Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Balancing out (W)right: Jesus' Theology of Individual and Corporate Repentance and Forgiveness in the Gospel of Luke

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Balancing out (W)right: Jesus' Theology of Individual and Corporate Repentance and Forgiveness in the Gospel of Luke

Article excerpt

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N. T. Wright has been a polarizing figure in evangelical scholarship.1 His work in what has been labeled "the New Perspective on Paul" has been both critiqued and praised by a multitude of articles and books.2 The debate over his writings has in recent years been incited by John Piper's The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, Wright's response in Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision, and the subsequent debate at the Evangelical Theological Society's annual meeting in 2010.3 At times, critics have called into question Wright's motives and warned of the dangerous implications of many of his teachings. More recently, however, even scholars from within the Reformed tradition have expressed appreciation for his work in Pauline studies, agreeing with him at times, while also providing thoughtful criticisms on several of his key points.4 While much of the current discussion within evangelical scholarship has centered on Wright's understanding of Paul, Wright's work on Jesus has not received the same amount of attention. Nevertheless, his work on the Gospels and in the field of historical Jesus studies has been influential and demands the attention of scholars of varying stripes.5

The present article seeks to engage with N. T. Wright and his emphasis on Jesus coming to restore Israel, releasing her from exile. Supported by Wright's ability to bring together a convincing overarching narrative that sits well within Jesus' first-century context, along with the work of other scholars who have provided further details, it will be argued that Wright's basic argument concerning exile and restoration has been substantially proven. In light of this overarching exile theme, Wright has helpfully brought attention to the corporate nature of repentance and forgiveness in the Gospels, an emphasis at times neglected by evangelicals. However, in bringing attention to a theme that has at times been neglected, it will be argued that Wright has swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction with the effect of underemphasizing Jesus' teachings on individual repentance and forgiveness. To begin with, Wright's view of the exile will be explored.


N. T. Wright's understanding of the exile has served as an important background for his understanding of the entire NT, including the Gospels and Jesus. Wright argues that most Jews in the first century would have understood themselves, "in all the senses which mattered," to still be in exile. Although Israel had physically returned from Babylon, the prophets' message had not ultimately been fulfilled. Israel was still under the rule of foreigners, and her God had not returned to Zion. Wright's argument is best summed up in his own words:

most first century Jews would have seen themselves as still, in all sorts of senses, "in exile." This is not an idiosyncratic view, as the notes there make clear; many colleagues, in person and in their writings, have encouraged me to persist. Nevertheless, some have remained unconvinced. Without wishing to labour the point further, I would ask critics to face the question: would any seriousthinking first century Jew claim that the promises of Isaiah 40-66, or of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Zechariah, had been fulfilled? That the power and domination of paganism had been broken? That YHWH had already returned to Zion? That the covenant had been renewed, and Israel's sins forgiven? That the longawaited "new exodus" had happened? That the second Temple was the true, final, and perfect one? Or-in other words-the exile was really over? ... The point of all this is not that the exile functioned in this period as an example, an illustration from the past of the way in which YHWH might perhaps work; nor was it just an idea, a type or image that might have been useful in formulating a soteriology that "really" consisted in something else. …

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