Sinclair Ferguson says a number of fine things in his piece for Tabletalk. Here is one: “Justification cannot be abstracted from Christ as if it were a ‘thing’ apart from or added to Him. Chrhist Himself is our justification. We cannot have justification without Christ! Nor can we have Christ without justification!” But I have a hard time imagining N.T. Wright differing with this particular statement, at least as stated. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of theological to-ing and fro-ing around this particular point.
Part of the difficulty is that Wright has the tendency to attach perfectly reasonable statements to reasons that get people’s dander up. It is one thing to say that “believing in justification doesn’t justify you,” a perfectly orthodox and pastoral thing to say, and saying “believing in justification doesn’t justify you, and I say this because your sister is ugly.” The fights that ensue might not have anything to do with justification. Ferguson cites this view of Wright’s at the beginning, and then says, reasonably enough, that he seriously questions “that such teaching ever existed in any serious form.” The debate is not over whether or not believing in justification can justify you, which no one has seriously advanced, but over whether or not anybody in our tradition teaches that doctrine — nuh uh, yeah huh, no way, way. As I said in my post on Sproul’s article, the point is not a theological debate, but rather a pastoral one. No one seriously maintains that believing in justification justifies one, but people act like they believe this all the time. The fact it is not a theological problem does not make it a nonexistent one.
Ferguson spends some time showing how the word “gospel” is used differently in the Scriptures. I agree enthusiastically with the point he is making here — and the odd thing is that he is arguing against a narrow definition of the gospel being put forward by Wright — “‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved” — and he is answering it with a broad appeal to Scripture. He shows how the gospel is not just what is proclaimed under that name (kerygma), but must also be seen as including didache, the application of that objective work to the “life of the believer and the community.” Ferguson says that the gospel is more than Romans 1-3, but also includes Romans 12-16. John Robbins, call your office!
Now of course I agree with this, but what the heck?
Ferguson makes a strong point when he says that Wright acts as though the antithesis of justification is alienation, thus making justification inclusion within the covenant people — being counted as a member of God’s people. But Ferguson points out that the antithesis of the legal vindication found in justification is condemndation. Removal of alienation is therefore a downstream effect of justification. Justification proper is the verdict of “no condemnation.” We are alienated because we are condemned, and when the verdict of not guilty is pronounced, we who were afar off can then be brought near. This was a good article.