I just stumbled upon this article from the Westminster Theological Journal, which responds to N.T. Wright and Robert Gundry on imputation. The summary section of this article is entitled Imputation: A "Protestant Given", and it is this givenness about which I want to say a few words here.
I have spoken previously here at OJC about Anglican academic types who are devotees of the late Bishop of Durham and who speak as though New Perspective vs. Old Perspective is now a closed case, with the former clearly, in their minds, superseding the latter. I get the distinct impression, however, that these Anglicans give Tom Wright a pass on this issue largely because he's "our guy", because he's so right on other matters, and because he's such an engaging, top shelf scholar. But we need to be listening closely to critics of the NPP, because if we don't have justification right, that is a serious thing indeed, especially if Luther was right in his assessment that it is the article on which the church stands or falls.
If Luther was right, then it follows that justification, understood as the imputed righteousness of Christ (its formal cause) through a grace-given faith (its instrumental cause), is a "Protestant given", which is to say just as "settled" an article of faith for Protestants as orthodox triadology and christology are for Protestants and Catholics alike. All the great Protestant confessions teach imputation, and I would argue along with J.I. Packer that the Anglican confession, the 39 Articles, carries the same authority for the Anglican Christian as the creeds. It is to those confessions we look for our belief on the matter, and not to the latest academic fad.
Yes, I'm saying the NPP has taken on the characteristics of a fad. And like all fads, it quickly and easily morphs into the next fad. This morning I saw a statement from an Anglican academic who, citing this article, summarizes it by saying,
The old perspective Paul vs. the new perspective Paul is now over. The new debate will be between the new perspective Paul vs. the apocalyptic Paul. . . .
The conversation is shifting to this debate. From now on academics will be posing new perspective understandings (Sanders to Wright) against apocalyptic readings (Käsemann and Martyn and Campbell).
Except that it won't be "from now on", but only until the next generation of theological scholars displaces this new controversy with its own set of thought experiments and deconstructive theories, along with the same kind of insinuations we hear from NPP devotees that those folks in the church who aren't keeping up with them are fearful obscurantists bent only on preserving the past. Many of these scholars purport to be "conservative", but as discussed here, there is a real question as to whether conservative (or "orthodox") faith can exist in the academy, especially the Protestant academy.
And why stop at Paul's soteriology? What's to stop N.T. Wright or any other "conservative" Protestant academic from deconstructing orthodox triadology and christology? After all, the Fathers' theological method was arguably tainted by Neoplatonistic and other Hellenistic philosophies, which were not shared by Peter, John, James and Paul. Semper Reformanda!
I am currently reading C. F. Allison's The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter, in which the author argues that the later Caroline Divines, who were much preoccupied with what they perceived to be the antinomian tendencies of the Reformational teaching on justification -- where the imputed righteousness of Christ was believed to be justification's formal cause -- departed from the earlier, arguably orthodox, Anglican view defended by Hooker, et al. This, argues Allison, led to the rise of a more moralistic soteriology, which later morphed into latitudianism and finally modern Anglican theological radicalism, and influencing "less directly", writes the author, "the Wesleyans and the Tractarians." All of these mutations occurred largely in the setting of the Anglican academy, bringing much of the church with it in its tow.
The article on which the church stands or falls. . . .
This is why I argue that orthodox Anglicans ought to start viewing the academy and its denizens with more of a gimlet eye, and ask themselves the question why, if imputation can be so summarily dispensed with because some notable "conservative" Anglican scholar says so, the same kind of criticism can't be turned on the Nicene Creed. Or to put it another way, do we orthodox Anglicans have "givens" or not?
J.I. Packer - Sola Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification
On the NPP and the claims of Roman and Anglo-Catholics, see:
If it only weren’t for (Anglo-Catholicism’s) rejection of the claim, often attributed to Martin Luther, that justification by grace alone through faith alone “is the article by which the church stands and falls.” Because that article, to us Protestants, constitutes the essence of the Christian Gospel. Again, (Aidan) Nichols:
Contrast a modern Anglo-Catholic who asserts that:
the centre if Paul’s theology is not justification by faith, but rather participation in the body of Christ, and the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile,
and taking justification by faith itself as:
meaning one can only live a truly good life through incorporation in the social body dedicated to Christ’s memory – out of the resources which this provides. . .
writes off as ‘residual Lutheranism’ any anxiety that here ‘social elements’ are displacing ‘theological ones’ (Citing J. Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Oxford 1990), p. 120)