Wright @ ETS Round-up

Notice the differences in perspective of Wright and several other ETS attendees (see previous post):

Tom Wright's comments at Burk's blog: "Denny–nice to meet you again yesterday. But don’t get too excited. I haven’t retracted anything that I meant in my many, many earlier statements on this subject. How could I, since I was simply stating what Paul states rather than trying to squash him into a dogmatic framework? Sadly I didn’t have time to check anything in my own earlier writings after I received Tom Schreiner’s paper — I was on the road in a complicated trip. Clearly I did say ‘basis’. But — as you will see from my commentary on Romans 2.1-16 — I have always made it clear, as I did yesterday, that I did not mean or intend the kind of thing that clearly some theologians think that word ‘must’ mean. Since the word ‘basis’ is not itself a biblical word I’m not claiming any great status for it. Obviously people have read it without reading the other things I say and then jumped to conclusions which are not warranted by the fuller exposition I give.
I don’t normally look at, let alone respond to, blogsite comments, but a good friend drew my attention to what had been said. Let me say it again: all I am saying is what Paul says in Romans 2 (and elsewhere). Our own technical terms (’basis’ etc) are fluid and flexible in our discourse and, like all summary terms, need to be teased out in terms of the larger discourse — Paul’s, and mine… The point, again, is that by the Spirit those who are already justified by faith have their lives transformed, and the final verdict will be in accordance with that transformation, imperfect though it remains. I thought it was a very good discussion. But I wouldn’t have said that the clarification of ‘basis’ was the highlight! . . . Reflecting overnight, I think two of the key moments in the debate — and it’s a pity you didn’t mention them — were Tom Schreiner’s agreement with me that some of the push-back I have received, appealing to tradition rather than scripture, is basically neo-catholic in its method. This, as I said in my paper, makes it heavily ironic when folk accuse people like me of being crypto-catholic in our theology. It also makes it the more interesting in that it is some of TS’s colleagues who were guilty of that position. Second, TS in his paper, and Frank Thielman in his earlier work, make it clear that they agree with me on the business of ‘extended exile’. This, too, puts them at odds with quite a few of my critics, including again some of TS’s colleagues. But the really good thing about the debate, apart from the cheerful and Christian spirit in which it was carried out, was that we actually discussed some specific texts in considerable detail rather than dealing in slogans. That is what real debates ought to be about, and what blogsites are not always very good at."

Dane Ortlund: "Wright said he has never said final judgment is on the basis of works, which isn't quite true, as Schreiner pointed out a few moments later."

Marc Cortez: "Unquestionably, the biggest take-away for me was Wright’s clarification that he sees final justification as being “in accordance with” rather than “on the basis of” works. Although Wright has always been clear that the works of a Christian are produced by grace through the Spirit, I have always understood him to say that final justification was based on works in a way that made it sound like final justification was not ultimately grounded in the righteousness of Christ alone. By referring to final justification as “in accordance with” works, he makes it clearer that final justification will take our works into account and will be consistent with those works, but that the final justification will ultimately be grounded in God’s grace through Jesus Christ. That clears up what has been a major stumbling block for me in Wright’s system. (In comments on Denny Burk’s blog, Wright argues that this is not a shift on his part, but a clarification of what he has always thought. If so, it would have been nice had he moved earlier to clarify what people have long identified as a major concern in his work.)"

Mike Wittmer: "The statement that received the most attention afterwards was Wright’s claim that to his knowledge he had never said that our final justification is “on the basis of works.” He said that he would gladly correct this wrong view if someone showed him where he had said that. What he means to say is that our final justification is in “accordance with works.” We don’t earn or merit our final justification but we will be seeking for it, and so our final justification is in accordance with—but not on the basis of—our works. Schreiner said in the following Q and A that he did a quick search while Wright was talking and found that Wright had said our final justification is “on the basis of the totality of life lived.” And Michael Bird, in an afternoon paper, said that he nearly fell out of his chair when Wright said that, for in nearly every book on this subject Wright has said that final justification comes “on the basis of a life lived.” I conclude that Wright either writes so much that he can’t keep track of everything he says, or more probably, this is one area where Wright is changing his view, perhaps in response to his critics."

Ardel Caneday: "During N. T. Wright’s presentation, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” at the Evangelical Theological Society’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, November 19, he made a crucial statement which I cannot quote exactly from memory but the portion I will include in quotation marks is almost exact. At a significant point in his lecture Wright made a statement concerning the apostle Paul's phrase in Romans 2:6 (κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ) that sounded quite different from what he has written many times in his books. Instead of saying that humans will be judged “on the basis of their deeds” or that they will be judged “on the basis of their whole life lived,” he stated that humans will be judged “in accordance with their deeds.” Then he paused and went off script, or at least gave the impression that he went off script, and stated that he has been wrongly charged with claiming that Paul states that God will judge humans “on the basis of deeds.” He also stated that if anyone could locate where he stated that judgment will be “on the basis of deeds,” he would like to be shown the place so that he could correct it.

During the panel discussion that followed Wright’s lecture, attended by an overflowing room large ballroom, Tom Schreiner indicated that he had located Wright’s statement that God will judge “on the basis of the whole life lived.,” which is not difficult to find in many of his writings. . . . Yet, one disappointment that I heard many times was that attendees wished that Wright had presented the needed correction as a full and clear acknowledgment of his error of writing rather than present it as a needed correction of his readers’ failure to read his written words correctly or of his hearer’s failure to hear his spoken words correctly. Alas! How difficult it is to acknowledge wrong, especially to do so publicly and especially to do so when the wrong is so widely published in one’s own words. Is it unreasonable to think that N. T. Wright owes all his readers a brief published statement to acknowledge his error and to correct his error?"

Denny Burk responds to Wright's comments. Burk writes, "I concede that in his own reckoning he has not changed his view, but I still think that what he said on Friday is very difficult to reconcile with some of his earlier published work." He also quotes from Schreiner: "I am delighted that Tom [Wright] now speaks of the final judgment as one that will be in accordance with our works instead of on the basis of our works. I think this adjustment and clarification is exactly right and does not contradict the idea that our righteousness is in Christ… I am in full agreement with his formulation: we are judged according to our works, but not on the basis of our works."