Is a Functional View of Christian Anthropology Less Loving?

Still reading N.T Wright’s essay, “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and For Ever” (JETS, 2011). Wright is known for a functional anthropology whereby God wants to reclaim broken humanity as “kings and priests to God.” Basically, God wants to redeem humans so they can live and be and work in the ways God had always intended. He saved them to put them to proper use.

Some of his disputants have remarked that this understanding of humanity comes across as unkind and unloving – God just wants to use his creatures. Wright offers a helpful response and analogy:

When Jesus, showing his continuing love for Peter, tells him to feed his sheep, does that mean he does not really love Peter, he only wants to use him? Of course not. If a great composer has a child who is a brilliant musician, and the composer, out of sheer love for the child, writes a magnificent concerto for her to play, is he merely using her? Or is his love not expressed precisely in this, that he wants to celebrate and enhance her wonderful gifts? (427)

NT Wright on Perspectives Old and New on Paul and Justification (from 2010)

Currently I am reading through Pauline Perspectives – the newly released collection of NT Wright’s published essays on Paul over the past 25 years. I have made it to p. 426 of the book, “2010” in the chronology of his essay writing. This essay is called “Justification: Yesterday, Today, and For Ever” (JETS, published 2011, but lecture given at ETS in 2010). I was not in attendance of this event, so I am glad to be catching up on this essay. At the beginning of the essay he makes a number of statements in response to his (many, many) critics. One, in particular, aims at the concern about what is lost in the New Perspective from the Reformation tradition. Here is Wright’s response:

No other ‘New Perspective’ writer, I think, has said anything like what I just said [about the biblical story]. This version of the ‘New Perspective’ gives you everything you could possibly have got from the ‘old perspective.’ But it gives it to you in its biblical context (427).

This is a bit of a lofty statement, but right I think. Many anti-NP scholars fear what the NP rejects, but Wright ties his view so nicely into the wider biblical storyline that I think he is correct in saying he retains the essential affirmations of the Reformation heritage.

Now, I am simultaneously reading Westerholm’s Justification Reconsidered (2013), which is a serious challenge to the NP reading of justification language. I am only a dozen pages in to Westerholm’s book (and he has mostly criticized Stendahl and Dunn thus far), but I find myself nodding in agreement quite often that we should not demote the vertical aspects of Paul’s justification language even as we note horizontal implications. So, as I read 2010 N.T. Wright, does Wright maintain a strong vertical center (rescue from judgment, salvation from God’s wrath)? I am not fully done with Wright’s essay, so I am anxious to find out. I will return to this question when I review Westerholm.