Future of Justification 5: Covenant and Law-Court
Piper’s chapter analyzing the lenses through which Wright looks at justification (Covenant and Law-court) is important for understanding the criticisms that he will soon level against Wright’s theology. Piper rightly understands that a substantial, fair critique of N.T. Wright must do justice to the overarching framework that provides the structure to Wright’s theological outlook.Wright sees God’s covenant with Israel as the dominant concept for understanding Paul and justification. Piper enters into Wright’s covenantal “world” in order to give a fair critique from the inside. That is what this chapter is all about.
First, Piper takes issue with Wright’s view that justification is simply a declaration of the salvation event. For Wright, the effectual call to salvation and the act of justification may take place in the same instant, but the terms “call” and “justification” refer to two separate activities.
Piper doesn’t think this division in terminology holds up under intense scrutiny. He provides a couple of examples where Wright’s definition of justification doesn’t seem to fit (40-41) and appeals to other texts that seem to indicate that justification not only declares salvation, but also establishes salvation in some sense (42-43).
“Wright seems to have things backward: first covenant membership, then justification. In fact, justification is part of the ground, not the declaration, of saving covenant membership.” (43)
The next section features Piper defending Wright’s desire to hold together both covenantal and law-court imagery. Interestingly enough, Piper takes on Wright’s critics here, as he quotes the Bishop over and over again regarding the importance of social and political redemption and personal forgiveness of sins (44-46).
Piper doesn’t take issue with Wright’s understanding of the global effects of salvation. He believes that Wright’s “gospel” (that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead) is insufficient because it fails to explain why or how that is good news for people (46).
In other words, Piper and Wright are agreed on the gospel message and its effects, but the two scholars are looking at the gospel from two different perspectives. Piper is looking at the gospel as primarily about the salvation of individual sinners, which has as an effect the restoration of the entire cosmos. Wright is looking at the gospel as primarily the restoration of the entire cosmos, which includes the personal salvation of individual human beings. (See diagram above.)
There is a danger in both ways of viewing the gospel. Piper’s way of viewing the gospel could lead us to so emphasize personal conversion and the salvation of individuals that we forget the cosmic implications of the lordship of Christ which are manifested politically and socially. If we negate the cosmic effects of the gospel, we truncate the message and leave the Caesars (idols) of the world on their thrones.
On the other hand, Wright’s view of the gospel could lead us to so emphasize the cosmic implications of the gospel that we devote all of our time and energy to politics, social work, and philanthropy and leave little room or passion in our outlook for personal salvation, evangelistic activity and bold proclamation of the gospel for individual sinners. If we negate the personal, individualistic aspect of the gospel, we neuter the message by failing to call individuals to repentance and faith.
We needn’t choose between the personal and cosmic gospel. We need both dimensions. Thankfully, Piper and Wright agree that the gospel includes both these dimensions. But I would suspect that they would also argue that the primary lens through which we view and preach the gospel should be either personal or cosmic.
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog