Has NT Wright changed his Mind?

The blogosphere is alive and well, with more posts on NT Wright than any sane person could possibly want to keep track of. Probably the most interesting is the continued discussion of whether NT Wright has changed his mind on final justification. Denny Burk argues that Wright’s recent statements regarding final justification being “in accordance with” rather than “on the basis of” final justification constitutes a fundamental shift in perspective. But, Wright himself has stated that this is not the case and that his he has always meant that final justification was “in accordance with” the whole life lived. And, Brian LePort agrees, arguing that although isolated statements could be taken otherwise, this has always been Wright’s basic position. For comparison. Blake White offers a roundup of different perspectives on Wright’s “change of mind” regarding Wright’s statements. Personally, I’m willing to take Wright at face value and see this as a clarification rather than a fundamental change, though it’s a clarification that it would have been nice to have a while ago given that this has been a clear bone of contention for many.

And, if you haven’t read enough about this discussion yet, Brian offers the best roundup of links that I’ve seen yet on ETS and the justification debate.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 22, 2010, in Salvation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Marc,

    I agree with Brian that this has been NTW’s position all along, and I personally believe that most of the confusion comes, not from Wright, but from his oponents. The fact is that Wright has made clarifications in the past, and used “accordance” and “on the basis” interchangeably.

    I think the confusions is also increased by the more recent “change of mind” on the part of the reformed who, contrary to their heritage, have decided that they don’t mind using the language of justification for final judgment. Is this not a fairly new development?

    As far as I understand, the reformers did not use justification language for final judgment…am I wrong about this? Maybe Calvin believed that final judgment was in accordance with sanctification (?), but would he have used the language of justification to describe this judgment?

    I also thought I’d leave a couple of quotes from Wright that I think are worth pursuing:

    “…Paul has said in v.7 they have not earned glory, honor and immortality, merely sought it; they know it remains a gift, however much it will turn out to be in accordance with the life they have in fact lived.”

    Wright Romans commentary 2:14-15, pg. 442.

    “My sense is that within certain sub-traditions of Protestantism the word ‘imputation’ has been made to carry far, far more baggage than it even begins to in the NT, and that’s a warning sign to me. As far as I can see, Paul’s central statements of something that I might be prepared to say ‘imputation’ about are in a passage like Romans 6, where the logic runs: by baptism, you are ‘in Christ’; therefore what is true of Christ is true of you; therefore, specifically, his death and resurrection are true of you; therefore you must calculate this, do the sums, work out who you actually are – and then live accordingly. But I think this provides a somewhat different grid of understanding to normal ‘imputation’ theology. The ‘reckoning’ thus takes place within, and as part of, incorporation into the people of the Messiah.”

    Wrightsaid E-mail Qand A responses for March, 2004

    “I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works.”

    10th Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference: 25–28 August 2003

    I just think that these are interesting quotes, and hope that they are helpful to clarify, and good for further conversation.

  2. @Brian: Nice selection of example. If we pair these with Burk’s it does lean toward the reality that Wright was not making a distinction that his detractors were making but that he had to make a distinction for the sake of communication and clarification.

  3. Marc,

    Yes, this has been a good and lively blog run on Tom Wright’s theology, and others somewhat. Iron sharpens iron! And hopefully we are all after the God of grace and glory! Thanks to let me run along! 🙂

    Let the debate continue!

  4. Brian, thank you for a helpful set of quotes. That really does help clarify what Wright was trying to communicate all along. I still have to wonder why it took him this long to come straight out and state where his interpreters were missing him and why. This criticism has been around for a while, yet I’m not aware of a similarly clear statement of what he thinks. Regardless, it’s good to get this all on the table finally.

    Regarding your question about final justification and the reformed tradition, I’m actually not sure what the answer is. Maybe someone will come along who knows more than we do. I think it’s safe to say that Calvin always affirmed the significance of works, but I don’t know if he ever used the language of justification in that context. That’s a good question.

  5. Never! Calvin used justification & sanctification together or near, but sanctification was both initial and continuing. And justification was always forensic! This is just one of Wright’s problems, he simply does not use reformational-reformed terms and language, very often.

  6. Yeah, Wright’s problem is he doesn’t used Reformational/Reformed terminology. What a bum. 🙂

  7. Well, of course there is a reason he avoids Reformed terminology: the battle is often about vocabulary. I’m a Karl Barth fan and I’m starting to wonder if there is not a parallel between the way he dialogged with evangelicals and the way Wright does (and how evangelicals reacted to both). Both of them tend to talk past the crucial junctures of evangelical theology. I think that this is partly a result of the obnoxious polemics of conservative Christian “thinkers.” It’s less about dialog than about hunting down error. Who really wants to explain himself to an inquisitor? At a recent talk, Wright admitted that he might use polemical language at times, because if he doesn’t no change ensues. People just say, “Oh, so he’s not really saying anything different after all.”

    • Yes, I think it is obvious that today Reformed scholastic terminology is rather dead. But sadly to our theological loss. Note Augustine here. We have also lost him principally. Myself raised Roman Catholic and my first degree being in Catholic philosophy, I see this even as an Anglican. But thankfully even Barth could run in this area. Note his love really for reading Calvin (as he said).

      And in the end, it is the “obnoxious” idea that we can live without Latin and Greek theological terminology, that is the real loss! Long live unio mystica, and also unio spiritualis, and unio personalis…’In Christ’!

  8. @Rob: Interesting observation, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the method. It would make sense.

  9. Rob,

    That is an excellent point. I have been thinking along the same lines, but have been unable to express it as well as you have.


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