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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
Justification - God's Plan & Paul's Vision
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on 13 July 2013
This response from NT Wright, I must confess, is frustrating at times. Firstly, he has written it very quickly- which shows, and it is frankly rather 'sloppy' at times, not quite thought through- which is a striking contrast to Dr. Piper's clarity and precision. Nevertheless, this is partly due to Wright's way of saying things, and he cannot be blamed too much for that. Secondly, and more worryingly, he seems to be surprisingly (and uncharacteristically) angry that people do not understand him (a crime he is not altogether innocent of), which lends itself to a tinge of arrogance when asserting his own views. Thirdly, he does not actually address many of Piper's objections, which is self-confessedly the way he wrote it. The bulk of the book is spent showing how the New Perspective interprets the broad themes in Galatians and Romans, and so lacks the specificity of Piper's book and it is rather annoying to not actually receive an answer to a number of problems that are raised with his position.

Having said that, the coherance of the paradigm which Wright shows in the actual texts is absolutely wonderful, and frankly moved the New Perspective from 'perhaps they've got a nugget of truth right somewhere' to 'the framework is right even if some details are missing'. This is why this book is essential reading for anyone interested in the New Perspective, particularly if you don't want to read the larger books available. Nevertheless, the terminology used in the book is considerably advanced beyond the typical books penned under 'Tom Wright' and not 'NT Wright'.

Well worth reading, but please please do not read it and not the original book by Piper or another 'Old Perspective' advocate- there's no room for that attitute in genuine faith.

3 1/2 stars
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on 16 March 2009
This is one of the most extraordinary books to come out of the theologically conservative camp in the past fifty years. Wright both cogently and devastatingly shows how conventional evangelical notions of "justification by faith" are construed out of garbled, cliched, and ultimately shallow readings of the New Testament. Or to put it another way: they are gleaned from the teachings of the Reformers (Luther in particular) rather than the Bible. The problem with Luther, Wright opines, is that he assumes that Paul was addressing the Roman Catholic Church in his epistles to the Romans and Galatians. This exegetical stance has wrongfooted generations of Protestant Christians.The Mosaic Law, Wright contends, was not given to the Jews so that they might keep it and thus be assured of heaven when they die, for the Law had already been given to Israel "after" God had redeemed the nation. Rather by keeping the Law Jews signified their status as God's chosen people and their calling to bring light to the Gentiles. Their failure to fulfil this mission meant that in his own life and sacrificial death Jesus the Messiah lived out Israel's original calling. Salvation, then, is about incorporation into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ - such that his life, death, and resurrection become in turn the believers' new mode of existence. For Wright "justification by faith", as traditionally understood in Protestant circles, is too "man centred". It's typically about "my" faith, my "personal" salvation, etc., which stands over against Paul's (more communal) notion of salvation because of Christ's faith and faithfulness.

However Wright's exclusive focus on Paul raises questions about other parts of Scripture, and whether, in the case of the synoptic gospels, for instance, we can so readily assume that first century Jews believed they were saved simply because they were the chosen people. Matt 19:16-30 (cf. Lk 18:18-30, Mk 10:17-22) records an incident where a Jew approached Jesus and asked what he must do to "inherit eternal life". Jesus answered: "keep the commandments". At a superficial level this doesn't fit easily with the scenario which Wright presupposes above - and at least opens up other avenues of interpretation. Even so,this is no mean book. Every conservative evangelical Christian should read it at least five times. It is spiritually demanding, challenging, and rewarding.
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on 12 February 2011
N.T. Wright is the kind of writer who takes me out of my comfort zone. Widely regarded as one of the greatest New Testament scholars alive today, this is his response to John Piper's response to him ("The Future of Justification"). It is a captivating read. What I've learned from N.T. Wright is that it is not faith in justification by faith that saves, but faith in Christ that saves. There are many believers around the world who may not be able to articulate the doctrine of justification in a way that would be satisfactory to certain brethren who are paid up members of the 'Frozen Chosen Brigade', but they love Christ nonetheless, and are looking to Him for their salvation. The implication of what Piper (and others) seem to be suggesting is that believers throughout Church history who have not had this 'forensic' understanding of the doctrine, are headed for oblivion. This is deeply troubling. The vast majority of professing Christians will be in hell because they couldn't say the right thing, in a mechanical fashion, about a particular doctrine?? I'm not comfortable thinking this way any more. Thank God that the Lord knows those who are His, irrespective of whether they are able to articulate this doctrine in a forensic manner or not.

Wright is not always easy to read, but if you invest the time to engage him through this book, you will be challenged and richly rewarded. Wright is also very good at the 'Big Picture', 'Grand Narrative', and 'Drama of Redemption' - so if you enjoy Biblical Theology you will certainly enjoy Wright!

For evangelicals who like to think outside the box, it's Five Stars!
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on 30 December 2010
A spiritual journey, started in 1972, has reached a milestone in the teaching given in this book. Unaware of what was called 'the new perspective' my Christianity at that time was turned on its head when studying Ephesians from the Greek with a very unconvential lecturer. 'Saved for a purpose' was his continual reminder. I learnt then that God's purposes are so much greater than 'going-to-heaven-when-you-die'. From trying to learn the art of making people feel guilty so as to save them and forever after keep them as far from the world as possible,(I cringe now)I came to see that building up the church into a whole that reflected the image of Christ to the world, was the mind-shattering truth of Scripture. For fourty years I have been out of kilter with the mindset of the majority of Christians and could never quite understand why. Now, thanks to Tom Wright's distinctive and Biblical thinking, I can once more find my way and above all be re-inspired to see something of the wonder of the Biblical narrative with Jesus the Messiah at its heart.
I would add that it is book that must be grappled with and some knowledge of theology and Biblical exegesis is almost a must.
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on 13 March 2009
N. T. Wright's response to John Piper's critique (The Future of Justification) is his most thorough book on Paul yet. It is, in many ways, a masterful unpacking of Paul's thought. Wright shows how Paul's theology of justification is grounded in God's covenant with Abraham and plan to bring redemption to the world through Israel, and ultimately through Jesus. He explores how justification is informed by Jewish law-court imagery, eschatology, and Christology. Wright's unpacking of the narrative substructure to Paul's thought is, at times, brilliant. And after reading this book, I think that Wright and Piper are actually much closer in their thinking than either one of them may think.

However, confusion and misunderstanding continues, and this due not least of all, to Wright himself. It's unfortunate that he sometimes caricatures positions that he rejects out of hand and misconstrues the thought and theology of his opponents. (Can anyone who knows John Piper seriously believe that there is no place for the Holy Spirit in his theology?!) Wright's reasons for rejecting imputation are not fully convincing. I still suspect that he takes some wrong steps in his exegesis at some crucial points. And his articulation of how justification by faith in the present relates to future judgment according to works is still a little fuzzy and subject to misunderstanding.

With that said, I think Wright's unpacking of the believer's union with Christ comes fairly close to achieving what imputation achieves for Piper and traditional Reformed theology. Not all his critics agree, but Wright should at least be carefully read and listened to before stones are cast.

I've heard Don Carson say before that Wright's problem is in backgrounding what should be in the foreground and foregrounding what should be in the background. I think I understand that critique. But after reading both Wright and Piper (and Waters, and Westerholm, and Carson, and Moo!) I am wanting to see a synthesis of the different insights and strengths these pastors and scholars bring to the table.

I recommend this book to those who are following the conversation on the New Perspective on Paul. If you've read Piper, definitely read Wright. But in my opinion, it would be better to read neither than to read only one side of the argument. 3 1/2 stars.
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on 5 January 2012
'Justification' is worth reading but it is not as easy to read or follow as Wright suggests it will be in the introduction. The arguments often seem slightly disjointed, usually so he can scorn Piper et al, and he often dismisses those who disagree with him off-hand. Unfortunately in this book he is also guilty of ascribing Piper to positions which he doesn't hold. To suggest that Piper does not accept the importance of the Covenants is simply absurd, and at times Wright argues against positions I have never heard or read of in evangelical circles.

Worth reading to better understand the debate as a whole, but is at times quite a slog and not as clear as his other writings (academic or Christian). I was disappointed by Wright this time!
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on 22 August 2013
This book is part of a continuing conversation between Wright and John Piper, who wrote The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright in response to some of Wright's earlier writings on Pauline theology. This is then Wright's response to Piper. The book divides into 2 (almost equal) parts. The first part is Wright's more direct response to Piper's book, combined with a restatement and clarification of some points, though these will be familiar to readers who have followed the same route that I did (What St Paul Really Said -> Paul: Fresh Perspectives - > The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright). The second half is an exegesis on the key sections in Paul's writing relating to the theme of justification.

As the publishers chose to publish in the name of `Tom' rather than `N.T.' one might expect this to be at the more "everyday" level, more akin to Simply Christian or Surprised by Hope than his work on the Christian Origins and the Question of God series. Don't let this lull you into a sense that there isn't much to think through. Wright's argument needs a great deal of care and attention in order to follow it. Indeed, one of his criticisms of Piper and other critics is that they have cherry-picked their objections, failing to see the bigger picture. There are flashes in the first half of some of Wright's exasperation which some have taken to be slightly less than gracious. I must admit that I have some sympathy with this view, as the introduction comes across as though this was a book that Wright was compelled to write, which interrupted his schedule.

I must confess that I found the 2nd half of the book much tougher than the first. This is where Wright goes into detail on the key passages relating to justification in Galatians and Romans, with an interlude looking at Philippians, Corinthians and Ephesians. The trouble stems from the fact that Wright doesn't include any of the texts he is talking about. So one is compelled to read this book in one hand and a bible in the other. Even then, the large sweeps Wright takes encapsulates large chunks of text at a time. While Wright is keen to show the "big picture" I couldn't help but get a little bit lost along the way. Speaking to others about the book, it appears several `gave up' at this point though I would strongly encourage anyone who has done so to try again.

One of the great treats of the book is that at several places, Wright echoes Paul's writing style (especially his rhetorical questions) with the likes of, "What shall we say to these things?" or, "Where then is boasting in human traditions (including those of the Reformation)?" before going on to answer these questions himself. Having followed, chronologically by publication, some of the New Perspective writings, I'm not sure how accessible this book might be to those who haven't followed the same path. There are certainly a lot of riches to be discovered, though I would recommend tracing the journey that resulted in arriving here. But for anyone who wants to understand the background, the debate and the interpretations that are important to the New Perspective, then this would have to be core reading.
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on 18 December 2016
Both for those of us Christians who are familiar with Professor Tom Wright’s writing, and even more for those who have yet to read him and have some catching up to do, it is high time that we accept his challenges to our motivation and discipleship. ‘For too long we have read scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It’s time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions’ (p 21). Exactly so! This is what he himself has been doing, brilliantly and eruditely, on our behalf for several decades. Now we we need to stop being dazzled, and join the revolution.

This particular book, which Wright says he did not want to have to write, is a prime example of the ‘nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions’ bit, in which he answers critics of his studies of St Paul with barely concealed exasperation. The irony of having to take on ‘sola scriptorum’ advocates who nevertheless want to stick with Reformation (sixteenth-century) tradition, rather than explore fresh first-century insights, is almost comical. (I have read Piper, by the way.) Much of the book focuses on justification and related theological and soteriological concepts (the jargon does rub off a bit). It needs to be said first, that there is a very great deal on which Wright and Piper et al do actually agree; and secondly, that many people will regard the ‘evangelical arm-wrestling’ which detailed exegesis seems to involve as largely irrelevant to daily discipleship. I’m fairly sure that our heavenly Father doesn’t regard it as that important either.

However the book as a whole is fabulously rich in all sorts of things which really do matter, and demonstrates how Wright’s fascinating scripture-based insights can be woven together into an overarching structure which is truly breathtaking in its potential to shake up our thinking. These strands include God’s plan to redeem creation, initially through his chosen people Israel; his covenant faithfulness and how this expresses itself as God’s righteousness; the metaphor of the law court; the decisive action of God through his son to defeat sin and death, and end Israel’s state of exile; the reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus; the opening wide of the door to us Gentiles; and the ongoing, non-stop real-time story in which every single one of us has a continuing part to play. The first chapter contains two brilliant parables, of the sunrise - which takes us way beyond what one reviewer has aptly called ‘sin management theology’ - and of the jigsaw puzzle. Ponder them! Chapter 8 - ‘Conclusion’ - is a short but cogent summary of the scripture-centred riches of this book. Scattered throughout, to make us chuckle when we spot them, are brief parodies of Paul’s literary style.

Five stars are not enough for a book of this importance. Read it! - and also ‘What St Paul really said’ (this is the one that Piper et al didn’t like but didn’t properly read), ‘Simply Jesus’, ‘Surprised by hope’, ‘Scripture and the authority of God’, ‘When you believe’. Read them all - and then let’s all get cracking. There’s clearly lots to do.
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on 22 May 2009
I have been very much influenced by Mark Driscoll's sermons since I first listened in 18 months ago. But if I think about it he doesn't introduce any different ideas or emphasis from the emphasis I was taught growing up in a Conservative Evangelical Church here in Wales. He does it in a more cool/hip/rad/street-cred/cussing way, but content and emphasis wise it's nothing new for me. Tom Wright on the other hand balances me off nicely from an emphasis that was missing in my conservative evangelical upbringing. I became a Christian around the age of 14 I think - but for many years after that I didn't grow in the faith because the only thing I was taught was sin management theology - I already got that and what I needed was a deeper understanding of the Cross, a deeper understanding of the restoration through Jesus, a deeper understanding of His Kingdom. From the age of 18 onwards I saw that there was more to Christianity than sin management theology and by the age of 23 when I first got hold of books by people like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell and now Tom Wright I discovered that there were other Christians out there who had been through the same journey as me!

The emphasis of atonement for our personal sin is important, very important, perhaps the most important angle to get right but it is only half the story, the half I had been over fed with in the tradition I was bought up. Carrots and peas are good for you but eating only carrots and peas and nothing else is not good! It's not that I find the reformed evangelical account wrong; only that it tells half the story. There is another half to the story of the Cross and to the story of redemption and restoration. Perhaps Rob Bell and Brian McLaren over compensate a little at times (in the same way as some reformed evangelicals over compensate the other way) so we can look at Tom Wright as someone who gets the balance better to bring the discussion back to the centre. This is a'n important book.
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on 25 March 2011
I was thrilled to see Bishop Tom Wright had written an account of such an important biblical subject, and the blurb on the back cover suggested it would well worth reading. However...

This book is effectively a high-level rant from a man disgruntled that a leading reformed theologian (John Piper - you'll have to get used to that name if you want to read this book) has not grasped his extensive and brilliant theology. Wright is amazed (often to the point of being sarcastic and patronising) that Mr Piper just doesn't get it! And, of course, we benefit richly from this discussion. If, that is, we can keep pace with Uncle Tom's scribblings.

I have given this a low review marking, not because of its content (Wright has every right to write as he wishes in reply to academic critique of his work) but rather in protest at the publishers (SPCK) who suggest that this book is for general reading. This book is rushed and exasperated response to criticism of N.T. Wright's wider work (which is at the forefront of biblical theology, hugely influential, scholarly and inspirational); it was written in a hurry (as the author admits) and does not have any of the 'fluency and accessibility' that the publishers claim (and for which Wright is renowned, notably in his 'For Everyone' series). The title 'Justification' is a gentle pun, because it is effectively Wright justifying himself.

If you are unfamiliar with the debate on 'The New Perspective on Paul', or the work of Ed Sanders and James Dunn, then it might be better to start with a more basic level book, before attempting this one. If you're not yet familiar with the terms "soteriology", "covenantal nomism", "participationist", "exegesis" and "eschatological", then this is not the best place to start.

The publishers SPCK have usually been helpful in coding Bishop Tom's work - "Tom Wright" writes for the church at large, for preachers and pew-dwellers alike, and any with a passing interest in understanding the bible, while "N.T. Wright" is a masterly theologian who assumes his readers have at least (or are working towards) a degree in theology. In this book they have failed their readership, as Uncle Tom unleashes his full academic fury on his opponent (in Christian love, of course). It leaves a sour taste in the mouth, and is not one I could recommend to anyone except John Piper.
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