Justification in Practice
Trevin Wax: Since you are placing the doctrine of justification within a broader doctrine of the Church, perhaps you might have a response to someone who wrote me from India. He said, “How do you think Paul would have reacted to a church congregation that was exclusively for Jews or for Romans? In India, there are many churches based on caste system and community (because of language), and many Christian leaders in India are not willing to address this sensitive issue.” How do you think Paul would react to such churches?
N.T. Wright: It’s difficult. I have never been to India and I am not a specialist on Indian culture, and I would not wish to be heard to be taking swipes at a culture which I’ve never experienced and where I’ve never lived. However, friends of mine who have worked in India… there’s one at the moment who is doing astonishing work among the Dalit people in India, and I get messages from him every few weeks…
It’s quite clear that something is happening in our day which is wonderfully leaping over the caste barrier and provoking a reaction actually from Indian leaders who are saying, “You don’t understand our caste system. It’s really a lovely thing. People are very happy about it and so on.” I don’t think that’s quite fair. So I don’t want to be too critical.
But I think Paul would have grieved over a church that would have colluded with that, just like Paul would have grieved over apartheid South Africa with black and white churches and would grieve over churches in my country, in the UK, which are relentlessly either white or black.
Now, I understand why in the UK, if a bunch of people who come, say from the West Indies… they are living in London. They worship in a particular way. They have a particular style. They try going to English churches and it just doesn’t do it for them, and so they say, “Come on! We want to praise God properly.” So they have basically an all-black congregation with maybe only one or two whites sneaking in because they like the bounce and the style. It’s great stuff! (You know what they say. A black’s definition of a white person is someone who can sing without moving!) They move and it’s fantastic. You get into it!
So, I understand that culturally, there may be times when you have to say… In order to let a thousand flowers bloom and not be squashed, you have to do your own thing. But it must always aim, as soon as possible, at integration with other cultures.
Here’s the trick. It seems to me that since the Middle Ages (it’s not a Reformation thing), all that stuff about Jews and Gentiles coming together in Christ was just screened out. And the screening of that out allowed Martin Luther to be violently anti-Jewish, allowed a whole lot of medieval Christendom and then Catholicism and Protestantism to be happily anti-Jewish without even knowing that there was a problem about that.
And you think… How could they read Romans and Galatians, of all texts, and not notice that this was a problem? And it allowed apartheid South Africa to come up. So, we go way back a long way in the tradition in a way that did not notice that the point of the gospel is the coming together of all things in Christ.
I sometimes say to people… If we had started with Ephesians instead of Romans, and we had read Ephesians 1:10 which says that God’s purpose was to sum up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, then we wouldn’t have an ecological crisis, we wouldn’t have an apartheid problem, we wouldn’t have this, that, and the other. We’ve allowed our ideologies to condition our reading of Scripture and my goodness, it’s time to go back and let Scripture do its proper work.
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