Future of Justification 2: Piper's Introduction
Let’s get started on The Future of Justification - John Piper’s response to N.T. Wright. Today we’ll look at the Introduction, a section that includes all of Piper’s major criticisms condensed into a series of brief paragraphs. The outline of the book becomes clear as you read the introduction. If you’d like to read this section online before looking at my comments, you can find it here.
First off, I appreciate the fact that Piper has not written this book as a way to “one-up” Bishop Wright. He is not interested in debating Wright as a way to increase his own stature (13).
Secondly, I’m glad to hear Piper announce quite strongly that he does not believe Wright to be under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9 (15). Though Piper believes Wright’s doctrines are seriously in error (after all, this book’s purpose is to refute them), he does not question Wright’s salvation. Nor does he call Wright’s exposition of “the gospel” another gospel. (So let’s dispense of the unhelpful rhetoric of “heresy” and “false gospel” that so many uninformed seminary students use against Wright.)
What, then, is Piper’s main problem with N.T. Wright’s theology? He says,
“(Wright’s) portrayal of the gospel – and of the doctrine of justification in particular – is so disfigured that it becomes difficult to recognize it as biblically faithful” (15).
Piper believes that Wright’s work will lead to a kind of preaching that fails to adequately preach the gospel.
Piper’s graciousness to Wright is nowhere more evident than in his strong affirmations for the positive aspects of Wright’s work. (15-16). Piper obviously respects the Bishop. He expresses appreciation for much of Wright’s theology. (Those who critique Wright without having read him would do well to take Piper’s affirmations seriously).
Piper demonstrates a remarkable effort to be fair to Wright in this book. I am glad that Piper has not joined the ranks of many other Reformed critics who have attacked Wright’s theology without understanding the entire picture that Wright is painting. Piper rightly recognizes that Wright is putting together a different paradigm for theology altogether – one that changes the categories. Because of this shift, Piper realizes that one cannot simply take Wright’s statements out of context, compare them to the old paradigm and then declare them inferior. One must “get inside the globe and see things from there.” (17).
Piper quickly summarizes the main points of contention he finds in Wright’s theology. He takes issue with Wright’s statements about “the gospel” not being about how to get saved and about justification not being how one becomes a Christian. He believes Wright is wrong to say the doctrine of justification is not what Paul means by “the gospel.” He believes Wright is misleading people when he says that one is not justified by faith in the doctrine of justification by faith. He sees Wright’s view of “righteousness” as woefully reductionistic and Wright’s statements about future justification being based on the “whole life lived” as confusing.
In the introduction, Piper has laid out a list of complaints regarding Wright’s theology that he finds dangerous. Perhaps the biggest charge that Piper levels against Wright is that Wright’s theology lacks clarity and forthrightness. He repeats this charge several times throughout the introduction and says it again at the end: “Wright leaves many ordinary folk not with the rewarding ‘ah-ha’ experience of illumination, but with a paralyzing sense of perplexity” (24).
Piper is concerned with N.T. Wright, not just because he believes Wright is in error on some important doctrines, but because he believes Wright’s theology to be misleading and unnecessarily complicated. Piper seeks clarity. He believes Wright’s work breeds confusion.
Whether or not these charges can be substantiated, we will see in later chapters…
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog