I just finished reading The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright by John Piper. I was particularly struck by the careful reading and quoting of N. T. Wright by John Piper in the book. I feel like I now understand Wright’s teaching on the issue better than I did reading the short pieces by him that I’ve read. I trust it’s a fair representation of Wright’s view given that Wright did write Piper an 11,000 word response to the first draft of the book. I want to emulate the way Piper graciously and firmly deals with those with whom he disagrees. I tend to get passionate and impatient and want to just nullify the argument of the person I’m arguing with. Piper is passionate but not impatient. He is passionate and patient. I see where I need God’s grace to change.
I can say that the doctrine of justification is clearer and more precious to me in these days. I read Piper’s book Counted Righteous in Christ this past month also and was really strengthened in the teaching of the imputation, the reckoning/counting of Christ’s righteous, obedient life to the account of all Christians who are united to Christ by trusting in Christ. I’ve learned that there is no explicit text that says, “Jesus Christ’s righteousness is counted to you” while at the same time affirming that it is an unavoidable and necessary conclusion in the same way that there is no explicit text that says, God is three persons and there is only one God” yet affirming that the doctrine of the Trinity is an unavoidable and necessary conclusion. I think that’s good to know for the sake of honesty. With a fundamentalist spirit I feel the temptation to want to say, “There is an explicit text and your dumb if you don’t affirm this truth.” But I’m glad I can honestly and confidently say, “The Bible teaches this though there is not one explicit text that says it in a way that might satisfy those unwilling to be open to the possibility.”
I can clearly see now where N. T. Wright gets it wrong: (1) his definition of the “righteousness of God,” (2) his denial of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in traditional Reformation categories (though he says he essentially has the same conclusion through a different way [I think Piper has proved successfully that it doesn’t work]), (3) his ambiguity on the ground of final justification where the Bible is unambiguous, (4) his definition of justification as “being declared to be in the covenant” along with the grid through which he reads Paul with other first century documents, and (5) his lack of seeing the root of the sin of ethnocentrism and thus not providing the biblical remedy to deal with the root of this most serious of problems.
I praise God for John Piper, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the thousands of other Christians who have defended and propagated the biblical teaching of justification as good news to the sinner who, being made in the image of God, needs to be made right with him, and can only be in right standing with his Creator by faith in Christ by virtue of his death and righteousness counted for us.
Here are endorsements for the book from two faithful New Testament Scholars:
“The so-called ‘New Perspective on Paul’ (NPP) has stirred up enormous controversy, especially, but not exclusively, in the English-speaking world. The issues are so complex that it has taken time to mount a careful evaluation. During the last decade many have undertaken the task, often with helpful contributions. John Piper’s work may not be the last word on the subject, but it brings to Christian leaders everywhere five enormous strengths: (1) By focusing on N. T. Wright, by far the most influential writer of the NPP, Piper brings to bear a badly needed focus. (2) Despite the interlocking complexities of the debate—Tom Wright has an amazing capacity to move theological and exegetical pieces around, creating such a new tableau that words have shifted in meaning and theological notions their conceptual location—Piper has written with admirable clarity. (3) Better yet, John has engaged Tom with simultaneous depth and courtesy. That is a rare but wholly admirable combination. (4) Certain parts of John Piper’s book have quietly broken new ground—not least his handling of “righteousness” and “justification,” their connection with the “gospel,” and his careful insistence that making the words mean different things for the Judge in God’s law-court and for the defendant in that law-court really cannot be sustained in the light of Scripture. (5) John Piper sees the moral and spiritual implications of what he is seeking to explain. Are men and women saved, on the last day, on the basis of the whole life lived? But if not, what is the nature of the connection between justification and good works? The issues are not secondary, and, pastor that he is, John Piper will not allow believers to put their trust in anyone or anything other than the crucified and resurrected Savior.”
D. A. Carson
Research Professor of New Testament
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL
In this captivating and marvelously clear book John Piper defends the truth that justification is the heart of the gospel. Contrary to Wright, justification does not merely declare who is saved. Rather, justification is a doctrine about how we are saved. As Piper rightly emphasizes, justification is about being right with God, receiving the forgiveness of our sins, and being counted righteous in Christ. One of the striking features of the book is that Wright’s views are presented with scrupulous fairness. No cheap or straw-man arguments here. Nor is there even a whiff of animosity against Wright personally. What animates Piper is the stunning beauty of Christ and the crucial importance of the gospel. Piper reminds us, as Luther and Calvin did during the Reformation, that we have no assurance of forgiveness apart from a right understanding of justification. Further, the truth that our righteousness is in Christ gives God all the honor in our salvation, and comforts us with the truth that God is for us. I found this book to be not only doctrinally faithful but also to be spiritually strengthening.
Thomas R. Schreiner
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky