N. T. Wright, a world-renowned New Testament scholar and bishop in the Church of England, has spent years seeking "new" interpretations of the apostle Paul's writings. Among his conclusions are that "the discussions of justification in much of the history of the church certainly since Augustine got off on the wrong foot, at least in terms of understanding Paul and they have stayed there ever since."
According to Piper, Wright's confidence that the church has gotten it wrong for 1,500 years, given his enormous influence, set off warning bells for Christian leaders such as himself, a pastor and New Testament scholar. According to Piper, if Wright's views find a home in the church, not only could the doctrine of justification be distorted for generations to come but the New Testament writers' original intent could be silenced. This book is a call from John Piper to all Christians, citing his warnings against "fresh" interpretations of the Bible and his plea to hold fast to what he considers the biblical view of justification.
- Very deep; scholarly
Very good text. Probably Not for the new believer...
- A valuable resource, not to the layman, but to academics who have to delve into the refutation of bankrupt regions of apostate heresy.
A valuable resource, not to the layman, but to academics who have to delve into the refutation of bankrupt regions of apostate heresy.
I don’t normally write reviews, but on this occasion I could not restrain myself.
I understand that in Reformation days (500 odd years ago), it was said heresy is worse than murder because murder only kills the body, but heresy kills the soul.
NT Wright (in the quintessential spirit of Anglo Catholicism) has had the impudence (no doubt emboldened by the Jesuit and Roman Catholic agenda to reunite all of Christendom under the Pope) to question the established, entrenched and ancient Biblical doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ and although he should rightly just have been ignored (as David by Achish in 1 Samuel 21:15), he has not. Unfortunately many today particularly in the academic world (where I understand NT Wright’s credentials substantially lie) nonetheless pay attention and get themselves even more confused than they already were (2 Timothy 3:7), thus there is a need for people to stand up and refute same. Well done to John Piper for doing this! This is particularly necessary in this instance not so much because of the weight of the argument being advanced by Wright, but because of the topic, being as close to the heart of the gospel as it is. Many good men in history have been martyred in defense of this truth (as Martin Luther almost was himself) and so I see no reason why there should not be a passionate response generating not just light, but some heat too (even though this is antithetical to the modern and clinical academic way). These days, Christians can be very sensitive and tolerant concerning man’s feelings but what about God’s feelings and the Truth? After all wasn’t it Jesus who said: “If anyone causes one of these little ones - those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”.
Piper begins by bringing his inimitable ability to articulate the most nuanced considerations to bear on the fact that he is beyond seeking to win arguments or ‘brownie points’, but is conscious of the need to please his Master, before whose judgement throne we will all soon appear. This was an excellent beginning in true Piper style. With this point I entirely agree being very conscious of my own frailty and dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for grace. However flowing from this, he then proceeds to pussy foot around (very politely, respectfully and considerately) NT Wright’s heresy. This was my point of departure from Piper. I think that such an approach merely sends the message that there is something in what NT Wright has said that warrants such a substantial response.
This book treats Wright’s heresy as worthy of thorough consideration and thereby lends credence to NT Wright’s false doctrine that can easily be dismissed by most properly churched reformed evangelical believers in just a few deft strokes. Deft strokes? Yes such as:
- the clear and consistent teaching of the Passover, Isaiah 53 and Ephesians 2:8-9.
- the fact that there is such a robust internal consistency in the truth that: like a missing piece of a puzzle, this doctrine and it’s heart (substitutionary atonement and imputation) takes it’s place at the center very obviously without even remote competition, since no other piece even vaguely resembles that ‘cornerstone’ around which everything else hangs.
Personally I think that Calvin’s response in such situations; words to the effect that ‘he is not worthy of further refutation’, would be a far more appropriate pastoral response. A shepherd needs to warn sheep in no uncertain terms of the presence of a wolf. That is where the Biblical doctrine of ad hominem is so important even if the modern world of academia does not like it. Then again is Piper writing as an academic or as a Shepherd? I feel confident that if asked, Piper would say: both, but the latter first. Unfortunately in Piper’s defense I suspect that his job was made greatly more difficult by kindly consulting NT Wright before publishing his initial paper, in response Wright probably gave endless complex subtle and unclear responses which Piper then felt honor bound to respond to in detail. This would have nullified the impact of what might originally have been a short sharp and robust annihilation.
In this book Piper handles NT Wright’s heresy with ‘kids gloves’. I could not help thinking while reading it of the manner that Martin Luther wrote against Erasmus, in the book that Luther considered his best “The Bondage of the Will”. Another book that came to mind was David Chilton’s annihilation of Ronald Sider’s ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ in his book ‘Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators’. The styles of the two latter are more aggressive and valiant for truth. Of course to the modern mind (as opposed to the Biblical mind) that style is inappropriate.
The main thing this book did for me personally was establish that I had understood NT Wright’s views correctly, through minimal reading and hearsay.
My conclusion is that the book is far longer than necessary and is not a patch on Piper’s biographies and sermons. For the academic with time on his hands, there is much food for thought and reflection if one has to delve into the refutation of such bankrupt regions of apostate heresy.
- Frustrating narration
My biggest problem with this audio book was to do with the narration. Of necessity John Piper frequently quotes N T Wright. The narrator of the audio book does not, in my opinion, consistently make it clear when he is speaking as Piper or Wright. When speaking as the latter he does initially drop his tone slightly, but then seems to revert to his normal voice and so it is not clear as to when he ceases to be at the end of a quote from Wright.
I appreciated John Piper's diligent work, faithfulness to the natural meaning of Scripture and his humility in presenting this polemic.
- Show ALL Reviews
- Solid Scholarship, but Tedious at Times
In The Future of Justification, John Piper takes on N. T. Wright’s championing of what is commonly called the “New Perspective on Paul.” Piper, who often writes in a very pastoral, if also deep, style, is fully engaged in Bible-scholar mode for this work. Piper takes Wright’s challenge to the historic understanding of justification in the writings of Paul very seriously, and the book that Piper has written shows that seriousness.
The primary positive that I will mention about this work is that Piper has Paul right and Wright has Paul wrong. John Piper portrays in this book a very clear, very historic, very biblical understanding of what the apostle meant when he wrote of justification. Piper’s defense of justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is spot-on, and thus his book is necessarily strong.
Piper is also extremely respectful and loving in his tone. In polemic works, it is not uncommon to find authors caricaturing one another, taking cheap shots at straw men. Piper is nothing but kind to Wright. He points to Wright’s brilliance and winsomeness quite regularly. Where Piper fears, or hopes, he could have misunderstood Wright, he is quick to point this out.
This book is not an easy read. Piper, writing as Bible scholar, is not the most riveting author on the market. Piper’s thoroughness in dealing with the discussion can sometimes make his writing tedious. The scholarly slant in this work can certainly make it inaccessible for some laypersons who might pick it up because they have heard friends recommend, “Read anything by John Piper.”
I also found myself wanting Piper to go into greater depth regarding the Jewish understanding of salvation. Wright, and Sanders before him, argue that second-temple Judaism was not marred by legalism as is often understood. Piper disagrees with the assessment of these men, and does a fine job of pointing out reasons why. Piper does not, however, give us a few pages to explain how Jews of this period understood their salvation or how they were actually saved. I think such an excurses would have been quite helpful.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Because I agree with Piper’s assessment, I am happy to recommend The Future of Justification to anyone dealing with New Perspective on Paul issues. A person who has been convinced by N. T. Wright that the church has, for sixteen hundred years or more, misunderstood Paul, can be aided by Piper’s scholarship. If these issues are before you, you certainly should give Piper’s book a hearing.
However, not every Christian needs to read this book. Many have never heard of the New Perspective. Many have a right understanding of justification and do not need to take up their reading time with an argument against a position that they are not being challenged to refute. This book is neither an easy nor a fun read. If you are looking for something to feed the soul, look to others among Piper’s writings.