Monday, May 17, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 3

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at the second half of chapter 2.

The second half of this chapter looks like it's going to be a little bit more complex. I'll give it a shot though. Bird begins by discussing Jewish particularism and righteousness. If you have had any exposure to the work of the New Perspective (especially N.T. Wright) you would know that it is popular to define 'righteousness' as 'covenant membership'. Bird sees the importance of the sociological dimensions of righteousness but think that it cannot be limited to covenant membership.

According to Bird the reformers did recognize the corporate dimension of justification but this was lost later on in Lutheran and Reformed dogmatics. The emphasis became the salvation of the individual. This began to change with the rise of biblical theology as a separate discipline from dogmatics. More people sought to understand Paul in his historical setting. F.C. Baur was one who saw justification in traditional categories yet saw Galatians as Paul refuting the errors of Jewish Christians and Romans as Paul's attempt to deal with Jewish 'particularistic' tendencies. Wrede and Schweitzer agreed with Baur that "justification was formulated in response to the Judaizing crisis but disagreed that 'righteousness' by faith was the center of Paul's theology" (p.20). For W.D. Davis the Torah was Israel's way of remaining separate from the pagan world. For Paul, however, it was not being "in Israel" that mattered but being "in Christ". Christ, instead of Torah, was the center of Paul's life. Munck believed that Paul's focus was on the fact that God had an ordained plan for the gentiles in salvation-history which was to prompt the Jewish people to find eschatological salvation in Christ.

So why does Bird take us on this little journey through biblical scholarship? He is showing us that there was rising concern in biblical studies that Paul wasn't just dealing with the question of how individuals are saved and was dealing with problems of Jewish exclusivity. However, at this point no one ever really made the explicit link that justification was the solution to particularism.

This paved the way for Krister Stendahl to give a more explicit link between 'righteousness' and the inclusion of Gentiles. E.P. Sanders built on this work but emphasizes 'covenant'. The problem he saw with Judaism is that is was not Christianity. It was a matter of eschatology. In come N.T. Wright and James Dunn. They agreed that Judaism was not a legalistic religion but Paul's problem with Judaism is that it was too nationalistic. Justification is about covenant membership apart from the works that marked out the Jewish people. Although Dunn and Wright do not totally exclude the soteriological dimensions of justification some have done so. From Baur on the dividing line seems to be those who root the framework of Paul's thought in apocalypticism and those who root it in salvation-history. Bird offers a view that puts these two together. "The covenantal horizon means that we cannot lose sight of the question of who are God's people and how are they marked out as they await their final vindication. Similarly the apocalyptic horizon demands that the coming act of salvation spells out liberation from sin, death, and evil as well as the rectification of sinners and transgressors. The question that confronts us is: who are the people of God and in what economy shall they be vindicated?" (p. 32). It seems that Bird's aim is to put and end to those who drive a wedge between the soteriological and social dimensions of justification.

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