Back in November of 2010 N.T. Wright and Tom Schreiner debated the subject of Justification at the Evangelical Theological Society conference. I’ve been too busy to do much hunting on the happenings at the debate and the fallout afterwards.
But I remember a lot of buzz flying around about how Schreiner got Wright to admit he was wrong and change his views. I have since discovered that said buzz was greatly exaggerated. I have not seen official papers from the conference, but the word on the street has it that Wright adopted the phrase “according to our works” rather then “on the basis of our works” when discussion future justification. Fine. But his critics have been so over zealous to cheer victory that they failed to notice that this terminology played so far in the background of the debate as to hardly be recognized in any discussion that had gone before. If anything it testifies to Wright’s humility as I witnessed it first hand at Wheaton after listening to Kevin Vanhoozer give his fantastic talk (watch here).
But again, Wright’s critics ought not cheer too quickly. For as Marc Coretz opens a post titled “NT Wright at ETS (part 1)“:
Free advice: If you ever have the opportunity to debate N.T. Wright, don’t. He’s probably smarter than you and he’s almost certainly funnier than you.
Marc also observed from the conference (in a comment in the same post):
In case I forget to comment on this later, Wright spoke very highly of the paper Vanhoozer delivered at the Wheaton conference a while back. He basically said that Vanhoozer’s comments were spot on.
I remember watching Wright’s expressions with great intrigue as he took in Vanhoozer’s suggestion of “adopotion” as perhaps the missing link in Wright’s understanding of Justification. I too was blow away by that part Vanhoozer’s paper.
In any case, from reports I’ve read – aside from those anti-Wright bloggers who got themselves hung up on the “according to our works” phrase – nothing significant of Wright’s view of Justification has altered. If anything, with each debate we find Wright better articulating his views; simplifying his terms and explaining their definitions and usage with greater ease.
Perhaps it can be argued (and I think this is absolutely the central issue) that the central issue of the debate is over Wright’s rejection of the theological construct of “Imputation”. It is this – more than anything else – that has caused so many in the Reformed camp (Sproul, Piper, Schreiner et cetera) to rise up and set Wright straight. That was the cause which the ETS conference occasioned.
Is Justification about getting saved or about being saved (soteriology or ecclesiology)? Is it about a persons moral character or a judicial declaration? Are we imputed God’s righteousness (or Christ’s righteousness) or is it through Union with Christ that we are declared Justified?
An article by Thomas Schreiner has come to my attention titled “Wright Is Wrong on Imputation“. In it Schreiner seeks answers these central questions about Justification to show where Wright is wrong. I’ll respond to that article to show were Schreiner is wrong.