Then you should. And you can’t beat the price right now. It is a particularly good defense of the normal Protestant doctrine of justification, and even more importantly, it is a model of how theological controversy should be handled. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but it is a very fine treatment of the issues all the same.
(Posted by Paige)
I have recently finished reading N. T. Wright’s 600-some page Jesus and the Victory of God, published in 1996; and I am left with these questions, among others. Maybe some of you have similar ones, maybe some of you have answers:
1. Where do I go for a substantive review of Wright’s portrayal of Jesus here? At first try I was only able to find one careful review online (plus one or two rather complimentary speeches from the Wheaton conference last spring), leaving me to wonder whether maybe things were written 15 years ago that don’t have a web presence now?
2. Given the surge in Wright’s popularity (and notoriety) related to his Pauline studies, is there a new need for critical appraisal of his earlier works? Did his Jesus not garner as much attention because Wright himself was not yet so much in the limelight?
3. Are pastors and others noticing a new interest in Wright’s writings among their flocks (or colleagues), and would it be helpful to have some serious summaries & treatments of his earlier thinking on hand?
Thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on this.
I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans. Given the recent discussions on faith versus faithfulness, I thought people might enjoy mulling over this quotation. Dunn is commenting on Romans 4:21 (which describes Abraham’s confidence that God fulfills His promises):
It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be though of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect (p. 239 of volume 1).
It should be noted here that in the context of Romans, Paul goes on immediately to apply Abraham’s faith as a template or example for us (see 4:23). I should note that this quotation does not alleviate the other problems in Dunn’s theology. However, on this point, Dunn seems to agree with the critics of the FV.
(Posted by Paige)
A friend and I have started a lively conversation about N. T. Wright’s writings, and of course part of the landscape we’ll be galloping through will be Wright’s understanding of Israel’s calling or mission to “bless the nations.” Wright reads Gen. 12:3b (“and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”) as the commission that Israel failed to achieve, leaving it up to Jesus (as a sort of “Plan B” [meaning simply "the next step"]) to fulfill the calling of the obedient son. (Of course, Jesus fulfilled this largely by his death; it is unclear how Israel ought to have fulfilled its calling to save the world in the first place.)
What do you make of Wright’s reading of the “mission” of Israel? (I have some ideas, but maybe yours are better.) Here are a few representative passages from Justification (IVP, 2009):
“…the unfaithfulness of the Israelites is not their lack of belief. The point is that God has promised to bless the world through Israel, and Israel has been faithless to that commission.”(67)
“God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite.” (68)
“…the task of the Messiah, bringing to its appointed goal the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world, was to offer to God the ‘obedience’ which Israel should have offered but did not.” (104) [Wright immediately goes on to talk about Jesus’ obedience as “unto death.”]
“Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the ‘obedience’ which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission…What is needed…is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all.” (105)
“The problem with the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world was that Israel had failed to deliver…Israel had failed to deliver on the divine vocation…Instead of the nations looking at Israel, listening to God’s word and learning his wisdom, they have looked at Israel and said, ‘We don’t want a god like theirs.’” (196)
I get asked a lot what is a good resource introducing them to the concepts of the New Perspective on Paul. Most of the resources out there are fairly technical. However, many of the articles available often do not analyze deeply enough what is going on. Well, look no further. Here is the single best introduction to the New Perspective on Paul from a Reformed, confessional standpoint. The book is concise (at only 190 fairly small, very readable pages), and yet gets at the issues. It is easy to read, and can be read quickly, and yet does not just skirt around at the edges. It could easily be read in an afternoon. Even for folks who have done some reading in this area of NT studies, the book has some keen insights that aren’t available anywhere else. The authors are to be commended for achieving clarity and conciseness all in one volume.
Posted by Wes White, original article here.
Last week, the Aquila Report featured an article by John Otis detailing the Roman Catholic views of of PCA Pastor Craig Higgins. Now, I would not have been surprised if he would have said that Higgins believes in baptismal regeneration, wants to return to many Roman Catholic rituals, emphasizes the Church year, and sees Lent as a very important Christian practice.
What surprised me is that Higgins actually has proposed that the PCA return to diocesan bishops and go back under the leadership of the Pope. I’m not kidding. Yes, he does not hold to papal infallibility, and he wants the Pope to exercise authority only with a council, but let us remember that Higgins’ view was one of the major viewpoints within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and was the view of many within the Roman Catholic Church long after the Reformation.
PCA Pastor Craig Higgins is Pastor of Trinity PCA in Rye, NY. Trinity is part of Tim Keller’s “Redeemer Network” and a part of the Metro New York Presbytery.
For readers who might be wondering if Higgins should be considered Federal Vision, Otis also writes:
As one delves into his [Higgins'] thesis, one soon finds that his views are hardly Reformed and Confessional. Moreover, his quotes from Calvin are totally misused. He will readily expose himself as solidly in the Federal Vision camp. At places, he will cite to his defense none other than the notorious company of N.T. Wright, Peter Leithart, Norman Shepherd, and Rich Lusk.
What I would like to reproduce here, though, is Higgins’ proposal for placing the PCA under Papal supremacy. Otis points to two different paragraphs in Higgins’ article on ecumenicity:
“Third, the unity we seek should be both conciliar and, yes, episcopal. While wholeheartedly agreeing with the position of all the Reformed churches that a corporate episcopate is (at least!) as faithful to the apostolic tradition as is monepiscopacy, and while agreeing that the latter was not practiced universally until centuries after the apostolic age, we in the Reformed churches must admit that the Church did become near-universally episcopal, and that the historic episcopate is an important witness to the Church’s unity. Therefore, if we are to work toward the visible unity of the Church, we should, I am increasingly convinced, defer to the wisdom of the majority in the Great Tradition and embrace the ministry of bishops.”
“One last comment:In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II has invited all the churches to discuss how the Petrine office should function in a reunited Church, and Reformed churchmen should welcome this conversation. Our idea of concentric circles of conciliar accountability would lead us to teach that, if the Church were visibly united around the world, there would need to be an ecumenical council, meeting as necessary to govern and guide the Church.The above argument for a (reformed) episcopacy would also lead us to teach that such a council would need a ‘presiding bishop,’ serving asprimus inter pares among his brothers, and historically such a position of honor has fallen to the bishop of Rome. How would we envision a Reformed(!) Petrine office? First, as argued above, any such primacy would need to be exercised in a conciliar fashion; the universal episcopate must be seen first as a pastoral, rather than a juridical, office. The idea that the pope has an authority that exceeds even that of an ecumenical council must be rejected. Second, we must humbly but firmly insist that the dogma of papal infallibility is not only foreign to the holy Scriptures but also is not a catholicdoctrine at all, but a sectarian one. The dogma of papal infallibility is a serious obstacle to true ecumenism, and another example of where the unity we seek awaits further reformation (Emphases are from Otis).”
Posted by Wes White
There has been a resurgence of interest in the Reformed doctrine of justification, especially since the advent of the New Perspective on Paul in the 60′s and 70′s with the publication of Krister Stendahl’s article on the introspective conscience of the West, and E.P. Sanders’s book Paul and Palestinian Judaism. There has been a flurry of responses written, especially in the last ten years, both from Lutherans and from Reformed folk. However, there has not been a single-volume book on the doctrine itself, written by one person, until now. And it is a wonderful book, full of good things. Probably the best single aspect about the book is Fesko’s determination to root justification in the history of salvation. Indeed, he winds up rooting the entire ordo salutis in the historia salutis. However, one can easily see that justification, in particular, must be grounded on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, or we’re all lost.
Broadly speaking, one can divide up the book into five main parts. Chapters 1 and 2 are introductory, dealing with a broad outline of church history and issues of prolegomena (where Fesko ably defends the unity of theological discourse, one of my passions). Chapters 3-5 deal with justification and biblical theology (as defined in the Vossian sense), treating redemptive history, the covenant of works, and the work of Christ. Chapters 6-8 deal with church history, including a broad historical overview, and the New Perspective on Paul. Chapters 9-13 deal with systematic theological concerns, examining imputation, union, sanctification, the final judgment, and the church. And finally, chapters 14-15 deal with apologetics, with specific reference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There is really only one thing missing, and John knows it is missing. I had a nice long talk with him about certain aspects of this book, and he was able to clarify many things for me, this one being one of them. I asked him why he did not include a history of the doctrine that focussed on the post-Reformation period of theology (a la Muller). He said that he had a chapter ready on that, but all the other chapters were already long, and he wanted to make sure that contemporary issues were handled. So, he has done his work in that field, but hasn’t put it in this book. Maybe he can write a supplementary pamphlet (or an article for a major journal) and include in it this material.
Let me just say that the treatment is masterful. He has plainly read just about everything that is important, and has dealt fairly and accurately with viewpoints differing from his own. I want to single out for special attention his handling of N.T. Wright’s exegetical arguments. After describing them accurately, he goes on to show why they are wrong, exegetically. Included is discussion of Wright’s definition of righteousness (pp. 221-223), exegesis of Romans 4:1-8, Psalm 106:31, 4Q MMT, 2 Corinthians 5:21, and Romans 5:12-21. These arguments are certainly convincing to me, and pose a serious challenge to Wright.
In short, I recommend this book enthusiastically, with two thumbs up. This is the best treatment of the doctrine by one writer since Buchanan.
Doug Wilson has responded to my latest post with questions surrounding food. I am going to respond with only one question, and leave it at that: do paedo-communionists really believe that credo-communionists are starving their children? Is the Word not food? Do you give an infant solid food or milk? If children are welcomed into the church and given the Word of God clearly and effectively, who can say that such children are starving? Or can the Word not exist unless it is sealed with the Sacrament? Okay, I lied. That was five questions. My point is this: the Word of God is the primary food. It is not as if someone who doesn’t have the Sacrament is starving to death spiritually speaking. If one believed the paedo-communionists, the children are on the verge of malnutrition, if not actually there, if they don’t have the Sacrament. Am I saying the Sacrament is unnecessary? Absolutely not. But I am saying (I believe the Bible to be saying) that it is for those who have the notitia element of faith and know what the Sacrament means. I realize that someone may come up to me and say, “But what about baptism? The children don’t understand that, do they?” But it is clear that the benefits come slightly differently between baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11 does, I believe, say that each person must appropriate that benefit to himself. No one can commune with Christ for someone else in the Sacrament. If Doug wants the last word on this, that is fine.
On the epilogue, there are several things I would amen. I thought his insight into Saul’s conscience on page 192 was very helpful, and very logical. I also agree with his assessment of human nature: “But it appears that as soon as we are stopped from rummaging around in our own hearts, we have an immediate yearning to rumage around in someone else’s. We either doubt our own salvation with anguish or we dougt someone else’s with satisfaction” (pg. 192). I don’t agree with his solution (that of an objective covenant). What I mean is that I think that there is more to the covenant than objectivity. The covenant is not exclusively objective. Properly speaking, the covenant is made with Christ and all the elect in him, as the LC says. That is a subjective appropriation of salvation that constitutes the heart of the covenant. The outward administration is objective.
Query for Wilson: what is your position on Romans 7:14ff? Paul as believer? Autobiographical flashback to the time when he was an unbeliever? Paradigmatical struggle of the unbeliever under conviction? Or something in-between (as Lloyd Jones holds)? Or something else (such as Wright’s position)?
I am not going to comment much on the appendix. I really liked this quotation: “If the average Bible-reading Christian takes a dim view of first-century Judaism, it is evident where he got that dim view. Read through the New Testament, and simply mark every polemical comment directed at the Pharisees, Sadduces, the circumcision, the Jews, and so on. The evidence is so clear that it takes about three years of graduate work in theological studies, on average, to erase it” (pg. 202). Doug has made it fairly clear that he does not agree with the basic premises of the New Perspective on Paul, even if he (as well as myself) have benefitted greatly from the writings of N.T. Wright and others of that persuasion. This is a point on which the Federal Vision is not united, as their joint statement makes fairly clear. Therefore, it is false to lump together the Federal Vision and the New Perspective, as some have done, and call them the same thing. I think there is overlap certainly (and influence) on some of the Federal Vision writers. I think of Steve Schlissel, who is cookie-cutter N.T. Wright, and Mark Horne, who thinks that Wright is right on a lot more issues than Doug thinks he is, although even there, Mark is not necessarily lock-step with Wright. It is extremely tempting for critics to lump all the FV and NPP guys together. It makes for easier target practice. However, it does not make for better scholarship, or greater credibility.
Coming soon will be an index of all the posts on RINE, together with individual links to Doug’s responses, so that the back and forth will be fairly easy to follow and trace.
One last question for Wilson. I have enjoyed the interaction, and I think that some greater clarity has resulted. Doug, are you willing to continue the conversation, using the Federal Vision issue of Credenda/Agenda as the next point of departure?