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We’ve come to the end of a very long series on John Piper’s book The Future of Justification. I have decided to refrain from commenting on the Appendices in Piper’s book. The Appendices are very helpful for those who want to better understand Piper’s framework for understanding justification. Perhaps I will interact with these chapters at a later time. For now, I am ready to close my commentary on this book by offering some comments on Piper’s conclusion.

Earlier in this series, I mentioned why I believe Piper cannot allow Wright’s definition of the gospel (a definition that does not include “justification”) to stand. The concluding chapter of Piper’s book backs up my earlier contention. At some level at least, Piper is driven by a desire to clearly delineate the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (181-183). The Reformation is most assuredly not over, according to Piper.

Piper finishes his critique of Wright by once again pointing to Wright’s view of justification and works. He believes that Wright’s view will be co-opted into the Roman Catholic view (183). Piper then issues his own “Here I Stand” section, where he clearly and unabashedly affirms the traditional Protestant understanding of justification by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ’s righteousness alone (184).

I admire Piper’s allegiance to the biblical truths recovered at the time of the Reformation. I too believe that these doctrines are important. They are vital for the health of the church. I agree with Piper that we need more theological clarity and that N.T. Wright has often been unclear as to what he believes, largely because he is not operating within the traditional categories of Protestant exegesis.

I admire N.T. Wright’s determination to hear Paul in his own context, no matter what the cost. I appreciate Wright’s desire to challenge our theological categories and to avoid reducing biblical truths to neat formulas.

Interestingly, N.T. Wright’s book on justification and Paul has a picture of the Apostle Paul on the cover, whereas Piper’s book on justification and Paul has a picture of Martin Luther. I’m not saying that Piper is more devoted to Luther than Paul or that Wright is more devoted to Paul than Piper is… only that the picture does express, at least at some level, one of the reasons this book exists.

N.T. Wright is ready to dismiss certain Reformational teachings if they do not agree with his understanding of Paul in the first century. Piper is ready to affirm Reformational teachings, as he believes that they correctly understood the Apostle.

Both of these men should be commended for their dedication to Scripture and for their hard work in discovering what the text says.

I hope that I have been as fair in this series as Piper has been to Wright in this book. Surely The Future of Justification represents the way that theological debate should take place! As I said at the outset of this debate, both Piper and Wright have good points to make. Though I am closer to Piper on the definition of justification and imputation, I am indebted to Wright for the depth of his historical research and for the terrific and winsome ways he presents old truths.

I thank John Piper for teaching me that our existence is to be totally God-centered. We exist to enjoy him, all to his glory. I thank N.T. Wright for opening up the Gospels to me in a way that helped me understand my Savior and Lord in historical context. We do not worship a timeless talking head, but a flesh-and-blood Jew who walked the shores of Galilee during the first century.

My encouragement to my readers? Read both these men. You will benefit immensely from their scholarship and their pastoral hearts. You won’t agree with either one in everything, but you will be a stronger, more faithful servant of God’s Church for having heard what God has to say through them both.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2007 Kingdom People blog


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0 thoughts on “Future of Justification 18: Piper's Conclusion”

  1. Brian says:

    Thanks for the series from these godly men. The question I ponder is… If the RCC view of infused righteousness was the belief held by virtually all of Christendom for 1500 years from the time of Christ, and then Luther discovered, and the Reformers adopted, the “solas” including the tangental view of imputed righteousness, is it reasonable to think the Holy Spirit (whom we were promised would guide us unto all truth) had allowed the RCC to corrupt all of Christendom with a false gospel for a millenium and a half? Or, is N.T. Wright late to the party in only now positing that maybe there is something to the idea of the connection of faith, works, and infused righteousness?

  2. Kenneth says:

    what God has to say through them both.

    I think the probelm here is what the Bible says and not what either of these men say, God speaks through the Bible, I’m not saying we shouldn’t study what other men have to say about the Bible but we shouldn’t be trying to discern what “God is saying through men” rather what is God saying through the Bible.

    Ken

  3. Trevin Wax says:

    Ken,

    God does speak through people today, not in the same way he spoke through the biblical authors. But surely a Christian should heed good counsel from trustworthy Christians to see if God may be speaking through them. Of course, a pastor is God’s mouthpiece only insomuch as he correctly presents the biblical text.

  4. Trevin,

    I am sorry that I mispelled your name a couple of times. It is actually “Trevin” not “Trevor”:) At any rate, I appreciate your analysis on these important issues. Sometimes, Piper and Wright seem to complement each other. Sometimes, they mean the same thing (s) in different ways. Yes indeed, Christ is our Righteousness, our justification and our peace.

    Blessings in Christ,

    Lou

  5. Foolish Sage says:

    Brian:

    My understanding from study of the magisterial reformers is that they saw themselves not as “discovering” something that no one had seen for 1500 years, but rather reviving and returning to ancient Christianity. Calvin in particular believed that he was merely bringing back some important aspects of Augustine that some late Medieval theology had obscured or forgotten.

  6. Nick says:

    Trevin,

    Any tips for reading these men? I love them both. I am currently working through Wright’s Romans for Everyone. In one post you mentioned how the differences between Wright and Piper in regards to imputation can at times be confusing and whether or not they are saying the same thing with different language. I only a second year undergraduate student with minimal knowledge in technicalities. So how people like me be discerning while reading both Piper and Wright? Do you have any advice at all?

  7. trevinwax says:

    To get the gist of Wright’s view of imputation, I suggest “What Saint Paul Really Said.” You might also check out his paper online – “The Shape of Justification.”

    For Piper, you might try “Counted Righteous in Christ” and his harder-to-find book “The Justification of God.”

    For intro-level books to these men, read Piper’s “Desiring God.” If you’ve read “Desiring God,” you’ve pretty much read everything Piper. The rest of his corpus serves as “spin-off” to his main book. (You might also like Piper’s “God is the Gospel.”)

    For Wright, I would suggest “Simply Christian,” “The Challenge of Jesus,” and “Following Jesus.”

    If you have the time and attention to devote to Wright’s 800-page book on the Resurrection (“The Resurrection of the Son of God”), it’s well worth it. Trust me.

    About discernment, I suggest you keep your Bible in hand. Look up references. Look at the context. Keep in mind the Bible’s big picture. Read both these men with a critical eye and your Bible open. I think you’ll find that both are right in some areas and both are wrong in some areas (like us all!).

  8. nancy says:

    Thank you so much for this, Trevin. I’m late in finding it, but it’s timely for me. I’ve found myself lately humming the tune from the 70s “Torn Between Two Lovers” as I wrestle with my gratitude to each of these men, and my dismay that there lies this gulf between them. You’re writings have calmed me down so that I’ll keep pressing onwards (with my Bible open!). BTW, I’m an Anglican in Canada who started out as a Fellowship Baptist (Ontario).

  9. Richard says:

    Trevin

    Thank you for a marvellously clear and helpful summary of both men’s views.

    Nevertheless at the end I find myself wondering ‘much ado about nothing’?

    Yet McGrath and others see Wright as demolishing Protestantism – not just imputed righteousness but solafideism too.

    Do the elements where Wright is correct (eg the 1st century Jew as a nomist not pelagian) actually change much for the man in the pew, and the pastor preaching to him? It appears not.

    Richard

    ps – I personally think a refined (harmonised?) view on justification should actually bring about a substantial rethinking on sanctification, when people are ready to look at that. I have always found the protestant view(s) of sanctification to be much more inconsistent (and pelagian)

  10. Jeremy says:

    Trevin – thanks for writing this series! I really found it helpful to read your analysis the discussion. Very articulate and thoughtful – great!

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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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