Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wheaton Theology Conference - Kevin Vanhoozer

Wow what a morning it was. Vanhoozer's talk was nothing short of spectacular. Both his wit and his learning are hard to overstate. Vanhoozer's goal was to try to show how we might reach a rapprochement between the Old and New Perspectives on Paul. I'll sketch pieces of his argument.

One issue Vanhoozer notes right of the bat is that many Protestants are opposed to doctrinal development, which is strangely un-Protestant. This clearly needs to be addressed. Then he asks the question, 'does being biblical mean attending to the details or the big picture?' His answer was 'Yes.' Wright excels at showing the narrative elements of Pauline theology, connecting textual and canonical dots without having to resort to allegory. Here's where Vanhoozer has a concern. Is Wright guilty of illegitimate totality transfer in his imposition of 2nd temple Jewish categories on Paul. Vanhoozer agrees that context is key, especially canonical context. This laid the groundwork for him to later challenge Wright to include the pastorals into his understanding of Paul (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:15).

Vanhoozer correctly notes that Wright's reformed critics aren't challenging his affirmations, but his denials. Especially troubling is (related to the last paragraph) the bit that 'the gospel isn't about how one gets saved.' Vanhoozer notes that Paul doesn't think the question of individual salvation is one to be sidelined when asked (see Acts 16).

Vanhoozer points out that for Wright ecclesiology is the new soteriology. Justification is the verdict that you are in God's people and faith is a sign of covenant membership not an entry ticket. Of course this conflicts with many in the Reformed tradition. So, Vanhoozer suggests a way forward that can bring the concerns of both together - union with Christ.

Vanhoozer analyzes justification as everyone would expect him to - as a speech act. Here his analysis is helpful (and what follows is an extreme simplification). He notes that locuted righteousness actually brings about a state of affairs by the utterance, it's more than just a declaration of fact.

In the rest of his talk he went on to link imputation and justification in ways that are extremely helpful, subsuming the discussion into union with Christ and ultimately adoption. What's imputed to us is Christ's covenant faithfulness. He also suggests that what happens at justification isn't just an acquittal (criminal court) and isn't just a determination of covenental staus (civil court), it's membership into Christ and thus into God's family (adoption court).

Vanhoozer closed by calling for more dialogue between Wright and the old Reformed guard. Neither side gets it right completely. They need each other. That dialogue must be laced with grace and the fruit of the spirit. I think that Vanhoozer has given us excellent suggestions at what our way forward should be.

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