Two Days with N. T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification Reconsidered2
Today and tomorrow N. T. Wright will be in Oklahoma City lecturing on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University (a Church of Christ school only blocks from my house). Continue reading . . .
Today and tomorrow N. T. Wright will be in Oklahoma City lecturing on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University (a Church of Christ school only blocks from my house). Tonight he will speak on the subject of truth in a postmodern world and will be joined tomorrow by Richard Hays and two other NT scholars to discuss his recent two-volume work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press).
In preparation for his sessions, I read today Stephen Westerholm’s new book, Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme (Eerdmans, 2013). It’s a short book, only 99 pages, but is incredibly helpful in laying the groundwork for understanding the apostle on the subject of justification. As many of you know, N. T. Wright is an advocate of what is known as the New Perspective on Paul. According to Wright and others who align with him, justification is not primarily about how sinners get right with God and escape the wrath that their sins deserve, but revolves around the issue of whether Gentiles must conform to Jewish “boundary markers” such as Sabbath-keeping, circumcision, and observance of dietary regulations in order to be admitted to table fellowship and thus included among the true people of God. There is, then, a sense in which “justification” is less about soteriology (how to get saved) than it is about ecclesiology (who constitutes the church, the true people of God). Or so say the advocates of the New Perspective. I won’t go into detail about this view other than to say that Westerholm carefully and persuasively demolishes this understanding.
Of course, some time ago John Piper likewise deconstructed Wright’s view in his book, The Future of Justification (Crossway). Westerholm’s much shorter volume addresses the same biblical texts as Piper and arrives at much the same conclusion. I must point out, however, that Westerholm only briefly mentions the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers, finding it explicitly only in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Nevertheless, he does an admirable job of unpacking for us the true intent of Paul in his doctrine of justification. The question is: How can sinners find a gracious God? Paul’s commission, says Westerholm, was “to present to a world under judgment a divine offer of salvation. In substance though not in terminology in Thessalonians, in terminology though not prominently in Corinthians, thematically in Galatians and regularly thereafter, Paul’s answer was that sinners for whom Christ died are declared righteous by God when they place their faith in Jesus Christ” (22).
So, if you are looking for a short but substantive treatment of the most important texts on justification in the NT, as well as a clear and concise analysis of the New Perspective on Paul, this may well be the book for you.