With the publication of Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, the debate about justification has been reopened. (By the way, I endorsed this book [see below], as if Tom needed anyone’s endorsement to get them to buy and read it! The blurb is inside the front of the book in the British edition, where I suspect it will also be in the American version when it arrives later this month.)
There are in fact (at least) three important books on justification this year: Tom’s, my own (Inhabiting the Cruciform God; please pardon the self-promotion), and Douglas Campbell’s massive volume, The Deliverance of God, due out this summer.
There is actually significant convergence among these three books despite their significant differences. The bottom line is this: justification without participation is unPauline, and therefore justification without transformation and action is unPauline–in part because it is unJewish, uncovenantal, unJesus. Wright sees justification and participation as two equally significant foci (pp. 201-202, British ed.); I see them as two sides of the same coin, with Paul redefining justification in terms of participation; and Campbell sees them (I think) similarly to me, but with a stronger emphasis on liberation and a far more polemical critique of what he calls “contractual” models of justification.
In addition, the three of us agree (with differing emphases) that we need to move beyond the old-perspective/new-perspective dichotomy. We also agree (again, with differing emphases) that the word theosis may help us articulate what Paul is up to. (This word does not appear in Tom’s book, but he has been occasionally using it elsewhere, and his research assistant is writing a dissertation on theosis and Paul; it appears once in Douglas’s book; and it is in the subtitle of my book: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology).
Three quotations from my own book (rightly highlighted by Halden over at Inhibatio Dei) stress both what I am opposed to—cheap justification—and what I am arguing for—covenantal, transformative, participatory justification.
There have always been legitimate theological arguments about justification, as well as less noble but understandable interconfessional squabbles. But it may also be the case that there is another, more subtle (and thus more dangerous) theological reason for at least some aspects of the current situation regarding justification. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, parts of the Christian church have become enamoured with cheap justification. Cheap justification is justification without justice, faith without love, declaration without transformation.” (p. 41)
… Paul has not two soteriological models (juridical and participationist) but one, justification by co-crucifixion, meaning restoration to right covenantal relations with God and others by participation in Christ’s quintessential covenantal act of faith and love on the cross; this one act fulfilled by of the “vertical” and “horizontal” requirements of the Law, such that those who participate in it experience the same life-giving fulfillment of the Law and therein begin the paradoxical, christologically grounded process of resurrection through death. That is, they have been initiated into the process of conformity to the crucified Christ (cruciformity, Christification), who is the image of God—and thus the process of theoformity, or theosis.” (p. 45)
That is to say, justification is finally about faith (faithfulness), hope, and love:
Justification is the establishment of right covenantal relations—fidelity to God and love for neighbor—by means of God’s grace in Christ’s death and our Spirit-enabled co-crucifixion with him. Justification therefore means co-resurrection with Christ to hew life within the people of God and the certain hope of acquittal/vindication, and thus resurrection to eternal life on the day of judgment.” (pp. 85-86)
If there is going to be a true discussion, debate, or whatever we wish to call it, it will simply not due either to call names or to claim that this or that view does (or does not) faithfully continue the Reformers’ views. The real—the only—issue is whether a view faithfully represents and interprets Paul.
My endorsement of Tom Wright’s book:
Like Paul himself writing to the Galatians, Bishop Tom expounds and defends in this book his interpretation of the apostle’s teaching on justification with passion and power. At the same time, he seeks to move beyond divisive categories so that Paul can speak from within his own context and thereby to us in ours. The result is an extraordinary synthesis that should be read by the sympathetic, the suspicious and everyone else.