Doug Moo reviews N.T. Wright’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”

Doug Moo reviews N.T. Wright’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” November 6, 2013

Over at TGC, Douglas Moo (Wheaton College) provides a lengthy and interesting review of N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God:


I won’t list other instances, but Paul and the Faithfulness of Godcontains too many of these kinds of rhetorically effective but exaggerated or overly generalized claims. A related problem is Wright’s tendency to set himself against the world—and then wonder why the world is so blind as to fail to see what he sees. A key thread, for instance, is Wright’s insistence that the basic story Paul’s working with has to do with God’s fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham—a vital focus that “almost all exegetes miss” and that has been “screened out from the official traditions of the church from at least the time of the great creeds” (494). This problem is sometimes compounded by a caricature of the tradition with which he disagrees (as in his critique of “traditional western soteriology” [a rather broad category!] as focused on soul saving [754-55]).

Luke Warm:

[U]ltimately significant for his view of justification, Wright claims Second-Temple Jews weren’t concerned with “life after death” but rather with how to tell in the present who would be vindicated on the last day (see 4QMMT; here, by the way, is another place where Wright sets up a bit of a straw man—the question is properly framed not as “life after death” but as concern for vindication in the judgment [see Simon Gathercole]). Paul would hardly be engaged in answering questions his contemporaries weren’t asking. Contrary to some critics of Wright, the “vertical” issue of the individual’s salvation does find plenty of room in his Pauline theology. But Wright’s understanding of “gospel,” justification, and other issues are tilted toward the “horizontal” to a degree that doesn’t finally do justice to Paul’s own emphases. “Gospel,” for instance, undoubtedly has the “God reigns” sense Wright wants to give the language, but it remains a stubborn fact that Paul uses the language in most cases with reference to the new relationship with God that the inaugurated reign of God makes available. It’s this balance concerning Paul’s actual usage of his key theological language that I sometimes find missing in Wright’s presentation (“Yes, but . . .” is my frequent reaction when reading Wright)


 I strongly endorse Wright’s clear and convincing case for a strictly forensic sense of justification against those who would expand the concept to include transformation or (the more recent buzz word) “theosis” (956-59). Wright forthrightly argues a “Reformation-style” “faith alone” view of initial justification, claiming it’s the basis for our assurance and arguing the verdict announced now by faith will be confirmed on the last day (954-55; 1031-32). He also continues to stress a future justification that will be “according to the fullness of the life that has been led” (941; formally about “judgment,” but Wright clearly sees judgment and future justification as interchangeable) or “on the basis of the totality of the life led” (1028). I sympathize with Wright’s desire to accommodate the emphasis Paul puts on obedience, and I think he’s right to find a future aspect of justification in Paul. But little words are very important here; I agree future justification is “according to” the life lived but not “on the basis” of the life lived. I also continue to think Wright puts too much emphasis on the “covenant” side of justification at the expense of the forensic (he emphatically includes both in his view) and shifts the emphasis in Paul a bit by tying justification to the question of “How can we tell who are God’s people?” rather than “How can we become God’s people?”

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