Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wright's Climax of the Covenant

I just finished reading N. T. Wright’s The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology. I’ve read a number of Wright’s articles (and listened to a number of his lectures), but this is the first book length project I’ve read by him. One of Wright’s major premises in the book is that Paul’s soteriology is grounded squarely in a Jewish covenantal framework. Paul sees the death and resurrection of Christ as the climax of Israel’s covenant with God. More pointedly (if I’m reading Wright correctly), Wright argues that Paul views the death and resurrection of Christ as the in-breaking of Jeremiah and Ezekiel’s “New Covenant.” Justification for Paul means something along the lines of “being declared to be in right standing to the covenant—to be declared ‘in’ the people of God.” Faith, not works of the Torah, is the defining boundary marker that reveals who is in the covenant.

While I depart from Wright at some points, I’m in basic agreement with his covenantal focus. It seems to me that Paul’s soteriology revolves around (and points toward) the Holy Spirit, resurrection, and ontological renewal—all major themes of the New Covenant promise. Too often evangelicals (following Luther and Calvin) fixate exclusively on the forgiveness of sins, as though this were the central element in Paul’s soteriology. A covenantal/pneumalogical focus does not exclude the forgiveness of sin (indeed forgiveness is a significant theme of the New Covenant), but Paul’s doctrine of justification extends beyond forensic categories and includes a strong ontological component. (In some passages, Paul can go from "dead in sins" to "alive in Christ" without using a forensic metaphor or mentioning the forgiveness of sins at all.) Connecting Paul’s soteriology to the New Covenant helps to compensate for the tunnel vision found in much of Evangelicalism's doctrine of justification.

A question for any who know: It wasn’t clear to me exactly which covenant Wright sees as climaxed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Is it the Abrahamic covenant of Gen 12? The Levitical/Deuteronical covenant? The New Covenant? Or does Wright view all three of these covenants as extensions and developments of one overriding covenant between God and Israel? I don’t recall Wright explicitly stating it, but I suspect his positions lies somewhere closest to the latter. He seems to collapse all three covenants into one singular covenant.


Daniel said...

I would guess that the title would primarily refers the Law of Moses. Remember the discussion at the end about "climax of the covenant" as being a good translation for Romans 10:4.

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