I am happily speeding my way through reading Tom Wright’s new Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (SPCK, 2009). It is a fascinating read (which is why I am able to go so fast!) and I will be posting more detailed thoughts on the book later. Wright is a master communicator and anyone (regardless of theological persuasion) could learn from his very engaging and easy-on-the-ears writing style.
But, I had a thought as I progressed through the book. This is an odd sort of text becuase it is essentially a response (to John Piper) that is not written directly to Piper, but to the audience that Wright wishes to gain a hearing from. He is clearing the air, defending his name, clarifying his own theology, and taking a small chance to counter the kind of theology that people like Piper are promoting. Reading Wright’s book reminded me of the many challenges of reading Paul’s letters especially as you have to try to figure out why Paul is saying the things he is and when he directly responding to his opponents (his John Pipers) and when he just theologizing and telling his audience what he thinks about X, Y, and Z.
Sometimes Wright is indignant. So Paul. Sometimes Wright gives you little hints at what his ‘debator’ or ‘Agitator’ has said. So Paul. Sometimes Wright slips into ‘theology’ mode and it is as if the Agitator never existed. So Paul. Sometimes Wright is using the one Agitator as an example of all his opponents who do the same kind of invective rhetoric. So Paul. All the while Wright is too busy, too tired, too annoyed to be wholly consumed with convincing the Agitator of anything, let along everything. Wright simply wants his major audience (Christian believers) to hear the truth of his Gospel straight from the horse’s mouth. So Paul. Wright often acknowledges that he is on the same ‘team’, so to speak, as his Agitator and he wishes that he were not so often the target of friendly fire. So Paul. Wright’s Agitator says, ‘I only care about being a good pastor to God’s people and helping them to grow in faith’. Wright says, ‘Don’t forget, I am also a ‘pastor’ of God’s people’. This sounds an awful lot like Paul!
If for nothing else, and indeed there is much wisdom in these pages, reading Wright’s book has helped me to understand better the challenges of mirror-reading. Chapter by chapter I have to guess at what Piper has said about Wright. Sometimes it is clearly spelled out by Wright. Other times you really have to strain to figure it out. Of course the difference here is that I could go out and buy Piper’s book… But I’m not going to.