Paul's writing.

In a nutshell (it's a pretty big nut) Wright is claiming that much of the accepted common understanding of Paul's writing results from medieval, enlightenment and reformation overlays, rather than from what Paul was actually saying. To get to Paul's actual intent, you have to look at the culture and circumstances in which Paul was actually steeped in his day. If you do, you can see that the concept of Justification is not so much about personal salvation (Jesus died to save ME from MY sins) as it is about God saving the whole world, through Jesus who is the completion and climax of God's eternal-all-the-world-saving-plan through his chosen people.

There's a lot more to it than that, as you might imagine. Here's how Mr. Wright himself explains it.

As I see it, bottom line, is that it's another case of people setting up the either/or proposition and getting hung up on it. It seems to me like this is more of a both/and sort of deal. Jesus, Paul, and others used many kinds of pictures to explain what God is doing.
  • Adoption into God's family
  • Redemption from Slavery
  • Declared in the right in a court of law
  • Grafting onto the tree of Israel
  • Spiritual circumcision
  • Made into the people of God - a new chosen nation
And so on. It seems foolish to pick one over the other. They each highlight a different aspect of God's thought and intent as he completes his purpose for the world. So I'm not sure I see why Wright's ideas are threatening or dangerous. He goes through the scripture, and treats them with all the care, humility and depth that anyone would want and he ultimately arrives at the one place that is most important of all -- God saves us through Jesus. The argument is over how.

So, I decided to leave that argument for a while, and get a fuller picture of what's been going on to lead up to it. That's where I am so far. I read in snatches, mostly in time stolen here and there. I'm waiting to get to Jesus and the Victory of God, and Surprised by Hope. I have a ways to go yet.

1 comment:

Ron said...

You are right about the either/or thing, but the issue with Wright vs. the Reformed world seems to be that Wright correctly points out that justification is a biblical term and has a wider meaning than Reformed Confessions give it. He is so adamant about showing the big picture, some think he is neglecting the personal- but he is not. He is providing a corrective.

Suprised by Hope is also good. I have always enjoyed reading his stuff. He is a great scholar and churchman.