Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision by N.T. Wright (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009. 279 pp)
N.T. Wright studied at Sedbergh School and Exeter College before being ordained as a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College. Wright taught at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford University before becoming the Bishop of Durham. Recently, he took a position as a Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews.
There are times when I wish I lived during the era of saints and heretics. As orthodox Christianity developed, people fought over differing theological positions and often resorted to name calling. It is best to view N.T. Wright’s book in a similar fashion. In short, Justification reads as an extended letter snappily written to John Piper in defense of Wright’s position on Paul’s view of justification in Romans.
The backdrop behind this book is the longstanding debate of the “Old Perspective” versus the “New Perspective” of Paul. John Piper holds the classical position known as the “Old Perspective” first developed by Martin Luther. Briefly, this position proclaims that Christians are made right in the eyes of God through faith whereas Jews believe that they are made right by the law or good deeds. Thus, salvation in the “Old Perspective” comes from inward faith and not from outward actions. In contrast, Wright represents the “New Perspective” that understands both the Old Testament and New Testament views of salvation to be part of the same overarching narrative. It is not that Christians are saved by faith and Jews are saved by works; instead, justification is a single act from God in which people are capable of responding faithfully through right actions. The word “covenant” found in the Old Testament summarizes the “New Perspective” well. Wright goes further, however, defining this singular covenantal theme as God’s “single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world” (p. 106).
While I personally am interested in the subject and know the greater debate which inspired the writing of this book, the text itself spends little time giving the reader the background. Wright begins by lobbing insult grenades toward enemy lines and concludes the book with a long and difficult-to-follow interpretation of Paul’s epistles. I often found myself confused about Wright’s argument because he cites verses without telling us what they say.
On the whole, Justification, is a book for those actively involved in the “Old Perspective” vs. “New Perspective” debate. Without a solid grounding in these issues, a prospective reader will become lost. Although it is a decent book, I can only recommend it to the committed few who already know the basic debate.