Paul on Justification
I was asked this week, by a prospective student, if we had a "policy" about the New Perspective on Paul on campus. The answer is no. Wright's works are studied and discussed to be sure, both in and out of class. For myself, it seems to me that the Scriptures are astonishingly coherent and clear about forensic justification. I also think, as Udo Schnelle points out in this interview, that Lutheranism has sometimes been caricatured. An even bigger gap, as I see it, is the failure of students of Paul to come to grips with Paul's historical milieu -- a point that Wright often makes. Kingdom ministry embraces sanctification, good works, and healing. It also has a strong communal element to it. All well and good. But wherever the Gospel is preached, and wherever the church is truly carrying out the work of the kingdom, there is an inner logic that places "repentance from dead works and faith toward God" (Heb. 6:1) at the forefront. In a word, personal, individual repentance and commitment to the King is required of all of us, Jew or Greek. In Christianity we have a new Law for a new people by a new Moses. And it is all by faith, from beginning to end (Rom. 1:17).
Paul's use of skubala (also noted by Schnelle in his interview) is a most evocative image. In Phil 3:7-9 Paul writes:
As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake .... For His sake I have thrown all that away and consider it all as mere skubala (garbage, rubbish, dung, unspeakable filth) so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with Him, no longer having a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law, but the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ (and indeed, by His faithfulness on my behalf) -- the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.
As Jesus put it, you cannot enter the Kingdom of the Righteous One without a righteousness even greater than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Neither Jesus nor Paul had a quarrel with the Law and the Prophets. In fact, they validated them. But they were totally against the barrier of externalism that the scribes and the Pharisees had erected -- "scribal righteousness" it has been called. The Great Commission calls for personal faith in Christ (Mark 16:15), but a faith that eventually issues in a kingdom lifestyle and obedience to everything Christ requires of us (Matt. 28:19). To follow Jesus demands a completely different way of living; it requires values and ambitions that are radically new and radically kingdom-oriented. And the good news is that this obedience, this kingdom way of living, is as much enabled as it is required. As Paul writes in Rom. 8:3-4 (verses I wish every Christian would commit to memory):
For what the Law could not do, weakened as it was by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to do away with sin. God did this so that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us who live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.
Yes, God's righteousness is imputed to us -- thanks be to God! -- but it is also to be imparted; and we are to desire the whole thing, complete righteousness, not just a part of it.
May 12, 2011
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.