N.T. Wright is one of the foremost Jesus scholars of our day recognizing that history has an important role to play in theology. His impressive Christian Origins and the Question of God series is an important advancement of scholarship. With great fluidity he has integrated historical inquiry and biblical analysis, with exemplary results. His series clearly demonstrates how theology can benefit from historical study. We have personally benefited from reading N.T. Wright and have no qualms about recommending his series, yet feel compelled nonetheless to provide this page which critiques his definition of justification, which we think is seriously, if not fatally, flawed.
N.T. Wright writes “we have misjudged early Judaism, especially Pharisaism, if we have thought of it as an early version of Pelagianism,” (Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 32). In light of this, one of the fundamental premises in the NPP is that Pharisaism was actually a religion of grace. However, take note of this, Covenant Theology has always affirmed that the covenant God made with Abraham is a gracious covenant and not merit-based. So this is nothing new. A cursory view of historical theology will affirm this. But this does not mean that the Pharisees had not slipped into a form of legalism (since Jesus made it clear they had), just as many Christians have today. The real issue, rather, is one of human nature, since both Jews and Christians have always had the natural tendency to trust in their own righteousness whatever their creeds may have affirmed. We affirm that the 1st century Jews were the same. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collecter alone should confirm this to be true.