What is the New Perspective? Part 4

Preston Sprinkle —  January 30, 2012 — 23 Comments
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesWhat is the New Perspective?

We wrapped up the previous post with a question: “What role do works play in our future justification?” We’ll get to that question below, but first, let’s throw on the table the whole Piper/Wright debate that’s been going for a few years. The gist of it is that Piper thinks Wright has seriously revamped the gospel, and Wright thinks that Piper is reading too much systematic theology back into the text. I’ve been a little discouraged by the whole exchange, since both Piper and Wright have hugely impacted my life as a preacher, teacher, scholar, and Christian. I value them both for somewhat different reasons, and I’m a bit saddened to see two gems miss each other like two ships passing in the night.

But lets back things up a bit. How does N.T. Wright fit into the New Perspective? In a nutshell, Wright’s views about Paul’s view of the law and first-century Judaism were already crystallized right around the time that E.P. Sanders published his tome in 1977, and a few years before Dunn christened “the New Perspective” with his essay in 1983. However, Wright has just as many disagreements with Dunn and Sanders as he does agreements, which means he can hardly be the poster child for the New Perspective. So you can love N.T. Wright, and not be New Perspective, which is pretty much where I fit in. There’s tons of things I love about Wright’s view of the New Testament. But I’m not “New Perspective” (whatever that means, anyway).

So what is it that’s roped Wright into the whole NPP movement? Here’s the gist:

First, Wright agrees with Dunn about the meaning of “works of the law” (e.g. Rom 3:20, 28); namely, that they refer to Jewish boundary markers (circumcision, food laws, etc.). Second, Wright believes that first-century Judaism was not legalistic (though many old perspective proponents, including myself, would agree with that). Third, Wright tends to see Paul’s arguments in Romans and Galatians along the lines of Jew/Gentile relations, and not strictly how a sinner finds forgiveness before a holy God. The two streams of thought, of course, are not at odds; it’s usually a matter of emphasis.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot in common between Dunn or Sanders and Wright. The first two, in fact, are quite Arminian, while Wright is much more Calvinistic—despite what you may hear from his critics.

Now that we’ve got a running start, what is it about Wright that’s ruffled Piper’s feathers? There are actually 8 different issues, but for the sake of space and your precious time, let’s deal with the 2 big ones.

First, Piper believes that Wright’s understanding of final justification is a serious aberration from the gospel. Again, Wright thinks that our final justification will be on the basis of the total life lived by the power of the Spirit, and Piper thinks this is tantamount to justification by works. But remember, Wright never says that our initial justification (the thing that happened at conversion) was on the basis of any ounce of good behavior. We were “ungodly” when we were justified in the past—Wright agrees with this, and so does Paul (Rom 4:4-5). But Wright says that God will judge all people according to works in the future (Paul agrees with this as well; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10-12), and this means that Spirit-generated works are the basis of our future (not past) justification. But Piper is not at all comfortable with works playing such an important role in our future salvation. Piper, however, does “believe in the necessity of a transformed life of obedience to Jesus by the power of the Spirit through faith as a public evidence and confirmation of faith at the Last Day for all who will finally be saved” (Future of Justification, 110).

Did you get that? Piper says that works are the evidence of genuine faith and will be necessary for our future salvation; Wright says that Spirit-generated works are the basis of our future justification.

Basis vs. evidence; salvation vs. justification. That’s the gist of one of the most blistering points of contention between Piper and Wright. And interestingly, at a conference a year a go, I heard Wright say that he was unaware that he’s been using the phrase “basis” and explained that he in no way was saying that Spirit generated works replace the work of Christ as the foundation for our past, present, or future salvation. What he meant and what his critics thought he meant were two different things.

Personally, if they got together at a pub and worked this out in the context of brotherly Christian dialogue, I wonder if they’d really be that far apart. I mean, all Wright is pushing for is what John MacArthur trumpeted back in the 80’s with his whole Lordship salvation gig (that obedience matters for the final day), and no Evangelical would accuse him of denying the gospel.

Oh, wait a minute. They did. Um…this is awkward. Ok, let’s move on.

Second, Piper goes after Wright for denying the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ. In sum, Piper believes that Christ’s perfect obedience to the law was credited or “imputed” to our account, so that when God looks at us he sees the perfect, sinless, obedient life of Christ in us. Wright thinks this is fine theologically, but doesn’t see it clearly taught in Scripture. For Wright, “the accomplishment of Jesus Christ is reckoned to all those who are ‘in him,’ but the righteousness of Christ is not the sinless obedience of Jesus that he merited before God on earth, but “that which results from God’s vindication of him as Messiah in the resurrection.” And what is true of Christ is true of us by virtue of our union with him; as such, we received the righteousness of Christ (see Piper, The Future, 121-23).

Let this be clear, then. Wright believes that we have an “alien” righteousness; that our righteous status before God is not our own; that it has been given to us by God through Christ by virtue of his resurrection. I emphasize this because I’ve heard people accuse Wright of saying that our works constitute our righteousness and this is what vindicates us before God. But man, that’s a pretty butchered view of what Wright is saying, and if he did say that, I’ll tie the noose. But he hasn’t. In his own words, God’s justification is his “judicial sentence on sin, in the faithful death of the Messiah, so that those who belong to the Messiah, though in themselves ‘ungodly’ and without virtue or merit, now find themselves hearing the law-court verdict, ‘in the right’” (Wright, Justification, 206).

Okay, I have yet to stick my neck out on where I stand on these issues, so I’ll close with a response to these two issues. First, future justification on the basis of works. This is a huge issue and to understand it fully we’d need to comb through some pretty tough passages. But in short, I think that Paul does believe that there will be a future justification and it will be “according to works” (Gal 5:4-6; 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10-12). The phrase “according to” is desperately vague, however. Will works be the “evidence” of genuine faith (Piper) or the “basis” of the verdict (Wright)? I’m going to mildly side with Piper on this one, though as we’ve seen, I don’t think Piper and Wright are actually saying different things. The unilateral work of Christ, whose death and resurrection was a free gift toward the ungodly (Rom 4:4-5; 5:8-11) must form the foundation for our past, present, and future verdict—hence the word “basis” (see too Rom 8:31-34 in the context of future justification). Everything we do flows from that unconditional gift. So I’m totally fine with the word “evidence;” I’m even okay with the word “condition” to speak of the role of works on judgment day, since according to Paul our works are created and sustained by the dynamic work of Christ and the Spirit. So when we receive a positive verdict on judgment day—when we will be justified—it will be God pronouncing “well done good and faithful Spirit, who took a pile of dung and squeezed a beautiful gem out of it.” This ain’t works-righteousness, friends. It’s God being well-pleased with his own work in our lives.

Second, imputed righteousness. I’m going to side with Wright on this one. As much as Piper’s view makes some theological sense, I just don’t see it in the text. Piper sees it everywhere—in Romans 3:21-26, 4:1-8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Philippians 3:6-9. But it just isn’t there. Paul never explicitly says that Jesus perfectly obeyed the Mosaic law and credited this obedience to our account. And plus, this seems to assume a covenant of works (you theologians know what I’m talking about) that I don’t see in Scripture either. In any case, what matters most for me is that our righteousness that vindicates us before God is not our own. It comes from Christ, who is inherently righteous (he didn’t need to earn it through obedience the law), and is given to us freely by virtue of his death and resurrection—this seems to be exactly what Paul says in Romans 4:25 and 5:18-19.

There’s much more I can say, but let me just remind us that the whole debate about the imputed righteousness of Christ is not a New Perspective thing. Neither Sanders nor Dunn made it a big deal, and Wright never made it a big deal—he sort of mentioned his view in passing in 1997, which whet the swords of his critics.

Ya’ll sick of this New Perspective series yet? Hang in there, we’ve got one more post, where I’ll lay out my main contention with the New Perspective on Paul.

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Colby Truesdell

    Hey brother. I have been enjoying your Blog post on the NP. I am wondering what type of tradition one adheres to, if it is not N.P, once they are convinced 1) the doctrine of imputation is not explicitly biblical and 2) the future aspect of justification is on the basis/evidence of works? From the looks of it, you can’t be protestant – imputation IS the gospel for most, if not all, protestant traditions, right?

    Also, I love how this discussion opens up a conversation about our union with Christ. However, it also seems, in terms of linguistics, that our continual segregating of words and meanings might be a bit overbearing for Paul’s terminology. With our modern notion of “singular meaning,” we might be imposing an unnecessary systematic understanding of Paul’s language/meaning, specifically with words like justification, sanctification and glorification. It looks like Paul uses these words(justification, sanctification and glorification) a lot more loosely than we would like. It seems that they are so deeply connected with each other that, in systematizing them, we may lose the very essence of Paul’s soteriology. Moreover, i think these words are intertwined insofar as we understand Paul’s theology of the cross, what it means to be “in Christ” and “crucified with Christ” – i.e. Union with Christ. Justification by faith starts the process by which we are sanctified (E.g. carrying out the dying body of Christ, suffering what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions) in order that glorification/final union may come. It seems this passage captures the language of “union” as well as Paul’s general soteriology.

    Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
    (Philippians 3:8-11)

    I hope this adds to the conversation.

    • Colby,

      Sorry man, but I’m having a tough time following what you’re saying. I’d love for you to sum up each paragraph in a sentence.

      In any case, if what you’re saying in the first paragraph is that you must believe in imputation and deny future justification according to works to be protestant, I’d say no. Not all all, in fact. Since I believe in Sola Scriptura and Sola Gratia, it doesn’t matter which camp some people want to put me (or Wright, or whomever). And making these essential to the gospel would pretty much erase the first 1500 years of Christianity, which would certainly depopulate the new creation but I think such an assertion would be absurd, unbiblical, and unChristian.

      • Colby Truesdell

        Preston, as I have told Mark B., I am sorry for my inability to articulate what is in my head. I don’t write books like some people. 😉

        Here we go,

        I think I am confused about your statement:

        There’s tons of things I love about Wright’s view of the New Testament. But I’m not “New Perspective” (whatever that means, anyway).

        First. I don’t want to sound as if I am equating the word ‘protestant’ with ‘true Christianity.’ That assertion, like you said, would be absurd, unbiblical and unChristian. However, unless, I am totally misunderstanding these last four blog posts, it seems like you are indeed agreeing with the New Perspective that N.T Wright advocates. Granted you may compromise on semantics at some points, but you seem to agree with the theology that Wright is presenting. If my knowledge is right that means, 1) you don’t believe in the traditional protestant view of justification as imputation (THE doctrine that spearheaded the protestant reformation), and 2) you don’t believe in the traditional rendering of sola fide, which, by traditional definition, excludes any notion of ‘works’ in our future justification. Again, it seems, by definition, you cannot be a protestant. Those very doctrines are what defined the protestant tradition. I’m not saying it is bad to not be protestant, or one has to be Orthodox or Catholic, far from it. However, in these terms, it seems that for one to believe in these things/doctrines and claim to be protestant is to have a problem; it seems one wants to have their cake and eat it too. Also, to believe in the reformation’s traditional doctrine of sola scriptura, doesn’t one believe that “Scripture interprets Scripture?” If this is the case, the New Perspective does not adhere to this strict definition that reformers advocate. The fact that the New Perspective birthed out of Sander’s historical study of 1st century Judaism’s assumed legalistic beliefs is, by virtue of using historical study, in contradiction to this strict doctrine. It seems that one has to redefine their definition of sola scriptura, something that is very different from the evangelical protestant view.

        My aim in desiring an adherence to a tradition isn’t for the sake of being labeled in a ‘camp,’ but for the sake of unity in heart and mind , and the effectiveness of local church communities. Christianity isn’t something that is ‘made up,’ it is a tradition and history (story) that is received. With that, I don’t view the ‘real’ church as a sectarian group that is distinct from all other traditions, implying (as some Orthodox churches have) that if you are not IN THIS CHURCH (tradition, camp) then you are not in the real church. I believe in the universal church, not in a ‘camp.’ However, in God’s providence, He has made the diversity of churches one of possible beauty, insofar as the unity of those diverse denominations can be a tangible reality, not just ‘in theory’ (E.g. “we are one universal church, but don’t associate or be in community with those outside our tradition,” having division while adhering to a theoretical unity). (However, on a side note, I believe the largest problem of division lies not in doctrine but in the perpetual division of social class, status and race.) Within this diversity of traditions and denominations come the local church’s convictions of holding specific ‘by laws’ and ‘statements of faith’ that those within the specific church can adhere to and be held accountable. In my mind, only when those traditions have been properly articulated can people be held accountable to their specific beliefs. Without articulating your specific camp or belief, a local church’s one-mindedness and unity can become cloudy and their mission and effectiveness as a community can be truncated.

        Secondly, in terms of my second paragraph, I wasn’t posing a question but rather an observation. The observation is: in this debate, many seem to focus on Paul’s soteriology too systematically. Not that a firm understanding of justification is not needed, quite the contrary. However, when our strict linguistics/definitions eclipse Paul’s intent in using those very words we are arguing for(justification, sanctification, and glorification), we have stepped out of the realm of constructive critique and into an academic shouting match, something of which I know all who are participating in this blog would agree. I was simply resonating with the tone in which those participating in this discussion already had.

        • Colby,

          Thanks for weighing in and trying to clarify your thoughts. It’s probably me, but I’m still having a tough time identifying whether or not you’re pushing back, agreeing, or just using the comment box to talk about a bunch of other stuff.

          In any case, here’s a few thoughts. First, you seem to have a mythical view of the reformation. There is no such thing as the imputed righteousness of Christ (i.e. his perfect obedience to the Mosaic law) that became “THE doctrine that spearheaded the protestant reformation” as you say. It’s not like there was a round table discussion with all the protestants where they hammered out the doctrine of imputation and signed their names at the bottom. That would be nice, but it was much messier than that. In fact, there’s disagreement among scholars over whether or not Luther himself—if there ever was a “spearhead” of the reformation—held to this type of imputation. Mark Seifrid, a staunch Lutheran and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (pretty sure they’re protestant), not only denies the version of imputation advocated by Piper but argues that Luther did as well (see his chapter in Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debate). Luther scholars, in fact, are divided over Luther’s own view as well—most in Europe say he didn’t hold to it, while American scholars say he did.

          So you can’t really assume what Luther believed unless you’ve done a bit of research on Luther.

          Calvin himself is often assumed to believe in the imputed righteousness of Christ’s active obedience to the Mosaic law. And maybe he did. But if you read Book 3, chapter 11 of his Institutes, it’s not altogether clear that he formulate the doctrine in such a way. He often spoke of “single imputation,” where our sin is imputed to Christ, and there’s a clear sense in which we gain the righteousness of Christ. But what constitutes this righteousness is not parsed out.

          So when you want to punt to “the” reformers, you’ve got many different receivers and their all wearing different uniforms. Are you talking about Luther? Calvin? Melanchthon? Bucer? Zwingli? Simons? Simply put: you can’t assume that the reformers all held to the same view of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and therefore we should too.

          You also naively assume that there was a particular view “final justification” that the reformers agreed upon. But again, this just ain’t true. There was tons of diversity on this issue. While it’s true that Luther (to the best of my knowledge) did not have any room in his theology for this, Calvin, it seems, did:

          “The fact that Scripture shows that the good works of believers are reasons why the Lord benefits them is to be so understood as to allow what we have set forth before to stand unshaken: that the efficient cause of our salvation consists in God the Father’s love; the material cause in God the Son’s obedience; the instrumental cause in the Spirit’s illumination, that is, faith; the final cause, in the glory of God’s great generosity. These do not prevent the Lord from embracing works as inferior causes. But how does this come about? Those whom the Lord has destined by his mercy for the inheritance of eternal life he leads into possession of it, according to his ordinary dispensation, by means of good works” (John Calvin, Institutes, III.14.21).

          Follow the logic closely and read the last sentence carefully, and then revisit your statement: “you don’t believe in the traditional rendering of sola fide, which, by traditional definition, excludes any notion of ‘works’ in our future justification. Again, it seems, by definition, you cannot be a protestant.” (I’m assuming that the “you” is really me.)

          Messy, bro. The theology of “the” reformers is much more messy than you assume. Which is why we shouldn’t blindly endorse some mythical view of “the” doctrine of the Reformation and dig into the Scriptures ourselves.

          You also seem to downplay Sanders’s historical study of the New Testament. Not much to say here. I unapologetically endorse a HISTORICAL, grammatical, literary hermeneutic. Got to read the Bible in its historical context, which means studying the history of the first century.

          Lastly, you said: “it seems like you are indeed agreeing with the New Perspective that N.T Wright advocates.” If this is how you interpreted my four posts thus far, then I can only suggest you go back and read them again more carefully.

          • Colby Truesdell

            Preston,

            I am, to say the least, some what puzzled by your response. I apologize and please for forgive me if I sounded like I was attacking your integrity or position. Forgive me. I suppose my intent was, as you showed, somewhat cryptic. For that, I apologize.

            All of the ‘you’ in my questioning is, in fact, me. However, because you took the time and effort to lay out your position in a blog, I felt it best to vicariously think/live through ‘your’ position, knowing that it is mine as well (a poor attempt in being a devil’s advocate). Again, forgive me for the muddled intent.

            My intent in posing the questions concerning protestantism and the reformation was to clear up rebuttals that folks have given me (the straw-man critiques that you tore down quite well in your response to me) in my attempt to adhere to a tradition while learning about these new (NPP) shifts that have been happening in the theological world. I do not want to sound like I am questioning your integrity or tradition. I agree with, if i can use this strong of a statement, everything you have laid out. I was working through many of these questions about two years ago, and I have yet been able to articulate them as well as you have.

            With that, for two years I have been struggling with a black and white articulation of the view/tradition/denomination/camp you have laid out, a view I am very much in agreement with. Like you imply, many of these beliefs have been wrongly deemed ‘heretical’ in many evangelical circles. After speaking with others, it seems your position is not unlike that of Michael Bird’s?? However, I still wrestle with the same question: what in the heck am I? Protestant? Anglican? evangelical? All three? I know the common answer is “a Bible believer.” Yet, I suppose I am unsatisfied with such a vague description. Maybe that is something that I have to think through on my own, something I was attempting to work through in my response to your blog.

            Again, forgive me if my words sounded sharp in any way.

          • Bro, I’m totally sorry for my response, then! Ya, I did take it as a veiled critique, but I believe your intention. So sorry bro. Thanks for responding and clearing this up. I was just looking for my pitch-fork and was coming after you 🙂

            In any case, I hope my reply was helpful for you. You don’t need to feel the pressure of climbing into some reformational box, since there isn’t one.

            As far as which camp to fit in, I guess that all depends on where you’re at and which camp fits you. If you are a denominational mutt like I am, then I’d say just stick to a non-demoninational church/camp. There’s pros and cons to this, but there’s also much flexibility to exegete with freedom. (That can be dangerous too!)

          • Adam F

            Hey Colby,

            I have no idea what denomination or camp I belong to either. But I’m blessed by the discussion and learned a lot from this wrestling of truth, especially that response from Preston … so I’m glad you asked!

      • Colby Truesdell

        Preston, as I have told Mark B., I am sorry for my inability to articulate what is in my head. I don’t write books like some people. 😉
        Here we go,

        I think I am confused about your statement:

        There’s tons of things I love about Wright’s view of the New Testament. But I’m not “New Perspective” (whatever that means, anyway).

        First. I don’t want to sound as if I am equating the word ‘protestant’ with ‘true Christianity.’ That assertion, like you said, would be absurd, unbiblical and unChristian. However, unless, I am totally misunderstanding these last four blog posts, it seems like you are indeed agreeing with the New Perspective that N.T Wright advocates. Granted you may compromise on semantics at some points, but you seem to agree with the theology that Wright is presenting. If my knowledge is right that means, 1) you don’t believe in the traditional protestant view of justification as imputation (THE doctrine that spearheaded the protestant reformation), and 2) you don’t believe in the traditional rendering of sola fide, which, by traditional definition, excludes any notion of ‘works’ in our future justification. Again, it seems, by definition, you cannot be a protestant. Those very doctrines are what defined the protestant tradition. I’m not saying it is bad to not be protestant, or one has to be Orthodox or Catholic, far from it. However, in these terms, it seems that for one to believe in these things/doctrines and claim to be protestant is to have a problem; it seems one wants to have their cake and eat it too. Also, to believe in the reformation’s traditional doctrine of sola scriptura, doesn’t one believe that “Scripture interprets Scripture?” If this is the case, the New Perspective does not adhere to this strict definition that reformers advocate. The fact that the New Perspective birthed out of Sander’s historical study of 1st century Judaism’s assumed legalistic beliefs is, by virtue of using historical study, in contradiction to this strict doctrine. It seems that one has to redefine their definition of sola scriptura, something that is very different from the evangelical protestant view.

        My aim in desiring an adherence to a tradition isn’t for the sake of being labeled in a ‘camp,’ but for the sake of unity in heart and mind , and the effectiveness of local church communities. Christianity isn’t something that is ‘made up,’ it is a tradition and history (story) that is received. With that, I don’t view the ‘real’ church as a sectarian group that is distinct from all other traditions, implying (as some Orthodox churches have) that if you are not IN THIS CHURCH (tradition, camp) then you are not in the real church. I believe in the universal church, not in a ‘camp.’ However, in God’s providence, He has made the diversity of churches one of possible beauty, insofar as the unity of those diverse denominations can be a tangible reality, not just ‘in theory’ (E.g. “we are one universal church, but don’t associate or be in community with those outside our tradition,” having division while adhering to a theoretical unity). (However, on a side note, I believe the largest problem of division lies not in doctrine but in the perpetual division of social class, status and race.) Within this diversity of traditions and denominations come the local church’s convictions of holding specific ‘by laws’ and ‘statements of faith’ that those within the specific church can adhere to and be held accountable. In my mind, only when those traditions have been properly articulated can people be held accountable to their specific beliefs. Without articulating your specific camp or belief, a local church’s one-mindedness and unity can become cloudy and their mission and effectiveness as a community can be truncated.

        Secondly, in terms of my second paragraph, I wasn’t posing a question but rather an observation. The observation is: in this debate, many seem to focus on Paul’s soteriology too systematically. Not that a firm understanding of justification is not needed, quite the contrary. However, when our strict linguistics/definitions eclipse Paul’s intent in using those very words we are arguing for(justification, sanctification, and glorification), we have stepped out of the realm of constructive critique and into an academic shouting match, something of which I know all who are participating in this blog would agree. I was simply resonating with the tone in which those participating in this discussion already had.

  • Dan

    Preston,

    I think Piper acknowledges that Wright believes that all of Christian goods works are empowered by the Spirit, but because Piper presupposes a need for a covenant of works (like you said) thus a need for someone’s active obedience (imputation), I think he will always accuse Wright of having a “deficient” gospel regardless of his use of the word “in accordance” and his understanding of union with Christ?

    Also, can you clarify something for me. In part 3 of your NPP post, you said you were uncomfortable in using the word “earn” in describing the relationship between our works and eternal life, but you would rather use “reward/award”. How would you define “earn”, “reward/award”, and “gift”? Would you reserve “earn” as something we do apart from the work of Christ/Spirit? And I can’t figure-out how you would delineate “reward/award” and “gift” since I think you would define them both in a way that includes the gracious work of Christ/Spirit. Sorry for pressing the point, but I am trying to figure all this stuff myself and I figured I’ll get an expert opinion on the matter

    Thanks,

    Dan

    • You’re probably right about Piper and Wright.

      As far as “earn/reward,” it may not be that big of a deal. But someone can be “rewarded” with something they didn’t deserve. I can “reward” my kids with a candy bar, simply because I love them unconditionally. But the term “earn” seems to carry the idea of merit or performance, which Paul seems to avoid (Rom 4:4-6). Not a huge deal, but I always want my language to emphasize that God is the one shouldering my behavior, and if anyone has earned anything, it’s Jesus. Is that fair?

      • Dan

        Fair enough thanks!

        Dan

  • John Metz

    Romans 5:9 should be 5:19.

  • John Metz

    Preston,
    Once again, a big thanks for these posts. When I read the debate between Piper and Wright, my thought was that they were looking at the same thing from different angles and not communicating. Our salvation is multifaceted.

    I enjoyed Lance’s posts above. Union with God or Union with Christ is the real thing. Without union, there is no way for righteousness to be ours; in union with Christ we enjoy not only objective, positional righteousness but also an experiencable, dispositional righteousness. Romans 5:9 speaks of those in Christ as being “constituted righteous” not simply declared righteous.

    Eschatology may play a major role in understanding both Wright & Piper and I am not that familiar with their total views on this matter. It is clear that in 1 Cor. 3, the believers works will be judged and there is the mention of the believers possibly suffering loss even though the believers themselves are saved. There are many other places where such a dispensational (look out Calvinists everywhere! Will I be stoned for using the “D” word?) reward and punishment are mentions based on a believer’s works. This judgment is not about initial salvation, regeneration, redemption, or justification nor does it substitute works for grace and faith; but, it does have much to do with how we live our Christian lives before the Lord’s return and how the Lord looks on our life of love for Him and service to Him and His interests (Matt. 25).

    Sorry, meant to be more brief. I admit what I wrote above is truncated and does not address the matter adequately.

    Preston, these posts have helped a lot concerning NP. Thanks again.

    • Thanks for dropping in, John. Glad to hear that they’ve helped you think through the issues!

  • Adam F

    “Wright tends to see Paul’s arguments in Romans and Galatians along the lines of Jew/Gentile relations, and not strictly how a sinner finds forgiveness before a holy God.”

    This is so key in my opinion. If one doesn’t understand this, they will never understand Romans.

    People like Wright are just taking the whole book of Romans is context! Paul did not write a letter to the Romans telling them how to get saved – the were already saved! Although these verses about justification and right standing with God are very important, they are leading somewhere – the climax regarding God’s people Israel and how they should treat their fellow unbelieving “brothers” – the Jewish people whom Christ “served” (15:8) – instead of “judging” them (2:1; 14:10), thinking arrogantly (11:20) and ignorantly (11:25) that they have replaced them as the new “spiritual” Israel. They need to live differently as a witness to them, being transformed by the renewing of their minds. If Romans is just about my sin and God justifying me – a book all about me (like our worship songs) – then Paul would’ve written 2 chapters! We Christians need to see big picture!

    • As always, great stuff Adam. Paul is writing polemically in Romans 1-5 (and 7-8), so he is arguing for a particular view of how God has redeemed us in Christ, but I agree that there’s a real pastoral concern in the letter, which comes out in Romans 11 and 14-15. Sometimes our reading of the letter just fizzles out after Romans 9!

  • Adam F

    That makes a lot more sense to me too. Great point Lance. The fact that we are now “in Christ” in contrasted with our old identity of being “in the flesh” (7:5). There seems to be a strong connection with this terminology and marriage. We are “in Christ” because we are married and have become “one flesh” (Eph 5:31). Paul speaks of this in the beginning of chapter 7 when he talks about how we were bound by the law of marriage (representing the law of Moses) to our flesh. Even though the Law is “spiritual” (7:14) it just held us in condemnation because of our sin and didn’t have the power to transform us … we therefore died because sin produced death in us. But because we died we can be married to another – Christ. Becoming one with Christ, his righteousness has given us the power to be transformed internally (Rom 7:6; Ez 36:26) and live righteously.

  • Lance Hancock

    Preston–

    I’ve always held the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to be biblical. But after reading the texts that Piper points to, I think I can agree with you that this idea of imputation is not explicit in Scripture (though it does make sense). I know these posts aren’t on imputation, but since you raised it… I mean, this is something I’ve always thought and taught, so at the very least I need some partial closure until you can do a post on it!

    Something that I’ve just been turned on to over the last couple of months is the doctrine of union with Christ. I haven’t explored what all of the “in him” passages mean, but it seems that maybe this doctrine of union with Christ explains how we are justified? In other words, to say that Christ “transfers” His righteousness to us seems unnecessary because it almost implies that I am not in Christ positionally, but located somewhere else and receiving His righteousness from a distance. But we are in Him, through the Spirit, by faith (Eph 1:13). And by virtue of this union, we have died with Him (our sins are forgiven, the penalty is paid) and we are raised with Him (we are now righteous before God, even as Christ is)… is this how you would explain how we attain the righteousness not our own? Again, this union with Christ stuff has only just come onto my radar, so don’t call me a heretic!

    “and be found *in him*, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

    • Oh my goodness, Lance, you hit the nail on the head! Yes, union with Christ, which seems to be Paul’s central theological doctrine (“in Christ” used over 100x in Paul), is crucial for justification, though it’s often not even mentioned in the debates. If you’re interested, Kevin Vanhoozer gave a response to Wright at Wheaton two years ago (titled: Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology) which hit on this very thing. You can watch it year: http://www2.wheaton.edu/wetn/lectures-theology10.htm), or it’s been printed in a book as well.

      So ya, I’d say Jesus is the righteous one because he is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Last Adam, the true Israelite, etc., and his obedience flows from his status but it doesn’t earn him his status. He’s obedient because he’s righteous, not righteous because he’s obedient. And by union with him, we are covered with his righteousness and that’s why God justifies us “in Christ” (Gal 2:17, 20; Phil 3:9). We can’t separate union from justification. So you’re not a heretic, Lance, you’re actually thinking more biblically than many who’ve entered the debate!

      • Lance Hancock

        Great! Thanks for the reference, I’ll definitely check that out.

      • Allen

        Hey Preston,

        I’ve been really helped by the series. So just for clarification sake, the imputed righteousness nuance is that Piper sees righteousness “earned” through Jesus’ perfect obedience by which it is then accredited to those who believe? And this gains strength theologically, but not necessarily explicitly found in the text. Whereas Wright is saying, Christ’s righteousness is inherent and is still accredited to those who believe, but His obedience is the overflow or evidence of His righteousness. Am I understanding this correctly? Thanks so much!

        • Hi Allen,

          Glad you’re enjoying it!

          Everything seems right except for this: “Whereas Wright is saying, Christ’s righteousness is inherent and is still accredited to those who believe, but His obedience is the overflow or evidence of His righteousness.”

          These are more my words than Wright’s. I think he’d probably say something like this, but (as seen in his quote in the post), he talks about Jesus being vindicated by his resurrection and this is what constitutes his righteousness. This may sound a little vague (I think so, at least), so I’ll let you dig around in Wright to see if you can parse out exactly what he means. But bottom line, Christ is righteous and we received that righteousness by our union with him in death and resurrection.

          • Allen,

            I just cracked open my copy of Wright’s book Justification and he doesn’t ever say that Jesus is inherently righteous and therefore we too are righteous (although he may agree with that). On the pages where he discusses “imputed righteousness” (pp. 33, 46, 95, 105, 135, 158, and especially 206 and 233) he really emphasizes the death and resurrection of Jesus as that which has been “imputed” to us and which justifies (“declares us righteous”). Either way, the righteousness that God sees in us is not our own; it’s Christ’s.