The Paul Page is a site dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul and contains many articles. N.T Wright himself has written an article called ‘The Shape of Justification’. I found his comments on the relationship between the gospel and justification interesting:
"By 'the gospel' Paul does not mean 'justification by faith' itself. He means the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. To believe this message, to give believing allegiance to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is to be justified… by faith (whether or not one has even heard of justification by faith). Justification by faith itself is a second-order doctrine: to believe it is both to have assurance… and to know that one belongs in the... family of God… But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith… but by believing in Jesus…
“Let me make it clear that I do not, in any way, drive a wedge between 'the gospel' and 'justification'. They belong intimately together… But they are not the same thing. 'The gospel', for Paul, is the proclamation that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord of the world. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, or Athens, or Corinth, or wherever, we know what he announced, because he tells us: The Messiah died for our sins and rose again... [Whereas] 'justification' is the declaration which God at once makes, that all who share this faith belong to Christ, to his sin-forgiven family, the one family of believing Jews and believing Gentiles together, and are assured of final glorification.”
I agree that it does sound sensible to preach Jesus’ death and resurrection – as the apostles did in Acts - and then teach the principles of justification later when someone has been a Christian for some time. I do wonder if gospel summaries would be better emphasising these facts about Jesus more than trying to explain justification. It is what Wright actually means by justification that needs further investigation.
I have also found a number of videos by Wright on YouTube including this one on what he believes about hell. I don’t think this is a major emphasis of his but some may feel that he is watering down the gospel here. What he says about hell sounds sensible to me but I wondered where exactly he was coming from.
I found this blog entry that pointed me to Wright’s book ‘For All The Saints’ very helpful. There he discusses the fact that universalism – the idea that all are saved in the end – “has gained enormous popularity in mainstream Western Christianity and compares this with the traditional teaching of eternal conscious torment”, and with a “middle position of “the ‘conditionalists’”. He explains that conditionalist teach that, “since humans are not by nature immortal, only those who are saved are granted immortality, so that all others are simply extinguished…” Wright then comments that he doesn’t “find any of these three traditional options completely satisfactory, but I think a somewhat different form of conditionalism may be the best we can do.”
Here I would tend to agree with Wright again. I rejected the idea of hell being everlasting conscious torment some twenty years ago now after reading John Stott’s chapter in Essentials where Stott argued for hell being a place of annihilation. More I recently investigated Universalism. I found it a lot more plausible than I expected but I couldn’t quite embrace it. (For more on this see David Matthew’s notes from the Evangelical Universalist.) I don’t find the Bible that clear on what happens to us after we die. I am looking forward to being with God for eternity but I fear I must agree with Wright that not all will make it but I cannot see that meaning those who don't will burn forever.
Anyway, it looks like Wright’s new book Justification is a key one to get – along with Piper’s book that he is answering. Skimming an extensive review of Wright’s book here I was struck by the reviewer’s comment that told how he previously “favoured evangelism over what I perceived as a liberal concern for social action and justice.” But then “began to explore the work of N.T. Wright.” And found himself “developing a larger theology in which God is calling a people to himself to be a blessing to the world. A gospel which embraced justice and social concern as well as a need to evangelise.” Once again I would say that this reflects my own journey and is an emphasis I would appreciate.
Whether I come to agree with him on justification or not Wright does appear to have some good points that are well worth listening to.