Friday, April 23, 2010

Justification: Soteriology and Ecclesiology

In light of my last post I wanted to show how the wedge between eccesiology (the church) and soteriology (salvation) does not always exist in N.T. Wright's theology. Take this quote from his latest book, Justification (IVP, 2009):

There is indeed a sense in which "justification" really does make someone "righteous" - it really does create the "righteousness", the status-of-being-in-the-right, of which it speaks - but "righteousness" in the law-court sense does not mean either "morally good character" or "performance of moral good deeds", but "the status you have when the court has found in your favor."...yes, God has vindicated Jesus himself, by raising him from the dead...And yes, that vindication is indeed the context within which the vindication of the believer is to be understood. (p. 92)

Earlier he says:

It is in this sense that "justification" "makes" someone "righteous," just as the officiant at a wedding service might be said to "make" the couple husband and wife - a change of status, accompanied (it is hoped) by a steady transformation of the heart, but a real change of status even if both parties are entering the union out of pure convenience. (p. 91)

So justification isn't just about "identifying" who is in. It is about granting people a new status, a creation of a new reality. Before the status was "condemnation" and now the status is "in-the-right". Just as at my wedding my pastor granted us the status of "husband and wife", a status that we did not previously enjoy, so justification is the creation the status "in-the-right." I agree with Wright that this status also has to do with the covenant (i.e. who are the covenant people of God?). But when one is justified in the present it is because they are united to Jesus, in his death and vindication. Therefore, justification is about soteriology and ecclesiology.


Anonymous said...


I would definitely recommend picking up this amazing little book: "Revisiting Paul's Doctrine of Justification: A Challenge to the New Perspective" by Peter Stuhlmacher (with an essay by Donald A. Hagner) by IVP.

Nicholas P. Mitchell said...

Hey Nick,

Thanks for the recommendation. I will check it out on google books. Another good book is by Michael Bird, "The Saving Righteousness of God". He appreciates and criticizes the NPP but I think he has given a very balanced and well thought out perspective.