December 5, 2010

The Role of Works: Further Reflection on N.T. Wright at ETS

Thanks very much to Revd. John P. Richardson for directing his readership to my post reflecting on Tom Wright's recent comments at ETS.  So many of you clicked through that I thought I would say a bit more regarding my brief comments in the previous post.  So, I'll take a post on the matter of the role of works and one on the matter of imputation language. 

As indicated previously, I was quite pleased with Wright's statement that he affirmed the language of final justification "according to works" over against "on the basis of works."  I was pleased with this move because I raised just this question at the IVP lecture at SBL in New Orleans last year.  I raised the question because Piper very clearly asked Wright for clarification in his book The Future of Justification (22).  Piper did not charge Wright with teaching justification on the basis of works but pointed out that he regularly spoke of final justification on the basis of the whole life lived; Piper carefully cited several places where Wright has said this or a slight variation of it.  To Piper, this came across as suggesting that our works were the basis of our justification.  So, Piper asked for clarification.  In my reading of Wright's response to Piper, I didn't find any real clarification on this point.  So, I asked for clarification at the IVP lecture: Is justification on the basis of the whole life or in accordance with the whole life?  Insofar as my memory is accurate, Wright indicated that he believed that to be a distinction that is not made in the Greek.  Very well; that is a response.  Given the opportunity, I would suggest that this may be the precise distinction made when Paul speaks of judgment as each being repaid according to his works (kata ta erga Rom 2.6) as opposed no man's inability to be justified from works of the law (ex ergōn nomou Rom 3:20).  That would have to be worked out in a much longer discussion; I simply submit it here as a potential avenue of conversation. 

The main point I'm getting at is that I took Wright to have actually thought through this a bit more and made the clarification for which he was repeatedly asked.  Last year he didn't see a distinction between "basis" and "according to"; this year he has said that he agrees with judgment according to works over against judgment on the basis of works.  In my hearing of Wright and my reading of his clarification at The Ugley Vicar, I think he is saying that final justification is in accord with the works produced by the Spirit indwelling the believer.  I think Piper would agree with this as well. 

Given all that, I really think the talks at ETS provided an opportunity to make progress in the conversation on justification.  Tune in next time for some post-ETS reflections on imputation.

2 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

Reading over your link to the Ugley Vicar, what he said, fundamentally, was that justification is issued firmly and irrevocably in the present. (He says this in the bit about how justification precedes salvation and not the other way round as most hyper-reformers assume (as he calls them), he cites [Rom 4:24f] and [Rom 10:9-19]).

I agree with Wright.

Final justification, then, is merely a confirmation that justification was in accordance with faith, in accordance with works, faith without works is dead, right [James 2:18]? (So arguments over words like 'basis' appears to be needless quibbling within circles of the faith)

Personally, I believe for Christians to fail to see the full impact faith has on justification, in other words "judgement", shows how petty its theology has become.

The fundamental choice before everyone is 'live life as one sees fit, foregoing judgement until the judgement seat' or 'accept judgement yet while we live', but be assured of justification. The cost is both conviction (grieving the spirit) and abundant joy.

This can be seen practically; this should be no surprise, for when a true God-believing, God-honouring Christian sins (even as a believer), they feel the conviction of the Holy Ghost, until they repent. What is that, but God's judgement?

For NT Wright to point this out is useful though really unnecessary. It becomes necessary for we have the Pipers of this world holding authority over Christanity's theological heart-strings.

With respect to Pipers sincere faith, he is still a blind shepherd.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Also, please note that above the comment form I've put a request for all comments to have the full name of the author. Thanks for being a regular reader and commenter.