Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wright on Justification, Part One: The Divine Lawcourt

In his book Justification, N.T. Wright attempts to approach his doctrinal topic from four directions: lawcourt, covenant, eschatology, and Christology. These four aspects of justification, Wright argues, must be held together by the New Testament scholar in order to understand "what Saint Paul really said."
In this post I will interact a bit with the first of Wright's aspects: the lawcourt.

Wright begins by denying the claim of many that justification denotes "the entire picture of God's reconciling action toward the human race" (though the dikaios root "is indeed closely related to the whole theme of human salvation"). What, then, does "justification" mean? Wright argues that the word "righteousness" (Greek: dikaios) refers to "the status that someone has when the court has found in their favor." This has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral character of the person in question: on a human level a judge could incorrectly grant the status of "found by the court to be in the right" to a criminal, and it still would not change the fact that he now enjoys the status of "righteous." Turning to the verb form "to justify," Wright insists that what is in view here is not the remedial, Augustinian notion of "making righteous" (at least not if "righteous is referring to moral character). Rather, "to justify" means to declare that one is in the right with repect to the divine lawcourt:

"To justify" does not denote an action which transforms someone so much as a declaration which grants them a status. It is the status of the person which is transformed by the action of "justification," not the character. 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....
This is why, according to Wright, any notion of the "imputation of the alien righteousness of Christ" is flawed, though understandable. The righteousness spoken of in Romans 3 is not a moral quality, but a status of legal vindication (meaning that the notion that one person's righteousness could be given to another is a confusion of categories).

From a confessionally Reformed perspective, some of what Wright says is rather benign, and some of it is even refreshing (especially his insistence on the Reformation emphases of the declarative and forensic). But once you start messing around with the doctrine of imputed righteousness, that is where the good Calvinist must dig his heels in and resist.

I have up my sleeve what I consider to be a pretty solid defense of the doctrine of imputation (which I will bring out eventually). But in the meantime, what are some ways that you would refute Wright's claims here?