NT Wright Quotations

‘Synergism’(from Justification pp 191-2)

We must read in Romans 2.16, particularly 2.6-7 and 13-16 [in the light of the rest of the letter].

[God] will render to each according to their works: to those who through patience in good work seek for glory, honour and immortality, he will give the life of the age to come…Glory, honour and peace to all who work what is good, to the Jew first and also the Greek….When Gentiles, who by birth do not possess Torah, do the things of the Torah, they are a “law” to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, with their conscience also bearing witness and their conflicting thoughts accusing or perhaps excusing them on the day when God judges human secrets according to the gospel through the Messiah, Jesus.

There are, of course, some good reasons for thinking that Paul might after all be referring here to the “moral pagan”. He may indeed be quite deliberately teasing at this point, wooing a reader on from the challenge in 2.1 to the possibility of a different way of approaching the whole moral task. But the forward echoes to 2.26-9 and 2 Cor 3 must be regarded as decisive. These people are Christians, on whose hearts the Spirit has written the law, and whose secrets, when revealed (see Rom 2.29 again), will display the previously hidden work of God.

The point of future justification is then explained like this. The verdict of the last day will truly reflect what people have actually done. It is extremely important to notice, in line with that sense of sudden anxiety in Rom 2.15, that Paul never says that Christians earn the final verdict, or that their “works” must be complete and perfect. He says, “Those who by patience in well-doing” (echoes here of Rom 5.3-4) “seek for glory and honour and immortality”. They are seeking it, not earning it. And they are seeking it through that patient, Spirit-driven Christian living in which – here is a paradox at the heart of the Christian life which so many have noticed but few have integrated into Paul’s theology of justification! – from one point of view the Spirit is at work, producing these fruits (Gal 5.22-3), and from another point of view the person concerned is making the free choices, the increasingly free (because increasingly less constrained by the sinful habits of mind and body) decisions to live a genuinely, fully human life which brings pleasure -of course it does! – to the God in whose image we human beings were made. As long as theologians, hearing this kind of proposal, shout “synergism” and rush back to the spurious either-or which grows out of a doctrine that has attempted to construct the entire soteriological jigsaw puzzle on the basis of a medieval view of “justice” and with some crucial bits (the Spirit, eschatology, not to mention Abraham and the covenant) still in the box, or on the floor, or in the fire, we shall never get anywhere. And at this point it is my instinct as a pastor that is aroused. I want my people to hear and understand the whole Word of God, not just the parts of it that fit someone’s system.

This passage tells us a lot about Wright’s way of thinking. He talks about ‘jigsaw puzzle’, ‘my people’ etc.; but although his apparent concern is with the theologians, the ultimate interest is pastoral.


The following passage, also from the book Justification (p. 80), is another example of Wright taking on established views. I quote it as support about Augustine for the article on Roger Forster. Wright quotes McGrath Iusticia Dei.

…there are many equally biblical ways of talking about how God saves people through Jesus Christ, and justification is but one of them. This (for instance) enables us at once to note that the four Gospels, where the term “justification” is scarce, are not for that reason to be treated as merely ancillary to , or perhaps preparatory for, the message of Paul – as has sometimes happened, at least de facto, in the Western Church. But there is more:
The doctrine of justification has come to develop a meaning quite independent of its biblical origins, and concerns the means by which man’s relationship to God is established. The church has chosen to subsume its discussion of the reconciliation of man to God under the aegis of justification, thereby giving the concept an emphasis quite absent from the New Testament. The “doctrine of justification” has come to bear a meaning within dogmatic theology which is quite independent of its Pauline origins.

I cannot overstress the importance of this statement, made by the scholar who, as much as any and more than almost all, has researched the entire history of the doctrine through many twists and turns unimagined by the ordinary devout Protestant. It is this statement, as much as any of my own, which justifies the claim, so threatening to writers like [X], that the church has indeed taken off at an oblique angle from what Paul had said, so that, yes, ever since the time of Augustine, the discussions about what has been called “justification” have borne a tangled, but ultimately only tangential, relation to what Paul was talking about.

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