In 2007, John Piper wrote a book critiquing N. T. Wright’s views on Paul’s doctrine of justification. The title of that book is The Future of Justification (which you can download for free here). In 2009, N. T. Wright will have published his response (which I noted here and here).
Today, Trevin Wax has an interview with N. T. Wright about his response to Piper (HT: Mike Bird). It’s an interesting interview, but it looks like Wright hasn’t responded too well to Piper’s work. Wright has several critiques of Piper’s views on justification that are quite simply incorrect. For example, here’s how the interview ends:
Trevin Wax: What is at stake in this debate over justification? If one were to adopt Piper’s view instead of yours, what would they be missing?
N.T. Wright: What’s missing is the big, Pauline picture of God’s gospel going out to redeem the whole world, all of creation, with ourselves as part of that.
What’s missing is the big, Pauline view of the church, Jew and Gentile on equal footing, as the sign to the powers of the world that Jesus is Lord and they aren’t.
What’s missing is the key work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the already-justified believers to live with moral energy and will so that they really do ‘please God’ as Paul says again and again (but as Reformed theology is shy of lest it smack of smuggling in works-righteousness again).
What’s missing is an insistence on Scripture itself rather than tradition . . .
There are so many problems with Wright’s depiction of Piper’s views that it’s difficult to know where to start. Almost every line is a misrepresentation.
Wright says Piper misses the fact that Paul’s gospel goes out to redeem all of creation with ourselves as part of that. Yet Piper points readers to his expositions of Romans on page 167 of The Future of Justification, and I think Wright would do well to read Piper’s sermons on Romans 8:18-25 (here, here).
Wright says that Piper misses the key work of the Holy Spirit who enables justified sinners to live godly lives. Again, Wright could give some attention to Piper’s work on Romans 8 that explains “How We Walk According to the Spirit” (here, here). Or, here: “Our Spirit-wrought fruits of obedience are ‘things that show . . . that one is in Christ'” (The Future of Justification, p. 119).
Wright says that Piper is more beholden to tradition than to scripture. Yet on the relationship between scripture and tradition, Piper says this in The Future of Justification:
‘I do not mean to treat the Reformed confessions as having authority on a par with Scripture. What has been taught in the past does not settle what should be taught in the future. Scripture, rightly understood, remains the sole infallible authority in these matters. But I do want to affirm that when Wright gives the impression that the biblical texts that connect justification with works have not been rigorously handled both exegetically and theologically, it is misleading. In fact, in my view, his own references to justification “by the whole life lived” or “by works” seem unreflective compared to the history of Reformed exegesis’ (p. 115).
Anyone who’s read The Future of Justification knows that Piper makes his case on the basis of biblical exegesis, not on the basis of an appeal to tradition.
It is clear that Wright still disagrees with Piper, and it is his right to do so. Wright would do well, however, to represent Piper’s views a little bit more accurately. I don’t think it will be very helpful to anyone if this is the way that Wright’s forthcoming work engages Piper. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.