We are working our way through Tom Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
, and discussing the new perspective. Wright’s a book is an apologetic for his views, and a response to the critique of his book by John Piper.
The question: What does “the righteousness of God” mean?
Piper understands God’s righteousness as God’s concern for God’s own glory (see Piper’s The Future of Justification, 62-71). Wright thinks Piper’s wrong, “not massively wrong, just out of alignment and lacking in precision” – 64). How so?
1. There is a huge mass of scholarship on “God’s righteousness” and, as Wright observes the idiosyncratic focus of Piper’s revisionist definition, “I am not aware that any other scholar … who thinks that ‘God’s righteousness’ actually means ‘God’s concern for God’s own glory'” (64). Nearly all think it refers to conformity to a norm and therefore of God’s conformity to God’s own norm. Wright quotes JI Packer who is on Wright’s side here. God’s plan is to put things to rights through Israel (and through Christ) and his righteousness is his fidelity to that covenant promise. [I must confess that Piper’s definition is a revisionist definition wherein he captures the meaning of a biblical term into the grid of his theology, and it is a theology that deserves respect but which is asked to do what it need do here: let the word mean what it means and then show that fits into his focus on “glory of God” in his theology.]
2. Double imputation theology struggles to make sense of righteousness as God’s concern for his own glory. Romans 4:20-22 distinguishes glory from righteousness. The covenant God has made is to bless the world through Abraham and his family. God’s righteousness is to be faithful to that covenant promise. [Not sure Tom is all that clear in this 2d point.]
3. Piper does not adequately engage Romans 3–4 to examine Wright’s own thesis that God’s righteousness refers to his covenant faithfulness. God has a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin; Israel failed to be faithful; what is needed is a faithful Israelite; Jesus Christ is that faithful Israelite. This faithful one removes the curse against Israel’s unfaithfulness.
4. Piper downplays the lawcourt metaphor and here again Wright gets into it with Piper about double imputation, in particular the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. Wright argues that the “righteousness” of the vindicated defendant is not the same as the judge’s. It’s about a person’s standing in the view of the court and law.
5. Piper sees the issue to be God’s concern for himself. But the biblical framing of issues is God’s unwavering gracious concern for everything else (70). This, too, Wright says often enough will redound to God’s glory. The theme of God’s covenant faithfulness and righteousness has a biblical direction toward others, not toward God himself (though it does bring glory to God). Wright: “God’s concern for God’s own glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel and an undeserving world” (70-71).