Saturday, February 28, 2009
Guy Waters on N.T. Wright's new book
Over at the Reformed Forum is an interview with Guy Prentiss Waters about N.T. Wright's new book on Paul and justification. It was a good discussion and Waters' reference to Wright was not entirely negative. I'll offer a few comments:
When the panel began talking about Waters' essay as to how Rom. 10.5 proves the covenant of works, I made several painful facial expressions (much like those I made in relation to a sermon that intended to prove the pre-tribulation rapture from Psalm 110). But as I listened on, the discussion proved indeed worthwhile.
Waters makes a pertinent observation in that Wright is far more nuanced in his current work than he was in his 1997 volume What Saint Paul Really Said. Wright is genuinely attempting to bring the old and the new together (I'm reminded of Mt. 917). Still, Waters (who studied under E.P. Sanders at Duke) regards the Traditional Reformed view and the New Perspective view as thoroughly incompatibable. That is something that stands in diametrical opposition to my own approach to the matter which has sought to find the common ground between both perspectives. Waters compliments Wright for a covenantal approach and for also emphasizing the unity of the Bible's storyline. He suggest, however, that Wright makes far too much of "exile" rather than "being-in-Adam". I'll say several things here: (1) Certainly Wright does lean on exile very heavily, but for Wright "exile" is essentially a synedoche for a wider story that relates to Israel's role in creation, in appropriating the role of Adam for themselves, and their recapitulation of Adam's plight. What is more, Wright acknowledges that it was precisely the problem of sin that sent Israel into exile in the first place. I remember hearing D.A. Carson relay a conversation he had with Wright and he told Wright that he needs to push the problem back further than exile and back into eden. I think Wright did do that very much so in Resurrection of the Son of God which has a big focus on the creation narrative as providing the background to the resurrection theology of the NT. In other words, Wright's focus on exile is problematic in some respects esp. as a controlling meta-narrative (I have a forthcoming essay on this subject) but hardly at odds with a creation-Adam-sin-Abraham-Israel-Messiah narrative. (2) Waters counters that what Wright needs is a construal of the controlling story along the lines of Adam (covenant of works) and Christ (covenant of grace). If that is what the covenants mean for Waters, I could probably go for that depending on how it pans out in the details. At the Edinburgh dogmatics conference in 2005, Andrew McGowan argued for a basic structure of redemptive-history as comprising of an Adamic administration and a Messianic administration (a la John Murray rebooted). Wright was at the conference and in a conversation with McGowan (I am told) he found that kind of formulation essentially correct and in-line with his own thinking. And it gets better, I'll never forget attending a Bethlehem Institute discussion at ETS which touched on covenant theology and John Piper gave his own view as one is either in Adam or in Christ - those are the categories. Hence, I suspect that there is probably more in common between Wright and Piper on this Adam/Messiah element than is apparent (though I admit that my garnering of evidence on this is admittedly oral to date).
Waters argues that it is biblical to speak of justification according to works when properly understood, but not justification on the basis of works. I concur here. I find Wright often fuzzy and less exact than I'd like him to be on this matter. Even so, the impression that I get is that works are ultimately evidential for Wright rather than instrumental. What tips me off on that is that for Wright justification is forensic and he emphasizes the theme of assurance very strongly in his commentary on Romans 5-8. Assurance is exactly what you don't have in the Tridentine system (Sinclair Ferguson gave an excellent lecture on this topic at a John Murray lecture a few years ago).
On the "Righteousness of God" Waters is correct that it cannot be reduced to God's covenant faithfulness (Mark Seifrid's dictum is that all covenant keeping is righteous but not all righteousness is covenant keeping!). Even so, I do not understand why any Reformed proponent would take out a theological restraining order so as to keep God's righteousness and God's faithfulness to Israel's covenant apart from each other (that is Luther not Calvin!!!). I think Seifrid's point is well taken, but even his SBTS colleague Tom Schreiner thinks that he's gone too far and "separates righteousness too radically from covenant and wrongly traces it only back to creation" (Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 353 . 46). I would point out that relating God's righteousness to his faithfulness to the covenant goes back as far as Ambrosiaster and was also present among the English puritans like George Joye! In my view, the righteousness of God refers to his character and saving activity and it certainly covers God's faithfulness to Israel (hence for the "Jew first" in Rom. 1.16) even if it cannot be reduced to it. By the same taken (contra Tom Schreiner, New Testament Theology), I do not think the righteousness of God is the gift of righteousness from God as it is a far more comprehensive event than this.
For me the highlight came at the 50 minute mark with Waters giving a very good description of how Wright (and me) understand justification as participating in Christ's vindication in his resurrection (Seifrid and Gaffin agree with this for the most part). Believers are thus justified since they participate in Christ and share in his justification. But he proceeds to argue that Wright then telescopes transformation from Romans 6-8 into justification via union with Christ. Here I am not convinced that Wright does that. Wright does regard justification as forensic and even though he doesn't necessarily articulate the duplex gratia as Calvin does, I think he's in a similar ball-park as union with Christ provides the basis for our justification and is the source of our sanctification.
Overall, a very interesting discussion, there are several elements I'd certain demur from Waters on, but I think he makes some genuinely valid observations through out.