NT Wright on justification: Faithfully embodying the reformed tradition of semper reformanda?

  • Jonathan Huggins


This article seeks to examine N.T. Wright’s theological contribution to the Reformed doctrine of Justification, with a view toward arguing that he is an important interpreter for and from the Reformed Tradition. An underlying question to be explored will concern what it means to stand faithfully and critically within the Reformed Theological Tradition. Given the Tradition’s emphases upon “sola scriptura,” and “semper reformanda,” can we welcome the contributions and insights that Wright offers on the doctrine of justification? Or, must he be marginalized, at best, or anathematized, at worst, for failing to conform to the standard Reformed formulations found in our Confessions of faith? These questions are not easily answered because much controversy has surrounded Wright’s statements concerning Justification – especially his denial, or re-defining, of the necessity of “Imputation,” as historically understood within the Tradition. As we will see below, many Reformed thinkers have written against Wright’s views of Justification, often viewing him as the latest manifestation of what is sometimes called the “New Perspective on Paul.” This recent criticism has questioned Wright’s theological orthodoxy and compelled him to clarify his position in the light of the Reformed Tradition. However, Wright claims to be a Reformed theologian in the sense that he has adopted the Reformers’ method, even if not all of their conclusions. As we will see below, there are points of discontinuity with parts of the Reformed tradition in Wright’s work. Yet, a close reading of his work also reveals many points of continuity, and thus may warrant the claim that Wright is working within the basic methodologies of the Reformed Tradition. If this is so, then Wright may be viewed as one who stands both faithfully (or, at least reliably) and critically within the Tradition – even as he proposes new interpretations of the New Testament and fresh articulations of Justification.