This is an overview of the book, not a review or critique of it. I am not endorsing Wright's view of justification. I am in a school debate/discussion of the NPP with an advocate of it who plans to do grad work at Duke Divinity School. I read this book so that I could say that I have read both sides and in doing so, I feel I can critique it more easily, although the critique may be a while forthcoming. Lastly, I read this book because Wright does do a good job of roasting liberal claptrap that Paul invented Christianity. Again, this a brief overview of the book. I am only laying the ideas out:
Wright completely undoes the liberal charge that Paul invented Christianity. He sees Paul, rightly, as establishing the proper continuity rightly proclaiming the victory of Jesus over the world, thus demonstrating to the principalities and powers of the world a new way of being human (181). However, Paul did not repeat everything Jesus said and did--that would contradict Jesus' role as Messiah.
To understand Paul, according to Wright, one must understand his background into Shammiel Judaism. In short, pre-convert Saul trusted in God's kingdom to break into human history and overcome the whole world, by violence if necessary. He lived on passages such as Daniel 2, 7 and 9. Not only would pagans be put to shame but also compromising Jews as well (This could possible explain the inability for repentance concerning those in Hebrews 6).
However, upon conversion Paul continued to see the Kingdom of God overtaking the world but in a different way. Israel had failed to be a light to the world and now would face judgment. At the same time, Jesus by his death on the cross and vindication through resurrection, had indeed fulfilled what Israel failed to do. Most importantly, he had been liberated to serve God in a new way (37). If any were to be saved (more on that word later) they would have to submit to Jesus' way of being Israel. Paul saw himself as herald to the King, this Jesus to whom all the Caesars of this world owed their immediate allegiance.
Paul accepted the Divinity of Jesus, according to Wright, but in a different way than phrased by most scholars, liberal or conservative. Paul took the Shema of Deut. 6--stating that God is one--and placed Jesus in the center of it (66). Of course, any Jew would easily see this as asserting that Jesus is the God in whom Israel would be redeemed. Moreover, the Spirit of Christ that is with his church in their gospel message is--to use theological language--the Holy Spirit.
This was good news for the Pagans. Paul was not either/or Jewish or Hellenistic. He essentially Jewish who challenged by way of Parody the pagan worldview, a few examples being his critique of pagan creationism and power/empire. Unlike the pagans Paul denied the divinity of creation and asserted that since creation is from God it relfects God's beauty and goodness, allthewhile DENYING THE EMPIRE'S DIVINITY. Paul's message challenged Caesar: Christ, not Tiberius/Nero is Lord and King. At the same time Paul offered a critique FROM WITHIN Judaism: it has failed to be Israel and is no different from the Pagans (82-83).
Wright's next two chapters form the central and most controversial section of the book. Briefly stated, Wright is correct in defining dikaiosune theou and justification as legal terms but errs, in my opinion, in saying that they are appropriated through covenant. In other words, justification is a sign that one is a member of the covenant, rather than entrance into it. I really can't go into the disagreements here--that would be a monograph that perhaps needs to be written anyway.
He further defines justification as the symbol by which one is known to be a member of the covenant community. Here is argument is the most controversial and in my opinion, falls short. Had his knowledge of Reformation and historical theology been broader than merely quoting Alister McGrath, then his thesis would have been stronger in this area by modifying it. What is amazing is the lack of citations from Luther, Calvin, etc.
Paul's ethic--if one wants to call it that--according to Wright, is worshipping God by being the renewed humanity. Such worship can only come from those who have surrendered their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this renewed humanity through worship, love, resurrection, mission, and Holiness.
Wright ends his work by butchering infidel covenant-breaker Ian Wilson's badly written work on Paul. Ian Wilson just rehashes liberal arguments and Wright roasts them over the fire.
Final Analysis: Extremely well-written, provocative and engaging: Unfortunately, Wright's limited knowledge of historical theology and casual dismissal of Reformation thought call certain parts of his thesis into question, desperately in need of modification. BTW, the last pages of the book are worth the price of the book.