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Continuing a brief series on the errors of N T Wright’s New Perspectives on Paul (NPP), today’s post features Michael Horton‘s point of view.

Already we have seen that Dr Wright — today’s foremost champion of NPP — and his fellow travellers (theologians and historians) see St Paul’s epistles as an instruction for ecumenism, works-based salvation and political involvement.  Dr Horton explores these further, calling them Wright’s ‘third way’.  Emphases mine below.

First, here are three quotes from Wright on NPP:

Once we relocate justification, moving it from the discussion of how people become Christians to the discussion of how we know that someone is a Christian, we have a powerful incentive to work together across denominational barriers.
—“New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective, p. 261

And, as I have argued before and hope to show here once more, many of the supposedly ordinary readings within the Western Protestant traditions have simply not paid attention to what Paul actually wrote. – Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (IVP, 2009), p. 50

[Justification] has regularly been made to do duty for the entire picture of God’s reconciling action toward the human race, covering everything from God’s free love and grace, through the sending of the son to die and rise again for sinners, through the preaching of the gospel, the work of the Spirit, the arousal of faith in human hearts and minds, the development of Christian character and conduct, the assurance of ultimate salvation, and the safe passage through final judgment to that destination” – Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, p. 86

Michael Horton responded to these quotes and more in an article, ‘Justification and Ecumenism’, which appeared on Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk. Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), a host of the White Horse Inn broadcasts and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Much of ‘Justification and Ecumenism’ follows:

One of the great connections that N.T. Wright emphasizes in his work is the one between soteriology (how we are saved) and ecclesiology (the church: who are the true people of God?). He properly (and repeatedly) reminds us that Paul saw these questions as inseparable. Interestingly, so did the Protestant Reformers, as historians have often observed. As on so many points, however, Wright distorts the Reformation positions and almost never footnotes his sweeping allegations. For example, in his latest book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (IVP, 2009), Wright once more complains that the Reformers simply did not read Paul with his own concerns in mind, such as God’s plan “to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10), with the two peoples (Jew and Gentile) becoming one family in Christ in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham (p. 43).

A cursory reading of Calvin’s Ephesians commentary tells a different story …

In this, as in his earlier works, Wright practically never offers a single footnote for his manifold assertions concerning Reformation exegesis. However, he hangs much on the slender thread of several quotes from Alister McGrath’s expansive yet controversial study of the history of the doctrine of justification, Iustitia Dei ...

The main point of the Reformation was to stress the distinction between justification and the other gifts of salvation. It was Rome’s confusion of justification and sanctification that the Reformers challenged.

For all of his concern about ecclesiology in Paul, Wright does not seem as concerned about the actual positions that Protestant churches have held. In this murkiness, he is able to put forward his own view as a “third way” beyond the impasse of Rome and the Reformation. As it turns out, his alternative surrenders the doctrine of justification as the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience in favor of a concept of justification as the anticipation of a final justification based on “an entire life lived” — ours, that is.

At the heart of historical criticisms of the Reformation view has been the charge that it does not have any place for human activity. New Perspective trailblazers E .P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn approach Paul from an Arminian perspective (the latter having once been a Calvinist). N.T. Wright claims to avoid such debates (as do Sanders and Dunn), but everyone interprets Scripture from a particular theological perspective. Wright also has a clear agenda to get Christians to transform the world by “living the gospel” (complete with a very specific political prescription). He writes concerning justification: “If Christians could only get this right,” says Wright, “they would find that not only would they be believing the gospel, they would be practicing it; and that is the best basis for proclaiming it” (What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 159). Faith and holiness belong together, Wright properly insists, but the only way to keep them together, he seems to suggest, is to make them the same thing.

Far from being suspicious, we should welcome any ecumenical consensus that emerges out of the clear biblical testimony to God’s justification of the ungodly by imputing their sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to them through faith alone. However, the consensus that seems to be emerging in our day, as in other eras, seems to find its core sympathy in a more synergistic (Arminian and Roman Catholic) framework.

The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion adopted the Lutheran and Calvinist views of justification. However, since the Book of Common Prayer was discarded in the 1970s (United States) and 1980s (Great Britain), the Articles and their doctrine have been neglected and are now largely forgotten.  Even before that, however, 19th century religious movements within Anglicanism diluted them. Both Methodism and Anglo-Catholicism emphasised semi-Pelagianism over Spirit-inspired fruits of faith and, in doing so, caused generations of Anglicans to confuse the two. I do not know if Wright grew up with an Arminian (free-will) or an Anglo-Catholic approach to his faith but it seems possible.

What I do know is that most of the Anglicans I meet in Britain are one or the other. Consequently, they have a problem understanding the Doctrine of Grace.  When Christ said ‘It is finished’ as He took His final breath, He meant that He redeemed our sins. The conscious works-based striving for notional holiness and thinking — including works of political activism — is severely misguided.

I shall explore the Doctrine of Grace in a couple of weeks’ time. For now, here is a reminder of what the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (p. 3 of the link) state on justification and works. There is no ambiguity or mystery about them — and they draw from St Paul’s epistles:

XI. Of the Justification of Man.

WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works.

ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God’s judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification.

WORKS done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea, rather for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

XIV. Of Works of Supererogation.

VOLUNTARY works besides, over and above, God’s commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for His sake than of bounden duty is required: Whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to do, say, We be unprofitable servants.

N T Wright might well be a candidate to succeed Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. It appears that he knows more than the Reformers, including those who put together the doctrine of the Anglican Church.

Next week: J V Fesko, Sinclair Ferguson, Ligon Duncan and Carl Trueman on NPP


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