John Calvin And N. T. Wright On Imputed Righteousness -- By: Paul Helm

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 13:4 (Winter 2009)
Article: John Calvin And N. T. Wright On Imputed Righteousness
Author: Paul Helm


John Calvin And N. T. Wright On Imputed Righteousness

Paul Helm

Paul Helm is Teaching Fellow in Theology and Philosophy at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He also serves as Professor of Theology at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is the author of The Providence of God (InterVarsity, 1994), John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford, 2006), and the forthcoming work, Calvin at the Centre (Oxford, 2010).

Setting the Scene

At a number of points in his book on justification, Justification, God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision,1 Bishop Tom Wright, in the course of telling the reader what he thinks Paul teaches about justification, contrasts it with that of the “Augustinian tradition.” Here is a representative sample of what he says,

Ever since the time of Augustine, the discussions about what has been called “justification” have borne a tangled, but only tangential relation to what Paul was talking about.”2

Justification … has regularly been made to do duty for the entire picture of God’s reconciling action towards the human race … everything from God’s free love ... through final judgment.3

That always meant, for Augustine and his followers, that God, in justification, was actually transforming the character of the person, albeit in small, preliminary ways (by, for example implanting the beginnings of love and faith within them).4

[There has grown up] in the Western church a long tradition of (a) reading God’s righteousness as iustitia Dei, then (b) trying to interpret that phrase with the various meanings of iustitia available at the time, and (c) interpreting that in turn within the categories of theological investigation of the time (especially to make “justification” cover the entire sweep of soteriology from grace to glory).5

The problem with the old perspective on Paul is that it has followed the medieval tradition (to which it was never more thoroughly indebted than when reacting to some of its particulars) … [I]t has de-Judaized Paul.6

It is therefore a straightforward category mistake, however venerable within some Reformed traditions including part of my own, to suppose that Jesus “obeyed the law” and so obtained “righteousness” which could be reckoned to those who believe i...

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