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.

Advertisements

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.

CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION

The next few post will look at a popular book on soteriology and having a critical examination of it, in the spirit of grace and love. This is not about condemnation of an author or a view, but about examining what the author is saying or arguing for and what can be learned from this. The critical interaction with the material will focus on four main goals:

    1. Briefly summarize the author’s thesis.
    2. Explain key arguments used to support the thesis.
    3. Evaluate the thesis and the means of presentation.
    4. Discuss personal and ministerial application of this material.

Over the next few posts, we will delve deeper into each of these different areas. The book that I will be reviewing “The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright” by John Piper. It can be found here  for free (Please note there are many resources available from Piper and N.T. Wright for free that are very valuable for personal growth; I would highly recommend checking out both sites to review their material). This book is in response to N.T. Wright’s view on the “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology and is Piper’s goal to correct the renowned Wright on his wrong views on justification. First, we will introduce this further and provide a thesis and foreshadowing of where we will be going during this series.


CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION
N. T. Wright, a world-renowned scholar and bishop in the Church of England who has spent years studying Paul’s writings, has developed a “New Perspective” on Paul’s theology in collaboration with other leaders of the same viewpoint. Wright believes the church has misunderstood Paul’s theology, specifically justification, and has set out to correct these errors by offering a fresh perspective on the doctrine of justification. John Piper, renowned pastor and scholar, wrote “The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright” as a response to and critique of N. T. Wright’s view of justification; Piper deems Wright’s take on justification as an alarming, confusing, distorted, and possible heretical understanding of the doctrine. Piper, concerned that Wright’s view distorts the view of God’s glory and grace, challenges Wright’s interpretation of justification and sets out to provide a faithful and clear exposition of this important salvific subject matter of justification. In The Future of Justification, Piper documents the errors in N. T. Wright’s view on justification and proposes a traditional solution that is true to the intent of Paul and what has been defined by the Reformers.

Personal Preference on the Main Views of Salvation

This final post on the differences between Protestant thought and Catholic thought show my own personal views on why I chose the Protestant thinking about justification and sanctification. Again, this is not a bashing of one side, this is what seems to make the most sense to me personally. Others will disagree and that is okay. It is good to have conversations about these topics. In the following posts, we will look more at salvation and different modes and beliefs.


The Catholic view combines faith with baptism and penance as the instrumental cause of justification, but also seems to have a distorted view of grace. By proposing that grace is an infused power, grace has been changed from God’s unmerited favor to something which man merits justification. The Catholic view on justification and sanctification seems to have a different view of justification by faith than Romans three and four seem to imply.

The idea that a person has to cooperate with God is something that I do not agree with. To me, it seems to take something away from God and makes faith and grace dependent on something a person does. I believe faith and grace are a gift of God, and for a person to have to do something and cooperate with God seems to imply a very small view or inappropriate view of God. The belief in having to do works and the process of justification takes away from the all-sufficient, completely efficacious sacrifice of Christ. The justification process of staying in grace through works and trying to become more righteous seems to say that faith, the cross, and Jesus was not enough or sufficient for salvation.

In regards to the Eucharist, I do not believe that communion either inherently conveys grace or is it a participation in the actual sacrifice of Christ. This seems contrary to what Scripture says that Christ’s work in finished (Heb 9:18; 10:10-14, 18). Since Christ has been sacrificed for sin, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sitting at the right hand of God until the time of His return, I personally cannot agree with the physical presence of Jesus in the elements.

While works are certainly important and are evidence of true and saving faith, they are not necessary to preserve or earn salvation. A person is not saved because they pray the rosary, obey the pope or attend mass. Rather, it is those who have put their faith in Jesus for the hope of their salvation. From everything I have been taught about justification, I hold to the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Eph 2:8-10). Catholics teach a faith plus “meritorious works” in order to be saved. Protestants recognize that works are important, but they believe they are a result or fruit of salvation and never a means to it. Catholics blend justification and sanctification together into one ongoing process, which leads to confusion about how one is saved.

JUSTIFICATION IN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT THOUGHT

We continue to look at the concept of soteriology and what are the different parts that make up the whole of salvation. Over the next few posts, we will look at the differences between catholics and protestants on their views on justification. Many years ago now, a group of leaders from both the catholics and protestants got together to try to bring unity to the different parties. They discussed their differences but also wanted to lay out what both parties believe and share and celebrate the similarities.

One of the many splitting points during the reformation and subsequent split from the Catholic church was on salvation and in particular justification. This led to many discussions on what is sanctification, how does communion work, and what does justification mean and how is it imparted to a believer and when. These are just a few of course.

So when the catholic and protestant leaders met, they created a joint declaration where all individuals involved signed off and approved it (document can be found here). Some evangelicals had issues with what was signed and the same can be said for catholics. Essentially, this was trying to bridge a gap and create a united community.

One of the questions that we must ask is what exactly are the beliefs of both sides. Secondly, how does each side defend its position. Third and finally, which view does a person hold and why. So today’s post will focus on summarizing the Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of justification by faith. The next two post will focus on the second and third post respectively.

We must remember it is important to understand an alternate view in order to create conversation and have greater understanding of where that person is coming from. Below is a collection of my thoughts, research, and collaborative efforts to summarize a broad doctrine into a summary statement.

Personal Note: This is not a slamming of either side or specifically of catholicism. This is researching a particular view in an effort to understand what a catholic seems to believe (in general). I am not here to condemn any views or say one side is better than the other. At the end of the day, I will present my personal view as to why I hold to the salvation and justification, but I understand the importance of a united Church and the love and grace that God has provided. I am thankful for the open dialogue between the two sides to try to bring unity.


Protestants view justification as a specific point upon which God declares the believer as righteous. It is the moment when God declares a guilty person righteous because of what Christ has done. This point is where the believer enters into the Christian life. Protestants hold to the view of sanctification as the process or development of being made more righteous throughout a believer’s life. Justification encompasses the forgiveness of sin, acceptance by God, and the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.

In contrast, the Roman Catholics believe that Christ’s righteousness is imparted to the believer “by grace through faith,” but in itself is not sufficient to justify the believer. The believer must supplement the righteousness of Christ imparted to them with meritorious works. The Roman Catholics view justification as a point and a process, dependent on the grace that a believer receives by participating in the Church. Grace is often seen as something that can be distributed through various possibilities of change and means. Roman Catholics reject that there is an imputed righteousness of Christ to a believer at the moment of salvation; that is, that a believer is counted as fully righteous in the eyes of God. A person is prepared for justification with the help of actual grace. This disposition toward righteousness occurs through cooperation between a person’s will and the grace that assists them to move toward God. Although grace is present, a person cannot reach this justified state apart from their own efforts. Justification involves being made righteous and holy. The person believes that faith in Christ is only the beginning of salvation and that the individual must build upon that with good works because God’s grace of eternal salvation must be merited.

Roman Catholics hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation where they believe as they partake of the elements of the Eucharist, the literal body and blood of Christ becomes a part of the believer, transforming them, and making them more righteous. On the other hand, Protestant partake of the Lord’s Supper by holding to either the memorial view – the elements are seen as symbols and the believer commemorates Jesus’ death – or the consubstantiation perspective – Jesus is spiritually present in the elements but is not in the elements or are they the physical body and blood of Christ.

While both believed a person is saved by grace, the biggest difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic view is how a person receives that grace and whether it is the point at which a person becomes a Christian or if it is the point and a process that is continually moving toward salvation.

Salvation in the Old Testament – Was faith in Christ necessary?

In the previous post we introduced the question about what did salvation in the Old Testament look like and was faith in Jesus needed to be saved. We introduced the topic in that post and will further clarify the response in this one.

Individuals in the Old Testament period were saved by grace through faith. Salvation has always been by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8-9); it has always been in Christ and is based on His sacrifice. “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ. The sacrifices pointed forward to the death of Christ in the future. The requirement for salvation in every age is faith. The object of faith in every age is God. It’s the content of faith that changes in the various dispensations.”[1] Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s promise of a Messiah (Gen 3:15; Isa 9; 53), but it was historically impossible to have Jesus as the content of their faith. The concept of faith has always been important because “without faith it is impossible to please” God (Heb 11:6), and it is displayed in the lives of both Old and New Testament believers. It seems that Old Testament individuals did not understand the “redemptive significance” of the prophecies concerning Christ and His suffering, nor is it apparent that they understood that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Jesus Christ as the church age believers do.[2] The sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ and those done in faith brought temporary forgiveness (Ps 32:1-2; 103:12) because of the sacrifice of Christ that was to come.

“Those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (cf Gal 3:8-9 with Gen 12:3). In Galatians 3:11, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 saying “the righteous shall live by faith.” Hebrews 11 displays the faith of the Old Testament believers was evident as Scripture says their faith was “counted to them as righteousness,” (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3, 5-8; Heb 11:7). The Old Testament people had the promise of the coming Savior and that He would “save His people from their sins” (Matt 1:21; cf. Isa 53:5-6). The people of the Old Testament were saved in the same way we are today, by faith in the Savior. For the Old Testament believer it was the promise of the Messiah because God had only revealed a certain amount to the people of the Old Testament period.

The difference between the faith of the Old Testament believer and a New Testament believer is the content of faith. Thus, God’s requirements for what must be believed is different based on the amount of revelation He has given. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He has given us a more complete revelation of the Messiah in the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation has always been by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, did individuals in the Old Testament period did need to know about Jesus to be saved? Yes, individuals were saved by grace through faith in Christ based on what God had revealed about the promised Messiah, Jesus, who would bring complete atonement. Since we have the complete picture, our salvation is based on the death of Christ, our faith is the requirement, and the object of faith is God. The content of our faith is different than Old Testament believers because we know that Jesus came to this world, died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and will return one day.


[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 115.

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article V, The Dispensations,” internet, 2015, accessed Sep 6, 2015, http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.


Bibliography

Dallas Theological Seminary. “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article V, The Dispensations.” Internet. 2015. Accessed September 6, 2015. http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.

Salvation in the Old Testament

We now turn our attention to the overarching theme of soteriology, or the study of salvation. We will journey through this topic by taking a few critical stops along the way to look at some key ideas and themes. Again, I am just a student and not a professor or an expert. I do not have all the answers or even a majority. I am thinking about this and struggling with some of the ideas associated with soteriology like many have done in the past (see all the various denominations with various differing thoughts on salvation) and continue to do today. These are some of the ideas and thoughts that I am thinking about and wrestling with.

We start this journey by looking at salvation in the Old Testament, in particular two questions:

  • Did individuals in the Old Testament period need to know about Jesus to be saved?
  • If not, why do so many Christians today say one must have explicit faith in Jesus to be saved?

How one reads and interprets this question can cause a different response. The question itself is not the clearest because it can depend on how deep or theological one wants to go. The answers to these two questions will be provided in two posts. First, a cursory overview post that will lead into the next post which gives more background and detail. However, the point of answering these two questions is not to write a book on it or even a lengthy paper, but it is to answer them in a short and succinct manner. There are numerous books out there that dissect this at length if you want to know more information but we just want to keep it high level for this exercise.


I believe this is a very interesting and intriguing reflective question. After doing some research, I could definitely see different sides of the argument and how interpreting the question differently could cause some confusion or different answers.

The answer to the question is “no” they did not need to know about Jesus because it was impossible for them to know about Him since Jesus had not been revealed or accomplished His work. However, if the question is “was the promised Messiah a part of their faith?” then I think the answer is yes. From the protoevangelium of Gen 3:15 to the sacrificial system pointing to an ultimate sacrifice to the prophecies in books like Isaiah and Micah, there is a progressive revelation about the coming Messiah. Their faith was not specifically in Jesus since that is impossible and He was not yet revealed, but their faith would include the coming of God’s promised Messiah. This latter way is the way I interpreted the question and wrote my response.