N. T. (Tom) Wright has published a new volume articulating again his proposed revision of the way Paul’s doctrine of justification should be understood. The volume is Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (IVP Academic, 2009). In the preface he indicates that he understand that many Reformed folk (he mentions John Piper to whom (i.e., The Future of Justification) he is chiefly responding in this work) believe that at the heart of Paul’s doctrine of justification is the doctrine of imputation. He says, “I understand the force of that proposal, and the sense of assurance which is gives. What’s more, I agree that this sense of assurance is indeed offered by the doctrine of justification as Paul expounds it. But, as I argue in this book, Paul’s ay of doing it is not Piper’s.” My interest in this post (and the others that may follow) is not so much in Wright’s handling of Paul (which has been handled better elsewhere by others).
Once more here is just some of the literature to which I refer:
There are more resources here. My interest here is to consider Wright’s historical claims about the Reformation generally and Calvin in particular.
In chapter 1, as an aside, as he is explaining his motivation for replying to Piper, Wright says that Piper has “gone better than the rest and devoted an entire book to explaining why I’m wrong about Paul, and why we should stick with the tried and trusted theology of the Reformers and their successors (or at least some of them; actually the Reformers disagreed among themselves, and so did their successors.)” Here, in an endnote, as evidence of his historical claim he cites volumes by Alistair McGrath (Iustitia Dei, and “several essays” in Husbands and Trier eds, Justification: What’s at Stake in in the Current Debates and in Bruce McCormack, ed. Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments…). I take it from this endnote that Wright believes that there is scholarship supporting his claim (vague though it is) that there were multiple doctrines of justification in the 16th and 17th centuries among orthodox, confessional Protestants.
I quite profoundly doubt this thesis. Consider the prima facie evidence, which folk seem to ignore rather conveniently (perhaps because it doesn’t figure into their own theology, piety, and practice) of the Protestant confessions on justification. Consider the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530), Art. 4:
1] Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.
Consider the Gallic (French) Confession (1559) Art. 18:
We believe that all our justification rests upon the remission of our sins, in which also is our only blessedness, as saith the Psalmist
We therefore reject all other means of justification before God, and without claiming any virtue or merit, we rest simply in the obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us as much to blot out all our sins as to make us find grace and favor in the sight of God. And, in fact, we believe that in falling away from this foundation, however slightly, we could not find rest elsewhere, but should always be troubled. Forasmuch as we are never at peace with God till we resolve to be loved in Jesus Christ, for of ourselves we are worthy of hatred.
Consider the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism (1563), Q. 60:
60. How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them,and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace,5 grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
Consider the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648), ch. 11:
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
Now, it could be that the Augsburg Confession, the French Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, written over a span of 150 years were all idiosyncratic, non-representative documents, but if that is so, then the German, French, Dutch, English, Scottish, and American Reformed Churches have all been incredibly deceived by a massive conspiracy to hide the true variation in the real history of the Reformation and post-Reformation churches.