Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Chapter 9)

I was impressed when N.T. Wright compressed all 738 pages of The Resurrection of the Son of God into chapters 3 and 4 of Surprised by Hope. However, he outdid himself by compressing the New Perspective on Paul into the 9 pages of chapter 9.

Chapter 9 of Surprised by Hope is about Jesus the coming judge and the meaning of the term "justification." Wright rightly writes:

"The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and postliberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God's coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might be a day when the wicked are firmly put in their right place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world of rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment." (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church [New York: HarperOne, 2008], 137.

This judgment, according to Wright, will be on the basis of works (Rom 14:9–10, 2 Cor 5:10). The idea of justification by faith does not negate this future judgment by works, as Wright notes:

"Justification by faith is what happens in the present time, anticipating the verdict of the future day when God judges the world. It is God's advanced declaration that when someone believes the gospel, that person is already a member of his family no matter who their parents were, that their sins are forgiven because of Jesus' death, and that on the future day, as Paul says, 'there is now no condemnation' (Romans 8:1)." (140)

What does all of this mean for us, who are anticipating our future justification? Don't be too quick to grab the spacesuit.

"In his appearing we find neither a dualist rejection of the present world nor simply his arrival like a spaceman into the present world but rather the transformation of the present world, and ourselves within it, so that it will at least be put to rights and we with it. Death and decay will be overcome, and God will be all in all." (143)

I really like Wright's view of justification. I don't know that I have bought in completely to the New Perspective, but Ed, Tom and Jimmy make some good points. I especially like the idea that our "justification" is justification in the already/not yet sense. We anticipate a future justification, but in some way are "as good as justified" based on what Jesus did and our faith in Him.

How do you like this statement: "God is making the world right, and He is starting with us (the church)"?

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