Well, the ETS debate on Justification was so significant that its worth discussing. There are however not much known about how the debate went at this stage. Will be great to get some feedback! I did however manage to find some thoughts about what happened on thegospelcoalition blog:
Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened the long-anticipated exchange by delivering a paper on Wednesday night called “Justification: The Saving Righteousness of God in Christ.” He engaged in a direct and sustained critique of Wright, even as he labored to show common ground with the man he described as a groundbreaking thinker. He acknowledged that Wright is fundamentally correct that first-century Jews incurred the judgment of exile in the form of Roman oppression due to their sin. When Wright responded to Schreiner on Friday morning, he expressed surprise over their agreement on this point.
Schreiner also agreed with Wright that evangelicals who hold to sola scriptura recognize no other authority, including tradition, as final. But Schreiner identified three false polarities that he said Wright perpetuates:
1.Wright argues that justification is primarily about ecclesiology instead of soteriology.
2.Wright says Israel’s fundamental problem was failing to bless the world. But Paul focuses on Israel’s inherent sinfulness.
3.Wright contends that justification is a declaration of God’s righteousness but does not include the imputation of God’s righteousness.
The second plenary address—delivered by Frank Thielman, Presbyterian professor of divinity at Beeson Divnity School—focused on Romans 1:16-17. Thielman offered a mediating position that suggested several intended meanings from Paul for the contested and consequential phrase “righteousness of God.” Original hearers, Thielman said, would have understand this phrase to refer to the saving activity and gift of acquittal from God on the basis of faith. They also would have understood that God is fair, even-handed, and equitable in the way he distributes salvation.
One Important Phrase, Several Intended Meanings
Is it really likely, though, that Paul would use one phrase and intend several meanings? Thielman said this practice was common in ancient writing. So Paul did in fact reveal in this famous passage that God counts believers acquitted, as Martin Luther realized. But the inspired apostle also taught that God is fair, and he powerfully rescues his people.
The Main Event
Probably the main attraction, though, was the Friday morning address by N. T. Wright, research professor of New Testament at St. Andrews University and the former bishop of Durham. For years now Wright has faced sustained criticism in the form of books, journal articles, and lectures from a number of the most prominent scholars in ETS. He jumped into the lion’s den in Atlanta with his paper, “Justification Yesterday, Today, and Forever.” From the beginning, Wright displayed his characteristic blend of humor, charm, and wide-ranging intellect with an unrelentingly rapid speaking pace. He has indeed read his critics, but he hardly backed down at ETS. In fact, he seemed more than a little perturbed by the wide range of arguments leveled against his writing on justification. He called for a new ethic of Christian blogging and faulted believers for pulling his statements out of context and reaching false conclusions about his work.
One Big Story
During his paper, Wright did not, however, mention John Piper, originally scheduled to engage with him at ETS. But Wright clearly had him in mind. Piper has criticized Wright for undermining Christian assurance with his view on justification. In particular, Piper cites Wright teaching that final judgment will be on the basis of works. Indeed, Wright wrote in Paul: In Fresh Perspective:
The whole point about “justification by faith” is that it is something which happens in the present time (Romans 3:26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Romans 2:1-16).
But Wright contends he does not mean what Piper and others believe he does. If doubts linger, however, Wright said that he believes final judgment will be in accordance with works—something Piper and Schreiner acknowledge from Romans 2:6—and not on the basis of works. Justification involves spiritual struggle, Wright said, and Christians should beware of antinomianism that neglects this teaching.
Wright appeared especially troubled by the charge that he wouldn’t know what to say to someone dying who asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Wright said, “The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and Lord of the world. That’s good news.” He would encourage someone dying to find eternal life by confessing the name of Jesus, the crucified and risen One, in whom we find healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, and hope.
During more than two hours of discussion that followed these papers, a number of differences remained irreconcilable. Schreiner said justification has ecclesiological implications, but contrary to Wright, he believes it is chiefly about the forgiveness of sins. Wright remains uncomfortable with describing righteousness as a gift, as if it can get passed around. Schreiner cautions against pushing the law-court metaphor hard, but Wright says Paul does just that in Romans 3. And Wright continues to believe that Schreiner and others fail to understand the significance of Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 that God’s plan to save the world through Israel has not failed.