A critique on N T Wright’s view of justification by faith

Phil Johnson of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, on N T Wright’s book “The New Perspective on Paul”.

My major concern about N T Wright is I think he seriously muddies the doctrine of justification by faith which is the very heart of the Gospel. He says it’s not the heart of the Gospel. He says justification by faith is an ecumenical doctrine and that the Gospel is really a different message simply about the Lordship and the victory of Christ. Of course the Gospel does declare the victory of Christ over sin and His Lordship, but the Gospel, the good news of the Gospel, is about how sinners can be right with God. And I think N T Wright gets that seriously wrong, and for that reason I think his writings in general, particularly when he talks about the things he talks about the most, Paul’s theology and the Gospel, I think he causes more confusion than clarity. And so I am wary about what he’s written and concerned about how it reconciles with Scripture. Basically my argument is this, N T Wright says you can’t understand Paul correctly unless you study other extra-Biblical sources about 1st Century Judaism and understand what it was Paul was up against. And he says basically we have totally misunderstood 1st Century Judaism. It’s not a religion of works etc. My answer to that is, the best place to really understand what Paul was up against is from the context of Scripture it’s self. And the best way to understand what was defective about 1st Century Judaism, and especially the religion of the Pharisees, is to study what Jesus said when he encountered the Pharisees and refuted their teaching. And Jesus was very clear, the problem with it is it was a religion of works. In the words of Paul himself from Romans 10, the problem was they were going about trying to establish their own righteousness, rather than depending on the righteousness of God. … the problem with the view of justification N T Wright teaches, he says it’s OK to establish your own righteousness rather than seeing the imputed righteousness of Christ as the basis of a right standing with God.

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16 Replies to “A critique on N T Wright’s view of justification by faith”

  1. If you take Wright’s approach that one does have to read all of the extra-biblical material it seems to do serious damage to the Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture.
    We both know that outside reading is helpful. I don’t deny that. It’s simply that it’s an over the top sort of statement to declare is almost an absolute necessity.
    In the end, I think Wright is unbalanced in his approach. I see some of his points, but they do not negate forensic justification. They complement it, I think.

  2. Paul spends a long time explaining justification to the church at Rome. I wonder how these people got to be in the chruch if they didn’t already understand this….

  3. For me, I don’t believe in the Doctrine of Perspicuity, but do believe that everything we need for salvation is easily understood. Further, I think that some, myself, included, believe that everyone must be a theologian and constantly engaging other fields sub-fields of theology in an effort to know more about the bible. Those ‘some’ and myself would be wrong. Each person has a gift, and they are not always the same. It is not necessary, although I for myself find that the study of outside documents, specially since the bible was not written in a vacuum at any part of it’s production, helps to build and flesh out my understanding of the documents. But, do they help all people? Certainly not.

  4. The problem is that everyone is bringing in outside sources, whether they admit it or not. We all approach the text with a truckload of baggage. Even John MacArthur holds the theology he does because, somewhere down the line, someone taught it to him. Why does he approach the Bible as a Reformed Baptistic Dispensationalist and not, say, a Wesleyan? Why do I know people completely on the other side of the spectrum who also believe they are “just reading the Bible”? Outside sources are inevitable. Why do we need a MacArthur Study Bible? Why do we need the Westminster Confession? Maybe, if I had not been exposed to either, but was first brought to Christ by Pentecostals, I might read certain documents completely differently.

  5. that would be true if i was a wrightian emerging xian but i’m not. but another day, another reformed dilettante trying to prove how wrong Wright is. puuleeeeeze. there is no evidence that the doctrine of justification is at the heart of the gospel. Bodily resurrection is. Did Jesus ever talk about justification, or are we just going to rely on a particular hermeneutic in order to get us to that conclusion? Yeah I thought so.

  6. And let me just add, I find both theologically and historically suspect any, and I mean ANY Christian worldview that would try to ignore Jesus’s Jewishness (second-Temple context). It’s just another form of racialized theologizing/biblicizing which leads to an other-worldly false gospel.

  7. “Basically my argument is this, N T Wright says you can’t understand Paul correctly unless you study other extra-Biblical sources about 1st Century Judaism and understand what it was Paul was up against. And he says basically we have totally misunderstood 1st Century Judaism. It’s not a religion of works etc. My answer to that is, the best place to really understand what Paul was up against is from the context of Scripture it’s self.”

    Whether or not Wright is right or wrong, I entirely, wholeheartedly, disagree and cannot disagree more with that statement.

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