Category Archives: N.T. Wright & NT Theology

Was Jesus incompetent in criticizing the Pharisees?

Passage: Matthew 23 (ESV Bible Online).

So where is the missing woe?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you teach that one is justified by performing good deeds. But it is written: “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Therefore, no Israelite is saved by his good works, but rather by God’s grace alone received by faith alone.

We’re supposed to believe that the Pharisees taught salvation by one’s own righteous works and Jesus never mentioned it? Really? Would you have thought that, if the Pharisees taught such a thing, this would not even be worth condemnation when Jesus finally launches his attack on them?

Orthodoxy does not depend on what kind of heresy the Pharisees taught.

Some people act as if anyone points out that the Pharisees were probably not merit legalists, that person is a threat to the doctrine of justification by Christ alone through faith alone.

But this is simply unjustified. Paul positively taught justification by faith alone and this clear message is not dependent on a specific heresy on the part of the Pharisees.

I’ve been pointing this basic fact out time and again for years and years.

For example, here is something I wrote in 2002:


Paul writes:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2.8-10).

Sadly, many in New Testament scholarship don’t believe that Paul wrote Ephesians. That is too bad for them. But I note that we Evangelicals have here Paul’s statement about salvation by grace through faith apart from works and the context demands that these works are not “boundary markers” like circumcision, dietary code, or cultic calendar, but rather generic good deeds.

Paul also writes:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3.3-7).

Granted, Paul doesn’t mention faith explicitly, but do we not find here an affirmation of salvation by grace and mercy rather than anything we have done? Again the problem is the higher critical consensus that Titus is not a genuinely Pauline Epistle. But that is not a problem for Evangelicals.

My point is that reinterpreting Galatians and Romans could not, even at its worst, threaten justification by grace through faith apart from any and all good deeds. The only thing at stake is the possibility that mortal men whom we respect such as John Calvin and Martin Luther might have made some exegetical mistakes.


In Romans 4 we read,

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness… (vv. 3-5).

Granted, some NP thinkers might think otherwise, but it seems clear to me that Paul is arguing against boasting in “the works of the law” by virtually equating it with earning favor from God. It seems to me that Paul’s argument presupposes that his opponents would recoil from such an idea. Paul’s critique will work only if Paul’s opponents think that it is wrong to claim to be earning God’s favor.

Whether or not all find the above interpretation convincing, there is plenty of reason why Paul would teach the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone in the context of arguing against nationalistic-covenant pride. For example:

Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, “Who can stand before the sons of Anak?” Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you. Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, “Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,” but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people (Deuteronomy 9.1-6).

Now here we have a statement that condemns self-righteous nationalistic pride and applies (and has been applied by Reformed preachers for centuries) to all forms of self-righteousness. Thus (1) the Bible does condemn merit theology in this passage and many others whether or not it was a widespread phenomenon that Paul had to deal with; and (2) Paul might well have found reason to mention the theology of grace found in passages like Deuteronomy 9.1-6 even if there were no merit legalists to refute.

Or to look at this another way, there are lots of passages that support the theology of grace of the Reformation in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. For example:

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1.26-31)Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (4.6-7)

You know that when you were Gentiles, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (12.2-3).

Now, one can simply read through this letter to see that some in the Corinthian Church believed they were especially spiritual and above the “weak” around them. Paul rebukes their boasting and emphasizes Christ crucified, just as he does in Galatians (c.f. First Corinthians 1.17, 23; 2.2; Galatians 2.20; 3.1; 5.24; 6.14). Furthermore, in both cases he appeals to their baptismal identity to deny the divisions they are maintaining (c.f. First Corinthians 12.12-13; Galatians 3.26-29). Yet, despite these striking similarities, no one has ever found it necessary to actually hypothesize a form of merit legalism behind the boasting of the Corinthian elite–even though Paul’s critique can be, and often is, used as a refutation of merit legalism.

So in the case of First Corinthians, Reformed pastors don’t seem to need merit legalists to exist as Paul’s opponents in order to derive and defend the doctrines of grace against more recent merit theologies. Why could not the same hold, in principle, for Galatians or Romans?

Certainly it is easy to interpret the unbelief of the Jews in Romans as a result of arrogance based on a false inference from their election.  I wrote in 2004:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree (Romans 11.17-24).

Paul says that the Gentiles now included in the Abrahamic Covenant can fall under the same judgment that the Jews fell under. Is there any way to interpret this passage so that it means, “Don’t you become merit legalists just like those Jews were all merit legalists”? No. What Paul says is that Gentiles must not become proud–arrogant toward another ethnic group, the Jews. Merit legalism is, of course, a form of pride. But that is simply not the direct object of this warning. I’m listening to John Piper preach on this passage and he quite clearly states that Paul is rejecting an attitude of ethnic superiority. So, since Paul is telling the Gentiles not to fall into the same sin as the Jews did, how can we say that Paul is dealing with merit legalism among the Jews throughout Romans? So on balance, Paul writes a letter which opposes the Gospel to something that the Jews are doing, arguing that God “is not the God of the Jews only,” but “of the Gentiles also.” He includes as a step in his argument that “God is one” and therefore could not be the exclusive property of Jews. He then ends a long argument warning believing Gentiles not to feel or act or think themselves superior the Jews on the basis of their election.

This also matches up well with what the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican actually says, rather than what some people, in my view wrongly, want it to say.

Again, orthodoxy is still orthodoxy. Salvation is by grace alone. Justification is by faith alone. The imputed righteousness of Christ is the only basis by which we can stand before God. None of that makes the Pharisees Roman Catholic.

Now, anyone is free to disagree with me and set forth their case. But some times the sheer level of invective leads me to question if disinterested exegesis is being attempted. I would remind you that God doesn’t think that right doctrine justifies wrong interpretation. Job said it right:

Will you show partiality toward Him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when He searches you out?
Or can you deceive Him, as one deceives a man?
He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.

Hat tip to Paul Duggan for drawing my attention to this text and its application.

Repost: Covenant of Grace conditional and unconditional

I mentioned here what I think is an implausible way to relate grace and conditions or the lack thereof.  It occurred to me that getting back to the Reformation earlier than the Westminster Standards might be helpful:

And indeed one may easily get in trouble here unless one proceeds on the royal highway. For those people who consider only the conditions of the covenant and in fact disregard the grace and promise of God exclude infants from the covenant. It is true that children not only do not observe the terms of the covenant but also do not even understand these terms. But those who view only the sacrament, ceremony, or sign of the covenant count some in the covenant who are really excluded. But if you consider each one separately, one at a time, not only according to the conditions of the covenant but also in terms of the promise or the mercy of God, and the age and reason of a person, then you will realize that all those who believe from among the Jews and the Gentiles are the descendants of Abraham with whom the Lord made the covenant. In the meantime, however, their offspring, that is, their children, have by no means been excluded from the covenant. They are excluded, however, if having reached the age of reason they neglect the conditions of the covenant.

In the same way, we consider children of parents to be children and indeed heirs even though they, in their early years, do not know that they are either children or heirs of their parents. They are, however, disowned if, after they have reached the age of reason, they neglect the commands of their parents. In that case, the parent no longer calls them children and heirs but worthless profligates. They are mistaken who boast about their prerogatives as sons of the family by virtue of birth. For he who violates the laws of piety toward parents is no different from a slave; indeed, he is lower than a slave, because even by the law of nature itself he owes more to his parents. Truly this debate about the seed of Abraham has been settled for us by the prophets and the apostles, specifically that not everyone who is born of Abraham is the seed of Abraham, but only he who is a son of the promise, that is, who is faithful, whether Jew or Gentile. For the Jews have already neglected the basic conditions of the covenant, while at the same time they glorified themselves as the people of God, relying on circumcision and the fact that they were born from the parent Abraham. Indeed, this error is denied and attacked not only by Christ along with the apostles but also by the entire body of the prophets (boldface added).

Thus wrote Heinrich Bullinger in The One and Eternal Testament or Covenant with God, which I found translated in Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition, Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker [Louisville, KY: W/JKP, 1991], 106).  Notice that Bullinger doesn’t say that Jews are guilty in boasting in their obedience to the Law, but only in their membership in the Abrahamic family through circumcision.  In my opinion, pursuing this as you study Romans would be very helpful to understanding what Paul is saying.

What N.T. Wright Really Said

The links are long dead but the myth seems undead. So here’s one of my responses trying to put out some fires.

What follows deals primarily with two essays, one by Dr. Douglas Kelly and the other by The Rev. Richard Phillips. My reason for writing this essay is that many people are confidently saying things about N. T. Wright that I believe are contrary to fact.

I choose Dr. Kelly and Rev. Phillips not because they are “bad guys” in any way but precisely because their character and discernment are of such quality that one ought, ordinarily, to trust them. Surprisingly, they are mistaken in this case. Something has caused some people to read Wright in an extremely jaundiced way. Hopefully what follows will give readers prima facie reason to reconsider what they think they know about N. T. Wright.

Pastor Richard Phillips made a comment that presents a window into what I think is going wrong in the way Wright is being read. He wrote:

Those who support the New Perspective seem to resent attempts to clarify their position by means of the summary statements their own proponents have written. N. T. Wright, for instance, has helpfully provided a summary of his views regarding justification in his book What Saint Paul Really Said, along with the article “The Shape of Justification.” In my experience, we who question the statements found in those summaries are consistently told we are misrepresenting the body of N. T. Wright’s work. Let me simply observe that when one presents his own summary of his views, it is only fair to expect people to take them as accurately representing those views.

I am sure there are many ways I would agree with Rev. Phillips in general and even over against Wright in particular. Nevertheless, in this case, I need to demur. His last sentence is quite inaccurate and destructive to rational conversation. When a reviewer selects quotations from the material he is reviewing, he has an awesome power to either reveal a person’s real position or to greatly misinterpret it. If no one checks the source then there will be no accountability. If someone claims to have checked the source and to have found the use of the quotation to be misleading, he has not made an inherently impossible claim. One cannot cut off all argument by saying the reviewer is beyond criticism in his conclusions simply because his conclusions follow from the quotations which he selected.

To provide evidence for my position I would like to start with some of N. T. Wright’s summary statements which are missing from critical reviews but, one would think, would need to be dealt with if one wanted to show someone the error of his ways in reading Wright with appreciation.

For example, Wright gives readers notice, in What Saint Paul Really Said that he is concentrating on what he would add to the traditional picture of Paul, without taking away what is affirmed. Page 22:

Some still use him [Paul] to legitimate an old-style “preaching of the Gospel” in which the basic problem of human sin and pride and the basic answer is the cross of Christ. Others, without wishing to deny this as part of the Pauline message, are struggling to do justice to the wider categories and the larger questions that seem to be a non-negotiable part of Paul’s whole teaching (emphasis added).

Wright states he belongs in this latter group that does not with to deny that “the basic problem of human sin and pride and the basic answer is the cross of Christ” is “part of the Pauline message.”

Clearly, Wright tells us that his book is aimed at specific issues and angles on Paul that are not being commonly dealt with by “an old-style ‘preaching of the Gospel.’” Nevertheless, his statement affirms “the basic problem of human sin and pride and the basic answer is the cross of Christ” while at the same time explaining why he is concentrating on other issues. Page 41 reiterates this:

In the present case, I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they say “the gospel.” I just don’t think it was what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things that people ought to say, to preach about, to believe. I simply wouldn’t us the word “gospel” to denote those things.

Among the things Wright has listed as “what people normally mean” and which “people ought to say, to preach about, to believe” (emphasis added) is the fact that “Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness” (top of page 41). Why aren’t these summary statements, in which Wright lays out his agenda (with its limitations), dealt with by Dr. Kelly or anyone else? Should these summaries be factored into what other summaries, quoted by Wright’s critics, are actually referring to? Again, it is no neutral thing to pick and choose summary statements.

Having mentioned some statements that I would like to see taken into account, lets consider the way some other statements are selected. One way a critique can remain unpersuasive is when a quotation is selected or pointed to as a complete statement about a matter, and then accused of being insufficient. But if the quotation was never meant to be complete then this appeal is misleading. As John Frame has pointed out, no one can say everything at once.

Since my first example of the above comes from Dr. Douglas Kelly, and since Dr. Ligon Duncan has publicly implied that anyone who disagrees with Dr. Kelly is showing him great disrespect for doing so, it might be wise to say a word about him.

No one needs to explain to me that Dr. Kelly is indeed a scholar and a gentleman. My wife and I were loaned his tapes on the Trinity (I believe these were done in Pensacola) and greatly enjoyed his teaching together for several hours on a road trip. While I was in seminary, the Francis Schaeffer Institute sponsored an ecumenical dialogue in which I was able to witness Dr. Kelly representing the Presbyterian cause. He did so splendidly. I was personally thrilled to hear him endorse so highly Ronald Wallace’s Calvin’s Doctrine of Word & Sacrament, one of the guidestones of my ministry. I don’t doubt that Dr. Kelly is as troubled by Ronald Wallace’s own neo-orthodoxy and some of his statements about the text of Scripture as I am, but the book remains an incredible value. My pastor in seminary, Jeff Meyers, also spoke highly of him after speaking with him at a conference. No one has to tell me of his well-earned reputation.

Nevertheless, I don’t think Dr. Kelly was performing at his usual high level in this instance. He writes:

The only way for Him [God] to retain His righteousness in accepting and acquitting sinners is propitiation through the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:25). Propitiation is a stronger term than expiation. Expiation deals with the covering of sin; propitiation deals with the objective turning away of God’s wrath against that which violates His holy character (namely, sin). Jesus’ infinite obedience in holy life and in atoning death has fully satisfied the just requirements of the character of God, which requires Him to deal justly with sin. Jesus’ blood has turned away the wrath of God against all those who identify through faith with His atonement. This final reality is not seriously dealt with by Dunn and Wright (e.g., see Wright’s insufficient explanation of ‘justification’ as found in Rom. 3:24-26 in What Saint Paul Really Said, 129).

Now readers can check the original context for themselves, but I’m quite sure that Dr. Kelly is claiming that Wright’s explanation of justification is “insufficient” and that the insufficiency is a failure to deal with the need for God to be propitiated in regard to sin.

But the reason the explanation is insufficient is because it was never meant to be a complete summary. On page 129, which Kelly cites, Wright claims that “those who believe in Jesus Christ are declared to be members of the true covenant family, which of course means that their sins are forgiven, since that was the purpose of the covenant.” Anyone who is reading this book’s pages in consecutive order will have already read about “the purpose of the covenant.” Page 48:

When we ask how it was that Jesus’ cruel death was the decisive victory over the powers, sin and death included, Paul at once replies: because it was the fulfillment of God’s promise that through Abraham and his seed he would undo the evil in the world. God established his covenant with Abraham in the first place for this precise purpose” (emphasis added).

So the purpose of the covenant was to undo sin. How was that accomplished? Here I quote from the same paragraph on page 48: “the fulfillment focuses on the death of Jesus, the covenant-fulfilling act, the moment when God executed judicial sentence on sin itself (Romans 3.24-26; 8.3)…”

To repeat: Wright says that the death of Jesus was “the moment when God executed judicial sentence on sin itself.” There is no way to get around it. Here, N. T. Wright says, by any known use of the English language, that God punished sin in the cross of Christ. Indeed, Wright uses forensic terms. God passed a “judicial” sentence. He punished sin in Christ’s death. Furthermore, the texts that explain that God did this include Romans 3.24-26. Wright affirms precisely what Dr. Kelly say he denies. Even in the page Dr. Kelly cites, Wright makes a point of saying that God has “dealt with sin” and “in the crucified Christ he has done so impartially.” Why impartially? Because he did not simply let people off the hook but maintained his justice by punishing sin “in the crucified Christ.” He, as we’ve seen, “executed judicial sentence on sin itself” (p.48).

Wright defines “impartially” at one point as for Jew and Gentile alike, but only because he has argued that

All humankind is thus in the dock in God’s metaphorical law court. In terms of the law-court diagram [i.e. the triangle of Judge, Plaintiff/Prosecutor, and Defendant], it is no longer the case of Israel coming before God as the plaintiff, bringing a charge against the pagans. Gentile and Jew alike are now guilty defendants” (p.106).

It is especially interesting that this statement about Jew and Gentile comes from Wright’s brief overview of the content of Romans 3.21-26. there he also writes that “the death and resurrection of Jesus” is “the point at which, and the means by which, God’s covenant purpose for Israel, that is, his intention to deal once and for all with the sin of the world, would finally be accomplished.” He also writes:

…the gospel of Jesus reveals God’s righteousness, in that God is himself righteous, and, as part of that, God is the one who declares the believer to be righteous. Once again we must insist that there is of course a “righteous” standing, a status, which human beings have as a result of God’s gracious verdict in Christ… He has been true to the covenant, which always aimed to deal with the sin of the world; he has dealt with sin on the cross; he has done so impartially, making a way of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike; and he now, as the righteous judge, helps and saves the helpless who cast themselves on his mercy (p. 107).

All this is said under the subhead, “Romans 3,” so it is relatively easy to find and does seem a likely place to find a summary of Wright’s views of Romans 3. Why wasn’t this quoted or alluded to as Wright’s “summary statement” for his view of Romans 3 including verses 24-26? Here God’s judicial wrath is upon Jew and Gentile alike and God deals with sin on the cross of Christ and thus bestows a verdict in Christ by grace upon his people–a people defined by faith not by the works of the law (p. 132; top of page).

Obviously, picking and choosing summary statements is not an automatically objective or fair process. And if all these affirmations are somehow flawed, shouldn’t Dr. Kelly have dealt with them? After all, his and Ligon Duncan’s questions at the end of his essay are designed to keep out candidates of the gospel ministry who appreciate N. T. Wright. He obviously believes that Wright is influencing people. Wouldn’t it be wise to research and write a paper that actually shows such people where they have gone wrong in understanding Wright?

Thus far, I have merely written about the content of one book, the book which Dr. Kelly quoted from, What Saint Paul Really Said. But, to address another problem with Rev. Phillips’s observation, when I first read the above quotation by Kelly regarding the doctrine of propitiation, I did not have those other statements in Wright’s book bouncing around in my head. Rather, I was quite naturally reminded of some lectures on Romans I had heard this last year. In these lectures, the speaker castigated the New International Version of the Bible in no uncertain terms for taking the word “propitiation” out of chapter 3 of Romans. Dr. Kelly’s statements, “Propitiation is a stronger term than expiation. Expiation deals with the covering of sin; propitiation deals with the objective turning away of God’s wrath against that which violates His holy character (namely, sin),” could easily have been a direct quote from these lectures as far as my memory was concerned.

The lecturer was N. T. Wright, and anyone who buys his tapes on Romans from Regent College in Vancouver, BC, can hear them and confirm my testimony. I honestly thought to myself, as I began reading Dr. Kelly’s statement, “Oh, he’s about to at least admit that Wright got that right.” But no, these statements, that could have easily come from Wright himself, were used to condemn him. It was a truly disappointing experience. In light of it, I don’t find Rev. Phillips’s observation to be convincing.

My next example is from Rev. Phillips’s questions. He quotes N. T. Wright’s statement about justification not being how one enters the covenant community:

I want to be honest. It troubles me extremely that a minister who subscribes to the Westminster Confession could support such language. This is Wright’s own summary of his views — not mine, but his. (This, Mr. Woolsey, is why we continue to make this allegation against Wright. Despite caveats he makes elsewhere, when he offers his own summary of his view he states it in these terms.)

Since I don’t agree with (or am sure I understand) Wright here, I don’t have much to say about the issue. It seems to me that justification is a declaration that one is forgiven (among other things) and that, if it is first declared upon faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit, then it counts as an initial declaration (c.f. Acts 15.8) and an official reception into the people of God. In fact, I agree precisely with what N. T. Wright says in The Shape of Justification:

The lawcourt language indicates what is meant. “Justification” itself is not God’s act of changing the heart or character of the person; that is what Paul means by the ‘call’, which comes through the word and the Spirit. “Justification” has a specific, and narrower, reference: it is God’s declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status “righteous.” (We may note that, since “righteous” here, within the lawcourt metaphor, refers to “status,” not “character,” we correctly say that God’s declaration makes the person “righteous, i.e. in good standing.)

This distinction should seem awfully familiar to Reformed pastors. Compare these two questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q67: What is effectual calling?

A67: Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

Q70: What is justification?

A70: Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone

In any case–despite some of Wright’s statements distinguishing the difference (however problematically perhaps) between effectual calling and justification, as “getting in,” in his words, and determining that you are in–he does explicitly state that justification gives a sinner a new legal standing. Justification is “God’s declaration that the person is now in the right, which confers on them the status ‘righteous.’” But what am I to make of the dismissal of Mike Woolsey’s counter-evidence? Refusing to account for a person’s caveats and condemning him by what you think he must mean according to a caveat-stripped summary statement is called “twisting words” in just about any circle of discourse I’ve ever been involved in. When we read Arminians use Calvin’s summaries of his views in such a manner we get highly offended and rightly so. When Lutherans make Calvin out to be a Zwinglian by taking a summary statement from him and insisting they don’t need to listen to his qualifications, we get highly offended and rightly so. This isn’t a helpful way of dealing with the question of N. T. Wright.

I remind all of us of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to apply principles impartially and of all the exhortations in the Pentateuch which tell the Israelites there will be one law for the native-born and the alien in our midst.

My third example also comes from Rev. Phillips’s questions:

Furthermore, I read in Wright’s article, The Shape of Justification, that our justification is patterned after Christ’s justification. Jesus obeyed God fully. He is declared righteous. I share in his righteousness as I am joined to him through faith. While making much of me dying with Christ, little mention is made of Christ having died for me, that is, on my behalf. At best, Wright makes allusions to the role of Christ’s death in our justification, enough so that I do not want to accuse him of denying that we are justified because of the cross. But the emphasis Wright places on his death is his obedience to God in it, not the blood-shedding of the Lamb of God to propitiate God’s wrath and expiate my sins. According to WCF XI.3, the main significance of Christ’s death is that he — did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His Father’s justice in their behalf.

Interesting summary, but it is an argument from silence based on the narrow scope of one essay. Again, remember John Frame’s dictum that one cannot say everything at once. What Wright actually says in What Saint Paul Really Said (quoted above) regarding Christ’s death being the moment when God punished sin should alleviate all concern. We can also look at other statements, the first expounding on the Last Supper and the second on the significance of the Jerusalem mob’s preference for Barabbas:

It [the Last Supper] was, first and foremost, a Passover meal. Luke has told us all along that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to “accomplish his Exodus”(9.31). he has come to do for Israel and the whole world what God did through Moses and Aaron in the first Exodus. When the powers of evil that were enslaving God’s people were at their worst, God acted to judge Egypt and save Israel. And the sign and means of both judgment and rescue was the Passover: the angel of death struck down the firstborn of all Egypt, but spared Israel as the firstborn of God, “passing over” their houses because of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts (Exodus 12). Now the judgment that had hung over Israel and Jerusalem, the judgment Jesus had spoken of so often, was to be meted out; and Jesus would deliver his people by taking its force upon himself. His own death would enable his people to escape…

Luke describes the event [of the mob choosing Barabbas] in such a way that we can hardly miss the point. Barabbas is guilty of some of the crimes of which Jesus, though innocent, is charged: stirring up the people, leading a rebellion… Jesus ends up dying the death appropriate for the violent rebel. He predicted he would be “reckoned with the lawless” (22.37), and it has happened all too soon… [T]his is in fact the climax of the whole gospel. This is the point for which Luke has been preparing us all along. All sinners, all rebels, all the human race are invited to see themselves in the figure of Barabbas; and, as we do so, we discover in this story that Jesus comes to take our place, under condemnation for sins and wickedness great and small. In the strange justice of God, which overrules the unjust “justice” of Rome and every human system, God’s mercy reaches out where human mercy could not, not only sharing, but in this case substituting for, the sinner’s fate (Luke 22.1-3; 23.13-26; Luke for Everyone, 262, 279, 280; emphasis added).

So it is there in black and white: Christ died as a substitute for sinners taking upon himself the fate they deserved.

But Rev. Phillips continues:

I am gratified to read that Wright sees us justified by Christ’s full obedience. But the manner in which this comes to me seems to be a point of some divergence. Whereas Adam and Eve were clothed with the external righteous of an innocent sacrifice, I seem to gain my righteousness by participating in the righteousness of Jesus. The emphasis on his death is made to be his obedience to God in it — an obedience in which I participate by faith — rather than atonement he made for me. Here, then, is my second question: Does this not represent a reformulation of justification, one that involves a participative righteousness rather than an imputed one, rather than merely a new perspective on it?

But what “seems” clear to Rev. Phillips seems to depend on reading certain portions of Wright’s work and not others (which also seems to me to be, in principle, a perfectly legitimate claim which all rational people should agree as allowable). As Wright affirms above, Christ died as a substitute for sinners. And this is received from outside oneself by faith apart from anything that is true of one’s own behavior: “faith looks backwards to what God has done in Christ, by means of his own obedient faithfulness to God’s purpose (Rom. 5.19; Phil. 2.6), relying on that rather than on anything that is true of oneself (“The Shape of Justification”; emphasis added).

In any case, Rev. Phillips contrast between a “participative righteousness” and an “imputed one” is a false disjunction. He is assuming that “participative” must somehow mean an infusion, even though Wright explicitly denies such a thing.

It should be pointed out that Rev. Phillips offers no evidence that the statements quoted from Wright are indeed “a summary of his views,” meant to have more interpretive authority than his other statements. Much of my defense of Wright has come from the very same document. Why aren’t my chosen statements not given the privileged status of counting as “a summary of his views”? Claiming that a certain problematic statement counts as a summary is itself a begging of the question.

I hope this alerts readers of how much power a reviewer has when he picks quotations from an author. If our goal is to arrive at the truth of the matter, we cannot possibly allow ourselves to assume that conclusions founded on a writer’s selection of quotations automatically guarantee that his conclusions are trustworthy. What both men seem to be practicing, and Rev. Phillips attempts to justify, is the exercise of skimming work in order to find whatever sounds worst and then taking it from it’s context and presenting it triumphantly to the jury for their verdict. To say to the defense attorney that his admission of context is irrelevant because the quotations are self-interpreting is to beg the question.

Finally, I think I should point out that Dr. Kelly not only produced an inaccurate analysis of Wright’s published views, but he attached a list of questions designed for people who appreciate N. T. Wright to keep them out of PCA presbyteries. An analysis of these questions will have to have to be another essay. At this time I will merely observe: these appeared on the denomination’s official news magazine apparently without any personal interaction with anyone in the PCA who has a different opinion of Wright (i.e. Pastor Travis Temerius, Pastor Rich Lusk, Pastor Jeff Meyers, Dr. Peter Leithart, etc). Is this how we preserve the peace and purity of the church? If an issue was really this important, should it be handled through news media rather than Biblical confrontation and the use of the Church courts? As one who believes any evidence of wrongdoing is severely lacking (for the simple reason that there has been no wrongdoing), I can’t help but wonder if some are hoping to “educate” the jury pool for awhile so that, at some point, a precedent can be set in a presbytery where everyone has been properly disposed to the “correct” verdict by a sufficient amount of second-hand information and selective quotations that, allegedly, are self-evident as “accurately representing” the views of N. T. Wright.

If one is worried about what ministers or candidates in the PCA believe, then one should investigate those beliefs. Even if Wright’s beliefs had been accurately set forth, and something dangerous had been revealed, the question would still remain as to why this should be a worry for our denomination. I’m sure C. S. Lewis is far more popular than Wright, but we don’t typically publish quotations from Lewis that make him look bad (let alone out-of-context quotations framed with inaccurate analysis and misleading context) and then append a list of questions that try to find out if candidates have any appreciation for him. The effect of Kelly’s mistaken piece with those questions at the end was to slander, not only potential candidates, but actual ministers in the PCA. This was a foreseeable result. It has also lent aid and comfort to far worse mischatacterizations. Making outrageous accusations about the New Perspective in general, and Wright in particular, is the newest fad in the denomination. It needs to stop.

I am sure that Dr. Kelly and Pastor Phillips have real concerns about N. T. Wright, and I hope they will endeavor to communicate them again with fresh evidence that accounts for his attraction to Reformed pastors and attempts to interact with them. The conversation needs to continue (or rather, begin). I offer this essay as an attempt or express some of my own concerns, both that the peace and purity of the denomination is being threatened, and that a man’s reputation–a man that I may differ with in any number of ways–is being inaccurately handled, no doubt unintentionally.

N. T. Wright’s After You Believe

After You Believe: Why Christian Character MattersAfter You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N.T. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an extremely helpful, understandable, and practical book on the Christian life. Wright wants readers to understand that God wants Christians to be changed in their very character and that this change, while a gift, is not effortless. This had a powerful impact on me especially because I listened to Proverbs several times while reading it and that book amplified Wright’s message.

If you were to only read one book by N. T. Wright I think it should be this one. I love some of his other works, but this addresses a central issue to every Christian and I’ve never found a book like it.

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book many months ago.

View all my reviews

RePost: Is it really so new a perspective?

The picture we get from both sets of partisans in the debate over the so-called “New Perspective,” is that the Reformers compared Roman Catholic theology and the soteriology of the Jews and said that Jesus and Paul preached grace as opposed to such merit legalism. Defenders of NP say this is where the Reformers were mistaken (though plenty of them also believe that the Reformers’ use of Paul was a correct application of his doctrine to the heresy of works-salvation as forumlated by medieval Roman Catholicism). Opponents of NP say the reformers were right to make this comparison. Defenders of NP say the real problem between Paul and his Jewish opponents was a form of nationalistic pride that said they were especially favored by God simply because they belonged to Israel. Israel was elect by God and they were showing that they belonged to Israel by being circumcised, keeping the Sabbath etc. Opponents of NP say that the real problem with Judaism was a theory of merit salvation.

Now, it is no secret that I think the defenders of NP have, more or less, the much stronger case. And, of course, I do not mean they have a stronger case from non-canonical historical documents from first-century Judaism. I mean they have a much stronger case from the Bible. If the Jews were predominately merit legalists, then Jesus and Paul are incompetent theologians. We have Jesus’ woes against the Pharisees on record in Matthew and Luke. Where do we ever find him condeming them for teaching a soteriology of earning justification by good works? If merit-legalism was the problem in Israel than this seems like a strange way of confronting it:

He [John the Baptist] said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So with many other exhortations he preached good news [literally: “gospel] to the people.

Is this the perfect message for proto-Roman Catholic merit legalists?

Yet now I’m wondering if we’re not leaving out part of the picture about the Reformation. Is the “New” in “New Perspective” giving us amnesia? What if there was plenty of evidence that the Reformers thought that the Roman Catholics were guilty of corporate pride–of thinking that they were favored by God simply because they belonged to the elect people, the Church? And what if they compared this error to the error of the Jews thinking they were favored by God simply because of the Temple or the Abrahamic Covenant, etc.?

Is that not exactly what we find?

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.2.3

In the present day, therefore, the presence of the Romanists is just the same as that which appears to have been formerly used by the Jews, when the Prophets of the Lord charged them with blindness, impiety, and idolatry. For as the Jews proudly vaunted of their temple, ceremonies, and priesthood, by which, with strong reason, as they supposed, they measured the Church, so, instead of the Church, we are presented by the Romanists with certain external masks, which often are far from being connected with the Church, and without which the Church can perfectly exist. Wherefore, we need no other argument to refute them than that with which Jeremiah opposed the foolish confidence of the Jews–namely, Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord are these (Jer. 7:4). The Lord recognises nothing as his own, save when his word is heard and religiously observed. Thus, though the glory of God sat in the sanctuary between the cherubim (Ezek. 10:4), and he had promised that he would there have his stated abode, still when the priests corrupted his worship by depraved superstitions, he transferred it elsewhere, and left the place without any sanctity. If that temple which seemed consecrated for the perpetual habitation of God, could be abandoned by God and become profane, the Romanists have no ground to pretend that God is so bound to persons or places, and fixed to external observances, that he must remain with those who have only the name and semblance of a Church. This is the question which Paul discusses in the Epistle to the Romans, from the ninth to the twelfth chapter. Weak consciences were greatly disturbed, when those who seemed to be the people of God not only rejected, but even persecuted the doctrine of the Gospel. Therefore, after expounding doctrine, he removes this difficulty, denying that those Jews, the enemies of the truth, were the Church, though they wanted nothing which might otherwise have been desired to the external form of the Church. The ground of his denial is, that they did not embrace Christ. In the Epistle to the Galatians, when comparing Ishmael with Isaac, he says still more expressly, that many hold a place in the Church to whom the inheritance does not belong, because they were not the offspring of a free parent. From this he proceeds to draw a contrast between two Jerusalems, because as the Law was given on Mount Sinai, but the Gospel proceeded from Jerusalem, so many who were born and brought up in servitude confidently boast that they are the sons of God and of the Church; nay, while they are themselves degenerate, proudly despise the genuine sons of God. Let us also, in like manner, when we hear that it was once declared from heaven, Cast out the bondmaid and her son, trust to this inviolable decree, and boldly despise their unmeaning boasts. For if they plume themselves on external profession, Ishmael also was circumcised: if they found on antiquity, he was the first-born: and yet we see that he was rejected. If the reason is asked, Paul assigns it (Rom. 9:6), that those only are accounted sons who are born of the pure and legitimate seed of doctrine. On this ground God declares that he was not astricted to impious priests, though he had made a covenant with their father Levi, to be their angel, or interpreter (Mal. 2:4); nay, he retorts the false boast by which they were wont to rise against the Prophets–namely, that the dignity of the priesthood was to be held in singular estimation. This he himself willingly admits: and he disputes with them, on the ground that he is ready to fulfil the covenant, while they, by not fulfilling it on their part, deserve to be rejected. Here, then, is the value of succession when not conjoined with imitation and corresponding conduct: posterity, as soon as they are convicted of having revolted from their origin, are deprived of all honour; unless, indeed, we are prepared to say, that because Caiaphas succeeded many pious priests (nay, the series from Aaron to him was continuous), that accursed assembly deserved the name of Church. Even in earthly governments, no one would bear to see the tyranny of Caligula, Nero, Heliogabalus, and the like, described as the true condition of a republic, because they succeeded such men as Brutus, Scipio, and Camillus. That in the government of the Church especially, nothing is more absurd than to disregard doctrine, and place succession in persons. Nor, indeed, was anything farther from the intention of the holy teachers, whom they falsely obtrude upon us, than to maintain distinctly that churches exist, as by hereditary right, wherever bishops have been uniformly succeeded by bishops. But while it was without controversy that no change had been made in doctrine from the beginning down to their day, they assumed it to be a sufficient refutation of all their errors, that they were opposed to the doctrine maintained constantly, and with unanimous consent, even by the apostles themselves. They have, therefore, no longer any ground for proceeding to make a gloss of the name of the Church, which we regard with due reverence; but when we come to definition, not only (to use the common expression) does the water adhere to them, but they stick in their own mire, because they substitute a vile prostitute for the sacred spouse of Christ. That the substitution may not deceive us, let us, among other admonitions, attend to the following from Augustine. Speaking of the Church, he says, She herself is sometimes obscured, and, as it were, beclouded by a multitude of scandals; sometimes, in a time of tranquillity, she appears quiet and free; sometimes she is covered and tossed by the billows of tribulation and trial (August. ad Vincent. Epist. 48). As instances, he mentions that the strongest pillars of the Church often bravely endured exile for the faith, or lay hid throughout the world.

Calvin does not stop here and I’m sure we will find many such arguments in other Reformers (I’m using the word here to include all Protestants) as well. “Do not say we have Abraham as our Father” became “Do not say we have the Pope as Christ’s vicar.”

Just something to think about.

Outlaws in the Temple

OK, Peter Leithart and Doug Wilson (I don’t have access to Nick Perrin so I can’t say more about the source) are claiming that “thieves” or “robbers” in the more conventional sense is the proper translation of lestes in the Gospel accounts. I still think Wright’s interpretation of them as outlaws or insurrectionists is preferable. Full disclosure: I took his perspective in my commentary on Mark’s Gospel.

First some context.

N. T. Wright says repeatedly that the priest/Sadducees were in league with Rome and were economically oppressive to people of Israel. They were opposed by the Pharisees, however, who were much more anti-Rome and tended to be real zealots. So, for Wright, there was never a question of denying that the priests, in Doug’s words, “had a cozy set-up, and were not fired by a revolutionary fervor.”

So there is no denial, in Wright, that such economic exploitation is in view in the Gospels in which the priesthood supports and is supported by Rome.

Now, lets deal with some of the zealot/Pharisee issues first. This was very much an issue for Jesus. As he was going to the cross, Luke tells us:

And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

So what happened a generation later? The Romans crucified so many men that there was, according to Josephus, not room for any more outside the walls of Jerusalem. Why did the Romans do this? Because the youths of Jerusalem grew up to be true rebels against Rome. Why was Jesus being crucified? Because he was accused of rebelling against Rome. Jesus was the green wood and he was crucified; how much more would that be the case for the dry rot that he saw developing in Jerusalem.

Now all this seems quite emphasized by the immediate context in Luke 23. The story of Jesus’ prophecy to the daughters of Jerusalem is sandwiched between too stories about political insurrectionists. Just before this event we are told of who the people chose when they condemned Jesus as a rebel to Pilate:

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.

So the chief priests, for all their cozying with Rome, had no problem joining with the Pharisees and the crowds in demanding that a terrorist be released. And so Jesus is crucified between two other terrorists in the paragraph after the story of his warning to the daughters of Jerusalem:

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left…  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

In Matthew and Mark the ESV’s “criminals” are “robbers, the disputed lestes term.  According to John’s Gospel (beside secular sources like Josephus) the word encompassed terrorists: “Now Barabbas was a robber.” No contemporary reader would doubt this because they knew what sort of criminals would get the attention from Rome rather from other authorities. No doubt Barabbas was supposed to be the one hung between them. Jesus took his place because he was falsely accused of what Barabbas was guilty of doing. (Notice that one “criminal” thinks that, if Jesus were really the King of the Jews, then he would rescue a patriot like himself.)

So this is a huge deal in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and the priests are right in the middle of it. Even though they depend on Rome and use Rome to exploit the people, their only hold on the people is the Temple. They have control of the nation’s symbol of national hope. They can control the populace to some extent or else they would be no use to Rome.

By the way, the Sadducee hating Pharisee “patriots” could be just as oppressive and exploitative as the Sadducees. They allowed children to disown their parents in the name of “corban” and were accused of devouring widows homes. So the patriotic ferver that led to “robbery” as inssurectionist acts of murder was also the same fuel for “robbery” as economic exploitation of the poor.

And likewise, the “patriots” would appeal to Caesar when it seemed in their interest to do so. Presumably they all heard the chief priest there get Barabbas freed and Jesus condemned by says “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19). So claiming loyalty to Caesar is not exclusive of siding with a “freedom fighter.” And the fact that the Priests were dependents on Rome doesn’t end the question about the Temple’s role in the political ideology of national independence.

So, like those condemned by Jeremiah, both Saducees and Pharisees were economic exploiters. They could be in that sense, “robbers.” But I don’t see how the context of Jesus final confrontation not only with a corrupt ruling regime (both establishment beltway Saducees and talk radio pharisees), but also with the people’s own sinful self-idolatry in which the Temple represented their own pride.

Jeremiah’s warning was that the Temple did not promise continued political independence:

Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.

So the Temple would be destroyed. By whom? By Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans. It was no guarantee of continued national sovereignty. And now Jesus is saying that the Temple is no guarantee of restored political independence. On the contrary, when the children of the daughters of Jerusalem grow up to become robbers like Barabbas, the tree will be dry and ready for burning.

This kind of xenophobic, rebellious, patriotic religion, led them do deny the Temple as “a house of prayer for all nations.” They put up a wall to keep Gentiles out, and later rioted against the apostle Paul on the false rumor that he had led four Ephesians Gentiles through it to the Temple court.

So, I don’t see how “robber” in its conventional meaning can be preferred. Peter’s recitation of Perrin’s case certainly doesn’t convince me. The evidence for Jesus concern about economic exploitation is real enough, but it applied to a variety of ideologies and relationships to the Temple. The appeal of the Temple to the general populace was due to its 1. real Biblical significance (i.e. Simeon, Anna, Joseph, Mary, etc) and 2. its prop for a religion of revolution and arrogance against others. This arrogance did lead to levels of economic exploitation and xenophobia. But it also led to support for terrorists, a theme that gets emphasized during Jesus’ final confrontation to Jerusalem.

Finally, I continue to fail understand why it is so controversial to claim that apostate Judaism was “a religion of grace”? It is plainly in the text of the Gospels as far as I can tell.

The idea of the grace of God can be used as a rationale for all sorts of apostasy and idolatry, both in the world of first-century Palestine and in societies somewhat closer to home.

Righteousness, who needs it?

For those who want to delve into the background, here is a reasonable entryway.

There is a lot of chatter (plus TSA humilation) about how the Bible scholar, theologian and pastor N. T. Wright defines “righteousness” and “justification” in his Pauline studies and theological formulations.

This is fine, but I find it somewhat interesting how everyone seems to think (including Wright even, perhaps) that such definitions are incredibly important to understanding our salvation.

Of course, since Paul uses these words it is important to understand them, but the idea that they are essential to any generic concept of a sinner’s salvation must be false.

We know this because Paul’s most generic, “timeless” tract describing the work of Christ and the salvation of sinners, never even mentions justification and doesn’t even use the term “righteousness” in a forensic way.

Read it for yourself.

Oh, and if you think that the “breastplate of righteousness” is the one exception, I doubt it.

Perfect obedience or penal substitution?

Finally, Schreiner said it is strange that Wright maligns imputation when he admits God requires perfect obedience.

via A Justification Debate Long Overdue – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

One last comment. I simply don’t understand how this argument can be used since it so obviously denies the cross of Christ. Note, that I think an exegetical argument from 1 Corinthians 1.30 is just fine (though the term from Romans, “righteousness of God” is missing and thus proves nothing about what Paul says in Romans).

The logic of this kind of argument, though, is horrible. God says obey or die. Adam disobeys. Jesus dies the death Adam deserves so that he is no longer liable to that death. Thus, Adam is no longer under the curse and is counted as righteous based on the obedience-to-death of Christ.

And then theologians come along and say that Christ’s death is insufficient and Adam needs more from Christ in order to escape God’s wrath?

That’s an odd way to claim to defend the Gospel.

For further reading:

Machen, Adam, and the forgiven Christian

If “active obedience” is imputed, it is not to make up for any alleged insufficiency in the passive

Zacharias Ursinus and the Imputation of the Active Obedience

This is all my righteousness? Only this?