Justice in Love: A Reading of Romans
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Justice in Love. Eerdmans, 2011.
Wolsterstorff teaches philosophy at Yale (his title is “Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology Emeritus”). Before teaching at Yale he taught at Calvin College for about thirty years. For a more personal and autobiographical take on his combining philosophy and faith see his contribution in Philosophers who believe (IVP, 1997).
In some sense, this book is a continuation of Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, 2008), where he defends a conception of justice as grounded in inherent rights, as opposed to justice as right order (O’Donovan, MacIntyre).. Love was supposed to be a chapter in Justice, but eventually became a separate book. Wolterstorff continues his defense of the relationship between love and justice, as opposed to the many who see a tension between the two. This tension results, for a good part, from the influence of Nygren’s Eros and Agape. In Justice in Love, Wolterstorff focuses on Love and concludes with an interesting take on Romans (p. 241–82), hence this piece.
For Wolterstorff, the justice of God’s love is the main topic of Romans (243). As others have done and I have done in my work, Wolterstorff stresses the importance of God’s impartiality in Romans. In his words: “Its [Romans] major theme is that the generosity of God, as manifested in God’s justification of sinners, is just in that it is impartial as between Greek and gentiles.” (244)
Wolterstorff touches upon the issue of those who have not heard of Jesus. God’s justification is for those who have faith, but is it faith in Christ he asks. If so, that would exclude all those who have never and will never hear about Christ (245). Furthermore, does God harden some and give faith to others (245). But then these stand no chance, even if they heard about Christ. He comes back to this later.
He then surveys the New Perspective ("The New Paul" 246–47) and then deals with what he sees as the "Main Topic of Romans" (248–51). For him the main topic is impartiality, which is sounded right from the beginning in 1.16–17. "How could one miss it?" (248) asks Wolterstorff. With others, I agree.
This raises the problem of translation. Is Paul talking about the righteousness of God. "I doubt it" he answers (248). Paul is not talking about God’s rectitude, his uprightness, but about his justice. His interacts with Hays (fidelity of Jesus, 261, 271–73), and Wright (Courtroom setting, 262–263), as is common in the English speaking world, sometimes agreeing with them, sometimes not. For example, he blames Wright for not paying enough attention to the theme of impartiality (250). Furthermore he says "But I hold that what Paul emphasizes in Romans is not the mere fact of God’s fidelity to his covenant with Abraham but the justice of the content of that covenant.” (250). He continues with his survey of Rom 2–3 in terms of the source of accountability, i.e. the Law, whether written or in the heart but defends that is is what one does that counts (254–55).
In chapter 21 Wolterstorff tackles the tricky issue of "What is Justification and Is it Just?" (257–82). There he has a take on “The incoherence of Traditional Accounts of Justification” 257–259. To point to the problem he looks at Thomas C. Oden, The Justification Reader, esp. his definition p.53. For Wolterstorff, there is a major problem in that
Acquitting implies the recognition of the absence of guilt, while forgiveness implies the opposite but that guilt is passed over.
Following this, and getting into the imputation debate, Wolterstorff argues that there is no imputation in Romans, Paul does not say that God declares Abraham innocent. “Does he really declare him innocent while pretending not to know that he is not innocent?” he asks (263). God does not pretend people are innocent, he dismisses the charges, but the guilt is there. Justification then comes in two forms.
He continues with whether faith is necessary (Rom 6) and wether “Some are Prevented by God from Having Faith” (Rom 9, 266–271). There he argues that what Paul is talking about is not final redemption but a role in the history of redemption. Paul did not say that God “chooses some vessels for use and some for destruction; he said that the potter chooses some vessels for special and some for ordinary use.” (268, Actually Paul does say so in Rom 9.23). So, he continues, if one see that it is not about final redemption but use in history, God is not unjust. He can choose some for a special use.
He closes with the issue of what faith is. If faith is faith in Jesus, then a lot of people are left out of God’s plan since they have never heard of him. Usually, he argues, and rightfully so in my opinion, faith in Paul is faith in God, not in Jesus. This, I should add, is obvious in Rom 4.23–25 and 10.9. Hence the importance of the resurrection, as I have mentioned in my work. Those who do what is good must be those who have faith in him, but not necessarily in Christ (274). God justifies those who believe in him and it has now been revealed that this is based on Christ’s fidelity.
Lots of good insights packed in a short space in the context of a philosophical discussion. Though I certainly do not agree with everything Wolterstorff says, and think some important issues are left out, these two books on justice and love are worth having a look at.