ETS paper: how Wright says we are saved

1. General Description:  Wright says that we are saved by faith, though it is unclear what role he gives to baptism (see the following two quotes).  He typically says that we are saved when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and that God raised him from the dead (see quote c).

a. “Paul’s conception of how people are drawn into salvation starts with the preaching of the gospel, continues with the work of the Spirit in and through that preaching, and the effect of the Spirit’s work on the hearts of the hearers, and concludes with the coming to birth of faith, and entry into the family through baptism” (WSPRS, 125). 

b. “The message about Jesus and his cross and resurrection—‘the gospel’, in terms of our previous chapters—is announced to them; through this means, God works by his Spirit upon their hearts; as a result, they come to believe the message; they join the Christian community through baptism, and begin to share in its common life and its common way of life.  That is how people come into relationship with the living God” (WSPRS, 116-17).

c. “For Paul, ‘the gospel’ creates the church; ‘justification’ defines it.  The gospel announcement carries its own power to save people, and to dethrone the idols to which they had been bound.  ‘The gospel’ itself is neither a system of thought, nor a set of techniques for making people Christians; it is the personal announcement of the person of Jesus.  That is why it creates the church, the people who believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.  ‘Justification’ is then the doctrine which declares that whoever believes the gospel, and wherever and whenever they believe it, those people are truly members of his family…” (WSPRS, 151). 

d. “But the important point to note is that ‘the gospel’ is a message primarily about Jesus, and about what the one true God has done and is doing through him….Second, the people who experience this ‘salvation’ are ‘all who believe,’ the Jew first and also the Greek…(the gospel is God’s power for salvation to those who have faith, which amounts to very much the same thing).  Notice how the two come so close together:  (a) ‘to all who believe,’ (b) Jew first and also Greek.  Old perspective and new….” (Justification, 181).

e. “God’s righteousness is unveiled through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah on the one hand, and for the benefit of all who believe on the other….How can God possibly declare someone ‘in the right,’ promising thereby that this verdict will be echoed on the last day, when all they have done is to believe in Jesus the Messiah?” (Justification, 203-4).

2. Wright seems to have a fairly general ordo salutis, something he repeated in the Q and A on Friday when asked how a person becomes a Christian.  He describes the process as follows:

The gospel that Jesus is Lord is proclaimed –> Holy Spirit works through this preaching –> sinners express faith in the Lord Jesus –> they are baptized and join the church.

3. Wright declares that his view is entirely consistent with salvation by grace alone through faith alone (and consequently would count as Protestant).

a. “Nor, of course, does this then compromise the gospel or justification, smuggling in ‘works’ by a back door.  That would only be the case if the realignment I have been arguing for throughout were not grasped.  Faith, even in this active sense, is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into God’s family or for staying there once in.  It is the God-given badge of membership, neither more nor less.  Holiness is the appropriate human condition for those who, by grace alone, find themselves as believing members of the family of God” (WSPRS, 160).

b. “There is no problem in adding the word ‘alone’ to the word ‘faith’—a tradition that goes way back beyond Luther, at least to Aquinas—as long as we recognize what it means:  not that a person is ‘converted’ by faith alone without moral effort (that is true, but it is not the truth that Paul is stressing here), nor that God’s grace is always prior to human response (that is equally true, and equally not Paul’s emphasis here), but that the badge of membership in God’s people, the badge that (Romans Commentary, 482).

c. “…the only justification the Christian will ever have is because of the merits of the Messiah, clung to by faith, rather than any work, achievement, good deeds, performance of the law or anything else, even if done entirely out of gratitude and in the power of the Spirit….Nothing that I am now going to say takes away from this glorious truth by one milligram” (Justification, 186-87). 

d. “This closing paean of praise…rests all its weight, no on anything in ourselves, but only on God’s achievement in Christ” (Justification, 238). 

e. “Here John Piper, and the tradition he represents, have said that salvation is accomplished by the sovereign grace of God, operating through the death of Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf, and appropriated through faith alone.  Absolutely.  I agree a hundred percent” (Justification, 10).

One Comment

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  1. Mike,

    In our Evangelical Baptist circles we shy away from giving baptism and the Lord’s Supper a sacramental meaning. That of course begs the question of what we mean by “sacrament” and “sacramental”. We tend to define “sacramental” in terms of something that becomes a means or way of apprehending saving grace. This is not the time or place for me to go into all the thoughts I’ve had about this, only to say that in looking at Wright’s words about baptism, as you have presented them here, they do not set off any alarm bells for me. I would be interested in any further explanation Wright may have of his reference to baptism in this context…

    Regards, Bill

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