Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For What It Is Worth

I believe that I ought to return to the comments N. T. Wright made during his lecture at the Evangelical Theological Society’s recent conference in Atlanta that have attracted so much attention among bloggers. I do so to point out something that I had forgotten when reading John Piper’s The Future of Justification. I do this so as to be entirely fair to both N. T. Wright and John Piper.

Piper observes,
Wright repeatedly refers to works—the entirety of our lives—as the “basis” of justification in the last day. However, Wright also uses the language of judgment and justification “according to works” in a way that inclines one to think that the terms “according to” and “on the basis of” may be interchangeable for him. For example, he refers to Romans 2:13 and says, “Here is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works.” “Paul, in company with mainstream second Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works.”
But in these contexts where he is discussing justification on the basis of works or according to works, he does not discuss the finer distinction between “based on” and “according to.” I suspect his view of how works really function in relation to final justification would become a good bit clearer if Wright discussed this difference.
Find Piper’s comments on pages 117-118. These quotations suffice to show that Piper is aware that Wright uses the expressions—on the basis of and in accordance with—interchangeably, even though he finds fault with Wright for failing to explain his appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:10-17 and to address “the fact that Paul threatens baptized professing Christians not just with barely being saved, but with not being save at all at the last judgment (Gal. 5:21; 6:7-9; 1 Cor. 6:9). The whole question of how Paul can speak this way and how our works actually function at the last day. . .” (p. 118).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

N. T. Wright Quotes, “in accordance with works”

Since the annual meetings of the ETS in Atlanta have ended many words have been written concerning N. T. Wright’s comments made during the final day of the conference. I have contributed my own comments commending Tom Wright for making more clear what I believe he always meant even though his phraseology has tended to confuse readers.

It is fitting, therefore, for me to point out that Tom Wright’s expression of surprise over the confusion of what he meant has evident warrant. Consider his lecture at Rutherford House title “New Perspectives on Paul.” He makes the following statements.
The third point is remarkably controversial, seeing how well founded it is at several points in Paul. Indeed, listening to yesterday’s papers, it seems that there has been a massive conspiracy of silence on something which was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16.
The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation.
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit – that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense. And, near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the ‘call’ of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. This is the point about justification by faith – to revert to the familiar terminology: it is the anticipation in the present of the verdict which will be reaffirmed in the future.
I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f.; cp. Phil. 2.16f.) I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done – though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Cor. 15.10; Col. 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?
Given the clear fact that Tom Wright uses the expressions “in accordance with” and “on the basis of” interchangeably, as demonstrated above, does it not behoove us all to grant him the benefit of the doubt that he really does mean what he explained during his ETS presentation? My hope is that Tom Wright will employ the clearer expression and avoid the expression that introduces confusion. But I also hope that American evangelicals will be more generous readers and hearers as they continue to engage Tom Wright’s always thought-provoking presentations and essays.

*I have purposely not highlighted the crucial phrasing so as to constrain all to read the entirety of the citations to get the point.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tom Schreiner’s Response to N. T. Wright’s Presentation at ETS, Atlanta

Tom Schreiner’s responses to both Frank Thielman and N. T. Wright which he presented at the ETS conference in Atlanta last week are now available on the Internet, thanks to Patrick Schreiner.

Of special note in Tom Schreiner’s response to Wright is his happy acknowledgment of Tom Wright’s terminology clarification or adjustment from “on the basis of the whole life” to “in accordance with our works.” Tom Schreiner states,
I am delighted that Tom now speaks of the final judgment as one that will be in accordance with our works instead of on the basis of our works. I think this adjustment and clarification is exactly right and does not contradict the idea that our righteousness is in Christ.  I resonate with Tom when he says that we too quickly drown out what is said about the role of good works in the final judgment because of our tradition. And I am in full agreement with his formulation: we are judged according to our works, but not on the basis of our works.
Since I commented on the terminology clarification or adjustment that Tom Wright offered during his plenary presentation, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” on the final day of the ETS conference in Atlanta, I believe that it is proper for me to underscore the point I made in my earlier entry on this matter. I have always granted Tom Wright the benefit of the doubt when he has repeatedly made the following statements in numerous essays and books.
“Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to [Rom.] 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life.”[1]
The whole point about “justification by faith” is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3.26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2.1-16). Until justification is set firmly within this eschatological, as well as covenantal and apocalyptic, framework, we shall never be able to understand what Paul is talking about.[2]
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the “call” of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[3]
Along with lawcourt and covenant goes eschatology. Paul has set up a further question which will take him until Romans 8 to address fully. The new note he strikes in Romans 3:21-31 (justified in the present on the basis of nothing but faith!) sounds initially all wrong in terms of the tune he was playing in Romans 2:1-16 (justified in the future on the basis of the entire life!). He has set himself the challenge of filling in the intervening harmony and showing how, in fact, it is exactly what was required.[4]
I have always accepted Tom Wright’s phrasing, “on the basis of,” as his attempt to mean what I think is the much more accurate way to translate κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ (Romans 2:6), namely, “according to their deeds” or “in accordance with their works.” In fact, it seems to me that Tom Wright’s third statement cited above requires that we readers grant him the benefit of the doubt that I have consistently granted him. For he explains what he means when he clarifies “that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, precisely because other readers have consistently found it difficult to grant him the benefit of the doubt and because readers (I included) have pointed out the unnecessary confusion created by using the phrase “on the basis of ‘works’,” it seems quite reasonable that we might have expected Tom Wright to have taken more ownership of the confusion and frustration caused by his choice of words when he seemingly resolved the matter by his clarification last week at the ETS conference. Yet, his effort to clarify fell short of taking ownership and set the blame upon readers instead. Keep in mind that John Piper did not hide his concern over Tom Wright’s phrasing in some obscure footnote in The Future of Justification. Piper devotes a whole chapter, chapter 7, spanning pages 103 through 116 to the issue. Yet, Tom Wright’s published response, Justification, does not offer the clarification of terminology that he offered at the ETS conference when he responded to Tom Schreiner’s presentation in which he points out the same confusing terminology. As I state in my own paper which I presented at the ETS conference, in Justification, his response to Piper,
Wright remains unbowed as he claims that future justification is on the basis of the whole life while simultaneously insisting that even though he differs from Piper on the idea of imputation, he agrees that justification by faith is “on the basis of Jesus’ death and triumphant resurrection.”[5] Earlier in his response Wright acknowledges the tension his statements pose, but he believes these statements, that incite others to charge him with “synergism,” accurately reflect Paul’s “paradoxes.”[6] Wright rejects the charge of “synergism” and explains: “I am not saying for one moment that ‘God does part of it and we do part of it’ (one classic form of ‘synergism,’ but not Paul’s). Paul’s regular paradoxes . . . remain the best way of putting it: ‘I struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me’ (Colossians 1:29); ‘I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me’ (1 Corinthians 15:10).” [7] 
Clearly, Wright’s statements disallow generous readers to suppose that when he uses the expression “on the basis of” that he intends what many take the words to mean, that they require some kind of synergism. I have always happily and eagerly granted him the benefit of the doubt that he is no synergist, that he is no semi-Pelagian nor a Pelagian. I know what it is like to be so charged, for Tom Schreiner and I have been accused of such by individuals who fail to read The Race Set Before Us correctly. Both Tom and I have patiently responded by explaining how and why we are not synergists. I have posted extensive responses on my blog (TRSBU), and Tom has published a small book in which he responds to such criticisms (Run To Win The Prize). If being understood properly by others is what we surely all want for ourselves, should we not avoid terminology and phrasing that introduces confusion, especially when we are addressing such crucial issues as the gospel?

[1] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 129. Cf. Wright’s definition in the glossary of terms in his popular commentary series as, “God’s declaration, from his position as judge of all the world, that someone is in the right, despite universal sin. This declaration will be made on the last day on the basis of an entire life (Romans 2:1-6), but is brought forward into the present on the basis of Jesus’ achievement, because sin has been dealt with through his cross (Romans 3:21-4:25); the means of this present justification is simply faith. This means, particularly, that Jews and Gentiles alike are full members of the family promised by God to Abraham (Galatians 3; Romans 4)” (Paul for Everyone—Romans: Part One [London: SPCK; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 169-170; emphasis original).
[2] N. T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 57-58.
[3] N. T. Wright, “New Perspective on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006): 260.
[4] N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 214.
[5] The full statement is, “Justification by faith on the basis of Jesus’ faithful death and triumphant resurrection, revealing the ‘righteousness’ of the Creator God, his faithfulness to the covenant-through-Israel-for-the-world—this justification means that God now declares circumcised and uncircumcised alike ‘in the right,’ ‘members of the covenant family,’ the former ‘on the basis of faith’ and the latter ‘through’ faith—a small but perhaps important distinction” (Wright, Justification, 216; emphasis added). Consideration of the latter portion of this statement follows shortly.
[6] N. T. Wright states, “As long as theologians, hearing this kind of proposal, shout ‘synergism’ and rush back to the spurious either-or which grows out of a doctrine that has attempted to construct the entire soteriological jigsaw puzzle on the basis of a medieval view of ‘justice’ and with some of the crucial bits (the Spirit, eschatology, not to mention Abraham and the covenant) still in the box, or on the floor, or in the fire, we shall never get anywhere” (Justification, 192).
[7] Wright, Justification, 192 (emphasis added).

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wright Sets Right A Wrong

During N. T. Wright’s presentation, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” at the Evangelical Theological Society’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, November 19, he made a crucial statement which I cannot quote exactly from memory but the portion I will include in quotation marks is almost exact. At a significant point in his lecture Wright made a statement concerning the apostle Paul's phrase in Romans 2:6 (κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ) that sounded quite different from what he has written many times in his books. Instead of saying that humans will be judged “on the basis of their deeds” or that they will be judged “on the basis of their whole life lived,” he stated that humans will be judged “in accordance with their deeds.” Then he paused and went off script, or at least gave the impression that he went off script, and stated that he has been wrongly charged with claiming that Paul states that God will judge humans “on the basis of deeds.” He also stated that if anyone could locate where he stated that judgment will be “on the basis of deeds,” he would like to be shown the place so that he could correct it.

During the panel discussion that followed Wright’s lecture, attended by an overflowing large ballroom, Tom Schreiner indicated that he had located Wright’s statement that God will judge “on the basis of the whole life lived.,” which is not difficult to find in many of his writings. However, Tom was unable to locate anywhere that Wright expressly states that God will judge “on the basis of deeds.” Because I have been reading Wright’s works extensively in preparation for one of my own presentations at the ETS conference, I had at least one quote in my paper, but I did not have my paper with me during the Wright lecture. Wright does use the expression “on the basis of works” in the following quotation.
And we now discover that this declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of “works” in Paul’s redefined sense. And near the heart of Paul’s theology, it occurs in the present as an anticipation of that future verdict, when someone, responding in believing obedience to the “call” of the gospel, believes that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.[1]

As indicated in this quotation, it is evident that N. T. Wright, himself, explains that his phrase “on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit” means “on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense.” Since this is what he means, I read his statement generously. Nevertheless, even though he uses the phrase and explains that it is in a “redefined sense,” it is understandable that readers have understood Wright to be saying that Paul claims that God will judge humans “on the basis of deeds.”

Nevertheless, my readers will remember that I have been generous toward N. T. Wright as I have offered a couple of plausible explanations for the origin of his statements: (1) hyperbole, as Wright often exaggerates his assertions to make a point (something plainly evident many times during his presentations at both the ETS and IBR meetings in Atlanta, from which I just returned), and (2) Wright’s somewhat “sloppy” translation of his exegesis at times or at least his less than careful and precise exegetical commentary on the biblical text at crucial junctures. For my comments on Wright’s statements see TRSBU.

On Friday, following Wright’s lecture and the panel discussion I heard many attending the conference offer happy commentary upon the correction of his previous insistence that judgment will be “on the basis of deeds/the whole life lived.” Yet, one disappointment that I heard many times was that attendees wished that Wright had presented the needed correction as a full and clear acknowledgment of his error of writing rather than present it as a needed correction of his readers’ failure to read his written words correctly or of his hearer’s failure to hear his spoken words correctly. Alas! How difficult it is to acknowledge wrong, to do so publicly and especially to do so when the wrong is so widely published in one’s own words. Is it unreasonable to think that N. T. Wright owes all his readers a brief published statement to acknowledge and to correct his error? Such a correction would surely have a salutary effect.

Young scholars, may I paraphrase James’ admonition, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19)? “Be quick to listen and to learn.” “Be slow to speak, to present, and to publish.” For, if you do these things, then obedience of the third imperative will come more readily, “Be slow to give way to anger,” especially to defend yourself when others point out your misstatements.
* * *
Denny Burk, Academic Dean of Boyce College, has posted N.T. Wright on Justification at ETS on his blog. Even N. T. Wright engages in adding a couple of comments. It seems that N. T. Wright’s comment on Denny Burke’s blog comes off as a kind of retraction of his correction. Instead of candidly acknowledging that his phrase (on the basis of ‘works’), even though he qualifies it, invites the understanding it has widely received, it  seems that Wright wants to stick with what he has written and blame readers for imputing a wrong meaning to his phrase “on the basis of ‘works’”.

Denny Burk has posted a follow-up piece, Wrong about Wright?

Also find Collin Hansen’s report on the Gospel Coalition blog at A Justification Debate Long Overdue.

[1] N. T. Wright, “New Perspective on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce L. McCormack (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006): 260.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Journal Announcement

Check out the newly announced Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters.

Introducing the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters

The Apostle Paul stands as an incredibly important figure within the religious and intellectual history of Christianity and Judaism in the first century. The study of Paul (the historical person, author, tradition, and legend) and the Pauline letters (content, context, authenticity, theology, and reception) continue to capture the fascination of scholars, students, religious communities, and even the media. A number of journals geared toward New Testament studies in general often contain a disproportionate number of articles dedicated to the study of the Pauline corpus. There is a never-ending avalanche of Ph.D. theses written about Paul and about the countless approaches and methods used to analyze the Pauline materials. Indeed, the study of Paul and the Pauline letters appears to be an almost inexhaustible field of investigation. Therefore, we think it time that Pauline research should have its own dedicated journal as a specific conduit for Pauline research as it is broadly practiced. In light of these considerations, it is my pleasure to present to you the Journal for the Study of Paul and His Letters (JSPL).

The JSPL will present cutting-edge research for scholars, teachers, postgraduate students, and advanced undergraduates related specifically to study of the Apostle Paul and cognate areas. It is proposed that the many and diverse aspects of Pauline studies be represented and promoted by the journal (see below, "Contribute"). The purpose of the journal is to advance discussion on these areas of Pauline research. As such we invite submissions on the above mentioned topics that make a significant and original contribution to the field of Pauline studies.

The inaugural issue of JSPL includes a contribution by one of its editorial board members, Dr. Susan Eastman of Duke Divinity School (USA) on “Philippians 2:6–11: Incarnation as Mimetic Participation.” Delving into the Christ-Hymn, Eastman argues for a close link between imitation and participation in Paul’s explication of his gospel to the Philippian audience. The first regular issue of JSPL will include studies such as Paul Foster, “Eschatology in the Thessalonian Correspondence”; Michael Gorman, “Justification and Justice”; Richard Bell, “Paul’s Theology of Mind”; and a review of Douglas A. Campbell’s The Deliverance of God by Christopher Tilling and Michael Gorman, with a further response from Douglas Campbell.
For more details look here.

A Glorious Random Act of Culture

The Philadelphia Opera Company is known for its “random acts of culture.” On October 30 they gathered with crowds at the Macy’s store in Philadelphia. As the clock struck noon, the singers, accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ – the world’s largest pipe organ – burst out with Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. Watch! Listen! Enjoy! Worship!

As you listen, imagine what such a chorus would be if all singers were to know the Lord.

Friday, November 12, 2010

ETS Presentation on Πίστις Χριστοῦ

Update Note (11/15/10): I uploaded a slightly modified version of my presentation, in the event that you have downloaded and printed a copy.

If you plan to attend the Pistis Christou Discussion Panel listed on pages 20-21 of the Evangelical Theological Society 62nd Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on November 17, 2010 in Room 305 at 2:50-6:00 PM, you may want to print out my presentation and bring it with you to the session. Here is a copy of what I will be presenting.

You may also want to check out Bible Gateway's blog on translating Galatians 2:16. Look here. For older entries on the same question, look here.

The presentation below is also available here, at Google Docs.