There is nothing new under the sun. Reading this week’s assignment acquainted me with more of Osiander’s erroneous views on justification than I ever cared to know! And then I wondered: What would Calvin have to say today about N. T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul” if Calvin were still alive today?
After reading a review article by Guy Waters from 2009 of Wright’s book Justification, I concluded that N. T. Wright shares some of Osiander’s erroneous views on justification, such that in God’s providence we have part of what Calvin would say already in hand.
Osiander’s emphasis on “essential righteousness” (3.11.5) sounds very similar to Wright’s emphasis on union with Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit to produce good works which are integral to his new definition/perspective on justification. Consider the following excerpts from Justification by N. T. Wright which Waters cited in his article:
“The status the Christian possesses is possessed because of that belongingness, that incorporation. This is the great Pauline truth to which the sub-Pauline idea of ‘the imputation of Christ’s righteousness’ is truly pointing” (119). “All that the supposed doctrine of the ‘imputed righteousness of Christ’ has to offer is offered instead by Paul under this rubric [i.e. possessed status], on these terms, and within this covenantal framework” (205-6).
Compare the above with Calvin’s critique of Osiander’s view (3.11.5):
Hence, whatever he says separately concerning the Father and the Spirit, has no other tendency than to lead away the simple from Christ. Then he introduces a substantial mixture, by which God, transfusing himself into us, makes us as it were a part of himself. Our being made one with Christ by the agency of the Spirit, he being the head and we the members, he regards as almost nothing unless his essence is mingled with us. But, as I have said, in the case of the Father and the Spirit, he more clearly betrays his views—namely, that we are not justified by the mere grace of the Mediator, and that righteousness is not simply or entirely offered to us in his person, but that we are made partakers of divine righteousness when God is essentially united to us.
I confess I haven’t read anything by N. T. Wright, for the simple reason that there are too many other books higher up on my list. So what little I know about his teaching comes to me via secondary sources. I venture to say from what I gather, though, that his views, like those of Osiander, can offer little hope for assurance, as Calvin pointed out in 3.11.11. How could they, since, as Calvin noted, “For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will ever find there anything on which to rely.” (McNeill-Battles edition).
The old paths are by far the best (Jer. 6:16).
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