Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Creating Fog" - A review of N.T. Wrights "Justification"

David Mathis has written a clear and, in my mind, accurate assessment of N.T. Wright's "Justification." More than a review of Wright's latest book, Mathis offers a critique of Wright's tendency toward a less than careful exegesis of the biblical text as well as a frustrating avoidance to truly engage his critics.

Tom Wright has done it again. He has produced yet another title in addition to his esteemed and still-in-progress series Christian Origins and the Question of God. Even the growing many who question whether Wright has ventured off course in his retelling of Paul’s doctrine of justification can appreciate his productivity. Put this reviewer in that category.

Wright tackles Justification in two parts. “Introduction” addresses perspective, rules of engagement, backgrounds, and definitions in a lengthy prolegomena; “Exegesis” then aims to show his vision of Paul’s vision from Paul’s texts—first Galatians; then Philippians, Corinthians, and Ephesians; and finally, Romans. Wright says, “I am writing this book to try, once more, to explain what I have been talking about—which is to explain what I think St. Paul was talking about” (p. 21). He finds that John Piper, author of The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), as well as Wright’s mounting list of critics, “hasn’t really listened to what I’m saying” (p. 21).

It is easy to pen a quick list of the good in this book. Wright constantly reminds us of Sola Scriptura, emphasizes the necessity of exegesis, underscores the corporate nature of Paul’s theology, highlights the role of Israel in redemptive history, wields a wonderful Christology (and registers his disagreement with the Christology of James D. G. Dunn, to whom he has strangely dedicated this book), acknowledges that Romans is primarily about God (p. 40) and that it is “one of the greatest documents ever written by a human being” (p. 175), and condemns the use of the “loose language” of salvation by faith. Wright even refreshingly admits that he, Dunn, and Richard Hays have “not always followed either history or exegesis perfectly” (p. 196), and that he is sorry for giving wrong impressions in the past (p. 180).

But despite the smattering of good, it is disheartening to find that Wright is not yet addressing the issues he must in order to move the discussion forward, thus leaving his inquisitors with the same unanswered questions. The places where Wright creates disappointment and leaves questions can be clustered into a sequence of five groupings.

Read the entire review HERE.

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