Reflections on Tom Wright’s Justification

I wanted to record a few little bits as I go along reading N.T. Wright’s book on Justification. More will be coming as I continue to read through the book. Hopefully I’ll get to write a review of the whole book once I finish.

I just finished up his bit of exegesis on Corinthians. His reading of 2 Corinthians 5 I found challenging, as I often do when I read Wright. I think he’s correct in his exegesis, but it does fly in the face of how I’ve heard that passage read and read it myself for years. However, it makes much more sense of the text. As I recall, the argument is basically that the end of 2 Cor 5 (especially the "that we might become the righteousness of God" part) is the climax to the 3 chapter long expose on the nature of his apostleship. The we here functions first to refer to the apostles. The point of becoming the righteousness of God is not so much we’re not going to hell, or we’re pardoned from sin, or that we’re going to heaven but that through the apostles (and in turn the whole church) God is making his plea of reconciliation to the world, God is displaying his covenant faithfulness in us (faithfulness to the covenant is Wright’s definition of righteousness as understood in second temple Judaism and early Christianity). We have made the primary focus of this passage what Paul has made the implicit, underlying assumption. Paul is not talking primarily about what happens to us when we become Christians, he’s rather discussing his apostolic calling, and indeed the call of the entire church. By dying and rising with Christ, by the washing of baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit, in the power and wisdom of the Spirit we call out to the world: "be reconciled to God!" As usual, Wright’s reading of the text, though not always agreeing with the Protestant tradition which I’ve grown up in, does give me the "Aha!"’ moment. Scripture makes much more sense than it did before.

His comments on Ephesians, too were interesting. In our Protestant zeal to divorce soteriology (how we get saved) from ecclesiology (our beliefs about the church), we’ve lost the New Testament’s very high ecclesiology. Frankly, it’s hard for me to reconcile Paul’s picture of a glorified church with our rather spotty track record over the past 2,000 years. I suppose that’s another part of learning to live with the eschatological tension, the tension which groans in the present because we’ve experience a down payment of what’s to come. I do find it comforting that the primitive church was far less perfect than we sometimes imagine it. Paul too, as he wrote Ephesians, knew that the church was not perfect. He knew that racial tensions were rampant, and that false prophets and teachers abounded. His letters to the Corinthians showed how "colorful" the church could be. Yet he still paints the broad, view of a jew+gentile church, one which is seated in heavenly places with Christ, which is, indeed, the bride of Christ. It’s a fascinating picture which Paul paints for us, and understanding the jew+gentile tension certainly helps it resonate more deeply within me.

Thanks for reading!

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