John Piper, N. T. Wright, and Gracious Discernment

<iframe style="WIDTH: 120px; HEIGHT: 240px" align="right" hspace="20" vspace="12" src=" Tom Wright has long been the darling of many evangelicals. He is praised particularly for his work on the resurrection. But there is another side to Wright which is coming increasingly to the fore. His ability to woo evangelicals has, according to some observers, made it easy for him to subtly change some key concepts we all hold dear. Many evangelicals have followed Wright away from standard understandings of doctrines that have defined evangelicalism for centuries. For example, it apparently was in Wright’s work that Steve Chalke and others found criticisms of penal substitutionary atonement as it is usually preached. Steve Chalke is not so winsome as Wright, so when he popularized the criticisms found in Wright and dismissed the ancient doctrine as “cosmic child abuse,” there was a significant backlash that ultimately led to the publication, in my mind, of the most important Christian book of this year—Pierced For Our Transgressions (PFOT). I am thrilled it is now available from Crossway in the USA.

Every Christian must plumb the depths of what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross. If for some reason you have missed the whole conversation about the atonement, both here on my blog and elsewhere, I would urge you to first go and buy C. J. Mahaney’s Cross Centered Life, and read it slowly and prayerfully. This is because the cross must be grasped personally, devotionally, and must affect our lives. As we begin to live in the good of the cross, we should be able to deepen our understanding of it. Pierced For Our Transgressions is a great book for that purpose, although if you find its length off-putting, there is a much shorter, but still very helpful, alternative in Liam Goligher’s The Jesus Gospel.

Wright was very unhappy about the book Pierced For Our Transgressions. He wrote a scathing article at the same time that there was a major disagreement within UK Evangelicalism about Spring Harvest discontinuing a partnership, partly, it seems, over their desire to continue having Steve Chalke on their leadership team and as a main speaker. I suspect that the publication of another book which has been released this week has not pleased Bishop Wright either. It is this book that I will be spending some time discussing for the next few days here on the blog.

John Piper has now written a book, The Future of Justification, which should be read by everyone who has already read at least two of the books on the cross I have mentioned, and also by anyone who has either been influenced by Wright themselves or knows someone who has. <iframe style="WIDTH: 120px; HEIGHT: 240px" align="right" hspace="20" vspace="20" src=" urge you to get a good understanding of the cross first, for this is a book on the subject of justification. It will be a great help to you in understanding Piper’s current book if you already understand penal substitution. This is not an easy book to read in some ways, and if you love the work of N. T. Wright, it will be a painful book to read. But it is not very complex. Piper shines the light of Gospel clarity into the opacity of much of Wright’s work.

Piper is very clear in this book. He warns against Wright’s teaching specifically and explicitly. But at all times he interacts with Wright with amazing graciousness. As I am writing this post I cannot help but think of the ongoing debate with Phil Johnson over our respective blogging philosophies. I can’t help but wonder what John Piper would make of those discussions. I do know one thing, and that is that I want the tone of my blog to become ever closer to the tone Piper struck in this new book and ever further away from the tone I frequently detect on TeamPyro.

I will end today with a quote from The Future of Justification which introduces the core issue and the main disagreement between Piper and Wright. Bishop Wright had every opportunity to comment on drafts of Piper’s book, and as we will see as we look at his book in more detail beginning on Monday, Piper has every reason to say the following. On its own, you might be surprised, or think Piper is being unfair, but if you follow along with my interaction with his book, the reasons for the following quote will emerge. Piper is speaking about the concept of justification, and sets the scene of the cosmic law court. He begins by asking the most crucial question in his whole book:

The question is: When the Judge finds in our favor, does he count us as having the required moral righteousness—not in ourselves, but because of the divine righteousness imputed to us in Christ?

My answer is yes . . . Wright’s answer is no. To review, he thinks that the whole discussion of imputing divine righteousness to humans is muddle-headed. It is simply not operating with proper biblical-historical categories. For the last fifteen hundred years, the discussions of this issue in the church have been misguided. “If we use the language of the law-court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom.”

That infamous quote from N. T. Wright and his framing of thousands of years of debate about the imparting or imputing of Christ’s righteousness as ‘muddle headed’ is breathtaking. Either Wright is as much of a lone figure reformed as say Martin Luther himself, pointing back centuries before him to another lost truth that makes Luther as much in error as the Pope of his time, OR Wright, however bright a scholar he is, is very wrong. I believe Piper has shown how very wrong Wright is. Join me over the next few days as we explore how he does this.

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  • Lisa Simmons

    I am so relieved to find this blog. I’ve recently committed to learning and wanting to know more about Jesus, Christianity etc I stumbled upon Mr. Wright.. I get an uncomfortable feeling in my gut when I read his work. My sister says its the holy spirit telling me its misleading and incorrect. I was unsure till reading this. Thank you so much