Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision

Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (IVP: 2009) is N.T. Wright’s attempt to explain once again his view on Paul’s use of justification. He wrote it as a summary of his view, and as a response to critics (primarily John Piper) who seem to not understand what he is saying.

The book is written with ironic humor and remarkable restraint, but the most amazing feature is the Biblical paradigm shift that Wright presents to his readers regarding justification. Though most of what Wright explains in this book he has written elsewhere, this book puts it all together in nice, orderly fashion, so that even if one does not agree with Wright, we can hope that they will now be able to critique his view with understanding.

As for myself, I am not yet fully persuaded of Wright’s view. His basic view is that justification is God’s law-court declaration that a person is in right standing (so far, so good) with God’s covenant. It’s that covenant part that raises questions, particularly since Wright’s definition of justification does away with the doctrine of imputed righteousness. Wright does not believe that through justification we receive the righteousness of Christ (p. 135).

And yet, what Wright takes away with one hand, he gives back with another. Wright argues that issues related to deliverance from the penalty and power of sin in our lives come through resurrection, not through justification (pp. 231-235). This, however, though a major doctrine, is a minor point in Wright’s book.

His main concern is to show how his view of justification makes more sense of the Pauline passages that speak of it. And with this, he is more than a conqueror. If, for example, you’ve ever struggled with what Romans 9-11 has to do with the rest of the letter, Wright’s view makes these chapters not only fit within the flow of Paul’s argument, but actually become the pinnacle and the climax of Romans. Wright’s strength in this is due to his insistence on reading the biblical text, not with twenty-first century eyes and sixteenth-century questions, but with first-century eyes and first-century questions. This, it seems to me, is the best way to read and study Scripture, and Wright does an excellent job leading the way.

If you want to understand some of the nuances to the current debate on justification, I recommend this book. If, however, you want to understand the thought flow of some of Paul’s letters (like Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans), this book must not be ignored. Take it up, and read.

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