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Why is John Piper taking on N.T. Wright, devoting an entire book to arguing against his theology? “On Controversy” lays out the reasons why Piper is writing this book as well as some ground rules for how the debate must take place.

Some followers of the “new perspective” discussion might be perplexed to see Piper criticizing Wright, arguably the most conservative and traditional scholar writing from the New Perspective landscape. Piper gives good reasons for targeting Wright. Because Wright is the most conservative proponent of the New Perspective, a prolific evangelical writer, and a widely-read scholar in evangelical circles, it only makes sense that Piper would see Wright as a bigger threat to evangelicalism than Sanders, Dunn and others (27).

I appreciate Piper’s belief that truth must not be compromised in the name of “unity.” Unity is indeed a second-order doctrine which follows from truth. Peace is a virtue that all Christians should seek after, yet true and lasting peace stems from agreement on Christian doctrine (30-31).

I found myself in total agreement with Piper in this section. He wisely points to earlier evangelical controversies and the way that older evangelical statesmen engaged in polemics as examples for the present discussion (28-29). (This emphasis on past controversies foreshadows one of the major critiques Piper levels against Wright – a lack of appreciation for the wisdom from older theologians.)

Hopefully, readers of The Future of Justification will not skip over the “On Controversy” section. We must be careful to not feed ourselves on doctrinal disputes – to crave controversy and polemical discourse. Piper’s reminder is good for us all:

“Faithful Christians do not love controversy; they love peace. They love their brothers and sisters who disagree with them. They long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But for this very reason they are bound by their conscience and by the Word of God to try to persuade the church concerning the fullness of the truth and beauty of God’s Word” (31-32).

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

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0 thoughts on “Future of Justification 3: On Controversy”

  1. Thanks, Trevin, for blogging through this. I look forward to tracking along with you. I am more of a Wright fan now-a-days, but I’ve always had heaps of respect for Piper.

    Just a quick thought on ‘controversy':
    I see where Piper is coming from, but there seems to be a lot of biblical characters who didn’t mind a bit of controversy! You might even say controvesy is a good one-word summary for the vocation of a propeht! :)

    I would say that a Christian does not love controversy for controversy’s sake. In fact, being bound by conscience and the Word probably even leads people to be controversial… Is this not what Luther was doing? Those 95 Theses weren’t meek and mild! :) I think it may be easier to accuse Luther of disregard for earlier theologians than it is to accuse Wright of that! :)

    But there’s my bias showing through! :)



  2. Trevin Wax says:

    Hi Dale,

    The difference between Luther and Wright is that Luther made his controversial arguments and then sought to back them up with church history. However much he believed in Scripture Alone, Luther had enormous respect for the church fathers, and that’s why he sought to win arguments by showing that the true Catholic church had agreed with his teaching all along.

    Wright doesn’t do this. Wright has respect for history in that he respects the historical context of the biblical text. But while he doesn’t dismiss the patristics, he doesn’t try to find his own views in the church fathers’ writings. This is what worries Piper.

    Piper argues that if someone comes up with something new that hasn’t been said before in church history, warning flags should go up.

  3. Steve S says:

    Just a thought…

    It seems as though scripture doesn’t paint the picture of unity bourn out of commitment to doctrine per se, but rather out of the shared experience of being in Christ.

    …what do you make of that distinction?

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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