Well maybe you live under a rock and don’t know this yet, but NT WRIGHT IS PUBLISHING A BOOK ON PAUL. AND IN IT HE WILL DISCUSS JUSTIFICATION.
I think people’s brains might explode over this, either because of the length of the book or because we’re going to have to re-hash the “justification as declaration” vs. “justification as action” argument for what must be the upteenth time.
Anyway (don’t ever use that transition in a paper, kids), Mike Bird has thrown us all into the deep end with this tantalizing quote from Paul and the Faithfulness of God:
[E]ven though Romans 3.21–31 is part of the same flow of argument as Romans 5—8, and Galatians 2.15–21 is part of the same flow of argument as Galatians 4—6, and even though these two larger arguments do develop a view of the spirit’s work in the transformation of character which can properly be seen both as virtue and as theōsis, this does not take away from the fact that when Paul speaks of initial justification by faith he means it as a very particular, specific claim. This ‘justification’ means that, ahead of any transformation of character other than the bare, initial pistis whose whole nature character is by definition to look helplessly away from itself and gratefully towards the saving work of the Messiah, this person is welcomed into the family on the basis of that confession of faith and nothing else. The inaugurated-eschatological assurance which this welcome provides is thus both forensic (the verdict of ‘not guilty’ in the present will be repeated in the future) and covenantal (full membership in Abraham’s family is granted at once and will be reaffirmed in the resurrection). The two dimensions join up in practical ecclesiology: the mutual welcome which Paul urges in Romans 14 and 15 is the concrete, bodily form which ‘forgiveness’ is supposed to take in the present time.
Bird then asks whether this will assuage Reformed-ish folk and if Wright seems to regard justification as both social and soteric.
I’ll venture a few thoughts:
1) Although the “forensic” language in the quote certainly seems to be a step towards his critics, in that it may suggest that NTW acknowledges that justification has an inherently soteriological significance, it still does not address what, in my opinion, is the crux of the issue. In Justification, as well as in various places in his other works, Wright argues that justification is not a legal action by God on a person that places them in his kingdom, but instead a declaration by God about their continuing status as part of his covenant people. It is, in other words, purely declarative act according to Wright, instead of what has historically been understood as a transformative and saving act. Nothing in the above quote suggests that Wright has shifted on this understanding, and of course nothing suggests that he hasn’t shifted.
2) That brings us to the second point – this quote has no context whatsoever. So, kudos to Mike Bird for getting us talking already.
One thing is certain; the blogosphere is going to explode once we all get a chance to work through PFG.