Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Critiques of Wright

I was asked about the following paper:
http://www.thirdmill.org/files/english/html/nt/NT.h.Hill.Wright.html
The question was "What do I think about this paper?"

Well, since you asked, here's my 2c worth...

The good part is that the author of this paper has the core point of Wright correct. That's not always the case with Wright's critics. The central point is what I have referred to elsewhere in this BLOG as the Sander's Revolution.

The bad part is that he is wrong in his critique of Wright. It's not that he misses the point, but he does not accept the point.

First, I question his methodology of determining the meaning of the word from a Lectionary. Nearly every Protestant Lectionary would tend to have a juridical definition, given our heritage, which is precisely what the Wright/Sander's Revolution rejects. Therefore, stating that all of the author's authorites are on the same side as the author, says nothing that the author is not already telling. Wright admits the "novelty" of his idea against a Protestant backdrop. It would be easier to quote Wright's own admissions that his idea is not historically mainstream and move to the next point.

If you want a good read of the historical baggage that comes with the word, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on justification adds some color and perspective to this issue. Certainly a Catholic Lectionary would probably have a different focus than a Protestant one (I don't have one handy, but I assume it would).

In my experience, there is a better way to determine the meaning of a word and that is through word substitution, which is the methodology Wright follows. Replace the word in question with the test phrase and see if it makes sense and continues to make sense. Wright stands up quite well in that regard.

From Wright, justification, for the Christian, is not about how to become a Christian, but the Justified One, Jesus, and our standing in Him. First century false systems of justification are not about failures of law-keeping, rather they are other systems that a person puts their trust in.

It is clear that for the first century Jew, their trust was in their physical descendency from Abraham and that they possessed the Law of God. There are numerous text which demonstrate this. Here is one example which makes the point:
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Mat 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
Mat 3:9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Most people skip the point that is being made here by John the Baptist. The "repentance" that John is calling for here is best understood from the text. In context, they trusted their descendency from Abraham and John acts to cut off that possibility. They were not (at least in this passage) trusting in their works. John is not calling on them to repent from their trust in their dead law-works. He is calling for them to change their minds (repent) about their trusting in descending from Abraham. John is clearing the road for Jesus and they need to be on the right path when He comes. The right path is not trusting in Abraham, but in Jesus.

When Scripture is looked at from this point of view, a lot of passages suddenly make sense that did not make sense before. Here's another such test passage:
Luk 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
Luk 13:3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Luk 13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Luk 13:5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

At first glance this passage appears to be talking about personal eschatology. Like the previous passage, it uses language such as "sinners", "repent" and "perish". But I don't think that is what Christ is saying at all. If I rephrase Christ using Wrightian language it would be something like this:
Do you think that the Galileans were worse than you because they died in that way? Unless you change your mind about revolt against Rome, you will die the same way. How about those that had the two fall on them as they tried to revolt against Rome. Do you think that you can avoid their fate when you revolt against Rome? Nope, unless you change your plans and follow my way, you will die like they died.

Which paradigm fits best Christ's meaning? The individual eschatology or the one that actually reflects the historical situation?

The historical fact is clear from reading outside the NT. The Pharisees did not believe in righteousness due to their following the Law. They thought they were holy because they possessed the Law and were descended from Abraham.




Saturday, January 14, 2006

From the Mailbox...

Wright comments that Saunder's correctly understands that the New Perspective has at least one commonality with the Reformed tradition in that "it sees the Jewish Law as a good thing now fulfilled, rather than (as in much Lutheran thought) a bad thing now abolished."

As a theonomist, how do you think you would modify the above (quoted) statement?

Here's how I take the Sander's revolution.

The historical piece that Sanders contributed was the bringing home the idea that the Pharisees were NOT preaching a gospel of salvation by observation of the Law. This was a strawman that the Lutherans had constructed which was mostly based on the personal life and testimony of Luther (a monk who struggled with obedience to God, etc). For Luther, the "discovery" of salvation by grace and through faith then forced a radical dichotomy between Law keeping and salvation.

For Lutherans the only value of the Law is showing your shortcomings to you. The Reformed did not have as a radical a dichotomy as Luther. They saw that the Law had some continuing force even after Christ. This was the root of the eventual disagreements between "mainstream" Reformed and "theonomic" Reformed.

The implications for Lutherans is that they popularly tend to dismiss much of the Bible as "law" and go with the notion "We are no longer under the Law". Walther's book on the Law Gospel distinction is the classic work in that regard.

Walther was the founder of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. He has a methodology of parsing every passage/word in the New Testament into either Law or Gospel depending upon whether it makes a demand on a person. If it makes a demand, it's Law. Where it gets interesting is commands like "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved". Since it makes a demand it is LAW to the Lutheran.

As a Theonomist we believe that the categories must be properly recognized initially. The ceremonial law was gone along with the temple in 70 AD. There are no more high priest, sacrifices, etc. That part of the Law is gone except in memory. Thus, the passages which speak of not mixing wool and linen, for instance, are part of that ceremonial observation and are no longer relevant. The passages a couple of verses later which speak of a man not laying with a man are moral (see below) and still have force.

For Lutherans, this has an immediate practical result in their apologetic for homosexual practices. Both the linen/wool passage and the "men shall not lie with men" passage are law and no longer in force. Thus, the ELCA and other Lutheran bodies are now struggling with issues around human sexuality.

Believing that governments should be organized by the civil part of the Law is what makes a person at theonomist. The theonomist is someone who buys into the idea that the civil part of the Law, while describing Israel and her God, has a force outside of that immediate geographical location. The idea is that the laws and penalties from the Old Testament are God's laws for organizing any nation of people who will follow Him.

The moral part of the law is where the battle happens. Again, Theonomy is a Reformed phenomenon. Thus, they take the moral aspects of the Law as describing things that are reflective of God's character.

These are very practical questions. Thus, you are much more likely to find a Reformed person who takes the Sabbath question more seriously than a Lutheran.