Can someone explain rather simply to me what N.T. Wright is teaching concerning justification/righteousness? It seems different than what I have believed that these are accomplished by Christ’s finished work. Is he teaching that these are equal to our sanctification or is he teaching we must earn our righteousness and establish our own justification. I have to say it is confusing to me. I am sure there is a topic on this but I can’t find it. I want to be clear and be settled in my faith as it concerns these very essential doctrines.
@mitwit My understanding is that N. T. Wright does not land squarely on one theory of the atonement, but that he does not deny penal substitution.
Let’s take a look at a few theories of the atonement. When Jesus died He atoned for our sins, but there is some disagreement about what ‘atonement’ means.
- Ransom theory - Jesus died as a ransom to either the devil or to God
- Christus Victor - Jesus died to defeat the powers of evil - sin, death and the devil - setting us free to live in His Kingdom
- Satisfaction theory - Christ died to satisfy God’s justice
- Penal substitution - Christ was punished in our place - He took our punishment upon the cross - He did not just pay a debt of justice but literally suffered in our place
For a fuller discussion see thread below. Christ grant you wisdom
One can clearly see an affirmation of the penal substitutionary atonement throughout the theology of N.T. Wright. Though Wright does not affirm this doctrine within the standard Reformed categories, the concept of Jesus the Righteous One dying in the place of the sinner and thus taking upon Himself the wrath of God is clearly espoused. Even though some of us may disagree with Wright’s “fresh” perspective on Paul or his view of Jesus’ messianic consciousness, this does not mean we should not affirm Wright where he should be affirmed. Personally, since I began writing this essay, I have a deeper appreciation for the penal substitutionary view of the atonement because of the way Wright espouses it within the historical events of the first century.
Thank you Sean. I read your article.That helped. I will come back to this as I am in the process of trying to understand him in an Unbelievable? Wright vs. James White you tube discussion as I type and will finish in the morning. It is long and it is late for me. Maybe he says the same as reformed protestant tradition, but couched in different language? Still seeking and praying.
@mitwit N. T. Wright’s view is quite nuanced. Unless you are willing to invest quite a bit of time in reading his books first-hand, my advice would be to not come to any definitive conclusions regarding his theology based on second-hand sources or to try to sort out his view on justification from a few YouTube videos.
He has a book called ‘Justification’. I have not read it, but that might be a good place to start. However, N. T. Wright in my experience can be difficult to grasp at one sitting, so it may be wise to read it in community and read thoroughly.
N.T. Wright is a first century historian, and an Anglican. When he describes justification, he is describing what a first century Jew understood “righteousness” and “to be made righteous” to be. That is, he is explaining what Jesus and Paul (and other speakers in the New Testament text) mean, when they use the language of “righteousness.”
Frankly, I like to go back to what the original language meant when the authors wrote the New Testament, rather than appeal to definitions that come from 10 centuries later, in the late medieval period, and often do not have the same flavor/meaning that the text of the NT has.
That is not a popular approach with American Evangelicals. But my higher loyalty is to God’s Word. And I believe that Wright has a much better understanding of what the language of the NT meant, when the writers wrote, than what some of the theologians in the medieval period did. (Luther rejected the NT book of James as being inspired by God, because Luther had this 1-dimensional misunderstanding that “faith” was a mental choice (only), and didn’t have to be lived out in righteous actions, to be real.)
(Note that in the original Greek, what we read in English translations as “justification” and “vindication” and “to be declared righteous” and “to be made righteous” and “righteous” – these are all the same word group. Modern Americans do not understand the core concept of righteousness that first century Jews held (and what the language of the NT is talking about). And so later theologians and Christians sometimes treat “justification” as a very different topic than the whole concept of righteousness that the language of the Bible presents.
The other modern problem, is that the medieval theologies of “justification” involve imputed righteousness (this itself is not wrong). And Christians who are steeped in the language of imputed righteousness, often ignore the many and blatant commands in the New Testament to live out righteous acts (such as Paul, in Ephesians, stating that we are God’s creation in Christ, for good works, to live them out). And Christians who do not read the NT Greek and see the English translation “justification,” often do not realize when the underlying Greek is talking about an entire complex of righteousness language. They sometimes misunderstand that all righteousness in the NT is talking about something that is merely imputed. In reality, we are commanded to live out righteousness, and be holy and perfect (this is not just imputed).
Thank you Stephen. And your description of the modern church’s tendency to incomplete teaching concerning the believer’s life lived out in the saving grace of God, I have seen this, and once lived in ignorance of the purposes of God for me, i.e. to be conformed to the image of Christ, issuing in a new life lived out in holiness to God and true righteousness, by grace through faith, in His power by the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of God. This all begins with the atoning work of Christ for the forgiveness of sin , reconciling me to God, which begins this new life. A life hid with God in Christ. The old having been crucified with Christ.
Maybe I am deficient on all I should understand, no doubt, but I am growing.I, in a simple manner, understand that faith without works is dead. I am not at all sure it is a good thing for me at this point to delve into N.T. Wright’s understanding of things. Perhaps one has to know when one(me) is in 1st or 2nd grade, and high school trig would make one awfully discouraged.
I do thank you Sean for your advice. Taken!!!