Thursday, June 11, 2009
Guy Waters reviews N.T. Wright's "Justification"
Earlier this year, Guy Waters was on the Reformed Forum giving an oral review of N.T. Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. Now at Reformation 21, he has a written review at hand. One quote from Waters merits attention:
"[S]ome of Wright's critics may indeed deny a final judgment according to works. His Reformed critics do not. They deny a final judgment on the basis of works, but they do not deny a final judgment according to works. In other words, the believer's conduct is not the basis upon which he will sustain God's final judgment. Instead, his conduct will publicly show the Christian to be who he already is: a person justified solely on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, received through faith. If Wright understands the Reformational doctrine of justification by faith alone to necessitate much less to permit a denial of final judgment according to works, then he has been misinformed. Reformed readers' do not object to Wright's insistence that there shall be a final judgment of the believer at the Day of Judgment. They have objected to what he claims are the place or role of the believer's works in final justification".
I think this really is the problem with Wright's articulation. Judgment "according to works" is quite biblical, but a final judgment on the basis of works is not. I think it was Charles Cosgrove who many years ago examined the prepositions in relation to justification (ek, dia, kata etc.) noting that Paul always made faith the instrumental for justification (though my memory is a bit hazy on that one). What is the difference between "according to" and "on the basis of"? In my mind works, even Spirit enabled good works, do not constitute the basis of aquittal at the final judgment. What role for works then? Well, to quote St. Leon Morris (peace be upon him) good works demonstrate the integrity of the faith that we profess. Thus, with Calvin, we can say that we are not justified by works, but neither are we justified without them. In fact, Christ justifies our works when we are engrafted into him: "Therefore, as we ourselves, when we have been engrafted into Christ, are righteous in God's sight because our iniquities are covered by Christ's sinlessness, so our works are righteous and are this regarded because whatever fault is otherwise in them is buried in Christ's purity, and is not charged to our account. By faith alone not only we ourselves but our works as well are justified" (Institutes, 3.17.10).