Piper’s “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION” Key Arguments pt. 2

The series on Piper’s “The Future of Justification” is continued in this post by taking a brief look at Piper’s key arguments against Wright and the New Perspective. This will be done in two parts due to length, today’s post will conclude the key arguments section (part 1 can be found here).


 Piper’s Key Arguments

 

One of John Piper’s major concerns is what Wright teaches about the role of the imputation of God’s righteousness in Christ and the imputation of the obedience of Jesus to believers according to Romans 5:19. Wright argues that it makes “no sense” to say the judge imputes his righteousness to the defendant. He believes that righteousness is not something that “can be passed across the courtroom.”[1] Wright thinks that when God acts to vindicate His people, then they will metaphorically have the status of righteousness, “But the righteousness they have will not be God’s own righteousness. That makes no sense at all.”[2] The righteousness of the Judge and the defendant has two different meanings and looks nonsensical to Wright because of the framework and method Wright used to evaluate it is incorrect according to Piper. From Piper’s perspective, Wright treats the righteousness of God merely in terms of the actions of the Judge, and not in terms of His deeper attribute of righteousness and omnipotence.[3] Piper believes Wright’s paradigm to explain Paul turns out to limit and distort rather than clarify.[4] Piper brings the argument back to the glory of God. As Piper examines the teachings of Paul and using this law-court imagery, Piper concludes the reason God acts the way He does is not because God is unrighteous, but because God will act in a way that most fully upholds and displays the supreme worth of His glory.[5] Interpreting Paul and the Old Testament, Piper defines God’s righteousness as most fundamentally His unwavering allegiance to uphold the value of His glory. God also demands His creatures forsake their unrighteousness and glorify Him.[6] In contrast to Wright’s view of the defendant and judge, Piper makes the case that what makes God and humans “righteous” is their unwavering allegiance to treasure and uphold the glory of God. Thus, it is conceivable for the Judge’s righteousness to be shared with the defendant. Piper sees the Judge, who is also Creator and Redeemer, will find a way to make His righteousness count for the defendant since it is the exact righteousness they need.[7]

Piper concludes his volume by citing that the reason he wrote this book is to avert the “double tragedy” that is caused by Wright and the New Perspective. The first tragedy is where the obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer through faith alone, is denied or obscured.[8] Piper believes that inevitably a believer’s own works – the fruit of the Spirit – will take on a function that contradicts the very reason the good works exists. Piper argues Wright’s perspective elevates the importance of the works of love, that in turn begins to nullify the glory of Christ and His work that were designed to be displayed.[9]

The other tragedy that Piper hopes to avoid is the undermining of what makes the works of love possible, which is that Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice secured completely the glorious reality that the omnipotent Father is for His beloved children. Piper believes that if Christians deny or minimize the importance of the obedience of Christ, imputed to Christians through faith alone, their works will begin to assume the role that should have been Christ’s.[10] Piper argues at length about the supremacy of God’s glory and that God does all He can to uphold His glory and will not do or allow anything to take from his glory.


[1] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 98-99.

[2] Ibid, 99.

[3] Piper, The Future of Justification, 71.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 70.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 71.

[8] Ibid, 187.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

Piper’s “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION” Key Arguments pt. 1

The series on Piper’s “The Future of Justification” is continued in this post by taking a brief look at Piper’s key arguments against Wright and the New Perspective. This will be done in two parts due to length, so part two will come in the following post that will provide more arguments and Piper’s main goal with this book.


 Piper’s Key Arguments

Piper argues that what God requires regarding a person’s salvation Christ accomplished by becoming the pardon and perfection for that believer. The final suffering and death of Jesus propitiated God’s wrath against the believer. Also, Jesus’ whole life of perfect righteousness, culminating in His death, is then imputed to those who believe. God provided in Christ what God demanded from a person in the law.

N. T. Wright says, “Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.”[1] Justification “was not so much about ‘getting in’, or indeed about ‘staying in’, as about ‘how you could tell who was in’. In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.”[2] Wright sees justification in the first century as not how someone might establish a relationship with God, but “about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present…of who was a member of his people.”[3] Piper believes Wright’s disconnected justification from the event by which a Christian is saved or enters into God’s favor. A main issue that Piper takes with Wright’s thinking is at what point is God totally for the believer; Piper sees that before conversion and faith in Christ, God’s wrath was against the believer, in contrast after conversion and union with Christ, God’s wrath is no longer against the believer. Piper counters Wright’s argument by claiming justification is the moment or the event when a believer put their faith in Jesus Christ and at that moment God is no longer against them but is for them, and counts them as acceptable, forgiven, righteous, and obedient because of their union with Christ.[4] At that moment, even though the person is ungodly, they are declared and constituted just. Where Wright, according to Piper, sees the call as the only decisive saving moment, Piper puts the call with the work of God justifying the believer.

Piper sees Wright’s view on the gospel as challenging and involves some provocative denials about how the gospel relates to becoming saved. Piper claims Wright does not deny that God uses the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection and lordship over the world to save people. Wright wants to stress that there is a difference between one of the effects of the gospel—namely, personal salvation—and the proclamation of the gospel itself.[5] Piper is concerned that expressing the gospel in this manner will confuse people because it does not include the good news about salvation. In particular, if the announcement does not include news about how and why a person will not be “destroyed” by the risen Christ because of their sin, then it is not good news but actually terrible news.[6] Piper argues that unless the meaning of Jesus’ death and what He achieved is explained, it is not good news. It is good news because now reconciliation with God can be enjoyed by faith, and a person moves from God’s wrath to God’s righteous child. Piper believes in Wright’s passion to liberate the gospel from individualism to making it more historical and global, Wright leaves it vague for the individual sinner.[7]

Piper takes issue with another one of Wright’s gospel nuances. N. T. Wright argues that when Paul talks about how a person can come into a living and saving relationship with the saving God, it is not justification that “springs to his lips or pen.” Wright believes that when the gospel message about Jesus, the cross, and his resurrection is announced to a person, that through this, God works by His Spirit upon that person’s heart to believe.[8] Piper counters this thinking by pointing to Paul’s gospel sermon to the people in Antioch (Acts 13:38-39). As Paul brings his sermon to a close about how people can come to an eternal relationship with God, Piper believes Paul brings this message to a climax with justification.[9] Piper strongly disagrees with N. T. Wright’s theory that justification does not come to Paul’s lips or pen about how to have a saving relationship with God. He says, “It’s not only misleading, it’s not true to the text and it’s going to hurt the church.”[10]

to be continued…


[1] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 125.

[2] Ibid, 119.

[3] Ibid, 125.

[4] Piper, The Future of Justification, 181-182.

[5] Ibid, 45-46, for multiple quotations on Wright’s view of the gospel.

[6] Ibid, 46, 81-91.

[7] Ibid, 86.

[8] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 116.

[9] Piper, The Future of Justification, 20.

[10] Ibid.

Piper’s Thesis of “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION”

The Thesis of “The Future of Justification”

In the opening lines of the introduction, Piper lays out the intent and thesis of the book: “the subject matter of this book—justification by faith apart from works of the law—is serious. There is as much riding on this truth as could ride on any truth in the Bible. ‘If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose’ (Gal 2:21).”[1] Piper goes on to remind the reader that if Christ died for no purpose, then believers are still in sin, and those who have died in Christ have perished.[2] N. T. Wright believes the “discussions of justification in much of the history of the church,” since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot of misunderstanding Paul and “have stayed there ever since.”[3] Piper believes that Wright’s portrayal of the gospel, in particular the doctrine of justification, is so disfigured that it is difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. In Piper’s eyes Wright may think he has a clear grasp of the gospel and justification, but Piper is concerned that this belief system will not make the lordship of Christ good news for sinners or show how those overwhelmed with sin may stand righteous before God.[4] Piper’s hope with this book is to correct this misunderstanding and cause believers to seriously study and faithfully preach the gospel, including the good news of justification by faith apart from works of the law (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16).[5] The dominant argument of this book is that John Piper believes the gospel is being lost not in outright dismissal of it, but in a gradual relaxing of it due to the obscuring of the biblical understanding of justification. Piper believes this distorting of justification is so dangerous that Wright may be reinforcing Roman Catholic soteriology.[6]

[1] John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 14.

[2] Ibid, 14-15.

[3] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Saul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 115.

[4] Piper, The Future of Justification, 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 183.