Sunday, August 15, 2010

N.T. Wright on the Active Obedience of Christ

If you read John Piper's book The Future of Justification you will discover that one of the central points of contention with N.T.Wright's doctrine of Justification involves the imputation of Christ's righteousness, especially that of his "active obedience." Classically we have usually emphasized both Christ's passive and active obedience, His sinless life of keeping the whole law perfect and his obedience unto death, even death on a cross. In criticizing this teaching Wright seems often to characterize it in such a way that it resembles the Catholic doctrine more than the one of the Reformation - infused vs. imputed. However, the reason why he resists this teaching so much involves his deconstruction of Paul that I referenced in the previous post. While he acknowledges the law-court metaphor in justification he insists that the judge in no way shares or transfers his own righteousness, but merely creates a new "status" for the justified. At times it almost seems like the 'splitting of hairs' and you are on the verge of saying, "Well that's what I mean." He emphasizes Christ's death and the central place it has in our salvation, and for that we are grateful. However, this area of Christ's active obedience, long taught and cherished, is swept away in his new paradigm. In its place we have the Messiah who does what Israel was unable to do because of sin, which is to carry out God's single plan for the world, being the faithful Israelite, faithful to the original covenant. Something has dropped out, and you find yourself looking to find it.

Wright, in his effort to reemphasize the role of the Spirit, looks more to a model of "transformation" than "imputation." He believes that the old model risks, in the end, of being less than trinitarian, even falling into the potential trap of 'having faith in faith.' A fear, for me, though, is how this "transformation" works its way out for the Christian. Progressive sanctification, the traditional bane of the holiness bodies such as the Weslyians and Pentecostals, represents a falling into the other ditch with the same error from which Wright wishes to protect us.

Piper was right to warn against this omission in Wright. The church is not ready to jettison its doctrine even over one man's need to protect another.

1 comment:

Cammie Novara said...

"Classically we have usually emphasized both Christ's passive and active obedience, His sinless life of keeping the whole law perfect and his obedience unto death, even death on a cross." I agree completely. There's a really animated debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at http://www.intelligentdesignfacts.com