Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wright on Justification, Part Four: Christology

As we have been seeing, N.T. Wright insists that the doctrine of justification must be approached from four distinct but related angles. We have looked at the first three (lawcourt, covenant, and eschatology), and in this post we’ll consider the fourth: Christology.
According to Wright, Christology comes to bear upon justification in the fact that God’s “single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world” had a problem, namely, that Israel had not offered to God the “obedience” (Wright’s term) that was necessary to bring about the fulfillment of God’s saving promises to Abraham. He writes:

The task of the Messiah, bringing to its appointed goal the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world, was to offer to God the “obedience” which Israel should have offered but did not.... The problem with the single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world was the “through-Israel” bit: Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the “obedience” which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission.... What is needed is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all.
Now before we Reformed confessionalists begin celebrating too much over what Wright says here, we must realize that when he speaks of obedience his thoughts turn immediately to Philippians 2:8. “Jesus,” Paul says there, “was obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” For Wright, Jesus’ obedience as the faithful Israelite consists in his curse-bearing death—there is no sense in which the Father demanded a perfect performance from either Adam or Christ in order to qualify them to stand in his presence. And consistently with this is the denial of the merit of that law-keeping being transferred to those whom both Adams represented. No, what was given over to Adam’s offspring was the results of his deadly sin, and what is reckoned to the followers of Christ are the blessings of his death and resurrection.

My question to Wright (if I had the chance to ask him one) would be this: If Jesus, as our covenant representative, needed to qualify himself to bear the covenant curse by first leading a sinless life, then why is this the case? If the medieval notion of merit (which apparently plagues Reformed Protestantism) is so wrong-headed, then why did the Father insist upon perfect law-keeping from his Son before he could offer himself upon the cross? And since Christ’s covenant faithfulness was necessary (as Wright admits), then why would it not be a part of what gets reckoned to those who are united to Jesus? Or, did the Father wait until the Son’s earthly life was ending and his death beginning before he exclaimed, “OK.... Ready? Set? Go! Start redeeming NOW!”

But to be fair to Wright, that was four questions....