Several months ago I set out to understand the theological debate between N.T. Wright and John Piper regarding 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.