Justification

The 'Old Perspective' on Paul is Actually Quite Old!

If you are familiar with the academic debates on Paul and Judaism, you'll know that most advocates of the "new perspective" on Paul (NPP) are a tad left of Evangelical. For various reasons, most NPP advocates have denied that Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastorals. This is no small thing. One of the linchpins of the NPP is seeing "works of the law" (erga nomou - ἔργων νόμου) as Jewish boundary markers, namely circumcision, Sabbath, and food laws – and not human works in general. So for them, Paul was not so much opposed to human effort to gain righteousness as he was to ethnocentrism. But those letters supposedly not written by Paul do not fit the NPP paradigm. They speak more generally of human works and not merely to "works of the law." For example:

  • 2 Timothy 1:9 - God "who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began."
  • Titus 3:5 - "He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit."
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 - "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

In the book by E.P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism) that started it all, in 449 pages there is one footnote on Ephesians 2:8-9. Other than that, there is not a single mention of these passages. Neither is there a single mention in Sanders’ 630 page Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, or in James Dunn’s Jesus, Paul, and the Law or in N.T. Wright’s The Climax of the Covenant![i] That's one way to do scholarship: merely ignore any evidence that doesn't fit your system.

But listen to this admission by one of the NPP big guns: James Dunn writes, 

In all these cases [Phil 3, Rom, Gal], therefore, it is difficult to sustain the claim that Paul was polemicizing against ‘self-achieved righteousness.’ Of course the texts just reviewed can be read that way. The only question is whether those who read them that way have shifted the issue from one of Israel’s works of the law vis-à-vis Gentile acceptability to the more fundamental one of the terms of human acceptability by God. That may have happened already in Eph. 2.8-9, where the issue does seem to have moved from one of works of the law to one of human effort. But when the texts in the undisputed Pauline letters are read within the context of Paul’s mission emerging from its Jewish matrix, the resulting picture is rather different.[ii] 

The shift from a concern over merely Jewish badges and "boundary markers" to works as in self-achievement "may have happened already" by the writing of Ephesians?! Some NPP advocates argue that "old perspective" advocates are pulling Paul out of his context and modernizing him and distorting him with our Western "introspective consciences." But here, NPP's poster boy says that Paul was being modernized . . . .  in the 1st Century! 

While acknowledging that the NPP has brought many truths to the surface, I submit that the NPP advocates are the ones guilty of modernizing Paul on this particular issue. Away with sin, guilt, and blood. Replace those with community and unity, and dare not say anything remotely negative towards the Jews. Paul ends up sounding like a Postmodern, post-holocaust Protestant liberal. Surprise surprise. So when we bow the knee to all of God’s self-revelation, we see that seeking justification by works is a universal human problem, as we see from Ephesians and the Pastorals, as well as in Galatians and Romans.




[i] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul, 406.
[ii] James Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 371.

The "From God" Righeousness

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Philippians 3:4-11. Verse 9 is chuck full of gospel richness:

I want to gain the Messiah "and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness from God based on faith."

In the sermon, I pointed out four things about this righteousness:

First, it is found “in Him.” All people are either in Adam or in the Last Adam. The doctrine of union with Christ is the key that unlocks the riches of Christ, the hub from which all the spokes of the blessing of salvation flow. Romans 3:24 says, "They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (my italics). Romans 8:1 reads "Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus" (my italics). Galatians 2:17 says "But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?" (my italics, ESV). Second Corinthians 5:21 reads, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (my italics, ESV). First Corinthians 1:30 reads, "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (my italics, ESV). You get the picture. The status of righteous is found in union with Christ. Calvin, in the first paragraph of Book Three of The Institutes, says, “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (3.1.1).

Second, it is not found by our own doing. Galatians 2:16 is emphatic in this regard. Note that the Apostle basically says the same thing three times in a row in this verse: "Know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified."

Third, it comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It is important to note that it is not mere faith that is acceptable to God, but faith in Jesus Christ. People assume that all roads lead to God, as long as you “have faith;” as long as you are sincere in what you believe. This is offensive in our pluralistic context, but sincerity is garbage to Paul (3:8). He was sincerely committed to Judaism, advancing beyond his peers. But he came to find out that he was sincerely wrong. Faith in Christ is the necessary and exclusive condition for being found righteous before a holy God.

Fourth, this righteousness is a gift of God (ek theou). Oh, and what a precious gift!? Infinitely more valuable than all the world’s gold, the highest academic pedigree, all the respect of all the businesses of the world. “Dressed in his righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.” We needed an alien righteousness, one that we could not of ourselves produce, and God in his grace has provided it. Praise Him.



Wright's "Paul and the Faithfulness of God"



Well, N.T. Wright's "big book on Paul" is finally out. Long awaited. Certainly destined to be reckoned with by biblical scholars for as long as I'm around. I grabbed it as soon as Lifeway got it in. People are often surprised/mad about my enjoyment of Wright. Perhaps in another post, I will write about why this lover of [most] all things Luther is excited about Wright's work. For now I should say that I agree with many who have noted that the so-called "new perspective" is not so much wrong in what it affirms as much as in what it denies (see this superb lecture by KJV). Furthermore, Wright is not Dunn. More drastically, nor is he Sanders. The more Wright writes, the more Reformational his exegesis is. Alas, he is arguably the most influential living theologian of our day and we ignore him to our detriment. Much more should be said, but for now I want to post a link to a recent review by Doug Moo, and a recent interview by Jonathan Merritt, where, among other things, he asks which parts of the book will make John Piper most upset. Here are a couple excerpts:

"I offer a holistic reading of Paul in which the different emphases many have seen, between ‘juristic’ or ‘lawcourt’ thought and ‘participationist’ or ‘incorporative’ thought, are reconciled; in which what some call ‘apocalyptic’ and what some call ‘salvation history’ are brought together in a larger framework of a new-covenant theology;"

On Piper: "I am sorry he and I have never met; we share so much–a commitment to the great Reformed tradition, a commitment to the cross as the center of everything, a commitment to scripture and to the faithful and patient investigation and exposition of it. . . . . I would expect that a Reformed theologian like Dr. Piper would welcome a “covenantal” reading of Paul. Perhaps he yet may. Of course, he has said many times before that he thinks my reading of Paul screens out “imputation” in his sense, and he’s right: Paul doesn’t say what that theory wants him to say. But the underlying meaning Dr. Piper and others are seeking in that theory are, I believe, not only retained but enhanced in the larger and more textually grounded reading which I have offered."
Don't miss this older interview by Trevin Wax.


Wright Quote

In light of the recent ETS discussion (see here & here), this is an interesting quote from one of Wright's early books:

"Christian obedience is not done in order to earn favor with God; nothing we can do, not even our faith or our sincerity, can earn that favor. It is God’s gracious gift. It was the Pharisees who thought that they could earn God’s favor by good deeds. When we struggle to obey God, we are not doing it because we are trying to earn anything but because God has already accepted us, and so – as forgiven children of a loving father… – we begin to want to obey him."

--N.T. Wright - Small Faith Great God, 99 (originally written in 78').

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."

Wright @ ETS


Last week was the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in the ATL. I really wanted to go, but the flow was too low. The theme of the meeting was the doctrine of justification and the keynotes were Tom Schreiner, N.T. Wright, and Frank Thielman. I have learned much from all three of these men and would have loved to sit in.

I have a love/hate relationship with Wright. He is one of the best writers I read and I even have a special place on my bookshelves for him (not insignificant for bibliophiles). I have benefited greatly from much of what he has written. His work on Jesus, the resurrection, ethics, empire, the new earth, and most of Paul's theology is wonderful. However, there are a few things, some more important than others, that drive me crazy about his work. He is a controversial figure among most Protestants and the biggest point of controversy is his repeated insistence that final justification is "on the basis of the whole life lived." I can't count how many times I have read or heard him say that. This of course contradicts one of the key points of the Protestant Reformation. A clearer way to put his view is that final justification is on the basis of works.

Pastor Piper was so disturbed by this that he wrote a whole book calling Wright to be clearer on this point. A big part of Piper's book was dealing with this very issue: the role of works in final justification. Wright, in turn, churned out a book in response to Piper (sort of). Wright never really clarified himself on this key point, so in this sense it was not much of a response. Wright never tires of claiming that no one understands him.

It was for this reason, that I was very excited to hear that Dr. Schreiner would be replacing John Piper on the panel at this year's ETS conference. Schreiner is super gracious and incredibly sharp. Well, all that to say, it appears that Wright has changed his view. Those who have followed him will know that he has progressively become more Protestant in his views of justification (compare What Saint Paul Really Said with his later Paul or his latest work Justification). Dr. Denny Burk reports that he has changed his mind about his view of justification "on the basis of the whole life lived." I am only basing my thoughts on Burk's report, but when Wright was asked about his belief that "justification is on the basis of the whole life lived," he said he didn't recall writing such a thing. I find this incredible. This point has been at the heart of all the controversy (see here and here.) Most of the flaming darts thrown at Wright by Reformed people were lit with these statements in mind. There is even a footnote in Justification, where Wright says, "I am aware that John Piper puts a great deal of store by technical meanings, within Reformed debates, of the word 'basis' (e.g., Justification, pp. 117-18). I have to say that, since Paul does not use a phrase which corresponds to this, I am not convinced that this is the way to clarity" (258 n. 7).

Burk provides the following quotations from Wright's work:

“Paul has . . . spoken in Romans 2 about the final justification of God’s people on the basis of their whole life.” -Paul in Fresh Perspective, p. 121

“Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to [Rom.] 2:14–16 and 8:9–11)on the basis of the entire life.” -What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 129

“This declaration, this vindication, occurs twice. It occurs in the future, as we have seen, on the basis of the entire life a person has led in the power of the Spirit—that is, it occurs on the basis of ‘works’ in Paul’s redefined sense.” -”New Perspectives on Paul,” 260

Many more could be added. Burk writes,

"Nevertheless, Wright conceded in his exchange with Schreiner that if he did use the phrase “on the basis of” that he would want to “nuance” it to mean “in accordance with” works. Don’t miss that. Wright believes that justification is in accordance with works, not on the basis of them. This is huge in my view, and I don’t want anyone to miss the significance of this statement. This brings him much closer to the traditional Protestant position (and the biblical one too!), and that is no small matter considering how the debate has unfolded thus far."

I agree whole heartedly. This is huge. One part of me wants to be thankful and applaud Wright for his humility, but another part finds it unbelievable that he could not recall saying that justification is "on the basis of the whole life lived." It is one thing to say, "Yes, I have rethought my position and no longer think 'basis' is the most helpful word to use." It is quite another to deny you ever said such a thing, when it is so easily shown that this language abounds in his works. Either way, I praise the Lord that he has nuanced his view. In my mind, this is a very important distinction. I look forward to seeing how all this works out in his forthcoming beast of a book on Paul.

(Also see the TGC blog)

Calvin on the New Perspective on Paul


"They prate that the ceremonial works of the law are excluded, not the moral works. They become so proficient by continual wrangling that they do not even grasp the first elements of logic. Do they think that the apostle was raving when he brought forward these passages to prove his opinion? 'The man who does these things will live in them' [Gal. 3:12], and, 'Cursed be every one who does not fulfill all things written in the book of the law' [Gal. 3:10 p.]. Unless they have gone mad they will not say that life was promised to keepers of ceremonies or the curse announced only to those who transgress the ceremonies. If these passages are to be understood of the moral law, there is no doubt that moral works are also excluded from the power of justifying. These arguments which Paul uses look to the same end: 'Since through the law comes knowledge of sin' [Rom. 3:20], therefore not righteousness. Because 'the law works wrath' [Rom. 4:15], hence not righteousness. Because the law does not make conscience certain, it cannot confer righteousness either. Because faith is imputed as righteousness, righteousness is therefore not the reward of works but is given unearned [Rom. 4:4-5]. Because we are justified by faith, our boasting is cut off [Rom. 3:27 p.]. 'If a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But God consigned all things to sin that the promise might be given to those who believe.' [Gal. 3:21-22 p.] Let them now babble, if they dare, that these statements apply to ceremonies, not to morals. Even schoolboys would hoot at such impudence. Therefore, let us hold as certain that when the ability to justify is denied to the law, these words refer to the whole law."

(Institutes 3.11.19)

Moo Shifts on Justification


For those interested in NT studies and the justification debate, Dr. Douglas Moo (author of the very reputable Romans commentary) recently discussed the debate and how he is in the process of rethinking the traditional Reformed view in a talk called "Fresh Thoughts on Justification in Paul and James" at Denver Seminary. Because of his recent work in Galatians for a forthcoming commentary, he is beginning to see more of a future aspect to justification. He said he rushed into his Romans commentary, but didn't spell out much detail and stressed that his conclusions are only tentative and preliminary. Access the talk here, and scroll down to Feb. 11th.

(HT: Oren)

Justification in Paul


I have struggled with the so-called "new perspective on Paul" for a little over two years now. One of the paper options for Dr. Schreiner's New Testament theology class is "Justification in Paul." This academic debate has caused me to lose sleep, because it is not like we're debating millennial options here. This gets down to the heart of the gospel. I must remain teachable, and have much more to learn but I no longer stay up late wrestling with Paul. I have come to some conclusions on most of the difficult issues involved. Richard Gaffin and Tom Schreiner have been the most helpful resources for me on this issue.
"Beliefs worth calling beliefs must be purchased by the sweat of the brow. The easy conclusions which are accepted on borrowed grounds in evasion of the labour and responsibility of thought may or may not be coincident with truth; in either case they have little or no share in its power."
--J. A. Hort

Here is the outline:
I. Introduction
II. Current Debate
A. New Perspective on Paul
B. Imputation
III. Justification
A. OT Background
B. Righteousness of God
1. Transformative or Forensic
C. Justification in Paul
D. The Ground of Justification
1. Death and Resurrection of Christ
E. Imputation
1. Union with Christ
2. Justification & Sanctification
F. The Instrument of Justification
1. Faith in Christ
2. Faith and its relation to Obedience
G. Final Judgment
1. Justification According to Works
2. Justification Already but Not Yet (Eschatology)
IV. Conclusion


Happy Reformation Day!

Thank Christ today for raising up men who take his Word seriously. Today we celebrate one such man: Martin Luther. I love the 5 sola's of the reformation. I was thinking lately about 'sola scriptura,' and how important it is. I was talking to Alicia about how vast Scripture is. I came to Southern thinking I had a good handle on the Bible. I was wrong. I have learned an amazing amount this past year and a half about the depth and breadth of Christ's word. I have learned much, but at the same time I have realized how much I have to learn. That is the beauty of God's Word. It is deep enough for a child to wade in, and deep enough for an elephant to swim.
Here is a link to Piper's great message on Luther.

The Saving Righteousness of God

I found Michael Bird's newest book 'The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective' (230 pp) very helpful. Paul had a magnificent mind. Peter testifies to this by saying that some things he writes are difficult to understand (2 Pet 3.16). The task of pinning Paul down is not helped by all the distracting voices from the sideline. Justification has been under attack from all kinds of parties in recent years. Dr. Bird has done a great job in clearing the noise and allowing the Apostle to speak. In the conclusion he writes, "The quest is to let Paul be Paul without defending an old perspective because we are more comfortable with it, or to embrace a new perspective because it is faddish and fashionable." He is a self-attesting card-carrying Calvinist who is sympathetic to many insights gained from the new perspective on Paul (hereafter NPP). Believe it or not, such persons do exist!
Following the introduction, Bird goes after God's righteousness and surveys the various debates and views that have been proposed. Bird does not believe that God's righteousness is that which is imputed to believers. He writes, "God's righteousness is all that God does in salvation on our behalf. God's righteousness then is a subjective genitive describing his power in effecting salvation" (16). Bird parts ways with many Reformed exegetes by taking the righteousness of God as forensic and transformative.
Chapter 3 is titled, 'Raised for Our Justification.' This is a very important chapter showing the importance of Christ's resurrection for our justification, with stimulating exegesis of 1 Cor 15.17, Rom 1-5, 1 Tim 3.16. In seeking to be 'cross-centered' many evangelicals have downplayed the importance of the resurrection in Paul's soteriology. Bird rightly shows that it is much more than a 'divine apology' for the cross.
Chapter 4 is called 'Incorporated Righteousness' and can be read here. In this chapter, Bird covers the history of imputation, the current debates, and exegetes Rom 4.1-25, 5.18-19, 1 Cor 1.30, and 2 Cor 5.21 with an eye on the recent debates between Gundry and Piper. Bird (following Carson) proposes that imputation is insufficient in the domain of exegesis, but fine as far as it goes in the domain of systematic theology. He argues quite convincingly that at the exegetical level, it is more appropriate to speak of incorporated righteousness, that is, we are counted righteous due to our forensic union with Christ.
Chapter 5 is called 'When the Dust Finally Settles: Beyond the New Perspective' and can be found here. The aim of this chapter is "not to refute or defend to the NPP[sic], but rather to appropriate the many fruitful insights that the NPP has to offer whilst also critically engaging the more contentious aspects of its position" (89). Here Bird shows that Sander's proposal was reductionistic and Judaism was more variegated that Sanders would like to think. He also examines some critical themes such as works of the law, righteousness, and justification.
Chapter 6 is called 'Justification as Forensic Status and Covenant Membership.' Here, Bird seeks to find a middle ground between Reformed Theology and the insights of the NPP. He spends lots of time exegeting the key passages in Galatians and Romans, a task that is much needed in this debate. The text must stay central! To do justice to Paul's doctrine of justification the soteriological aspects and the social aspects must be taken into consideration. To downplay either is to lose the richness of Paul's theology.
In chapter 7, Bird tackles Romans 2 and judgment according to works. First, he surveys the various views and shows their shortcomings, then proposes his solution. Two key teachings to keep in mind are the fact that justification is a verdict that will be publicly announced on judgement day that has been brought into the present by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Also, faith cannot be divorced from obedience. Works are evidential of true saving faith, rather than instrumental in one's justification.
Chapter 8 is a summary of the book, with a helpful excursus on N.T. Wright and Reformed Orthodoxy. Bird has obviously benefited from Wright's work and contends that he has much to offer the church. I particularly enjoyed this brief section, as I have read many unfair reviews of Wright's work. The book ends with a bibliography on the NPP.
This work is exegetically honest, rigorous (with lots of Greek), and refreshing. Bird's aim is to be tied to the text first, and tradition second. He will probably get fired at from both sides of the debate. I especially appreciate the emphasis on union with Christ, which is vital when speaking of justification. The only drawback is that the book costs $30 from Amazon. Also, for me personally, I had previously read chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 in theological journals, but enjoyed and greatly benefited from rereading them. Anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the NPP and Paul's theology of justification should have this one on their shelf. By the way, here is Michael Bird's blog.