The New Perspective on Paul: Justification is Moral Remedy

Justification by faith in Christ is not provisional nor probationary.

Justification in the NPP is not about Christ making a full satisfaction to his Father’s justice on our behalf – it is not about moral standards being met – it is, rather, about one’s status of membership in God’s people. Christ remains at the center of this new perspective, the living Lord uniting the nations under his banner, but the imputation of his personal and perfect obedience is not at the center of this new justification.  

 

Eight years-ago this month a friend gave me a copy of N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP, 2009). The handwritten note inside the cover said: “To John, A provocative and edifying read.”

Those words encapsulate the challenge and trouble of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). The work of N.T. Wright, a leading voice of the NPP, has indeed been provocative for he boldly tells Protestants of the reformation that we have failed to read Paul correctly.

As for edification in Wright’s work, it is scarce. Not just because of errors but also for the division it sows among brethren.

To grasp just how provocative the NPP is, consider what Wright said in an interview with his publisher: “Much of the reformation and post-reformation formulations of the doctrine were answering that question, About how can I get enough righteousness so that when God looks at me he will see that I am righteous.” Wright says this is absolutely the wrong question: “The question Paul is asking is not, How can you get enough righteousness so that when God looks at you he’ll be happy with you? But how can you be sure you are a member of God’s people.”

Wright’s view of justification is not Luther’s view nor Calvin’s. In Wright’s view justification is “to be reckoned by God to be a true member of his family, and hence with the right to share table fellowship” (Justification, 116). Justification is “the assured status of belonging to God’s people” (117).

This means the NPP removes the doctrine of justification from under the heading of soteriology and relocates it under the heading of ecclesiology. Wright states this plainly: “In standard Christian theological language, it [justification] wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church (What Saint Paul Really Said, 119).

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