Tom Wright. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. SPCK, 2009.
N.T. Wright has achieved that stature among theologians that he can whip off a long, wordy direct response to a critique of his thought and have it become a major publishing event–which I think is mostly a good thing. I do find his switching back and forth between “N.T. Wright” and “Tom Wright” as the author of his various books to be irritating. And this book is being rushed out, seemingly in order to utilize the buzz among evangelicals concerning the debate between Wright and the super-Calvinist pastor/theologian John Piper while it lasts. The British edition has come out in paperback and can be purchased on line in the States. The American edition, to be published by InterVarsity this month will start out in hardback–another indicator of the effort to exploit Wright’s popularity.
Nonetheless, this is an important and helpful book. As with all of Wright’s work, we have an engagingly written, theologically oriented, and exegetically careful treatment of central issues of the interpretation and application of New Testament writings. In this case, Wright focuses on the issue of “justification” in Paul’s writings–especially Galatians and Romans.
For the more general reader who is not particularly interested in the extremist views of someone like John Piper, chunks of Wright’s book will lend themselves to skimming. However, when he focuses on his constructive interpretation of Paul’s thought (which is, happily, for most of the book), Wright gives us a great deal to chew on. Basically, Wright understands “justification” in the context of the salvation narrative of the entire Bible–and makes what seems to me to be a quite persuasive case for this kind of reading. Linking with the argument of his fine recent book, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (to be reviewed on this website soon), Wright interprets Paul as presenting justification as a world-transforming impetus from God in the present world–not as a matter of an individual believer finding one’s way to an otherworldly heaven after death.
He sees Paul articulating a “covenant” theology: “the belief that the creator God called Abraham’s family into covenant with him so that through his family all the world might escape from the curse of sin and death and enjoy the blessing and life of new creation” (page 222). Well said!
So, all things considered, I highly recommend this book and anticipate the publication of Wright’s promised big, big book on Paul’s theology–which will, no doubt, be published under the name “N.T. Wright.”