Future of Justification 9: What is "The Gospel" Anyway?
Chapter 5 is important for John Piper’s critique of N.T. Wright. It is here that Piper levels one of the most serious accusations against Wright’s theology: that by not including justification in his definition of “the gospel,” Wright is misrepresenting the gospel itself.
Piper understands Wright’s motivation for centering the gospel on the announcement of Christ’s lordship. He shares with Wright a common desire to see Christ magnified and to see preaching rescued from “myopic, individualistic limitations (81).” In my recent interview with the Bishop, I asked him to define the “gospel,” which he did this way:
“I could try taking a Pauline angle. When Paul talks about ‘the gospel,’ he means ‘the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.’” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it…
It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3-4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16-17 which says very clearly: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.’ That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.”
Piper agrees with Wright’s emphasis on the lordship of Christ, but he finds it “perplexing” that Wright will not allow the message of justification be part of the gospel (82). So, Piper seeks to counter Wright by providing several passages of Scripture that present the gospel with the doctrine of justification by faith included.
Piper’s examples, however, prove Wright’s point. Wright is using words very carefully. When asked how Paul would define “the gospel,” Wright answers by providing the Christ-focused announcement that Paul has been commissioned to spread. It is “the gospel” which brings salvation.
Piper equates “salvation” with “the gospel,” as is evident in the examples he provides. Wright, however, believes that Luke very carefully uses “message of salvation” when speaking of personal redemption and “the gospel” when speaking about the lordship of Christ which accomplishes personal salvation.
Piper also takes issue with Wright’s contention that we are justified by our faith in Jesus and not our faith in the doctrine of justification (85). (It is puzzling that Piper sees this as such a problem. After all, one of the English Reformed theologians of the late 1500′s, Richard Hooker argued this point during the English Reformation.)
Piper believes that unless we include the doctrine of justification in our “gospel,” the good news about Jesus’ lordship is left undefined. Even worse, the news of Jesus’ lordship is terrifying to those who are in rebellion against him. It is bad news, not good news for guilty sinners (85-86).
“The announcement that Jesus is the Messiah, the imperial Lord of the universe, is not good news, but is an absolutely terrifying message to a sinner who has spent all his life ignoring or blaspheming the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore guilty of treason and liable to execution.” (86)
I will post some personal reflections on this chapter Monday…
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog