Sunday, August 2, 2009

Helm on Why Covenant Faithfulness is not Divine Righteousness

Paul Helm continues his review and critique of N. T. Wright's book Justification with the latest article entitled "Why Covenant Faithfulness is not Divine Righteousness (and cannot be)." Helm writes as a philosopher in this essay. His criticisms are related to "points of logic, or conceptuality" but urges they are "none the worse for that." For exegetical support he refers the reader to Piper's book The Future of Justification.

In a nutshell Helm argues that Wright "treats righteousness solely in terms of God's actions." He agrees with Piper that defining God's righteousness as covenant faithfulness does not go deep enough "because it does not start with the character of God, but with his actions." He recognizes the current fashion to think of theology in some sort of narrative form. He cites Horton (covenant), Vanhoozer (speech-act theory and 'theodrama') and Wright (history). The problem with all these narrative approaches is they cannot provide a doctrine of God. "Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being. . . In God's case, doing righteously follows from being righteous. Acting faithfully is a consequence of being faithful, of having a faithful character, or a character apt for being faithful."

I suspect the response from Wright could be that he is simply using terms, "righteousness" in particular, the same way that Scripture uses them and is not concerned to know if that word also refers to that quality of God's character which underlies his actions. This would be similar to an Eastern Orthodox understanding which says we only know God through his actions and can't know his nature. I'm not sure Wright would go that far but I'm only speculating on what his response to Helm would be. I think much of what Helm says bears hearing and can't be swept under the "that's just philosophical speculation" rug.

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