In chapter 6, John Piper presses further into N.T. Wright’s understanding of “the gospel,” hoping to expose some underlying motivations for why Wright insists that “justification” and “the gospel” are not equivalent. One of the reasons for Wright’s downplaying of justification (in Piper’s view) is that Wright sees justification as a declaration of conversion, not the action that determines right standing before God (93).
Piper quotes Wright at length on “justification,” showing how in Wright’s theology, justification does not determine salvation, but (as an ecclesiological doctrine) provides assurance to those who have already been saved by the effectual call of grace. Here is Piper’s summary of Wright’s view:
“When the gospel is preached, it is not the doctrine of justification that is preached but the death and resurrection and lordship of Christ over the world. The Holy Spirit uses this news to awaken faith in the heart. This is God’s divine call through the gospel. By this call and faith, we are made partakers of Christ’s victory and become part of God’s family. Then the doctrine of justification comes in and declares to us what has happened to us. It thus gives assurance – but does not save, or convert, or make us part of God’s family (96).”
Piper argues that justification does more than just “declare” our salvation. It actually works to establish that salvation. He quotes several verses, most notably Romans 5:1, to back up his view that justification is more than mere declaration (97-98).
Though Wright has spoken of justification as a “second-order” doctrine, Piper fairly points out that Wright does not mean merely secondary. Wright believes the doctrine to be useful polemically for assuring believers of their status in the covenant family (98-99).
(Though Piper fails to point this out, Wright is actually arguing against semi-Pelagianism by casting justification in this light. In effect, Wright is saying, with the Reformers, that justification is God’s declaration of us as having the status of “righteous,” not God’s making us morally righteous.)
Piper argues against Wright’s view of justification as merely declarative by pointing out the inconsistency between Wright’s view of present and future justification. Hear Piper out on this:
“This limitation of justification to the declaration of who is in the covenant is made harder to grasp when we recall that, for Wright, God’s present act of justification is an ‘anticipation’ of his future and final act of justification that is more than declarative. (100)”
Wright takes great pains to show that the Greek word for justification is a word that denotes “declaration” and that the word does not constitute salvation. Wright thus contradicts himself by abandoning that “declarative” definition in the case of final justification (100-1).
Piper makes a great point in this section, and I agree with him whole-heartedly. Scripture does not allow Wright to hold “justification” in a merely declarative sense. Justification not only declares we are saved; it enacts, enables, and establishes our salvation.
Though Piper seeks to press further into Wright’s arguments to discover why Wright wants to keep the doctrine of justification separate from the definition of “the gospel,” I suspect that Piper has some reasons of his own for why he wants to keep them so close together. That is the topic for tomorrow’s discussion…
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog