Sunday, May 17, 2009

N. T. Wright - Reviews and Responses - 1

Well, the fire just got turned up over N. T. Wright’s book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Craig Blomberg has offered a thoughtful review (preceded by a shorter post on the Koinonia blog) which has sparked responses from Justin Taylor (and here) and Doug Wilson. (See also the response by R. Scott Clark here.) Taylor insists that Blomberg has misunderstood the difference between Christ’s active and passive obedience. This is fleshed out a bit more by Wilson. (I cannot emphasize enough how important the comments are in these posts. Defenders from both sides are heard although sometimes with more heat than light.)

Wilson’ critique is more engaging and a bit frustrating. He is disappointed that Wright did not engage Piper more. He says,

“How many actual citations of Piper's book are in Wright's book? How many particular arguments does he engage with and actually seek to answer? And the problems that attend this above-it-all, breeze-by approach also show up in Blomberg's review. If the claim is that Piper misunderstands Wright, would it be too much to ask to be shown where and how he does? It is too easy to lump a particular critic in with a crowd of assumed (and more easily handled) critics, and there to demolish him.”

Secondly, Wilson complains that Wright has not responded to any of his writings. He notes, “I have spent the last several years answering Wright in terms of a cosmos-encompassing, life-affirming, culture-transforming vision of the lorship [sic] of Christ over all things, and Wright has not engaged with me at all. Now why would he not engage with me? Yes, I understand -- I am a nobody pastor in the chimney part of Idaho. But other than that, why would he not engage?” His speculation on Wright’s silence is unnecessary and pejorative. Wright’s critics are many and he simply can’t respond to them all still make a book of reasonable length. Had the book been 1,000 pages the readership would have been much less.

Finally, after quoting this statement from Blomberg’s review where he was summarizing Wright, “Where Israel failed to live up to its obligation, the faithful Jewish Messiah succeeded,” he says:

“Yes, exactly. Where Israel had disobeyed, the new Israel had now obeyed. Not only did the new Israel die to suffer the penalty of the old Israel's disobedience, but the new Israel also lived it right. He lived as faithful Israel because Israel needs to have lived faithfully. He obeyed, He was faithful Israel, in whom we also (by faith) may be faithful Israelites. Does Wright use the doctrinal jargon of Reformed theologians, does he use the shibboleth of "active obedience"? I couldn't care less. But I would be very interested to see an argument that demonstrates any substantial difference at all between the doctrine of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, as advanced by the best and most careful Reformed theologians (see Justin Taylor's point), and the doctrine represented by Blomberg's summary above.”

My own thoughts are a jumbled mess at this point and I’m trying to sort it out. Teachers that I admire are on both sides of the issue to varying degrees. I’m thinking of hosting a forum on the New Perspective next year. The more I read about it the more excited I am about the prospect. I was delighted to see a book in the works from IVP tentatively called "Justification: Five Views" with Michael Horton (Traditional Reformed), Michael Bird (Progressive Reformed), James Dunn (New Perspective), Theosis (Veli-Matti Karkkainen) and Catholic (Gerald O'Collins & Oliver Rafferty).

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