As I have noted before, N.T. Wright posits a future justification based on works. Let’s parse that out.
He says that the good news is that those who believe in the gospel are presently “in the right” and have “the status of being God’s covenant people, the people already declared to be ‘in the right’ in the present, far ahead of the great verdict on the last day” (Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part One [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004], 58-59). (Side note: see how “in the right,” or justified equals “the status of being God’s covenant people.” That’s odd, but off the point for now.)
Now note what he says about final justification based on works. “Sometimes Christians have imagined that Paul’s doctrine of ‘justification by faith’…means the abolition of a final judgment according to works. But Paul never says that” (Ibid., 31). “The future judgment will take place on the basis of the entire life a person has led” (Ibid., 33).
Here’s the mess: “The contrast between judgment according to works and justification by faith is not between a system God might have liked to operate and a system he has chosen to operate instead. It is the contrast between the future judgment, which will indeed be in accordance with works, and the present anticipation of that verdict, which is simply…on the basis of faith” (Ibid).
My question is, why is the gospel good news for Wright? You’re justified now, and in the future, but maybe not in the future. Your sins are forgiven now, but you might not make it into heaven. You’ll be God’s covenant child in the future if you have the “badge” of faith, but if you haven’t done enough, your badge will be ripped off or you’ll wear it in hell. Essentially – and it comes out in the above quotes – Wright says “faith now, works later, and you’ll be OK.”
Again, how can this gospel be good news?