My Conference Paper on Wright, Piper, and Justification

My Conference Paper on Wright, Piper, and Justification July 26, 2010

This year, when I proposed 4 papers for SBL, I was very discouraged that all 4 got rejected. Thus, it is the first time in four years I will not be presenting an academic paper at SBL (though I was invited to present in a Phd-prep workshop). I felt, therefore, that my conference experience was going to be a bit deflated.

Then, I got a nice email from ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) asking me if I would participate in the Pauline Studies seminar as part of a review panel discussing Tom Wright’s book Justification (alongside Mark Seifrid and Michael F Bird). I gladly accepted!

The title of my paper is: “To What End diakaiosyne? The Hermeneutics and Ethics of Justification in the Wright-Piper Debate.” (Friday, 3:20-4:00).

I am not an expert on Pauline soteriology, certainly not of the caliber of Seifrid or Bird, but I want to tackle the discussion from another angle: is dikaiosyne the summit of Pauline theology? Is it an end? Or is it a means to an end?

The question normally revolves around whether righteousness is imputed or declared, whether it is Christ’s own or as a result of Christ. Piper is concerned, along with others, that justification loses its power if it is mixed with a semi-pelagian theology that some detect in Wright’s work which ostensibly puts serious stock in the confirmation of righteousness at final  judgment.

I think that, in general, Wright is closer to what Paul is communicating, but I think a better way to work the argument (so as to not appear to be promoting a diminished christology) is to focus on anthropological teleology  – what is the goal of justification? My paper will beg for the answer (I hope): is the end not transformation that is detectable in ethical (or virtuous) living?  Here, I think, Wright has gotten Romans 2:7-8…well…right!

I will try to argue that Wright could buttress his argument by driving further some important texts on justification such as 1 Corinthians 6:11 and the emphasis on the Spirit and justification (cf. Gal. 5:5).

Finally, at the Wheaton Conference, Kevin Vanhoozer gave a show-stopping performance that brought speech-act theory into the conversation. I think, though I am not sure where I will fit this in, that I will try something similar using Berger and Luckman’s work on the sociology of knowledge. This has a great bearing, not just on justification and ‘soteriology’, but also on ecclesiology (as Wright would applaud), identity, and community ethos (which falls generally under the umbrella of ethics).

I do hope some of you will turn up, as I think this will be a fun discussion. Don’t ask me any really complex questions, though!  I may defer and give you the Bird.


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