Surprise! I’m not talking about my debates. I am talking about a re-ignition of the justification controversy due to the publication of NT Wright’s new book, from IVP no less, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, expected in June, 09. One of the “endorsements” should get our attention:
“Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots–the neo-Reformed–by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study.”
—Scot McKnight, North Park University
Of course, having Brian McLaren’s endorsement makes one wonder a little bit, too (“And it will give Wright’s critics a clearer sense than ever of what they are rejecting when they cling to their cherished old wineskins of conventional thought.”), along with Rob Bell.
My main concern is simple: due to the continued degradation of evangelicalism’s view of Scripture—reflected not only in the hallowed halls of academia, but in the pews of the “mega churches” that have slopped some religion on unrepentant sinners and assured them of heaven, leaving their reprobate worldview unchallenged and intact—this controversy will produce more and more who are called “Christians” who have a severely deformed view of the nature of justification. This controversy is not really exegetical, per se. Though that is the realm in which the proponents of the New Perspectives are placing it, we must keep a few things in mind. This viewpoint did not arise from a sound, believing view of Scripture. It came from liberalism, and at its heart is a severe restriction of the Pauline corpus. I will be very interested to see how Wright handles this, but I would imagine, if you look closely, you will see that he will be functioning with the smallest Pauline corpus, leaving out the Pastorals, Ephesians and Colossians, possibly others. This is common in modern scholarship—so common, in fact, that few who repeat the mantra of “scholars have determined these epistles were written at a later time by a follower of Paul” have ever heard a meaningful defense of Pauline authorship of the entire corpus.
It is vitally important to note that the Reformation doctrine of justification was forged out of the highest view of Scripture, while modern viewpoints come forth from a far more skeptical, man-centered perspective. Let’s put it this way: most in academia today find the term “inerrancy” a reason to blush, even if they believe it (sort of like saying, “Yes, I believe God created the heavens and the earth”), and yet none of those who faced the anathemas of Rome for preaching the glory of justification by grace through faith alone would have had the slightest pause in professing such a high view of Scripture (despite the repeated assertions that inerrancy is a modern doctrine, a thought you can only entertain if you drain every bit of common sense from your reading of earlier writers). The view one holds of God’s revelation will determine everything else. If you do not believe God has spoken, theology of any sort becomes a game of chance or an exercise in taste. Theology can never possess authority or power when it is based upon human predilection rather than divine revelation. And the last thing people want today is a God who has spoken with clarity.
So get ready for the next round in the battle. But, if you are tempted to feel troubled by this in the sense of experiencing hopelessness, remember: in the final analysis, it is the Spirit of God who convinces us of His truth. Think how many times Romans, as an epistle, has sparked revival when it has been preached clearly and authoritatively. Just because many decide to mute the letter by changing its message (primarily through removing it from the rest of Scripture) does not mean God will be thwarted. He will continue to build His church, continue to draw His elect. He may well do so far more often in other lands, lands where His wrath is not in full display as it is in the West, but His purposes will not be deterred.