Friday, May 15, 2009

Craig Blomberg on N.T. Wright's new book

My friend Craig Blomberg offers some glowing thoughts on N.T. Wright's new book on justification. He writes:

"In the past, Wright has often made sweeping pronouncements about how the Reformation was wrong on some key point, but if one keeps patiently reading one later discovers him saying instead that it’s merely a case of putting Reformation concerns into a larger perspective. Piper, on the other hand, has not always represented Wright well, I suspect in large part because he has not always understood him well.Justification: God's Plan & Paul's VisionWright’s new Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (London: SPCK; Downers Grove: IVP, 2009) is an outstanding book. Written in lively, if somewhat polemical style, not encumbered with many footnotes, Wright has here laid out his views with exemplary clarity. In fact, he is affirming all the major Reformation perspectives on justification. The only one he denies is one that was unique to one wing of Calvinism and not even to the entire Calvinist movement. While warmly embracing the representative, substitutionary atonement of Christ through his crucifixion and emphasizing the legal, courtroom context of justification as a metaphor for the declaration of right standing before God not based on anything of our meriting, Wright does deny that Paul, or any other Scriptural author, teaches that the righteousness God imputes to us on the basis of Christ’s cross-work has anything necessarily to do with combining what has been called Jesus’ active obedience (his sinless life) with his passive obedience (his atoning death). And when one looks at the texts often cited in support of such a doctrine (most notably 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21), one does indeed look in vain for such a distinction."

Note the critiques by Scott Clark and Justin Taylor of Craig Blomberg's understanding of Christ's active obedience. Part of the issue is how one understands the difference between Christ's active and passive obedience (apart from the question is whether the distinction is even biblical). See Daniel Kirk's excellent discussion of the subject published in SBET and introduced here.

A few thoughts. First, Craig Blomberg much like N.T. Wright, does not engage in a concerted historical discussion of Christ's obedience in Reformed thought and obviously they do not qualify as experts on the subject. Second, as Dan Kirk shows, the WCF mentions only the "obedience" of Jesus Christ and the devisers of the Confession decided to omit the adjective "whole" leaving option the possibility that it is only Christ's passive obedience that is reckoned to believers. Third, the NT clearly (in Rom. 5.17-18; Phil. 2.8; Heb. 5.8) emphasize Jesus' passive obedience. Fourth, we have to distinguish between the imputation of obedience and views of the imputation of merit. Merit is a medieval idea and not a biblical idea. Jesus does not rack up a bunch of frequent flyer points and then give them to you so you can fly to heaven. Instead, as the obedient second Adam and as the faithful Israel he is qualified for his task of redemption. He dies on the cross to take our sin, and he is raised for our justification. Jesus is justified in his resurrection and we are justified insofar we have union with him. And in that union his justification and the basis for it are counted as ours! In other words, Jesus' obedience is not an abstract transaction of merit, but it is the fulfilment of a redemptive-story and is part and parcel of our participation in Christ.


Bryan Peters said...

So you reject the concept of Christ's merit as taught in the Reformed Confessions such as...

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A's 21 & 84; Belgic Confession Articles 22, 24, & 35; Canons of Dordt Rejection of Errors 1.3, 2.1, 2.3, 2.4; WCF 17.2; WLC Q&A's 55 & 174?

I do not understand the assertion that "merit" is an inherently medieval concept.

J. R. Daniel Kirk said...

Wow. Two mentions on Euangelion in one week.

*Basks in the glory*

I've read some Clark, Jue, and others on this in the past, if memory serves (though I've tried to expunge all this from memory :) ), and I've had tons of conversations about this with the P&R crowd here in the U.S. I'm astounded at the willful rejection of the tradition on this point as people insist on the imputation of the active righteousness for Reformed Orthodoxy.

Friends, it really is ok to have theological diversity within your tradition; at least, the Westminster Assembly thought so, and they are your rule and guide...

Paul D. Adams said...

Excellent comments, Michael. Thanks so much for offering clarity where so much confusion abounds.

Nick Mackison said...

It depends on what we mean by merit. If we describe it as a ladder to God, then yes I suppose we can write that one off.

I prefer J.V Fesko's definition of merit as:
"(1) fulfilment of the stipulations of a divinely sanctioned covenant; and (2) measurement of merit in terms of that covenant."

If that is what one means by merit, then I believe that merit is a Scriptural idea.

Unknown said...

Dr. Bird,

A Couple of us are getting to read some N.T. Wright on Paul, some original sources, would you recommend us reading What Saint Paul Really Said or Paul in Fresh Perspective? Is the latter an updated version of the former.



Michael F. Bird said...

The "Fresh Perspectives" is much better than WSPRS. But his recent book is also a good window into his global views of Paul.