Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Righteousness of God

Michael Bird notes that during the SBTS panel discussion reviewing N.T Wright's new book on justification, none of the panelists agreed on the meaning of the term "the righteousness of God".  This struck me too as I listened to the different views according to Schreiner, Seifrid and Vickers.  The discord seemed to, inadvertently IMO, concede advantage to N.T Wright's tight definition of the term as God's 'covenant faithfulness'.  I like this definition.  

For a start, it is by definition thoroughly covenantal and takes into account the single purpose of God to deal with sin, sinners and the sin damaged cosmos through Abraham's seed.  Second, this single plan of God gives one a sense of the meta-narrative of Scripture marching towards God's glorious conclusion.  The sovereign plan of God in Christ is the focus of all narrative.  (Why don't us Reformed guys like this?)  Thirdly, given that God's covenant is about righting wrongs, i.e. judging sin, justifying sinners, defeating evil, restoring the cosmos, "the righteousness of God", when defined as "covenant faithfulness" is still thoroughly forensic as it denotes a thoroughly forensic covenant.  It can and should protect the doctrine of justification sola fide.  Fourth, the sheer scope of the definition of the covenant answers a lot of the evangelical/western individualism that the Reformed community are rightly anxious to counteract.  If the covenant is about dealing with sin, sinners and the cosmos, then surely all the "me and my personal experience of Jesus" stuff gets drowned in the utter magnitude of this covenantal tidal wave?

Through this definition, the imputation of Christ's righteousness need not be abandoned but can be understood even more clearly.  If God's covenant faithfulness accomplishes the righting of wrongs through the faithfulness of the last Adam/Israel, then this highlights even further that Christ accomplished by his works what Adam and Israel failed to do.  

Maybe NTW, Dunn and Kaesemann have given us a tight exegetical answer to the question posed by "the righteousness of God".  Maybe they haven't, I'm not too sure.  

Now if NTW could just sort out his understanding of justification.  Schreiner is absolutely correct to state that he didn't manage to answer the question Piper posed in his book, i.e. how does Wright's view of final justification according to works, while being justified by faith in the present actually fit?  How does it work?  I've read a large chunk of Wright's book, and I still see no answers.  Maybe he doesn't know himself?!  Whatever way it works, it sure doesn't sound like (the) good news.


JohnGreenview said...

Was righteousness in God not an issue before the covenant with Abraham?

Srely God's righteousness is his integrity to every relationship he is in and every relationship he has committed himself to be in. If this is correct God's faithfulness to his covenant is but one, albeit important, aspect of his righteousness. Wright's definition is too narrow.

Nick Mackison said...

Sure righteousness was an issue before Abraham. But post-Abraham, perhaps that righteousness could be seen exclusively as faithfulness to the covenant of putting the world right? I'm thinking out loud here and have not made any decisions. I think NTW could have a point on this issue.

JohnGreenview said...

God's righteousness also includes the destruction of the wicked.

The Abrahamic covenant is primarily if not exlusively (it does contain mention of a curse on all who curse Abraham) blessing and promise.

I wonder if God's righteousness in the destruction of the wicked can be included in God's covenant faithfulness through Abraham?

Again this is not to deny covenant faithfulness is an aspect of God's righteousness, but is it a big enough category to describe God's righteousness. I doubt this.