The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright

John’s Piper’s latest volume The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wight is available to read online in its entirety!

Remember to download the file because it may not be available in the future.

(HT: Jeff Downs)

B”H

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18 thoughts on “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright

  1. Thanks so much for the linkage. I don’t know when or if I’ll read the whole thing. Personally, I’m pretty much done with Paulianity and its intramural debates, though I feel sorry this poor great follower of Jesus for what sometimes goes on in his name.

    On pp. 20-21, Piper says, “Therefore, it is misleading to say that we are not saved by believing in justification by faith. If we hear that part of the gospel and cast ourselves on God for this divine gift, we are saved. If we hear that part of the Gospel and reject it, while trying to embrace Christ on other terms, we will not be saved.”

    Back up. I thought this guy was a super-duper Calvinist. Our salvation is based on something we do? We need a consistency check here, please.

  2. On reflection that first paragraph might be a little inflammatory. What I simply mean is I think we protestants as a whole have gone a little overboard with the Epistles to the neglect of Christ’s direct teaching in the Gospels, and it would improve the health of our theology if we would tilt back in that direction rather than remaining stuck in this endless parsing and re-parsing of Paul.

  3. I don’t see any real fundamental differences between Jesus and Paul — at the heart of both their messages is ♥ LOVE ♥.

    Jesus said: “The most important [commandment] is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk. 12:29-31)

    and

    “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jo. 13:34-35, cf. Jo. 15:12-17)

    Paul said: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Rom. 13:8-9)

    and

    “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal. 5:13-14)

  4. Of course. But obedience to those commandments doesn’t figure that high in some people’s soteriology. I can’t tell how many times I’ve read that we don’t have to do something Jesus said, or Jesus’ plain commandment has been completely reinterpreted, because we “live in a different dispensation” or “that’s adding works to salvation” and so forth. I’ve also been told multiple times that you can’t understand the Gospels without reading Paul, that the full revelation of salvation is in Paul, not Christ’s words, and so forth. Also, IMO, Calvinism is only possible through a hermeneutic of Pauline priority.

    If our interpretation of Paul is correct, it will fit with Jesus’ teaching without distortion, and if our soteriology is correct, it will be present in the Gospels as well as the Epistles. I don’t think all protestant presentations of soteriology meet those criteria.

    ****
    On the quote from Piper: Obviously he’s saying the Gospel requires a certain response for salvation to occur. Why is it that when he’s saying that, he’s defending the Gospel, but when an Arminian says essentially the same thing, he’s a heretic?

  5. I think the bottom line is love and I lament that many people do miss that foundation of both Jesus and Paul’s thought. It is a crying shame that it doesn’t factor into many people’s soteriology.

    For the moment I’m a dispensationalist (in the sense that I believe God has dealt differently with mankind at different periods in history) — having said that, I don’t believe we can cast aside Jesus’ teaching for something we believe Paul to be saying that usurps it. I do believe that Paul was given a revelation about the Church that Jesus didn’t personally teach because the time had not yet come, but Jesus gave Paul the revelation.

    From a historical-critical standpoint I think the reason for starting with Paul is obvious, he’s the earliest source. Jesus’ words are given second-hand and are later than Paul’s firsthand testimony. But again, I don’t see any fundamental theological differences between the two — it all boils down to love.

    On Piper, I just learned over at Tilling’s blog that he’s a scholar (I never knew that — I thought he was just a popular author like a Tim LaHaye or Rick Warren) — but I agree that there is definitely an inconsistency there (some might like to call it hypocrisy) — but I can see him arguing that if one has already been regenerated then of course they will believe in sola fide as that is a probable sign of their regeneration, but if they reject it then it is a sure sign of their unregenerate status.

    In other words, he’d probably argue that you’re understanding him wrong (contrary to the plain wording of his statement) and he’s not saying that one actually has to believe something to be saved, but rather if they are saved they will believe it.

  6. In other words, he’d probably argue that you’re understanding him wrong (contrary to the plain wording of his statement) and he’s not saying that one actually has to believe something to be saved, but rather if they are saved they will believe it.

    It is a common trait among Calvinists that when they actually start to explain the Gospel, they talk like Arminians. It’s similar to how biologists personify evolution when they explain it: “Evolution decides this” and “Evolution wants to do that.” The need to talk that way I think says something about both theories.

    How’s that for cross-post pollination? ;)

    ***
    Regarding the priority of Paul or the Gospels: From my critical perspective (wacky as it is), I view the Gospels (including Luke-Acts) as more theologically “complete” works. Although they are further removed than Paul’s letters, it is a reasonable assumption that their authors understood them as stand-alone works. There is a certain degree of finality and completeness to the theology that is presented in them (at least as far as is reasonable at that point) that is lacking in Paul. In other words, as we see illustrated in John 20.31, the Evangelists are essentially saying: “This is everything I want to you to know about Jesus. You might not read any other work of mine or meet me again, so here’s my message.”

    The Epistles, on the other hand, are occasional letters and primarily reactive (even Romans, to an extent). Paul’s dealing with problems and issues that have come up. Although we have a relatively greater quantity of his material, it’s a little presumptuous to think even then that it gives us a complete picture of his theology. For example, we know how he dealt with spiritual gifts at Corinth because of the problems there–how would he positively teach on the subject at a church that wasn’t having problems, or what would he tell a church that was neglecting the gifts? We don’t know. For that reason, I’m reluctant to allow the Epistles to control interpretation of the Gospels. Augment, yes; clarify, yes; control, no.

    I have other reasons for that principle arising from my hermeneutics of suspicion, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. The whole question of which section of the NT is to have priority is actually a major contributive factor to the differences between mainline and evangelical protestant theologies.

  7. It is a common trait among Calvinists that when they actually start to explain the Gospel, they talk like Arminians.

    LOL… good point! ;)

    I’d agree with your asessment of Paul’s writings being reactionary. He was a pastoral theologian and addressed specific issues in particular congregations. I see the Gospels as biographies of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection so yes, they’d present a more thorough theology (at least a theology according to Jesus) — Acts being a historical narrative goes a long way in showing us how other early Christian communities besides those that Paul influenced, believed.

    Paul isn’t the hermeneutical Rosetta Stone — I don’t think that we should allow the epistles to control our interpretation of the (4) Gospels, but from a historical standpoint I think we have to allow them to control our understanding of Paul’s interpretation of the Gospel (message).

  8. Let me qualify one comment — when I say a ‘more thorough theology’ I am speaking in broad terms. In other words, all the principles of Jesus’ theology are laid out in the Gospels.

    I think because Paul did speak to specific issues, he can be more thorough in a specific way (if that makes any sense)…

  9. I’d agree with that entirely, and I like “Paul isn’t the hermeneutical Rosetta Stone” very much. (With your permission, I might just steal that.) I’m reacting from entirely too many bad experiences of seeing him used as just that.

  10. “Paul isn’t the hermeneutical Rosetta Stone”™

    I’d charge anyone else for that one but you can have it for free :-P

    And I understand what you mean — I’ve deal with a lot of hyper-dispensationalists who take Paul as the be-all, end-all of Christianity. For them the Church starts with Paul, is taught by Paul, and ends with Paul… :-|

  11. “It is a common trait among Calvinists that when they actually start to explain the Gospel, they talk like Arminians”

    Actually, it is a simple mischaracterization to think that calvinists do not call people to repentence (i.e. believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved). It has nothing to do with “talking like an Arminian. So, while what you write might seem to be a quotable quote, it is inaccurate.

    It would seem that if you are going to make such comments, you should know what you’re talking about before doing so on a public blog.

  12. Jeff, read for comprehension. You’re the first in this thread to say anything about repentance.

    What I brought out is how what Piper said is not compatible with simple monergism. He conditions salvation upon:

    -believing in justification by faith
    -hearing that part of the Gospel
    -casting ourselves on God
    -not rejecting justification by faith
    -not trying to embrace Christ on other terms.

    Those are things we do. What he is saying sounds different than the regular monergistic Calvinist ordo salutis in which regeneration precedes faith. Salvation is conditioned upon doing something, upon a specific response from the one called. He might clarify himself elsewhere (I did not read further, but the quote stands fairly well on its own as presented), but that is basically the same as what Arminians preach. So, I’ll repeat another statement of mine from earlier:

    Why is it that when he’s saying that, he’s defending the Gospel, but when an Arminian says essentially the same thing, he’s a heretic?

    And then you ended by saying:

    It would seem that if you are going to make such comments, you should know what you’re talking about before doing so on a public blog.

    Not wanting to step on the toes of our dear host, I’ve had to censor about 10 different thoughts that have run through my head. Were you really offended so badly by that observation that you immediately to throw out the ad hominems?

    And, I’ll put out one thought I didn’t censor: what do you think a person would need in order to know what he’s talking about on this subject?

  13. Repentance wasn’t the focus of the point I was making, but believing. Calling someone to believe is not Arminianism.

    And, I’ll put out one thought I didn’t censor: what do you think a person would need in order to know what he’s talking about on this subject?

    I can only assume this is a rhetorical question, since you being a Barthian, suggested that I read Barth himself.

  14. Within his courteous treatment of Wright, Piper used these words and others to describe Wright’s treatment of the gospel and justification – “disfigured,” “distorted,” and “blurred.” Just how disfigured, distorted and blurred does teaching on the gospel have to become before Galatians 1:8-9 applies? I would like to know where Piper and others would draw the line.

    Happy New Year!
    http://www.reformedcow.com

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