Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gospel: Implication and Content

I've been listening to N.T. Wright's interview at the Asbury Theological Seminary Chapel which was most interesting (esp. his response to John Piper's book) with Ben Witherington III chiming in as well. But one thing that grabbed my attention is Wright's articulation of Rom. 3.27-30:

"Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith (ESV)"

Notice the beginning of v. 29 "Or is God the God of the Jews only?" which begins with the disjunctive particle ē. Clearly here an ethnocentric soteriology is the antithesis to justification by faith. Let me contrast that with Mark Dever's T4G address cited below, which makes confronting ethnocentrism in the church an implication of justification. There Dever maintained that one can get justification right but get the implication wrong. This is why in conservative circles in the USA you had Christians who believed in the gospel but also believed in racial segregation - they just got the implications wrong. But what Paul is saying is much, much stronger than that, according to Paul you cannot believe in justification by faith and an ethnocentric (or segregationist) ecclesiology because they are mutually exclusive, hence the "or"! Paul poses to his audience an argument of alternatives and they asked to choose one option. Now keep in mind, Dever and Wright both agree that ethnocentrism and segregation in the church are out of step with the gospel, the question is how does that principle relate to the gospel (or more accurately to justification). Rather than say that justification is a vertical event between God and human beings with horizontal implications for human relationships, I'd rather say that justification is both a vertical and horizontal event where the content and context are not neatly distinguished. That said, I think Paul premises the latter on the former but without reducing the horizontal elements purely to an implication, since the horiztonal and vertical elements of justification are bound up together even if one has a logical priority.

7 comments:

Sam said...

Hi,

An exchange between Wright and Gaffin at Auburn Avenue a few years back hint at a similar tension. I don't recall the exact exchange, but it's roughly as follows:

Gaffin asks whether Wright would be happy with the statement that ecclesiology is an epiphenomenon of justification. Wright responds that he would not be happy with that. He says ecclesiology is the thing itself.

Enjoying your thoughts on these issues.

- Sam

Luke Britt said...

Good post. I agree with the vertical/horizontal approach. It seems to include covenant community, right status with God, etc.

Richard Sugg said...

Could another *possible* explanation is that rather than speaking in racial terms (Jew/Gentile), Paul is speaking in terms of "has the law / doesn't have the law", which would also be Jew/Gentile? It seems that the racial segregation that Paul is refuting could be said as "Only Jews can be saved because you are saved by the Law". The racism that we have in America is "one race is better than another" or "I don't like those of another kind because they are another kind".

If we say this is an essential, then we have just cut off hordes of people from God's Kingdom, including most of the Puritans.

What are your thoughts?

Joel Willitts said...

Thanks for this notice of the interview. I am enjoying listening to it as I write.

JW

simon said...

Yes, yes, yes, Michael - thank you for drawing this interview to my attention. How I agree with your point that justification is both vertical and horizontal. I guess Ephesians 2:11-17 (whoever wrote it!) is saying something broadly similar. Thanks for the excellent blog.

Daniel Doleys said...

wow another great observation on the holistic nature of justification. righteousness is almost always presented as a man to God and man to man think in the Bible..just look at the Psalms...to be made righteous is to returned to the right state of being. the jews were never supposed to hate gentiles but be a kingdom of priests to them

John Smuts said...

Great blog Michael.

"Rather than say that justification is a vertical event between God and human beings with horizontal implications for human relationships, I'd rather say that justification is both a vertical and horizontal event where the content and context are not neatly distinguished."

Isn't it also possible to say that it is both (simultaneously) a vertical and horizontal event but that the horizontal is a direct consequence (as opposed to merely an implication) of the vertical?

I think that is closer to what Dever is getting at.