Contend Earnestly: Piper, Wright, Justification and Pauline Theology

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Piper, Wright, Justification and Pauline Theology

This book is a tough one. The reason I say this is because I totally agree with John Piper's view, and the Reformation's view of the Pauline theology of justification by faith. I agree with Piper's and the Reformation's view of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. I also disagree with N.T. Wright's, which ultimately started with Schweitzer, Wrede and Sanders, view of Pauline theology and the link they believe it has with second century temple Judaism. Although I do like their premise of trying to understand Old Testament Judaism. I believe though that they get confused in what God intended with the Law and how the Jews misused it

So, now that I have stated all that, you would expect me to really like Piper's book on the topic. The problem is that I think it is a little too early to try and refute what Wright is coming out and saying. The reason for this is because no one really has a clear understanding of what Wright believes (at least those who I have talked to). Piper even praises Wright for many of his views of Scripture, and also the high view that Wright places on Scripture. But, there are many places in here that Piper says that he "thinks" Wright means this, or that Wright "might" believe that. I would think that it would be better to go ahead and wait this out until we find what Wright is really saying before we try and refute him outright.

With all this said, I also understand why Piper desired to come out with a refutation. I just believe it was too soon. I believe he would have been better to come out with a short intro to some disturbing beliefs of Wright and then write a polemic on the justification of God and the imputation of Christ. I know that Piper has a couple of books that do this, so maybe an update to those books with this intro would have served better.

The book, because of the confusion of Wright's beliefs, is very hard to follow. There are even parts in the book where I would probably either agree with what Wright is saying, confused on what the problem is, or just am completely confused on what Wright really believes. The book really makes you feel like Piper is as confused as you are with what Wright is trying to say.

I honestly wouuld not recommend this book to anyone trying to get a grasp on what Wright believes, it was very confusing. Because of this, Piper's refutations come out very confusing as well. The best part of the book was the end, when Piper gives a small defense of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

I believe that this book will be something that will be forgotten and will need to be thrown away once we understand more on what Wright is trying to get across in his views of Justification and Pauline theology. Once a better understanding is seen, I would ask Piper to try again. Not Recommended. Link to Buy.


Recovering Sociopath said...

I honestly would not recommend this book to anyone trying to get a grasp on what Wright believes...

For that, I would recommend reading, you know, Wright himself. :)

Stefan said...

I haven't read Piper's treatment of Wright, but I assume that he has read Wright. On the main, he probably has not misunderstood Wright, since Wright is a very, very fine writer (though, I, too, disagree with his assessment of Paul's theology -- and yes, I have read a number of Wright's works).

Anyone who reads 'What Saint Paul Really Said,' can see what direction Wright is going, and how he clearly dissents from the Reformation's understanding of justification sola fide.

Ernst Kasseman (in his 'Paul Among the Gentiles') sounded the theological note that continues to ring throughout much of the NPP's understanding of the gospel, namely in his critique of what he refered to as the West's introspective conscience. He argued that Augustine and Luther came to their views on grace and justification, respectively, given a highly individualized conception of the conscience and its relation to sin. He argued instead that justification is a matter of communal fellowship between Jews and Gentiles, and Sanders, Wright, and Dunn have followed suit, with Wright developing a more friendly version of this theology -- friendly, that is, amongst evangelicals.

In short, justification for the NPP is communal and ecclesial instead of forensic and individual.

Kasemann, however, falls prey to the same criticism he renders of Luther -- that his understanding of the gospel and justification are forged out the cultural context in which he lived. The West (as epitomized by Luther, he argued) maintained a highly introspective view of the conscience, which influenced its reading of Paul. But Kasemann reads Paul through the lens of a post-WWII liberal NT theologian, especially as it relates to the Jews and Germany's attempted genocide. But, remember, what's good for the goose is good for the gander!

Anyways, the Reformation consensus on justification (and not just Luther!) will stand the test of time, because it is Paul's theology: the sinner, as he stands before God, is aquitted of sin and accounted righteous by God by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Jesus Christ (his active and passive obedience) alone.

Another worthwhile read is Guy Prentiss Waters's book on the New Perspective. Can't think of the title off the top of my head, but his work is, by and large, first rate.

Stephen Westerholm's extensive treatment of Paul's theology is also worthwile. He has two books on the subject, and both offer helpful surveys and critiques of the main figures in Pauline theology over the last several hundred years.

When I get back in the study, I will get the titles and post them here.

My two cents.


p.s. Seth, I'll be in section 53 on Saturday. GO DAWGS!

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