Book Review: Justification by N.T. Wright

  • Hardcover: 279 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (May 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830838635
  • Amazon.com
  • WTS Books
  • IVP

Many thanks to Adrianna and the kind folks at IVP for this review copy (this review is somewhat overdue).

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright is primarily a response to John Piper’s The Future of Justification (2007).  Primarily Piper but Wright also engages many of his critics along the way.  Justification is divided into two parts: I. Introduction:  Here Wright sort of orients the reader to this ongoing debate over Paul’s doctrine of justification, which is treated over four chapters.  If these first four chapters are ignored, the reader will find him or herself without a compass to navigate the exegesis to follow (First-Century Judaism (chap. 3) and Justification: Definitions and Puzzles (chap. 4) are must reads).  II. Exegesis:  Wright engages key texts in the Pauline corpus surrounding the doctrine of justification ( Galatians; Interlude: Philippians, Corinthians, Ephesians; Romans).

In the Preface, the reader senses that Wright is a bit frustrated that his work Paul’s the doctrince of justification continues to be misunderstood and at times misrepresented (pp. 9-14).  For example, “Piper and others have then accused me of encouraging people to think their own moral effort as contributing to their final justification, and hence of compromising the gospel itself.  I insist that I am trying to do justice to what Paul actually says, and that when we factor in the Spirit to the whole picture we see that the charge is groundless” (p. 13).

In his exegesis of Galatians 2:11ff, Wright makes the point that “Paul is not in a lawcourt, [but] he is at a dinner table” (p. 116).  When the reader allows this point to sink in, what Wright says next about Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is then appreciated, though the reader doesn’t have to agree with every point Wright makes.

In the Interlude (pp. 141-75), especially 2 Corinthians 5:21, the reader comes face to face with the massive rereading that Wright has been engaging in.  The reader discovers that the long held reading of 2 Corinthians as a proof text for that revered doctrine of the “Imputed Righteousness of Christ” is both challenged and overturned by Wright (pp. 158-167).

Then comes chapter 7, Romans, where Wright reserved his most engaging exegesis on Paul’s doctrine of justification.  Because of the limitations of the book itself, Wright often point his readers to other works (Climax of the Covenant and especially his Interpreter’s Romans commentary).

At this point, that the reader must realize that for Wright Paul must be understood as an interpreter of Israel’s Scripture becomes quite evident in the numerous references to larger portions of the Old Testament Scripture, with a few references to Second-Temple literature.

Key to understanding Wright’s reading of Romans and Paul’s doctrine of justification is Wright’s notion of dikaiosune theou, “the righteousness of God,” which entails (1) Jesus as Israel’s long awaited Messiah, (2) Covenant, (3) Lawcourt, and (4) Eschatology, final justification.  Along the way, the reader is compelled to appreciate Wright’s dependence on the Spirit, especially in respect to future justification.

If you have not read Justification by N.T. Wright, do yourself a favor and read it.  Also, if you know little or nothing at all in this ongoing conversation of Paul’s doctrine of justification, I believe you’ll find this book helpful, though you might have to reread a few paragraphs, here and there.

And you don’t even have to agree with Wright or even be sympathetic of the New Perspective on Paul to appreciate this book.

To be honest, I’ve found much clarity on the matter in Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision.

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11 Responses to Book Review: Justification by N.T. Wright

  1. ScottL says:

    Too short of a review. 🙂

    If I will only ever get to my contrast, comparison and analysis of both Piper’s and Wright’s books. I hope I can keep it to 3 or 4 posts (maybe each post 2000+ words). 🙂

  2. Craig Benno says:

    I’m just starting to get into this whole subject T.C.
    In a nutshell how does Wright’s view of justification differ from our standard view and are the two so distinctly different that they are completely incompatible?

  3. ScottL says:

    Craig –

    Maybe this is a good summary – Wright sees ‘justification’ speaking of who is included in the covenant people of God, rather than our personal conversion of receiving Christ’s imputed righteousness.

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  6. T.C. R says:

    Scott L,

    I can’t reproduce the entire book here. What then would you read? 😀

    But I do look forward to your side by side analysis of Piper and Wright.

    Craig,

    By “justification,” several themes must be kept in mind as you read Wright: 1. yes, that declaration of who belongs to the family of God; 2. but also you have to keep in mind that it was God’s purpose to put the world to right through a single plan with Israel and so on; 3. but of course Israel failed. Here is where Israel’s Messiah comes in to achieve what ethnic Israel was unable to do; 4. but keep in mind what all this entails: i. Israel’s Messiah; ii. Covenant; iii. Lawcourt; iv. Eschatology.

    But I think you should get this book and work your way through it. I think it’s a good place to start, and then you might want to read Piper’s work, for another take on Paul’s doctrine of Justification.

  7. ScottL says:

    TC –

    Remind me: In light of this quote – Paul is not in a lawcourt, [but] he is at a dinner table. – why is the 3rd point of ‘lawcourt’ emphasised by Wright? I have to remind myself. The book is sitting on my desk, but don’t want to browse through it right now. 😉

  8. T.C. R says:

    Scott L,

    Why “lawcourt,” Jewish to be precise? Because in Paul dikaiosune has forensic element to it – not of moral character by the way, but a “status” where the court rules in your favor.

    Now you need to read that book. Dust it off and take the plunge! 😀

  9. ScottL says:

    TC –

    I’ve read the book. Remember, I am wanting to go back and re-read everything I underlined and do the whole comparison with Piper. Hence, the re-browsing through the books.

  10. T.C. R says:

    Scott L,

    I forgot all about that. Well, it’s worth a rereading for sure. 😉

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