N.T. Wright: Rechtfertigung

Anlässlich der Verleihung der Ehrendoktorwürde durch die Theologische Fakultät der Universität Fribourg (Schweiz) hat N.T. Wright am vergangenen Wochenende zur Rechtfertigungslehre gesprochen (nebenbei: Judith Butler erhält die Ehrendoktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Fribourg). Nichts Neues. Wright hat im Wesentlichen bestätigt, was er in den letzten Jahren zur Rechtfertigungslehre veröffentlicht hat. Da die Reformatoren in falschen, scholastischen Kategorien dachten, brauchen wir für eine angemessene Interpretation der Rechtfertigung eine neue Rahmenstruktur. Wright meint, den passenden Rahmen durch den Rückgriff auf das rabbinische Judentum liefern zu können. Nun wissen wir: „Richtig verstanden, ist Rechtfertigung die Lehre, die besagt, dass wir zusammengehören. Die Lehre, die auf unserer Zusammengehörigkeit insistiert, wurde benutzt, um uns auseinanderzudividieren“ (S. 8–9).

I hope it is clear from all this that the categories often employed to discuss ‘justification’ are slanted and inadequate. They are slanted, because they introduce the notion that ‘justification’ is all about humans somehow obtaining ‘righteousness’, whether by their own moral efforts (as in popular Pelagianism), or by the moral ‘merits’ of Jesus being ‘reckoned’ to them (as in much protestant, particularly Reformed, thinking), or by the quality of moral goodness being infused into them (as in much Catholic thinking). All these see ‘justification’ as the ‘making right’ or ‘putting right’ of humans, within a framework where humans have as it were been set a test, a moral challenge to fulfil. This belongs with what I take to be a mediaeval idea, though fully formulated in the seventeenth century Reformed circles, of a basic ‘covenant of works’ to which humans must somehow conform (or to which Jesus will conform on their behalf) by somehow acquiring ‘righteousness’. This in turn goes with that same basic framework, that the whole narrative is focused on whether humans go to heaven or to hell. My proposal is that for Paul at least things are very different. The aim of the whole narrative is to restore humans to their vocation of ‘glory’, that is, the dignity and rule over creation, for which they were created in the divine image, so that through them God’s glory and knowledge will fill the whole creation. To that end, justification declares that they are covenant members, forgiven and in the right with God.

The categories normally used, as a result, are inadequate. They deal only with the rescue of humans from the deadly condemnation which comes upon sin. That is of course vital, but for Paul it belongs within the larger picture of the divine covenantal plan for creation as a whole. This is what I mean when I say that though Paul seems to have meant by ‘justification’ something rather different from what Luther and the other reformers supposed, what he meant in fact is even more explosive. The reformers were trying to give biblical answers to the mediaeval questions. Paul’s doctrine challenges the questions themselves, and encourages us to reformulate the whole picture. As Barth pointed out, the Reformers never really sorted out their eschatology. When we replace their implicit heaven- and-hell framework with the biblical notion of heaven and earth coming together in new creation, significant changes happen in soteriology, including justification.

Hier der ganze Vortrag in englischer Sprache: Fribourg_Justification_November_2014.pdf.

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