John Piper: Is N. T. Wright Preaching Another Gospel?

The Bishop of Durham — N. T. Wright
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.”

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  • Eugene

    So what is the question? Paul writes that “confession of Jesus’ lordship” and “belief in Jesus’ resurrection” are the only 2 requirements for salvation. Where does “perfect obedience” come into it? Is it not subsumed in the crucifixion which is a pre-requisite for Jesus’ lordship? If that is so, then how is Wright different from Paul?

  • Mike

    Where in the Scripture does it tell us that Christs obedience is imputed onto us, on the contrary, I think the scripture illuminates the opposite by encouraging us to have the same mind that was in Christ, the exhortation is useless if we already have the mind of obedience. Then a Christian would never sin, or even worse he would abound in sin without fear of reprecussion, or still worse sin and say he was obeying Christ; is Christ a sinner I think not. If Obedience was imputed upon us then we would be obedient like Christ, we are not. His Righteousness has been imputed on us because of his work and his blood, the blood is what makes us righteous, and clean before God. It does not make us Obey. If obedience was part of that, then the theology of sanctification would be senseless. He who has begun a good work in us will see it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ the scripture tells us. Hence we are give time and time again in scripture the illustration that this is a process that Jesus is seeing us through. The arguement that muddles Justification and Salvation into one thing I think might be unbiblical. Justification is by faith, because we believe unto correct thinking, we are now Justified. Salvation is also the work of Faith, and I think it works in concert with Justification in that our right thinking about God and his saving work brings us into salvation, this I think is the point Wright is making. Towzer had in my humble view a similar view point, in as much as we need to think correctly about God, it would build knowledge that was indeed justifying, or a just knowledge of God. This is why I believe Towzer focused on thinking rightly about God, because it would not only make our theology on God a little more correct, but in fact deepen our salvation (If such a think could happen) but becoming more intimate with God. Piper in my opionion is making a mountain out of a mole hill.