Book Review: "Deficiencies in the Justification of the Ungodly" by Manny Alaniz

Manny Alaniz
Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3
Eugene, OR 97401-2960
Copyright: 2013
ISBN:  978-1-62032-888-0; $15.00
Reviewed for Deus Misereatur by: Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber

Deficient Discussions – 1 ½ of 5 stars

In Evangelical Circles, especially among the Reformed rivulet, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright is either adored or abhorred. Manny Alaniz has entered the fray with his recent 106 page paperback, “Deficiencies in the Justification of the Ungodly: A Look at N. T. Wright’s View of the Doctrine of Imputed Righteousness.” This lengthy booklet promises to unpack Wright’s teaching on the doctrine of justification, and persuade the reader to hold to the Classic Protestant position.

“Deficiencies in the Justification of the Ungodly” breaks down into four basic chapters, surrounded by an introduction and a conclusion. To put it frankly, the whole book simply expands on the introduction; read it and you have in essence read the entire book. There is very little deviation, just a pedestrian expansion.

In the four chapters Alaniz takes the reader through a naïve rehearsal of the New Perspectives on Paul “movement” beginning with Krister Stendahl. He then “evaluates” N.T. Wright’s angle, showing what the author perceives are Wright’s fallacies with regard to justification. After this, he sets out to explain the Classic Protestant position on the subject, affirming that in justification God declares the believer forgiven and in right standing with himself, solely because of Christ’s own righteousness; and that this gracious gift is received by faith alone. Finally, the writer attempts to assess Wright’s deficiencies in light of the Classic Protestant stance. He charges Wright with redefining justification by faith to mean that this is where God graciously declares who are in his covenant family, and faith is simply the identification badge one wears to show who is in and who is out. The author further alleges that Wright drops the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner altogether.

It is hard to take “Deficiencies in the Justification of the Ungodly” too seriously for several reasons, but one sample one will suffice. N.T. Wright has written voluminously, close to 40 books and reams of articles, in which works he has addressed this subject from numerous slants. But Alaniz merely musters up a booklet. And then, in the Bibliography only 19 of Wright’s books and 7 of his articles are listed. There are numerous other authors who take a negative view of Wright, and have at least read most or all of his material, and spilled gallons of ink and piles of paper to make their case.

There is a deficiency in this book to grasp the nuances in Wright’s material. In my opinion Wright does wrongly reprioritize various theological categories (viz., ecclesiology over soteriology), as well as outright deny certain understandings of justification, etc. But to say, as the author does repeatedly, that in Wright “there is no exchange between the righteousness of Christ and the ungodly. The ungodly do not receive the full benefits of Christ’s righteousness” and that his ecclesiological emphasis “does not deal with the problem of the guilt due to sin” (72-3) seems problematic. Just as one example, in Wright’s “Mark for Everyone”, where he is commenting on Mark 1.9-13 (Jesus’ baptism, and the Father’s declaration of Jesus being his son), Wright states,
“The whole Christian gospel could be summed up in this point: that when the living God looks at us, at every baptized and believing Christian, he says to us what he said to Jesus on that day. He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ. ( . . . )” Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah represents his people. What is true of him is true of them. ( . . . ) It was because Jesus was and is Messiah that God said to them, as he does to us today, what he said to Jesus at his baptism. And without that word from God all we often hear, in our mind’s ear, is doors being slammed” (4-5).
Though Wright doesn’t use the theological words, he pictures and affirms justification, including imputation and forgiveness. These may not be as strong and muscular as we like; they may not be labelled with the theological tags we want; but they are there nonetheless. And he rightly makes them flow from union with Christ in a way that sounds very close to Alaniz’s own words, “This righteousness is the union of Christ with the sinner whereby Christ’s righteousness belongs to the sinner and the sins of the ungodly belong to Christ” (56 fn. 49). But the author regularly misses the subtle, backdoor ways Wright brings these into his material.

“Deficiencies in the Justification of the Ungodly” attempts to lay out the Classic Protestant position on justification and how Wright misses the mark, but struggles to be lucidly coherent. If a reader has never looked into this doctrine in any depth, or wants to know why some theologians have a beef with N.T. Wright, he will be better served looking to other resources for clearer and more fluent substance. I do not recommend this book.

[If you would like to post this on your blog or publish it in your publication, you have me happy permission. But as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]


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