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Chapter 5 is important for John Piper’s critique of N.T. Wright. It is here that Piper levels one of the most serious accusations against Wright’s theology: that by not including justification in his definition of “the gospel,” Wright is misrepresenting the gospel itself.

Piper understands Wright’s motivation for centering the gospel on the announcement of Christ’s lordship. He shares with Wright a common desire to see Christ magnified and to see preaching rescued from “myopic, individualistic limitations (81).” In my recent interview with the Bishop, I asked him to define the “gospel,” which he did this way:

“I could try taking a Pauline angle. When Paul talks about ‘the gospel,’ he means ‘the good news that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and therefore the Lord of the world.'” Now, that’s about as brief as you can do it…

It’s very clear in Romans. Romans 1:3-4: This is the gospel. It’s the message about Jesus Christ descended from David, designated Son of God in power, and then Romans 1:16-17 which says very clearly: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God unto salvation.’ That is, salvation is the result of the gospel, not the center of the gospel itself.”

Piper agrees with Wright’s emphasis on the lordship of Christ, but he finds it “perplexing” that Wright will not allow the message of justification be part of the gospel (82). So, Piper seeks to counter Wright by providing several passages of Scripture that present the gospel with the doctrine of justification by faith included.

Piper’s examples, however, prove Wright’s point. Wright is using words very carefully. When asked how Paul would define “the gospel,” Wright answers by providing the Christ-focused announcement that Paul has been commissioned to spread. It is “the gospel” which brings salvation.

Piper equates “salvation” with “the gospel,” as is evident in the examples he provides. Wright, however, believes that Luke very carefully uses “message of salvation” when speaking of personal redemption and “the gospel” when speaking about the lordship of Christ which accomplishes personal salvation.

Piper also takes issue with Wright’s contention that we are justified by our faith in Jesus and not our faith in the doctrine of justification (85). (It is puzzling that Piper sees this as such a problem. After all, one of the English Reformed theologians of the late 1500’s, Richard Hooker argued this point during the English Reformation.)

Piper believes that unless we include the doctrine of justification in our “gospel,” the good news about Jesus’ lordship is left undefined. Even worse, the news of Jesus’ lordship is terrifying to those who are in rebellion against him. It is bad news, not good news for guilty sinners (85-86).

“The announcement that Jesus is the Messiah, the imperial Lord of the universe, is not good news, but is an absolutely terrifying message to a sinner who has spent all his life ignoring or blaspheming the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore guilty of treason and liable to execution.” (86)

I will post some personal reflections on this chapter Monday…

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog

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0 thoughts on “Future of Justification 9: What is "The Gospel" Anyway?”

  1. Trevin:

    Yes, I agree that Piper’s arguments in Chapter 5 are perhaps the most significant vis-a-vis his overall critique of Wright. I look forward to your thoughts in Monday’s post. In anticipation of what will be discussed then, however, and as I’ve inidcated in my own post on the issue, when we ask ourselves why an individual sinner would ever hear the message that “Jesus is Lord” as euangelion, “good news,” the answer, I believes, lies in where you place the emphasis of the proclamation. If you hear the proclamation, as I believe Piper is stating it, as “Jesus is Lord” then you would rightfully see how a sinner would be terrified rather than elated. But look at it like this: “Jesus is Lord.” Given that the early Christian pronouncement of the gospel would have certainly contained a detailed description of the nature, the character, the vision, the vocation of this person whom it was proclaiming as Lord, I think that proclamation, with that emphasis, would lead even the most egregious sinner to indeed say: Euangelion!!
    I know it did for this sinner.

    Grace and Peace,

  2. John Mark Inman says:

    I was reading throught Piper’s book online and then you’re interview went up a few weeks back. When I heard the part below, I thought Wright was answering Piper’s challenge that the announcement of Lordship is not good news.

    Thanks for the interview and for working through Piper’s book.

    The reason that’s good news… In the Roman Empire, when a new emperor came to the throne, there’d obviously been a time of uncertainty. Somebody’s just died. Is there going to be chaos? Is society going to collapse? Are we going to have pirates ruling the seas? Are we going to have no food to eat? And the good news is, we have an emperor and his name is such and such. So, we’re going to have justice and peace and prosperity, and isn’t that great?!

    Now, of course, most people in the Roman Empire knew that was rubbish because it was just another old jumped-up aristocrat who was going to do the same as the other ones had done. But that was the rhetoric.

    Paul slices straight in with the Isaianic message: Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed.

    And in the middle of that, of course, it’s good news for you and me. But that’s the derivative from, or the corollary of the good news which is a message about Jesus that has a second-order effect on me and you and us. But the gospel is not itself about you are this sort of a person and this can happen to you. That’s the result of the gospel rather than the gospel itself.

  3. Stephen Roye says:

    I can’t help but think that knowing that the person who interceded for his tormentors while he was dying at their hands and gave absolution to a dying criminal who had very recently made derisive comments toward him, that this person that has the qualities, is now is charge, is the good news that the world has been waiting for. Obviously this can’t be good news to those who want to continue to do evil and do not want to repent. John Piper’s view of the gospel can’t be by its very nature be good news to everyone because it includes a call to repentance. I think that only a mind enlightened by the word and Spirit can truly receive the news as good. I think of Joseph when he had been lifted up, this was not good news from his brother’s perspective because they were not enlightened as to his character, they were in fact terrified, but it was in fact good news for them even though they did not perceive it as such.

  4. trevinwax says:

    I’m tempted to weigh in here with some comments, but I’m going to leave that for the post that’s coming Monday.

    I hope these posts on “What is the Gospel” will continue to stir thoughtful reflection. This is a good question to ask.

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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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