Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trevin Wax on His Interview with Wright

A few days ago Trevin Wax posted an interview he conducted with N.T. Wright. There is some great discussion going on over at the Kingdom People blog. Here is a comment that Trevin made in response to some questions and comments that I find helpful:

"First, responding to BJ…

Your question about Wright and Piper’s view on the “grounds for salvation” is actually not what this discussion is about. Keep in mind that Wright and Piper are using the same terms in different ways.

Wright is using the term “justification” in an ecclesiological sense. That is… he is saying that what marks us out as being part of the kingdom of God is our faith - not circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, etc. In other words, justification is concerned with “who is in the covenant.” He seeks to uphold this definition by putting passages like Ephesians 2 in context (after the “by grace you are saved through faith” section follows an extended passage on God bringing together Jew and Gentile). Also key for Wright is Galatians 2. When Paul confronts Peter, what is it over? Ecclesiology. Peter won’t sit with the Gentiles. He is waffling on “the mark” of the covenant, which is now faith in Jesus - not the Jewish Law.

So when Wright says one is justified on the Last Day by works, he is NOT saying that one is saved by works. He is not using “salvation” and “justification” as synonyms. In fact, he caught me doing this in my first interview with him (Nov. ‘07). I asked a question about justification by works, switched over to talking about salvation, and he said I was equating them… He was right. I was. But he’s not and he wants to be emphatic about that. Salvation is by grace alone.

So part of this discussion is about how to frame the doctrine of justification. Is it merely an ecclesiological doctrine (that is, it speaks to who is part of God’s people) or is it also a soteriological doctrine (that is, it solves the problem of how one gets to be part of God’s people)? Piper and many in the Reformed tradition see it as the latter. Wright and others in the Reformed tradition (including Baxter and a few others it can be argued - Michael Bird is the expert on this) see it as the former.

In answer to Tim, who wants me to peek my head up and give a verdict… I enjoy the works of Piper and Wright and have benefited greatly from both. I feel indebted to Wright for his work on the historical Jesus, which helped me to see how Jesus actually fit his historical context. I am indebted to Piper for his God-centered theology that focuses on the glory of Christ.

To see where I line up, take a look at my extensive commentary on “The Future of Justification” and also a series I did about a year ago called “New Perspective Positives,” where I demonstrate a few places that the New Perspective provides a healthy corrective to evangelical theology. I believe there are some key points made by the NP that can be incorporated into a conservative theological framework that leaves intact the traditional categories of historic Protestant theology.

Regarding the debate over justification… Think of Wright’s theology as a movie camera that focuses in on the background instead of the foreground. (You’ve seen movies or TV shows where the background is brought into focus and the foreground is fuzzy.) I think Wright is correct to see the ecclesiological ramifications of justification that are often absent from Reformed expositions. The ecclesiological question is bigger than we’ve made it out to be in the past. So in that sense, I think it is a help to look at the ecclesiological background.

But when we take Wright’s approach, the foreground gets fuzzy. The foreground is the soteriological dimension of justification that (agreeing with Piper) I believe is part of Paul’s view. In other words, Wright is helpful in focusing our attention on the ecclesiological dimension of justification and unhelpful in that he too often reduces it to that dimension alone.

But let me again say… I enjoy the works of both these men. And though I would be more aligned with Piper on the issue of justification, I would actually be more aligned with Wright & Goldsworthy (and others) on Paul’s definition of “the gospel.” So… I’m one of these guys who is grateful for the opportunity to read and learn from both these men.

Wright is not as dangerous as Piper makes him out to be; Piper is not as bad as Wright makes him out to be. Once you keep that in mind, you can read both these guys and appreciate their collective strengths and weaknesses.

That’s my two cents."


Mason said...

I thought that Trevin did well in refocusing the conversation with this comment, very cool that he is able to do interviews like that.

I'd be interested to know if you agree with his foreground-background analogy?
I think that it might be true, but in the opposite order.
I would argue that Wright and others who locate Justification first in the story of the people of God and his covenant faithfulness (both of which interlock with ecclesiology), and then move to the subset that is our personal side of it, have the picture much more Biblically aligned.
But at the same time Piper et. all do encourage great appreciation for some of the aspects of that smaller personal subset of God's saving work.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Hey Mason,

I think I would have to agree with Trevin's assessment of the matter. I think the soteriological dimension of justification is taking front stage, particularly in Romans. The two are tied together but we have to remember that right after Paul explains the power of God in the gospel he launches right into a discussion of God's wrath on all humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike. That is the key problem. However, this is not separate from the ecclesiological dimensions.

Anders said...

You write: “Wright is using the term “justification” in an ecclesiological sense. That is… he is saying that what marks us out as being part of the kingdom of God is our faith - not circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, etc.”

The big question is what is written in Torah.
The central tenet of Judaism is expressed in the Shema where Torah states that one is required to do his or her utmost to keep the mitzwot (commandments) in Torah (which includes Halakhah as defined by the beit din (Jewish Court; in an unbroken chain since Mosheh (Moses) in the legitimate Jewish community of Israel) and that only those who DO (not merely believe) this qualify for kipur [atonement] and resulting portion in olam ha-ba (the non-dimensional realm; “heaven”). The NT is a post-135 C.E. Roman-Hellenist displacement counterfeit--and faith in a counterfeit Christ cannot provide "salvation."

The mitzwot (commandments) in Torah are for example: To keep Shabat; to not eat pig, etcetera.

For words you don’t understand; see ; Glossaries

The Torah IS the expression--and THE expression taught by Ribi Yehoshua from Natzrat (hellenized to Nazareth) ( the first century pro-Torah Messiah)--of how to treat both the Almighty and one's neighbor with love.

Ribi Yehoshua taught:

"Don't think that I came to uproot the Torah or the Neviim [prophets], but rather I came to reconcile them with the Oral Law of emet (truth). Should the heavens and ha-aretz (the land, particularly referring to Israel) exchange places, still, not even one ' (yod) nor one ` (qeren) of the Oral Law of Mosheh shall so much as exchange places; until it shall become that it is all being fully ratified and performed non-selectively. For whoever deletes one Oral Law from the Torah, or shall teach others such, by those in the Realm of the heavens he shall be called "deleted." Both he who preserves and he who teaches them shall be called Ribi in the Realm of the heavens. For I tell you that unless your Tzedaqah (righteousness) is over and above that of the Sophrim and of the [probably 'Herodian'] Rabbinic-Perushim (corrupted to "Pharisees"), there is no way you will enter into the Realm of the heavens! “
The Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM) 5:17-20

The research of world-recognized authorities in this area implies that Ribi Yehoshua from Natzrat was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group - who according to 4Q MMT (Jewish document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) practised both written and oral Torah). As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site ( and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students. In NHM we have removed all things Ribi Yehoshua impossibly cannot have said.

Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee Ribi and following him brings you into Torah, which gives you a rich and meaningful life here on earth and great rewards in life after death (“heaven”)!

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim ( in Ra’anana in Israel who are followers of Ribi Yehoshua – Messiah – in [meta-]Orthodox Judaism

David V.S. said...

Anders visited my blog with the same troll-writing. My rebuttal is here.