Temporary Lull

I am going to have to have an enforced lull (though not necessarily a complete cessation) of blogging for the next week. My wife’s brother Steve passed away yesterday. He was 42 years old, and left behind a wife and 8 children, the oldest 16, and the youngest 1. Please pray for the family, as this is quite a shock to them. We are traveling to California for the funeral.

Also grievous to me personally is the death of Al Groves, personal friend and professor at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia. He died yesterday as well. Please pray for the Groves family. This is a relief in many ways, since he was in such pain for much of his life.

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By Faith Alone, part 4

This article is written by T. David Gordon. The article is entitled “Observations on N.T. Wright’s Biblical Theology,” with the subtitle “With Special Consideration of ‘Faithfulness of God.'”

Gordon has three major criticisms of N.T. Wright’s BT (he concentrates on WSPRS). The first is that “Wright understands the New Testament primarily as a fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, not as a fulfillment of the redemptive pledge imbedded in the Adamic curse” (pg. 61, emphasis original). He notes that this is a common feature (at least to some people’s minds) of NPP and FV: “neither explicates its biblical theology with reference to the Adamic administration.” I agree with this assessment.

He also notes this important factor (though I might qualify it a bit): “The present debate is about whether we can properly handle the doctrine of justification apart from juridical categories, apart from God’s right judgment of his creation in terms of its obedience or disobedience to his rule.” I agree with this, after I have modified the thought a bit: N.T. Wright says that justification is judicial. It is the judicial pronouncement (according to NTW) of God that someone is indeed a part of God’s family, a member of Abraham’s family by faith. It is God’s declaration that someone is in fact (already) a Christian. So N.T. Wright says that it is judicial. However, his definition of judicial is not the same as the Reformation’s definition.

The second major criticism that Gordon has of NTW is that “Wright’s Christus Victor language of defeat of enemies does not mention God’s wrath as a serious threat that has been deflected by the death and resurrection of Christ” (pg. 62). Certainly, NTW’s handling of this theme leaves that out. My question, however, is this: is Gordon saying that Wright never talks about the wrath of God against sin and sinners? Or is NTW’s specific doctrine of Christus Victor leaving out God’s wrath? This is not meant as a criticism, actually, but just a question. He seems to clarify on pg. 63, when he says, “When he explains precisely what Christ therein (viz. His death and resurrection) triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply.” Therefore, Gordon seems to be claiming that NTW does not include the wrath of God as a reason for Christ’s death and resurrection. This would be a serious omission on NTW’s part.

Thirdly, NTW misunderstands the phrase “righteousness of God” in Romans by removing it from its judicial context (pg. 63). Gordon is certainly on firm ground here (with the qualification I made earlier about the difference between NTW’s definition of “judicial” and the Reformational definition of “judicial.”) What follows is an extensive and persuasive thesis that “righteousness of God” does not mean God’s covenant faithfulness, but rather God’s creational, moral, judicial righteousness. Gordon defines his terms in this way: “its (the dik-group) predominant usage is to denote God’s justice-his unwavering commitment to judge his creation uprightly-without compromise, favoritism, or inequity” (pg. 66). Indeed, Gordon’s conclusions are quite in line with Seifrid’s study of the term (which is unfortunately not discussed in ths article). He further argues that when God’s covenant faithfulness is in view, Paul uses the pist-word group. This is evident in Romans 3:1, for instance. For Paul to use the dik-group in this context “would have obfuscated the logical and rhetorical power of his argument” (pg. 67). The pervasive context of romans 1:18-3:26 is not God’s faithfulness to His covenant, but rather judgment of God in all its forensic/juridical glory (pg. 67). This is followed by a string of quotations proving his point (his point is well-made, in my opinion).

Gordon makes a spectacular argument on pg. 69 regarding the revelation of the wrath of God in Romans 1:18. His argument runs like this: the wrath of God must have reference to His judicial wrath. that same wrath is revealed in the righteousness of 1:17-18 in Jesus Christ’s propitiation of God’s wrath. Therefore, the righteousness of God does not refer to covenantal faithfulness (which isn’t even remotely present in the context), but rather to God’s law-wrath.

He argues that NTW has some hermeneutical problems with regard to the dik-group. He argues that NTW takes an ambiguous occurence of the word (dikaiosune theou) and renders it in a manner that is different than its unambiguous usage in the very same context. That passage in question is Romans 3:5-4:6.

He notes NTW’s consistent straw-man argument about justification being about membership in the covenant community, and not about an individual’s relationship to God. Gordon notes that no Reformed theologian says that justification is about a person’s relationship to God. Rather, it is about a right standing before God and the law (pg. 72). A very helpful article, both in its overall scope, and in its specific argumentation.