Several months ago I set out to understand the theological debate between N.T. Wright and John Piper about the meaning of “justification” in the Bible (in the Greek the phrase under consideration is “dikaiosyne theou” – the righteousness of God). Here’s what I read, and the order in which I read it:
Paul In Fresh Perspective – by N.T. Wright
The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright – by John Piper
Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision – by N.T. Wright
A Review of: Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision – by Michael Horton
And finally a few blog posts by Kevin DeYoung about this whole discussion
Here’s what I learned:
- Piper and Wright (and I should add Horton & DeYoung) are all really smart.
- They are all much smarter than I am.
- Both Piper and Wright have given us a rather good picture of what a debate between brothers in Christ should look like. Now I know there’s quite a bit of hubbub about this whole ordeal in the blogosphere, and this may lead one to think that these two men aren’t really playing nice, but if you read their books and responses to one another, it’s all rather cordial.
- Both men add useful information to the discussion about the nature and meaning of justification, and more specifically to the topic of imputation as a feature of justification.
- In order of who is the most difficult to read: Wright is the toughest, followed by Horton, and then finally Piper and DeYoung. This leads me to want to side with Piper simply because he writes in a more precise way and is easier to understand.
- If I put aside my bias in favor of Piper (because of the aforementioned clarity with which he writes), and really just try to understand what is being discussed here, I think I come down in the middle, albeit more notably on Piper’s side. Despite all of Wright’s arguments to the contrary, I am still inclined to believe that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, and that at the final judgement, people will be judged ‘righteous’ based solely on Jesus’ merits and not our own. Our deeds do demonstrate the reality of saving faith within us (and thus bear witness to the fact that we are really in Christ), but they are not in any sense the ground of our righteousness. Jesus alone makes us righteous.
- I do think that Wright has correctly called our attention back to the meta-narrative of Scripture and covenant, the importance of the church, and the importance of examining Scripture not just bottom-up, but also top-down. I think he’s a brilliant scholar, and I plan to read him more in the future. But I think he’s a little off on this discussion. Two things are especially condemning in my final estimation of Wright in regards to this subject: 1) He seems to misunderstand much of the reformed tradition that he critiques (read Horton’s review for an explanation of this point), and 2) despite the sheer volume of works that he’s written on this subject, he still seems to lack the precise clarity and forthrightness that make his viewpoints easy to pin down and judge accordingly.
- I should note, I’m not the only one expressing this frustration about clarity. Several others have mentioned this. In fact, there was much discussion following the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society about whether or not the view that Wright expressed during those meetings had changed from the view He expresses in his writings. (see: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/11/26/what-n-t-wright-really-said/)
Overall Fun Reading!!! I think I’ll go listen to a Robert Ludlum audiobook now, and put my brain in relax mode.
Maybe. I’m not entirely sure, but maybe, John Piper’s sermon at the Together For the Gospel Conference 2010, is my favorite sermon ever. I love the ministry of John Piper. I’m not worshipping the man, but I thoroughly appreciate how God uses John Piper to bless my life and point me towards Jesus. This sermon from T4G2010 is simply amazing. In this sermon, Piper asks the question, “Did Jesus preach the message of imputation that Paul clearly preached?” In other words, “Did Paul alter the message of Jesus?” or “Are Jesus’ and Paul’s theology the same?” Piper’s answer is a resounding yes. Jesus and the Apostle Paul are in complete agreement, and his exegesis to prove this point is remarkable. This sermon is eye-opening and highly applicable to many of the errant teachings of emergent teachers (although Piper never makes that direct application himself in the sermon). I highly commend it for your consideration.
I recently finished reading Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper. It is a concise, 135 page book which defends the doctrine of imputation. Generally speaking, imputation means ascribing a quality (such as guilt or righteousness) to someone based on the actions of someone else (Apple Dictionary). Theologically, Piper describes it as “the act in which God counts sinners to be righteousness through their faith in Christ on the basis of Christ’s perfect “blood and righteousness,” specifically the righteousness that Christ accomplished by his perfect obedience in life and death” (Piper, 41). There are two parts to this imputation: 1) Christ’s suffering and death is substituted for the curse and condemnation we deserve, and 2) Christ’s suffering and perfectly, obedient life is substituted for the imperfectly obedient lives that we live (Piper, 41). In other words Jesus gets all the glory because He did all of the work of salvation.
Piper writes this book as a response to recent trends in theology that deny the Biblical foundation of imputation. Most notably Piper’s rebuttal is directed towards Robert Gundry. The book is divided into four chapters, but largest portion of the book is contained in chapter three where Piper defends imputation using careful exegesis of the relevant texts in the Bible.
I found this book compelling, easy to read, encouraging, and enlightening. It is compelling because “imputation” is one of those theological words that is thrown around often but rarely precisely defined. I found this book easy to read because of its length, but truthfully many will find it challenging because of the precise nature in which Piper exegetes the Bible and appeals to the Greek and Hebrew languages. It is encouraging because it is true and reminds me that salvation has nothing to do with my effort and everything to do with Jesus’ effort and accomplishments (Eph 2:8-9). And finally it is enlightening because I had no idea prior to reading Counted Righteous in Christ that the doctrine of imputation was under attack. Now I not only realize that it is under attack, but I am better prepared to recognize theological errors that I may come across while reading other books.
Counted Righteous in Christ is a wonderful explanation and defense of the traditional Protestant doctrine of imputation. The first several pages of the book include praise from many trustworthy authors such as: John MacArthur, John Frame, R. C. Sproul, John Stott, Bruce Ware, and Page Patterson. Read this book if you want to understand imputation. Read this book if you want to understand salvation.