Archive for the ‘Justification’ Category

Justification once Again…

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Fr Aidan Kimel has this great post on justification over on his blog. I respond to it (copy below):

Ruminating Romans: Is Justification Forensic?

Posted on 18 August 2013 by Fr Aidan Kimel

But now, quite apart from the law (though the law and the prophets bore witness to it), God’s covenant justice has been displayed. God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith. For there is no distinction: all sinned and fell short of God’s glory—and by God’s grace they are freely declared to be in the right, to be members of the covenant, through the redemption which is found in the Messiah, Jesus. God put Jesus forth as the place of mercy, through faithfulness, by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his covenant justice, because of the passing over (in divine forbearance) of sins committed beforehand. This was to demonstrate his covenant justice in the present time: that is, that he himself is in the right, and that he declares to be in the right everyone who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus. (Rom 3:21-26)

N. T. Wright’s construal of the Pauline teaching on justification by faith hinges on one key claim: namely, that when the Apostle employs the “righteousness” words, say in Romans 3, that his usage is ruled by the metaphor of the Hebrew law court. To be declared “righteous” by the court is to be vindicated by the court in reference to the specific charges that have been brought by the plaintiff against the defendant. It is not a declaration of ethical uprightness but of legal status:

For the plaintiff or defendant to be ‘righteous’ in the biblical sense within the law-court setting is for them to have that status as a result of the decision of the court.

How does this work out? Let us take the plaintiff first. If and when the court upholds the plaintiff’s accusation, he or she is ‘righteous’. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is good, morally upright or virtuous; it simply means that in this case the court has vindicated him or her in the charge they have brought.

It is the same with the defendant. If and when the court upholds the defendant, acquitting him or her of the charge, he or she is ‘righteous’. This again, doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is good, morally upright or virtuous; simply that he or she has, in this case, been vindicated against the accuser; in other words, acquitted. (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 98)

This forensic interpretation of dikaiosyne, dikaioo, and dikaios has long been popular in Protestant exegesis of Romans and Galatians, and an increasing number of Catholic exegetes have followed suit. Thus, for example, Joseph Fitzmyer: “When Paul speaks of Christ Jesus justifying the sinner, he means that because of the Christ-event the sinner stands before God’s tribunal and hears a verdict of ‘not guilty.’ … The sinner is pronounced dikaios (Rom. 5:7) and stands before God’s tribunal as “righteous, acquitted” (“Justification by Faith in Pauline Thought,” in Rereading Paul Together, p. 84). I confess that I am not 100% convinced that the law court is semantically determinative for Paul. Is the meaning of the dikai- words so defined by legal usage that when the original auditors heard them they immediately thought of the mechanics of the juridical setting? Chris VanLandingham has raised questions about the interpretation of these terms in his book Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. After surveying how the words are used in the Septuagint and intertestamental literature, he offers this conclusion:

None of the dikai- group of terms is intrinsically forensic. The verb, however, is always forensic in classical Greek, but with the meaning “treat justly” or “give justice to” and most often with the sense of “condemn” or “punish.” Since Paul never uses the verb in this sense, one is forced to look elsewhere for a sense in which Paul used the verb. Still, a survey of Jewish and Christian usage of this verb yields thirteen different meanings, a few of which may be possible in Paul: to be righteous, to be proven righteous, to be acquitted, to be made righteous/pure/free, or less likely, to have been made to appear righteous. … With much of the scholarly attention focused on the verb, it is important to note distinctions among the various senses since these distinctions are important for understanding Paul. In general, he believes that the person of faith moves from being a sinner to being righteous (Roman 5), indeed, even “to be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). Significantly, dikaioo alone can mean “to make righteous,” since there are five occasions where the term means this (Ps 72:13; Luke 18:14; Jas 2:21, 24, 25). Dikaioo is neither intrinsically eschatological nor intrinsically forensic, especially since it only sometimes has the sense in Jewish and Christian literature that it does in classical Greek literature. Even when used in a judicial context, the varioius possible nuances or definitions of the term within that context make inconsequential the notion that dikaioo is forensic. (pp. 271-272)

I lack the competence to adjudicate this controversy. I have not read reviews of VanLandingham’s book nor have I read any scholarly research that has been done on this topic since the book’s publication. But VanLandingham’s analysis does put a question mark besides the lexical claim that “to justify” must mean “to acquit” or “to confer a status of innocent.” VanLandingham also quotes a passage from J. A. Zeisler which is important for us: “Moreover, even if the legal background is pressed, the legal system in question was less concerned to pronounce innocent or guilty than to put wrongs right and to restore people to their proper place, no more and no less, in the covenant community” (p. 255). We immediately recall J. Louis Martyn’s preference for the English rendering “rectify” to translate dikaioo. He does not believe that the courtroom is determinative, at least not completely, for the interpretation of Pauline righteousness. “The subject Paul addresses,” he comments, “is that of God’s making right what has gone wrong.”

Douglas Campbell makes a helpful distinction here. Campbell agrees with the classical forensic construal of dikaioo, but points out that

judicial verdicts are both indicative and performative. They usually comment on a given state of affairs, recognizing something about those—that is, that someone is “in the right” or not—and so function indicatively, but in so doing they also effect a further state of affairs, and so function performatively. A person pronounced “in the right” by a human court may receive damages or be exonerated or perhaps be set free from prison. Thus, things happen as a direct result of this action and are in fact enacted by this verbal act. And in an eschatological setting, these enacted consequences are especially important. In pronouncing his verdict, God actualizes either heaven or hell for those who have just been judged! To pronounce someone “righteous,” or “in the right,” in the final judgment qualifies and effects eternal life for that person—or the converse—as in fact Romans 2 clearly suggests. (The Deliverance of God, p. 659)

If the goal of Hebrew justice is restorative, rather than just retributive, then the verdict, especially if it is the verdict of God, will be performative and reparative. It will seek to redress the harm that has been suffered and to restore the righteous to their previous state of wholeness. Justice is hardly served if it is reduced to mere declaration of legal status.

As noted agove, Fitzmyer agrees with most exegetes that dikaio? has its home in a forensic setting. But he then goes on to ask,

Does the Pauline verb dikaioo mean “to declare righteous” or “to make righteous”? One might expect that dikaioo, being a verb belonging to the —o? class of contract verbs, would have the causative or factitive meaning typical of such verbs: deloo (make clear), douloo (enslave), nekroo (mortify). Thus it would mean “to make righteous.” Normally in the Septuagint, however, dikaioo has a declarative, forensic meaning: “declare righteous.” At times, the declarative sense seems to be, indeed, the meaning in Paul’s letters (Rom 2.13; 3.4, 20; 8:33). Some of these cases are quotations of or allusions to the Greek Old Testament, but others are simply ambiguous. The effective sense of the verb seems to be supported by Romans 5:10 …: “through the obedience of one [man] the many will be made [or constituted] righteous.” Those who so argue often quote the Old Testament idea of God’s effective or performative word in Isaiah 55:10-11. Moreover, if Kasemann’s idea about dikaiosynê theou connoting God’s “power” is correct, it might be invoked to support this effective sense of justification. (pp. 84-85; Byrne and Matera follow Fitzmyer here)

This effective or transformative sense of dikaioo is supported by both Eastern and Latin patristic readings of Paul. St John Chrysostom, commenting on Rom 3:24-25, declares: “What is declaring of righteousness? Like the declaring of His riches, not only for Him to be rich Himself, but also to make others rich, or of life, not only that He is Himself living, but also that He makes the dead to live; and of His power, not only that He is Himself powerful, but also that He makes the feeble powerful. So also is the declaring of His righteousness not only that He is Himself righteous, but that He does also make them that are filled with the putrefying sores of sin suddenly righteous” (Hom. Rom. 7). All who come to Christ in faith are rectified through his regenerative power.

The transformative reading of dikaioo was powerfully stated in the 19th century by Anglican John Henry Newman:

God’s word, I say, effects what it announces. This is its characteristic all through Scripture. He “calleth those things which be not, as though they are,” and they are forthwith. Thus in the beginning He said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” Word and deed went together in creation; and so again “in the regeneration,” “The Lord gave the word, great was the company of the preachers.” So again in His miracles, He called Lazarus from the grave, and the dead arose; He said, “Be thou cleansed,” and the leprosy departed; He rebuked the wind and the waves, and they were still; He commanded the evil spirits, and they fled away; He said to St. Peter and St. Andrew, St. John, St. James, and St. Matthew, “Follow Me,” and they arose, for “His word was with power;” and so again in the Sacraments His word is the consecrating principle. As He “blessed” the loaves and fishes, and they multiplied, so He “blessed and brake,” and the bread became His Body. Further, His voice is the instrument of destruction as well as of creation. As He “upholds all things by the word of His power,” so “at the Voice of the Archangel, and at the trump of God,” the visible world will dissolve; and as His “Voice” formerly “shook the earth,” so once more “the Lord shall roar out of Zion, and utter His Voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shall shake.” [Joel iii. 16.]

It would seem, then, in all cases, that God’s word is the instrument of His deed. When, then, He solemnly utters the command, “Let the soul be just,” it becomes inwardly just;… On the whole then, from what has been said, it appears that justification is an announcement or fiat of Almighty God, which breaks upon the gloom of our natural state as the Creative Word upon Chaos; that it declares the soul righteous, and in that declaration, on the one hand, conveys pardon for its past sins, and on the other makes it actually righteous. That it is a declaration, has been made evident from its including, as all allow, an amnesty for the past; for past sins are removable only by an imputation of righteousness. And that it involves an actual creation in righteousness has been argued from the analogy of Almighty God’s doings in Scripture, in which we find His words were represented as effective. And its direct statements most abundantly establish both conclusions; the former, from its use of the word justification; the latter, from its use of the word just or righteous; showing, that in matter of fact, he who is justified becomes just, that he who is declared righteous is thereby actually made righteous. (Lectures on Justification)

Newman’s reading of God’s justifying deed has proven influential in 20th century ecumenical discussions. But as far as I can tell, Tom Wright has not entertained it. He is convinced that a close reading of Paul within his first century Jewish worldview leads one to the conclusion that Paul’s righteousness language can only be understood properly within the courtroom metaphor: when God declares someone justified, he confers upon them a legal status within the covenantal life of Israel. According to Wright’s reading of Paul, justification addresses the question “Who constitutes the people of God?” The Apostle’s answer—those Jews and Gentiles who have converted to Christ Jesus the Messiah by faith. Wright’s interpretation escapes the criticism frequently advanced against Protestant construals of imputation, as there is no legal fiction involved: Christian believers truly do belong to Israel. But one ends up with the feeling that Wright’s construal has reduced justification in Christ to something much less interesting and substantive. Michael Gorman has recently protested Wright’s minimalist reading: “It is misguided, however, to find the sole or even primary meaning of justification to be the welcoming of Gentiles qua Gentiles into the covenant community. Their inclusion is a necessary dimension of a proper understanding of justification, but it is not the totality” (Inhabiting the Cruciform God, p. 54 n. 41). To be incorporated into the Church is to be incorporated into Christ himself and thus to share in all of his salvific benefits. Ecclesiology and soteriology cannot be separated.

It’s difficult to know where to draw the line between a purely historical reading of Paul and a theological and canonical reading. Yet I do want to advance a point that I believe is often overlooked in Pauline exegesis. Wright has correctly insisted that we must do the hard work of trying to identify the worldview and Jewish meta-narrative, the “big story,” that shaped and informed the Apostle’s understanding. How else can we read Paul within his historical context? But Paul was not just a Jew. He was a Jewish-Christian. He belonged to communities that baptized converts and united Jews and Gentiles in the sacrificial meal of the risen Lord’s body and blood. Although we have limited information about the liturgies, rituals, prayers, and ascetical practices of the first century churches, I propose that we cannot accurately exegete the Epistles of Paul without at least attempting to read them in light of the sacramental and ascetical experience of the Church. Hence when I read the verse “But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), I immediately interpret “justification” in terms of the totality of Paul’s soteriology. I immediately think of baptism and Holy Eucharist. I find it implausible to think that Paul restricted his employment of dikaioo to declaration of covenant membership, as if induction into the new covenant community had not also effected, so Christians believed and confessed, a dramatic change not only of their legal status but of their spiritual condition and identity. To be justified is to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. To be justified is to die with Christ in his crucifixion and raised to new and eternal life. To be justified is to be reborn and regenerated in the Holy Spirit. To be justified is to partake of the Lord at his heavenly banquet. And all of this happened and happens “apart from Torah.”

Am I guilty of reading back into the first century the theological and sacramental convictions of the patristic Church? Perhaps. But that’s my metanarrative and I’m sticking to it.

My comment:

Thanks for this helpful post. I have argued in multiple places now that Protestants (and others) need to lose their fear of justification as an effective, transformative divine declaration–a “deliverdict,” as the PCA theologian Peter Leithart calls it. This applies to conservatives as well as NPP people like my good friend Tom Wright. Vanlandingham is right, but I would go a step further. Modern linguistics tells us that a word’s sense is conveyed in large measure by its context–how it is actually used, not its etymology. I contend that Paul reinterprets justification in light of the life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus as the restoration of right covenantal relations with God and others through co-crucifixion with the Messiah. It is justification by co-crucifixion and, paradoxically, because it is a transformative declaration and act of God, it is, as Paul says at the end of Romans 4, in fact a resurrection from death to life.

Justice and Nonviolence Lectures at Eastern Mennonite

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

If you happen to live anywhere near Harrisonburg, Virginia, do come to Eastern Mennonite University for the annual Bible and Religion Department Justice Lectures, which I will give on Tuesday, November 8. The two lectures will be as follows:

  • Lecture One: 3:30 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Nonviolence
  • Lecture Two: 7:00 p.m. Paul, Apostle of Justification and Justice

Justification Lectures tomorrow and Saturday

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

I will be the G. Arthur Keough Lecturer in the Department of Religion at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD, on Friday and Saturday, March 18-19. The topic is “Reimagining Justification According to St. Paul”:

7 p.m. Friday: “The End of Justification as We Know It”
respondent: Fr. Frank Matera, Catholic University

10 a.m. Saturday: “Justification as Resurrection from the Dead”

3:30. p.m. Saturday: “Justification and Justice”
respondent: Dr. Stephen Fowl, Loyola University

If you are in or near D.C., come on out!

Reimagining Justification Lectures

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

In March I will be giving two sets of lectures on the theme of “Reimagining Justification.” So if you are near Chicago or Washington, DC please come join us!

Chicago:

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2
The NT LUND LECTURES
NORTH PARK THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
3225 W Foster Ave, Chicago, IL 60625-4895
“Reimagining Justification”

1. “Justification as Resurrection from the Dead (with Special Reference to Abraham)”–10:30 a.m.

2. “Justification and Justice (with Special Reference to the Corinthians)”–1:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON, DC

FRI., MARCH 18 (7:00 p.m.) & SAT., MARCH 19 (10:00 a.m.; 3:30 p.m.)
THE 30th ANNUAL G. ARTHUR KEOUGH LECTURESHIP 2011
DEPARTMENT OF RELIGION, WASHINGTON ADVENTIST UNIVERSITY
7600 Flower Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912

“Reimagining Justification According to St. Paul”

1. “The End of Justification as We Know It”
Friday, March 18 at 7:00 p.m., Richards Hall Chapel
Response by Fr. Frank Matera, Catholic University of America
Q&A

2. “Justification as Resurrection from the Dead (with Special Reference to Abraham)”
Saturday, March 19 at 10:00 a.m., Sligo Church Fellowship A

3. “Justification and Justice (with Special Reference to the Corinthians)”
Saturday, March 19 at 3:30 p.m., Richards Hall Chapel
Response by Dr. Stephen Fowl, Loyola University in Maryland
Q&A/Panel

For further information, look here.

Justification: An Overview of Recent Proposals

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

My good friend Andy Johnson of Nazarene Seminary has a very helpful overview here of three recent proposals about justification in Paul–those of N.T. Wright, Douglas Campbell, and myself–in contrast to one another and especially to the traditional Protestant view. I recommend it highly.

N.T. Wright Himself at the N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference (4)

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Undoubtedly the main reason 1,100 people registered for the Wheaton conference was to hear the good bishop himself, and we had three opportunities to do so in the form of major addresses (followed by questions after the evening lectures, though not after the chapel service), plus his responses to the papers each day.

I would suggest that there was one loud-and-clear message that came through all three addresses: “God is ‘putting the world to rights,’ and we are called by Jesus and Paul to be part of that kingdom mission, so let’s get on with it as people of the resurrection.” No one who has heard or read NTW of late will be surprised at that summary.

The first address was a Friday-morning chapel sermon on Ephesians. Bishop Tom took us on a whirlwind tour of the letter, focusing on select verses (one per chapter) that unpack what NTW sees as the message of Ephesians: that God’s mission is to bring the entire cosmos together in Christ (1:10), and that the church is called to do good works (2:10) that, as the expression of a reconciled, unified, and loving community, bear witness to the powers (3:10) that Jesus is Lord and they are not. More could be said, but that’s the basic drift.

The second address was his Friday-evening lecture called “Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church.” Among the key points of the lecture:

• Without attending to history, we shrink Jesus into the abstract categories of humanity and divinity. We must focus on Jesus’ mission as the mission of the God of Israel, that God’s “invasion.”

• Kingdom and cross must be kept together; some churches focus on one much more than, or to the exclusion of, the other, but they are inseparable. We need to ask, “What sort of atonement theology effects the kingdom?”

• Because Jesus has been raised, the new creation has begun, and the church has a job to do. For the church, the risen one is the kingdom-bringer. The “so what” of both historical-Jesus studies and the resurrection is mission.

The third address, on Saturday evening, was called, in parallel fashion, “Paul and the People of God: Whence and Whither Pauline Studies and the Life of the Church.” It was an overview of the much-awaited “big book” on Paul, due out in 2011 (probably). It of course felt also like a summary of the little books on Paul, especially Paul: In Fresh Perspective But there was also a difference. Rather than ending on the topic of the task of the church as a conclusion, this lecture began, and the book will begin, with the letter to Philemon as an icon of Paul’s gospel in its real-life, and therefore most important, manifestation. For NTW (and for myself, I should add, and no doubt for many others), this little letter demonstrates the centrality of the cross as God’s means of reconciliation, not only of humans to God, but also of humans to one another. The letter is Galatians 3:28 (“neither slave nor free”) in the flesh.

I would suggest that this is a significant theological, rhetorical, hermeneutical, and ultimately pastoral move on NTW’s part. And he seemed to say so when he signaled, at the beginning of the talk, that he knew of no one else who started the study of Paul here. (Though I know someone who applied for a New Testament teaching job and did their “trial lecture” on Philemon.) Later he contended that the main symbol of Paul’s gospel is a unified community, and that this should be the starting point of Pauline theology. Moreover, though NTW did not reveal the title of his new book, his online c.v. says it will be called Paul and the Justice of God, a revealing title, to be sure.

Some other key points in the lecture (not all in chronological order):

• For Paul, the story of Israel is fulfilled in Christ but also, from another perspective, radically altered. This may have been a partial answer to more apocalyptically minded interpreters of Paul who criticize NTW for being too “salvation-historical” or “covenantal” in orientation.

• Paul’s theology is a “christologically reshaped and pneumatologically re-energized Jewish monotheism.”

• “The unity of the church is a sign to the world of a different way of being human.” The result of what God has done in Christ is a renewed humanity, a renewed humanness. Romans 15:8ff, about a community of Gentiles and Jews glorifying God with one voice, is a potent summary of Paul’s gospel. (In an SBL paper soon to be published, I say something quite similar.)

• Life in the new creation is a life of justice situated between present justification and future justification, the life of justice flowing from the former and leading to the latter. (As someone who has also stressed the connection between justification and justice in Paul, both linguistically and theologically, I was quite pleased to hear this.) Without justice, he said, you nave not understood Paul.

• One somewhat odd thing he said in passing: Romans 8, about the cosmos groaning in anticipation of the revelation of the children of God, means something like the world is waiting for God’s children in Christ to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. Though I am all in favor of earth-care as a Christian mandate, and would base my position in part on Romans 8, I think NTW temporarily lost sight of the very apocalyptic character of that text, and I imagine that some of his critics will turn this into an opportunity to accuse him of something nasty.

In fact, I confess to my own discomfort with where this last point could lead. Although I am fully in agreement with Tom about God’s purpose of reconciliation, new humanity, justice, etc., and that this is very much at the heart of Paul’s theology and mission, I think we must be careful not to make the mistake of turning Paul (or ourselves as the church!) into an updated semi-Pelagian postmillenialist. The church is not the savior of the world, humans do not put the world to rights, and we are not for the world what Jesus was for Israel. The Bishop mentioned the recently minted slogan of his diocese, which is officially “Helping to grow God’s Kingdom in every community” (from the diocesan website), though I think NTW said simply, “Growing God’s kingdom.” In any event, he reported that one of his priests objected that we do not grow the kingdom, God does. To which Tom replied something like, “Of course, but let’s just get on with it.”

Is this a mere rhetorical difference between the bishop and his diocesan priest? Or is it crucial for us, even as we stress mission and justice and reconciliation—as I do—to remember and to articulate that though we are being transformed into, and embodying, God’s justice/righteousness (2 Cor 5:21), it is God’s justice and kingdom and activity, not ours. This seems to be more than mere rhetorical emphasis, and it is important especially for the many young Christian communities who admire NTW and his message (about which Jeremy Begbie gave an excellent paper on Saturday) not to fall into the postmillennial trap of thinking that we can and will bring in the kingdom. We bear witness to the kingdom as we embody God’s justice in the power of the Spirit.

Enough for now. I will have more to say about Bishop Tom and Paul in the next post about the other papers.

N.T. Wright Wheaton Conference Report (1)

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

I am back from the NT Wright conference at Wheaton College in Illinois: “Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Dialogue with N.T. Wright.” I plan to offer my reflections in three parts: general, Friday (Jesus), and Saturday (Paul).

To begin, here are some general and rather random thoughts about the conference as a whole.

First of all, it was simply big, impressively big: lots of books, lots of people, lots of interesting people, both on stage and off. There were 1,100 people registered, plus some Wheaton students and faculty and, in the evenings, the general public watching in the gym on big screens. I have no official count, but it would not surprise me if there were 2,000 people in attendance Friday evening. The crowd was fascinating. Though mostly white, there was some racial and ethnic diversity, but there was definitely a wide span of ages. Lots of younger folks of course—college and seminary students, the newly ordained, etc.—but also people my age and older. The crowd was also denominationally diverse, with some Catholics, Orthodox, and even a Jewish rabbi sprinkled among the Anglicans and Protestants and post-Protestants of various stripes. I kept bumping into both younger and established biblical scholars and theologians, including some rather legendary figures like Kenneth Bailey and René Padilla. I spent some time with Nijay Gupta of Ashland (and soon Seattle Pacific), Woody Anderson of Nashotah House, Rodrigo Morales of Marquette, and Andy Rowell of Duke’s ThD program. I also saw Todd Billings of Western Seminary and met numerous other professors from various fields and places.

Second, it was stimulating: lots of good presentations, lots of interesting and even important conversations. I was particularly happy to get to interact with a few younger students who are preparing for ministry and/or considering doctoral work. I always relish those opportunities at SBL and elsewhere, but there were far more students here than at SBL.

Third, it was well organized and executed. Nick Perrin (NTW’s onetime research assistant) and Jeff Greenman, both of Wheaton’s faculty, did an excellent job, and the many orange-shirted student volunteers giving directions, etc. could not have been more helpful.

Fourth, it was doxological, which is what theology should be. Each session included sacred music by gifted instrumentalists, prayer, and congregational singing (chiefly Taizé and Iona pieces). Grant LeMarquand of Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh (and NTW’s former student) led the prayer and worship, ably assisted by musicians who were also from Trinity.

Fifth, the conference basically lived up to its subtitle: a dialogue. At one level, this was a laudatory event, a love-fest for Bishop Tom, if you will, or at least a profound expression of appreciation. But even the most appreciative papers offered critique, or at least suggestions for improvement or new directions. There was time for feedback from the Bishop to the papers, time for interaction between him and the presenters, and questions from the attendees. That said, however, there probably should have been more time and space allotted to interaction between the panelists and NTW. These were major figures giving substantive engagements with his work about important issues, yet he only had about 5 minutes max to respond to each paper (15-20 minutes to respond to four papers, though he took a bit more time). His responses were therefore necessarily—for the most part—brief and even rushed, with some papers getting lots of attention and some a lot less. The actual give-and-take dialogue, though good at points, was not extensive.

It was unfortunate that Richard Hays, one of the conference organizers and the co-editor of the conference volume that will appear, had to leave (to preach as this father-in-law’s funeral) after giving the first address.

Sixth, the conversation was rather comprehensive: Jesus in relation to history and story/theology, Jesus and John (since NTW has focused on the synoptics), Jesus and economic justice today, Jesus and ethics in light of his eschatology; justification and union with Christ in Paul, NTW’s emergent-friendly ecclesiology, Paul’s individual eschatology, and righteousness in Paul.

Lastly, Bishop Tom was at his rhetorical best in his chapel address and in his two evening lectures. Not a lot of new ground, but vintage Wright on God’s mission and the church, Jesus, and Paul.

On a personal note, I was glad that my student Susan was able to attend the conference–and speak briefly with Bishop Tom—since she is doing an independent study on NTW and Paul this term. I was also glad that I could meet up with Fuller student Angela, who went to Greece and Turkey with me in February.

On a different note, presenter Markus Bockmuehl had a terrible and expensive time getting from Oxford to Chicago for the NTW conference—via trains to Paris and Zurich—and was fearing he may have to return via Africa! I am anxious to hear what happened to him.

More to come. Meanwhile, check out the initial reactions from Nijay Gupta and Andy Rowell (also here), who also has posted links to audio and video of the conference.

A Foretaste of my Review of Campbell’s “Deliverance of God” (1)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

I have been buried for two weeks writing various essays and presentations, including my review of The Deliverance of God at SBL. I will post more extensive excerpts after the fact, but here are a few brief excerpts to whet the appetite.

1. Douglas’s thesis: “Before presenting his own gospel to the Romans, Paul cites and ridicules the false gospel of the Teacher(s), the outline of which can be found, mixed with some response from Paul, in 1:18—3:20. Rom 1:18—3:20 is simultaneously ‘the intrusion of an alien discourse’ (p. 934) and ‘a reduction to absurdity’ of the Teacher’s alternative gospel (p. 528), by which not even the Teacher himself can be saved (568, 572, 593 et passim). Paul’s own views, according to Douglas, are preserved in Romans 5-8, which presents a liberative, participatory soteriology. This is the heart of his ‘alternative theory’ to Justification theory, and Douglas’s rereading will ‘essentially eliminate Justification theory and all its associated difficulties’ (p. 525; cf. pp. 527-28).” (He lists about 50 such difficulties!)

2. Summary of my review: “I blurbed Douglas’s book and was possibly the most positive of the five who did so:

Douglas Campbell’s continuation of the quest for Paul’s gospel is a bold exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction. One may disagree with parts of the analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination, but his overall thesis is persuasive: for Paul, justification is liberative, participatory, transformative, Trinitarian, and communal. This is a truly theological and ecumenical work with which all serious students of Paul must now come to terms.

This means, more bluntly, that in my estimation Douglas is both profoundly right (‘his overall thesis is persuasive’) and simultaneously off the mark (‘One may disagree with parts of the analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination’). Fortunately, he is terribly right where it really matters: in his perceptive characterization of the liberative and participatory character of justification in Paul. Unfortunately, the relatively narrow topic of this panel’s review—the book’s treatment of Romans 1-3—is where Douglas is, I think, off the mark.”

Have any of you read DOG yet? Any thoughts?

Abraham our Prototype of Participation in Romans 4

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Some thoughts…

1. The traditional scholarly and reigning interpretation of the role of Abraham in Romans 4 is that of exemplum of justification by faith. This sort of interpretation is often quite thin, focusing merely on the claim that Abraham’s faith—not, as most Jews would have said, his obedience or faithfulness, or as others might think, his works/works of the law (whether deeds or identity markers)—was reckoned to him as righteousness. This approach assumes that faith basically means a non-doing trust (e.g., in the promise), without exploring in any depth the meaning of either faith or righteousness in the chapter, much less in Romans or Paul more broadly. The strength of this view is its apparent basis in the very Scriptural texts, especially Gen 15:6, that Paul cites. But this view over-privileges the accounting metaphor (“reckoned”) and sometimes neglects much of the second half of Romans 4, in which the language shifts from the accounting metaphor to language of death and resurrection. In other cases this sort of interpretation is much thicker, stressing at least the rather full picture of faith that emerges from this chapter: its relation to hope and its theocoentric focus on God’s ability to bring life out of death.

2. Dissatisfaction with certain aspects of these two versions of the reigning interpretation has led some scholars to look for another dimension of Abraham’s role in Romans. They would argue that Abraham’s faithfulness is in fact the focus of Romans 4, and that the chapter serves as a means of connecting the faithfulness of Abraham to the faithfulness of Christ displayed on the cross. It is this kind of faith—that is, faithfulness—that is exemplary in Abraham and that is Paul’s desideratum for the communities in Rome. Other interpreters may focus less on the nature of Abraham’s faith and more on its universal role in Romans 4, that is, to serve Paul’s thematic argument that both Jews and Gentiles who have Abraham-like faith are part of the new covenant community in Christ.

3. As tempting and promising as the “faithfulness” solution may be for those of us who prefer the “faith of Christ” interpretation of pistis christou, or as self-evidently correct as the focus on universality may be, I think we also need to look at another dimension of Romans 4 that has been neglected. I want to propose that Paul wants us to see the actual content of Abraham’s faith and the experience of that faith as a prototype of death and resurrection with Christ. If this is correct, then Abraham serves as an exemplum of Paul’s unique participatory understanding of justification by faith as co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ.

4. The basic argument here is very simple: Abraham’s faith was not merely an attitude of trust versus a doing of deeds or faithfulness or confidence in possession of a “boundary marker” (circumcision); nor was it merely a general theological belief in, or even a trusting posture toward, God as the one who can raise the dead or bring life out of death. Rather, because Abraham himself was functionally dead—along with his wife’s womb—his faith was that God could bring life out of his death, could transform his dead-ness into life. In other words, his faith was completely self-involving and participatory. That he was justified by faith means that he trusted the promise of life-out-of-death given to him, and that he was justified by faith means not merely that he was fictitiously considered just or righteous, but that he was granted the gracious gift of new life out of death, which was concretely fulfilled in the birth of a descendant—a very Jewish notion of life. In retrospect, from Paul’s own position of having died and been resurrected in Christ, Abraham’s experience is prospectively analogous to what Paul says about all baptized believers in Romans 6: their justification by faith means a participatory experience of resurrection out of death.

5. All of this helps us understand, in part, why the resurrection is absolutely essential to justification (Rom 4:25).

Any thoughts about this?

Southern Baptist Panel on NT Wright

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Thanks to Chris Skinner (see his new blog) for pointing out yesterday’s panel on NT Wright and Justification at Southern Baptist Seminary, moderated by President Albert Mohler, with panelists Mark Seifrid, Tom Schreiner, Denny Burk, and Brian Vickers.

The panel in sum: Wright has some good things to say, but he has strayed from the true faith, he has forgotten the gospel, he is dangerous to students, pastors, and congregations.

It is challenging to say anything charitable about this panel presentation except that it is interesting. The moderator seems to know all the answers in advance and sometimes feeds them to the panelists (who are all NT scholars), and the sometimes very self-confident panelists agree with him and with one another on almost every single sub-point—against most things Wright and all things Catholic. (I speak as a non-Catholic.) For the moment, I will simply say that a narrow, pre-defined understanding of justification (forgiveness and imputation) and of salvation/the gospel (individual forgiveness of sins) will never allow us to hear Paul fully or afresh, and that is very, very sad. Neither is it helpful to mis-characterize the Christian tradition (e.g., the creeds) to criticize someone as departing from the Christian tradition. (And it is interesting to hear a Baptist seminary president speaking about “our creeds… our confessions.”) Neither, moreover, is it fair to characterize Tom Wright as (probably? potentially?) pastorally manipulative because of a particular interpretation of his theology. Finally, one word-play on the words “Wright/right” versus “wrong” would have been sufficient.

The video has bad sound early on for panelist Tom Schreiner when he starts speaking, but it improves within about 30 seconds and then remains good the rest of the time. The video is about an hour, so to pause it, just place the cursor over the video and click.


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