My second question is this: Does Wright downplay biblical support for grace alone and faith alone? Wright says that he believes in grace alone and faith alone, but he dismisses the classic texts which others use to support it. Consider the following quotes:
“There is no problem in adding the word ‘alone’ to the word ‘faith’—a tradition that goes way back beyond Luther, at least to Aquinas—as long as we recognize what it means: not that a person is ‘converted’ by faith alone without moral effort (that is true, but it is not the truth that Paul is stressing here), nor that God’s grace is always prior to human response (that is equally true, and equally not Paul’s emphasis here), but that the badge of membership in God’s people, the badge that (Romans Commentary, 482).
“Loose talk about ‘salvation by faith’ (a phrase Paul never uses; the closest he gets, as we have seen, is Ephesians 2:8, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith’) can seriously mislead people into supposing that you can construct an entire Pauline soteriology out of the sole elements of ‘faith’ and ‘works,’ with ‘works’ of any sort always being ruled out as damaging or compromising the purity of faith” (Justification, 239).
“No, they said: we are not saved…by good works, they said, but we are saved…for good works. They follow from grace. They neither prepare for it, earn it, nor cooperate with it when it is doing its sovereign job. Well and good….But I do not actually think that that is what Paul is talking about here” (Justification, 171).
I wonder where Wright would go to show that Scripture does teach salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. He might respond that the entire Scripture assumes it, as no one in biblical times was attempting to earn their salvation. From Old Testament Judaism through the New Testament Pharisees everyone recognized that salvation was entirely of grace.
He also might refer to Romans 1:17 and Ephesians 2:8-9, with the caveat that the faith here means simply believing in Christ and isn’t meant to be juxtaposed against works, or “faith alone.”
He writes: Ephesians 2:8-10 “is in fact the only place in Paul where we are told in so many words that we are saved, as opposed to being justified, through faith (see below on Romans 1:16-17)….It is the rescue from the powers of sin and death that Paul needs to stress here, even though the close correlation of that with his more frequent justification-discussions means that he draws on the same language: by grace, through faith (compare Romans 3:21-26), so that nobody can boast (Romans 3:27-31)” [Justification, 170].
I appreciate how Wright is concerned to read the Bible faithfully and not to read into it what isn’t there. I agree that everything hinges on what Paul really means. But leaving aside the exegetical questions (which require much more work from all sides), I have this theological concern. If Wright downplays the biblical support for grace alone and faith alone, how long before the person coming after Wright, someone not saddled with Wright’s residual Protestant reflexes, says that if there is not much biblical support for these doctrines then why should we hold them?
I am not suggesting that Wright rejects these doctrines, only that his insistence that they are not grounded in the customary biblical texts requires him to produce new biblical support for these beliefs. Otherwise it won’t be long until those who follow Wright will lose them.