Ben De Bono's Reviews > The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright

The Future of Justification by John Piper
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's review
Apr 09, 2011

it was ok
Read from April 09 to 11, 2011

Before I discuss the content of the this book, I want to briefly talk about the book itself and my feelings on whether or not it should have even been written. If you've looked at the rest of my Goodreads page, you can tell pretty quick I'm a fan of N.T. Wright. I find his theology to be a breath of fresh air. Because of that there's a part of me that is a bit annoyed that John Piper felt the need to write an entire book critiquing N.T. Wright.

On the one hand, I don't believe Wright (or anyone else) is above criticism. Far from it. Criticism and interaction is an in important part of any scholarly work, and is especially important when it comes to theology. I don't mind that Piper and others disagree with Wright, and in the end we're probably all better off for the interaction.

On the other hand, Piper isn't responding to Wright as a scholar but as a pastor (he says as much in the book's introduction). His primary goal is not scholarly interaction, but to protect his flock from Wright's "dangerous" theology. It's here that I start to have an issue with Piper even writing this book. It is certainly a pastor's job to defend his flock from false teaching, but is what Wright is saying so far out there that it warrants a 200 page attack? Hardly.

What Wright is teaching falls well within biblical orthodoxy. Again, that doesn't mean everyone should instantly agree with him. There is room for healthy debate, and a lot of it, within big-tent evangelicalism. But the magnitude of Piper's response makes it seem like he is going well beyond healthy dialogue and moving toward the Neo-Reformed crowd, which views reformed theology as synonymous with biblical orthodoxy. (You can read Scot McKnight's slightly over the top, but mostly accurate, description of the Neo-Reformed movement here)

For Piper to write a paper or two responding to Wright would have been more than appropriate, but the effort of writing an entire book would have been better spent exposing many of false, unorthodox doctrines that legitimately threaten evangelicalism. I find it ironic that while N.T. Wright warrants an entire book, Piper summed up his criticism of Rob Bell's theological train wreck, Love Wins, in a single tweet.

All that said, do Piper's criticisms hold water? Put simply, no. Piper is fair to Wright in the book. This isn't a slanderous attack. He quotes Wright's work extensively and tries to give him the benefit of the doubt in several places. However, a few things become clear from very early on in the book.

1. Piper doesn't really understand Wright's theology. This is especially true when he's attacking Wright's view of the Gospel (I described Wright's view in some detail here). He claims that Wright's view of the Gospel, as the announcement that Jesus is king instead of a means to individual salvation, is devoid of good news for the individual sinner. However, it's clear when reading Wright in context that this is not the case. Piper acknowledges that Wright still believes in individual salvation but believes that by not making it the primary emphasis of the Gospel he is creating unnecessary confusion for the individual. Piper's critique falls flat on two fronts. First, we ought to be more concerned with accuracy than clarity. Both matter but accuracy is more important than coddling people. Second, it really isn't that hard to explain Wright's view of the Gospel in a clear way that includes individual salvation. I was able to do so in a recent message I preached. The idea that Wright's view of the Gospel is too confusing is absurd and falls completely flat. The real issue is that Piper doesn't understand Wright's theology. The reason for this leads me to my second main criticism.

2. Piper regularly seems more interested in defending church tradition (specifically the reformed theological tradition) than in defending the Bible. His main issue with Wright seems to be that Wright’s view of justification undermines a couple of key points in reformed thinking. This inability to look beyond his preconceptions is even more true when it comes to Piper’s view of Christian hedonism (the purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever). I don’t have any particular issue with Christian hedonism. It’s a good category to think in, but it can’t become the only lens through which we view the Bible. It’s very clear throughout the book that Piper is viewing Wright’s theology through the lens of Christian hedonism and little else. When Wright’s positions stretch that view, Piper is completely inflexible and will not even consider the possibility that what Wright is saying may be correct.

3. Finally, Piper is very over the top when he talks about the effects of Wright’s theology. Although he does state outright that he doesn’t see Wright as being under the curse in Galatians 1:9, it’s clear he believes Wright is teaching a false Gospel. He’s convinced that following Wright’s theology is going to negatively impact preaching. Speaking as one whose preaching has been influenced by Wright’s theology, I must disagree. I don’t see myself moving one bit further from biblical orthodoxy as a result of Wright’s influence. On the contrary, I believe my teaching is becoming more theologically robust and closer to what the Bible actually has to say.

If it isn’t clear by now, let me say that I’m far from convinced by Piper’s argument. That said, I would recommend reading this book. The issues being discussed are important and wherever you come down you’ll find yourself stretched by the interaction. Piper responds to several of Wright’s works but the primary one seems to be What Saint Paul Really Said. I would read that book first, then Piper’s response and then finish, as I’m about to do, by reading Wright’s response to his critics: Justification.

The debate is important and, if for nothing else, I’m grateful to Piper for forcing Wright to write another book in response that further explores his position on justification.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Dave (new)

Dave Johnson i think it's so arrogant to have "a response to NT Wright" built right in the title!

message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben De Bono I'm inclined to agree. I do think there are issues/people that need to be confronted, but Wright isn't one of them. I'm about 70 pages in right now and so far the book is a complete exercise in Piper's failure to understand Wright and his refusal to think outside his Calvinist box.

message 3: by Dave (new)

Dave Johnson has he read any of Wright's books or is this just a knee-jerk response?

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben De Bono He's definitely read it. In terms of researching Wright, Piper has done a good job. I just also think he's completely failed to understand what Wright is really trying to say

message 5: by Dave (new)

Dave Johnson i bet that Piper is in the works of a book against Love Wins--not that that's a bad thing, but im sure it will have the same errors. i bet Wright's book in response to this is amazing. lol. also, Piper wrote against open theism. i'm just sayin'. ;) lol

message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben De Bono Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I'm just say'n:) Actually I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on open theism after reading some of Wright's stuff. He doesn't address the issue directly but stresses repeatedly God's overarching plan for history. As on many issues, I find that his work implies a solid third path between two sides I reject (in this case Piper-esque predestination and open theism)

And yeah, I just started his response book and it's amazing

message 7: by Dave (new)

Dave Johnson hahahahaha! yeah, i'm not saying that i'm a complete open theist, but i think the argument against it is more of an argument from a reformed way of thinking than that of a biblical one. as far as Wright, i totally believe that he's right (no pun intended) about God's overarching plan. and this is where, i think, some people misunderstand the implications of open theism. from what i understand, it states more that God chooses not to know the choices that man will make, but he chooses to work with man in order to fulfill his plan in the earth, which is why he makes covenants with man. the thing i'm having a hard time with is understanding whether God is really timeless or not, because i can see it both ways. i see that open theists say that prophecy on God's part is declarative, that he "declares the end from the beginning" rather than just knowing everything that will happen, but...i'm not totally sure. i still wonder how God knows things in the future, ie, how God speaks to people and warns them about certain dangers. but even so, i think the best part about this topic, regardless of what conclusions on God's character i've sided with, is that i want to define who God is by the Bible and its verbiage and not by the influence of other mindsets--christian or not.

but i didnt mean to turn this thread around. :)

i need to get some of Wrights stuff. i have a feeling that i'm gonna get rocked! also, whenever i think of Wright and your suggestions of his books, i always think, what kind of church does Ben go to? is it in a denomination or not or what? not that it matters, really. i've just always been curious. i definitely know it's not Calvinist. lol

message 8: by Dave (new)

Dave Johnson oh also, i read those posts by scot mcknight. pretty good. he said that he had some strong words about one of NT Wright's books? do you know what that's about?

message 9: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben De Bono You packed a lot of different topics into your two comments:) Let me take ‘em one at a time!

I'm actually right there with you in most of what you're describing regarding open theism. I do believe God works with humans to accomplish his plan. The only part where we differ is on whether or not God knows the future. I don’t believe that foreknowledge implies causation. Therefore, I see the choice between the predestination and open theist views to be a false choice. I think there are other ways to navigate the issue. What Wright describes is a scenario where God has an overarching plan, which he is sovereign over but which he also chooses to partner with humans in bringing about his purposes. That’s a huge oversimplification, but I think in there is a third way that takes the strengths from both the open theist and reformed camps while avoiding the theological mistakes on both sides.

EpicLife is officially part of Converge Worldwide (formerly the Baptist General Conference). Ironically, that’s the same denomination both Greg Boyd and John Piper belong to. How is that for theological diversity!! We’re basically evangelical. We don’t get too in depth theologically though I try and slip a bit more of that in when I preach;)

I hadn’t read anything by McKnight one way or another regarding Wright. McKnight is an interesting guy. I disagree with him on a ton of stuff (especially his embracement of the emergent church) but he always has an interesting perspective on things.

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