Tom Wright has written a new book on Justification, in part to respond to John Piper.
I was listening to Tom Wright on Romans the other day and he observed that 'Righteousness of God' had three dimensions:
The key to the current debate is that he makes the covenantal dimension of Paul's Righteousness/Justification the 'fundamental' dimension (to quote his lecture). Most of the focus in debate has been on word studies of the dikaiosune (Righteousness/Justification) word group. There are places where this word group seems to be fundamentally covenantal (e.g. Second Isaiah) but the chips are (in my mind) stacked in the traditional interpretation's favour because the language is from the law-court in the first place (at least). To settle things though the debate has to be far wider and involve the whole of Paul's theology and ask: 'where is the centre of Paul's theology?' Once you have answered that as 'the covenant' then you can do as Wright does and 'translate back into covenantal categories' (p.43, Letter to the Romans) any language which is not covenantal in the first place. Of course if the law-court is central then you can do the same in the other direction.
I am persuaded for the moment to give the law-court pole position in this contest (see here for why) but suspect that the answer may be simpler. If you were to ask the mythical average man in the pew what was the centre of Paul's theology he would immediately answer Jesus Christ, or particularly Jesus Christ crucified. And here perhaps is the answer. Neither the law-court nor the covenant are central, they are both interdependent but separate metaphors which are trying to describe something bigger than both of them, that 'in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself'.
In my head I keep on coming back to Mark Seifrid's comment that only in Jesus is there synthesis when 'the election of Israel and the demand of the Law meet in Christ, the crucified and risen. The tension within early Jewish thought between grace and demand was resolved in an event, not a higher idea' (pp. 5-6, 'The "New Perspective on Paul" and Its Problems', Themelios, Issue 25-2). I don't know if Seifrid would agree with how I spin him but there we go.
Again and again, I learn that theologians (and more often I) sometimes lose the wood for the trees. We do so love to replace Christ with an idea.