N.T. Wright on Election in PFG

N.T. Wright on Election in PFG October 18, 2013

The section on election in Paul and the Faithfulness of God is absolutely massive! It is over 115, 000 words.

To begin with, Wright sets up the topic this way:

Now at last we see where his sharp-edged, and often controversial, ‘doctrine of election’ in Romans 9 was going. This was never an abstract ‘doctrine of predestination’, attempting to plumb the mysteries of why some people (in general, without reference to Israel) hear and believe the gospel and others do not. Paul never encourages speculation of that sort. Rather, it was a way of saying, very specifically, that the fact of Israel’s election (starting with the choice and call of Abraham) had always been there to deal with the sin of the world; that Israel’s election had always involved Israel being narrowed down, not just to Isaac and then to Jacob, but to a hypoleimma, a ‘remnant’, a ‘seed’; and that this ‘remnant’ itself would be narrowed down to a single point, to the Messiah himself, who would himself be ‘cast away’ so that the world might be redeemed. The point of ‘election’ was not to choose or call a people who would somehow mysteriously escape either the grim entail of Adam’s sin or the results it brought in its train. It was not – as in some low-grade proposals! – about God simply choosing a people to be his close friends. The point was to choose and call a people through whom the sin of humankind, and its results for the whole creation, might be brought to the point where they could at last be defeated, condemned, overcome. Hence the line that runs, in Romans, from 3.24–26 to 8.3–4 and on to 10.3–4, backed up by the summaries in 5.6–11 and 5.12–21. Here is the faithfulness of the Messiah, which discloses, unveils, apocalypticizes, the righteousness of God, God’s covenant faithfulness.

And on Romans 9-11:

As becomes apparent in Romans 9—11, this single divine plan has been hugely paradoxical, because the way in which Israel’s story has been God’s instrument in the salvation of the world has been precisely through Israel’s ‘casting away’. This is the point of the (to us) strange passage about negative predestination in 9.14–29: Israel is simultaneously ‘the Messiah’s people’ and ‘the Messiah’s people according to the flesh’, as we might have deduced from the opening summary statement in 9.4–5. Israel’s story, that is, was always designed (as many second-Temple Jews would have insisted) to come to its climax in the arrival and accomplishment of the Messiah; but that accomplishment, as Paul had come to see, involved the Messiah himself in being ‘cast away for the sake of the world’. Thus Israel, as the Messiah’s people, is seen to have exercised its vocational instrumentality in God’s rescue operation for the world precisely by acting out that newly-discovered and deeply shocking ‘messianic’ vocation: Israel is indeed the means of bringing God’s rescue to the world, but it will be through Israel’s acting out of the Messiah-shaped vocation, of being ‘cast away’ for the sake of the world. Paul finally says it out loud (at a point where most interpreters have long since lost the thread and so fail to make the connection) in 11.12, 15; this is where we see why Paul did not deny the ‘boast’ of 2.19–20, but went on affirming it paradoxically, even though it raised the questions of 3.1–8 to which he has at last returned and which he has at last answered. Salvation has come to the Gentiles – through Israel’s paraptōma, the ‘stumble’ in which Israel recapitulates the sin of Adam, as in 5.20. ‘The reconciliation of the world’ has come about – through Israel’s apobolē, ‘casting away’, the ‘rejection’ in which Israel recapitulates the death of the Messiah, as in 5.10–11. At the heart of one of Paul’s strangest and most challenging chapters we find exactly this theme: that the creator God, having entered into a covenant with Abraham’s family that he would bless the world through that family, has been faithful to his promise, even though it has been in the upside-down and inside-out way now unveiled in the Messiah.

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  • Lindsay Kennedy

    Thanks for all these posts! Considering you would call yourself Reformed, what do you think of Wright’s quotes here?

    • Ricky Roldan

      Wright bases his exegesis on his presupposition that second temple judaism wasn’t a works-righteousness system and what follows is that the “Righteousness of God” is just merely God being faithful to the Covenant, which of course He is, but thats not the whole story. Then he inserts all this into his exegesis of Romans 9-11 and claims:

      “The point of ‘election’ was not to choose or call a people who would somehow mysteriously escape either the grim entail of Adam’s sin or the results it brought in its train. It was not – as in some low-grade proposals! – about God simply choosing a people to be his close friends. The point was to choose and call a people through whom the sin of humankind, and its results for the whole creation, might be brought to the point where they could at last be defeated, condemned, overcome.”

      This is a common mistake Wright makes. He overemphasis one aspect while rejecting the other. Also, his view that many things are ‘paradoxical” is problematic. There are no paradoxes in Scripture. This is a mere attempt to not have to explain the contradictions in one’s view or exegesis.

      The fact of the matter is that it is BOTH that God used Israel to bring about the Messiah to redeem His people and defeat sin AND escape Gods Judgment AND be called Gods friends/Children. Its not a either or but a BOTH.

      • David Robinson

        Right! I often find that, while not agreeing completely with Wright in terms of what he dismisses, I am able to complement much of the existing picture I had with the things that Wright proposes. I do understand his desire to draw distinctions in order to clarify how what he’s saying is unique. But I much prefer his statements of “It’s not simply that X is true, but that Y is also,” rather than his “The advocates for X have entirely gotten it wrong.”

        Ironically, both Wright and Carson have pointed out it’s often better to use a both/and approach when one can do so without contradiction…rather than an either/or. And yet both of them seem to hype up their rejections of the stated beliefs of the other.

  • L.W. Dicker

    When Jesus belched, farted, and squatted over a hole to shit, did it stink like us regular sinners, or did it have it’s own unique ‘Son of God’ smell?

    Christianity. Serious questions for a serious pile of Stone Age bullshit.

    • rwarnell

      Smelled the same.

      Jesus was willing to be broken and poured out for the life of a hurting world in the only pattern of living that will indeed bring peace and reconciliation.

      Are you or I so willing to put ourselves in the same place?

      • L.W. Dicker

        So you like fairy tales? May I interest you in Dr. Seuss? And Scientology.

        They’re not as preposterous and asinine as Christianity, but they’re really cheap on Kindle.

        Oh, and I prefer my gods to not have an anus. But to each his own

        • rwarnell

          well, since much of what passes for “Christianity” is a dangerous counterfeit, I can understand where you’re coming from .

          • Taylor Weaver

            I don’t believe Mr. Dicker came in here for dialogue, rwarnell, but I applaud your warmth.

  • Nate

    One is naturally hesitant to comment on extracted quotes, but like Barth, Wright attacks traditional Reformed doctrine of predestination on the basis of ‘abstraction’ as though this provides some enlightenment. When he attempts to negate the doctrine on the basis of exegesis, i.e., some ‘flow’ of narrowing, I must demur; there is no ‘further’ reduction of the remnant to Christ; this is purely imaginative; to the contrary, it is the ‘remnant’ that establishes the faithfulness of God (Rom 9:6-8). To be sure, there is much to appreciate in this massive volume, but this seems yet another failed project at rewriting the doctrine of election.