Just back from ETS, IBR, and the first bit of SBL. A few random reflections:
1. A wonderful opportunity to be at these events. It is a quite incomparable convergence of biblical and theological thinkers.
2. Reminded of what a privilege it is to be part of the Crossway team. In years past Crossway has always been my favorite publisher to visit. To have a small part in helping this company move forward in its strategic mission is a privilege, and lots of fun. I could not respect Lane Dennis more than I do.
3. Every year I go to fewer papers. The real value of these conferences is not the data I take in but the old friends I see and the people I meet.
4. There's something about these conferences I just loathe. The preening and parading of self, the snubbing of 'nobodies' and the glad-handing of 'somebodies.' Yuck. I want to continue to kill such impulses in my own heart.
5. The book exhibit is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating to see all the good books available. Depressing to see all the good books I will never have time to read. (One of the truly heavenly dimensions to the new earth will be the elimination of the tyranny of time. No more late or early, no more hurriedness, no more deadlines, no more concern of how best to spend my short little life. We'll have all the time in the world.)
6. I don't think we made much progress on justification (the theme of the conference). Wright said he has never said final judgment is on the basis of works, which isn't quite true, as Schreiner pointed out a few moments later. But this 'nuance' (Wright's word) is a step forward nonetheless. (See Denny Burk's good thoughts, to which Wright responds in the comments.) Thielman and Schreiner were both a bit more positive toward reading the NT with the understanding that first-century Jews considered themselves still in exile. Beyond this, the three pretty much agreed to disagree.
7. Schreiner was magnificent: clear, courageous, courteous. Thielman was his usual gracious, articulate self. Wright was interesting and instructive but once again felt the need to be sure everyone was aware of all the false things he has been 'accused' of, which got a bit wearisome. But I was helped much by all three. Each is a gift to the church.
8. One point that I wish had been made more clearly by either Schreiner or Thielman was that the deepest, truest impetus toward the unity Wright centralizes is the understanding of justification that sees the main human problem to be a vile sinner's rightful condemnation by a holy and just God, and that sees the main solution to be the moral one of forensic acquittal.
By making justification itself mainly about unity, Wright does not simply emphasize one (horizontal) blessing instead of another (vertical) one. He loses both. The vertical ignites the horizontal. Try to reverse the direction and you lose both.
9. A particularly telling moment was when the three men were asked the very basic question of how one becomes a Christian. I invite correction here if I am misrepresenting Wright; I didn't write it down at the time. But his answer was something like: 'By the Spirit, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Lord of the universe, and, by the Spirit, realize that he is making all things new, and cast your lot in with him.'
What struck me in that moment was that there was nothing in his response about sin. What Wright said is true but insufficient. If an unbeliever lay dying and this was what was said to him, would the unbeliever hear the gospel? Becoming a Christian isn't centrally about picking the right team to be on but contritely confessing you've been on the wrong team all along.
I don't become a Christian by yielding loyalty to Christ any more than I become a Chicago Bear by yielding loyalty to Lovie Smith. In each case one must first qualify--in the latter case by athletic ability, in the former by sin-confessing, self-divesting faith.