We are continuing to look at John Piper’s elegant exposure of the heart of the differences between his position and that of N. T. Wright’s. For those without the time to read massive volumes written by the current Bishop of Durham, Piper has done a great service. His scrupulous attempts to be fair to Wright are most useful. I also love the way which, in responding to Wright’s teaching, Piper adequately uses the opportunity with which error presents us to clarify and restate truth. In explaining where Wright disagrees with classic reformed teaching, Piper restates that teaching in a helpful way and demonstrates the way in which Wright agrees with all, but one, aspect of this explanation.
In historic Reformed exegesis, (1) a person is in union with Christ by faith alone. In this union, (2) the believer is identified with Christ in his (a) wrath absorbing death, (b) his perfect obedience to the Father, and (c) his vindication-securing resurrection. All of these are reckoned—that is, imputed—to the believer in Christ. On this basis, (3) the “dead,” “righteous,” “raised” believer is accepted and assured of final vindication and eternal fellowship with God.
In Wright’s exegesis, the middle element in step 2 is missing (2b), because he does not believe that the New Testament teaches that Christ’s perfect obedience is imputed to us. Thus the pattern is: (1) A person is in union with Christ by faith alone (expressed in baptism). (2) The believer is identified with Christ in his wrath-absorbing death (there is no identification with or imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience) and his vindication-securing resurrection. Both of these are reckoned—that is, imputed—to the believer in Christ. On this basis, (3) the “dead” and “raised” believer is accepted and assured of final vindication and eternal fellowship with God. (pp. 124-125)
What is striking about this explanation is precisely where this puts Tom Wright. We have seen over the last few days that both Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians have agreed that there is some sort of righteousness transfer that goes on. Where Catholics argue that this is an impartation, Protestants claim it is an imputation. That difference in wording, which led to the Reformation itself, almost sounds like a minor nuance when Wright comes along and sweeps the whole concept of an alien righteousness away! To Wright neither group is right and are both, as he puts it, “ muddle-headed.”