Archive for the ‘Justification’ Category

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.

SBL 2009 (2): Pauline Soteriology

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

My second official SBL presentation this November (see previous post for the first) will be a review of Douglas Campbell’s forthcoming book, The Deliverance of God:

Pauline Soteriology
11/23/2009
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD
Theme: Book Review Session: The Deliverance of God
Douglas Campbell, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul (Eerdmans, 2009).
Ann Jervis, Wycliffe College, Presiding

Michael J. Gorman, Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, Panelist (20 min)
Alan Torrance, University of St. Andrews-Scotland, Panelist (20 min)
Douglas Moo, Wheaton College, Panelist (20 min)
Douglas Campbell, Duke University, Respondent (20 min)

Break (10 min)
Discussion (60 min)

This session should also be quite interesting, as Alan Torrance is a friend and theological inspiration for Douglas Campbell, Douglas Moo will be (I suspect) quite at odds with most of the book, and I am… well, let’s just say that I blurbed the book but I have some disagreements with certain parts.

God’s Mission: Righting or Writing the World?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

A few months back I gave a major public lecture on Paul called “Justification and Justice: Paul, the Mission of the Church, and the Salvation of the World.” In the lecture I picked up on NT Wright’s theme of God’s “putting the world to rights.” Deciding to avoid the British idiom, I said (perhaps several times) that according to Paul God is “righting” the world, as in righting a capsized ship or setting right that which is out of alignment.

A journalist heard my talk of God’s “righting the world” as God’s “writing the world”—and was apparently quite taken by the idea. (OK, I confess: Yes, I am a closet process theologian. Just kidding. :-) ) In fact, it turned her on to Paul once again, and she wrote about that at length.

This little episode raises all kinds of interesting questions about hermeneutics, etc., but most importantly it raises the question, “Did the journalist have an unintentional brilliant insight into Paul and into God?” Is that what the missio Dei is in some sense? Writing the world? What might that mean?

Douglas Campbell on Justification

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Duke professor Douglas Campbell’s much-anticipated new book on Paul’s soteriology, and justification in particular, will soon be out. The title is The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. This HUGE volume (almost 1400 pages!) will be a controversial book, to put it mildly. In substance, Campbell’s overall reading of Paul is very similar to mine, especially as articulated in Inhabiting the Cruciform God, though we do not agree on some major issues and arrive at our conclusions differently and separately.

Here is my blurb for his new book:

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 his analysis, or take a somewhat different route to the same destination, but there is no doubt in my mind about his overall thesis: 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.

The price is phenomenally low ($60) for the length, and Amazon’s discount is currently 37%.

Campbell uses the word “theosis” at least twice in this book. He also has an argument for nonviolence grounded in Paul. Both of these are of course near and dear to my heart.

Returning to a missional hermeneutic next week.

N.T. Wright Justification Book Video

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Tom Wright’s new book is out, and here is a promo video from IVPress.

As I said in a previous blog, I endorsed this book for the publishers (SCM and IVP), and I absolutely love Tom’s “big-picture” interpretation of Paul (which he mentions toward the end of the video). But that does not mean we see exactly eye-to-eye on justification itself. The majority of his critics criticize him for being insufficiently reformed. This seems like an odd criticism of a biblical scholar, unless we understand the Rule of Faith to be much more than the ecumenical creeds—which is precisely what most of Tom’s critics do. Our understanding of Paul’s understanding of justification should be guided primarily by Paul’s own words within the context of his letters, his Scriptures, and his world. The results should then be used to judge the tradition, not the other way ’round.

I do not mean to discount the theological tradition—not at all. But if we discover that Paul’s view of justification is (as I and others argue) more participatory and inherently transformative than some Reformation texts and traditions suggest, then what needs to be challenged is those traditions, not Paul. And that is happening. A growing number of historians of theology are arguing, for example, that participation is the key to the Reformation understandings of justification.

Let the debate continue…

Justification Jumble

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

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.


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