John Piper and the Pope: Some Observations

John Piper and the Pope: Some Observations March 19, 2013

John Piper recently upgraded a rather narrowed comment he made during the papacy of Benedict XVI, and here are his words:

A few years ago, I was asked on camera what I would say to the Pope if I had two minutes with him. I said I would ask him what he believed about justification. The video ended with me putting the question to the Pope and then responding as follows:

“Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes? Do you teach that?”

And if he said, “No, we don’t,” then I’d say, “I think that right at the core of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy,” or something like that.

“Heresy” is a strong word. The problem with it is that its meaning and implications are not clear. defines heresy, for example, as:

  1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
  2. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

You can see how fluid such definitions are.

So what did I mean in the video?

I meant that the rejection of 1) the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as an essential part of the basis of our justification, and 2) the doctrine that good works necessarily follow justification but are not part of its ground — the rejection of those truths is a biblical error so close to the heart of the gospel that, when consistently worked out, will undermine saving faith in the gospel.

John Piper, of course, is on the Reformed side of theological conversations and his penchant for running stuff through justification by faith theology is both expected and relentless. Both the Lutheran and the Reformed side focused on justification for good reasons. A few observations, though:

1. The first thing to ask a Pope, if we think it is our responsibility to quiz him on theology, is if he believes in Jesus. [If personally given a chance to ask a Pope a question I’d ask if they would reconsider offering Eucharist to non-Catholics, but that’s no quiz question.]

2. The debate about double imputation (Christ’s righteousness to us and our sinfulness to Christ) vs. impartation or infusing, the Catholic articulation during the days of and after the Reformation, is a bit archaic in discussion. We can look to Trent to see what Catholics believe or we can read what Popes have said, and one can read this all in Benedict XVI’s statements in his book on Paul, which simply is not a 16th or 17th Century Catholic perception of justification.

3. Piper’s view is connected rather directly to double imputation, and there’s something here that needs to be emphasized, and I do so by referring you to one of Piper’s fellow Gospel Coalition leaders, D.A. Carson, who argued at the Wheaton Theology conference and then in his piece on imputation that there is no unambiguous text in the NT that teaches double imputation. Carson and Gundry went at it; I was in the audience. The book is called Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates. Gundry famously argued there is no text that says Christ’s righteousness is “imputed” or “reckoned” to us, and he’s right. Carson gave in a bit to say it’s not unambiguous but it’s important. And I would add this: if it is not unambiguously taught in the NT then on the grounds of Protestant method I would not want to make it as central as either Piper or Carson make it. That God has provided for us what we cannot provide is the core; how that happens is not as important since it is not revealed with clarity.

4. The Popes do not frame justification quite the way Protestants frame it, even after all these years — read the conversations that occurred in the last two decades between notable evangelical leaders and Catholic leaders, including conversations on justification, and then read the Lutheran dialogues, and one observes this debate has changed dramatically. That the Pope would not quite say what Piper wants him to say is a way of saying “I’m Catholic, and you’re evangelical, Reformed Protestant and that’s why I don’t say it the way you do.”

5. In my book, A Community called Atonement, I state that double imputation is only part of the story: 1 Cor 1 says Christ is our righteousness and 2 Cor 5 says “he who knew no sin became sin” — those two texts combined (our combining, and that’s important) are the building blocks for double imputation but it clearly falls short of saying quite what the Reformers said. What we “have in Christ” by the grace of God is righteousness and a lot more, but locking down to one formulation has the capacity to tie us into knots.

6. A fact: there is tension in the NT on this whole justification by faith and judgment by works theme, and a forthcoming Zondervan book — yet another four views book (I want to edit a book on Five Views on Four Views books) — called Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment (ed. Alan P. Stanley, with contributions from R.N. Wilkin, T.R. Schreiner, JDG Dunn, M.P. Barber [Catholic]) — will explore this theme. A read of that ms made me aware once again that folks can’t seem to get on the same page in this discussion, so maybe to be fair we can quote what the Catholic Catechism says: “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace” (number 2011).

7. John Piper and N.T. Wright have gone to the mat on this one, and NT Wright’s use of the word “on the basis of works” vs. “in accordance with works” caused a bit of stir, Tom clarified, many were a bit relieved that Tom had conceded, only to hear later that Tom has said he hadn’t backed down from anything but that the word “basis” is our theological framing and is not as important as framing things the way the Bible does. A good Protestant move.

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  • Mark Edward

    So which is it then? Am I saved for having faith in Jesus? Or am I saved for having faith in Jesus AND in the doctrine of imputed righteousness?

    Gonna say it: Piper is not sola fide. A lot of big-name Protestant / Reformed teachers are not sola fide. They say they are, but when you examine their soteriology, they’re simply not.

    ‘They’ (speaking broadly) pay lip service to ‘faith alone’ by saying they believe it, affirming here and there that they believe the only thing we need to be saved is faith in God through Jesus.

    But they turn right around, and claim that we actually need to believe in this EXACT definition of Doctrine 22b, otherwise you are a heretic who has undermined the core of the Gospel. In other words, not faith alone in God through Christ, but faith alone in God through Christ, and this doctrine, and that doctrine, and and and.

  • Peter

    “O, No! Not another nice Catholic boy gone and got himself saved, is it?” was a pretty common reponse when I tried to explain why I wasn’t going to Mass any more. In the three decades since then I have grown in my delight that RC theologians are making their contribution to this conversation. No, I am not likely to return to Rome any time soon, but that’s for reasons other than RC doctrine related to justification. I perceive a very important balance being brought to the conversation when we allow our RC brethren to the table. Your book, “A Community Called Atonement,” contributed to this understanding, Scot. Thank you.

  • gingoro

    “Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100% for us, after which necessary sanctification comes?”

    As a Calvinist I do not think that Piper’s formulation is fundamental to Christian faith although I accept it (more or less) as secondary doctrine but faith without works is dead.

  • Jon G

    I hope this is ok to ask but since your post is on how we know about double imputation rather than why it is valid, I think this is not off topic…

    Scot, you said, “And I would add this: if it is not unambiguously taught in the NT then on the grounds of Protestant method I would not want to make it as central as either Piper or Carson make it.”

    I totally agree but wonder how it would apply to something so often taught as central, perhaps more central than double imputation…namely the Trinity.


  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, I go to that topic in my mind whenever this issue of the centrality of double imputation comes up because it is a construct.

    1. The deity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit is taught clearly in the NT. Nothing that clear with out either side of double imputation.

    2. The NT texts on Trinity force the question “How are they one if ‘each’ is divine?” The NT texts do not force that kind of question for double imputation.

    Constructs are important in defining orthodoxy, even Protestant orthodoxy. To be an orthodox Reformed theologian I would think double imputation is important.

  • T.S.Gay

    Newbiggen maintained that we try to relieve the tension in two major ways. (1)There are universalizing texts, without any reference to a limited group or category of persons or things. There are as many as fifty uses of “all”,”every”,”world”,”every one”, and even “all men” where the limiting factors are clearly understood from the context. Nevertheless the universal aspect of the gospel is perhaps best expressed in the realization that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The main way universalists try to relieve the tension is by leaving out human responsibility. (2) There are unique aspects to the Christ. It is by reference to Him that all will be compared. It is here that Newbiggen’s observations about our increasingly plural realities have been most observed. You start to notice evidence of God’s grace in the lives of people who are not at all similar to you. As far as being exclusive, Newbiggin maintained we try to relieve the tension by drawing lines of who is in and who is out. We were biblically warned about not doing this, but some can’t seem to maintain the tension that an unbounded set maintains.
    It always is good to quote Newbiggen on these tensions….
    “[My] position is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non- Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiviness of what God has done in Jesus Christ”.

  • Robin


    On this issue, I am inclined to say that if you didn’t grow up Catholic and believe your works were what earned your salvation, believed it thoroughly because that is what your priests taught you, and then come face to face with Galatians…I don’t think you are fully appreciating the importance of Piper’s question.

    I am not saying he is right in everything, and I am not saying Catholics are 100% wrong in their framing, but I don’t think you can just gloss over the issue and say it is no big deal. I served in the church, I was a leader in our church, I was a lector, my mother is still a lector and serves communion, and if you would have asked me at any time until I was 20 what the basis was for my salvation I would have said “I was baptized, confirmed, I confess my sins regularly and attend mass…” faith in Christ would not have entered into the conversation.

    There is an unhealthy reliance on works on the Roman side, a complete lack of emphasis on faith in Christ (in some corners) and no concern at all with “are we making people believe that their works earn them merit”

    Those are not small problems, but I feel like you are pretending they are.

  • Robin

    If it makes a difference to the discussion most of my priests growing up kind of thought that Vatican II was the worst thing to happen in the history of the church. Maybe the younger generation that has been nurtured on Vatican 2 is stepping away from Trent and focusing more on Christ.

  • T.S.Gay

    Sorry, you can tell I’m going by memory and don’t use spell check………the person I referenced is Lesslie Newbigin. Other spelling errors are embarrassing, but getting a person’s name wrong is worse.

  • scotmcknight

    TS Gay, not sure Newbigin has much to say to this post about Piper, the Pope, and double imputation.

    Robin, it appears to me you are saying that Piper’s question for the Pope is actually a question to whole leadership of the RCC: Does the RCC church, at the local level, believe…teach…?

    My experience confirms that many Catholics are confused both about the “object” of faith and about how to articulate their own faith. (I’m not sure evangelicals, when pressed by folks from other traditions, do that much better but we are more confessionally or doctrinally based.) My experience, however, with scholars and priests, some of whom are national leaders, leads me to think their faith is in Christ and Christ alone, and not in their merits or works.

    The book I mention near the end of the post will show three different Protestant answers to the relationship of the final judgment and our works. Here’s something to consider, Robin: we Prots do well on directing our confessional faith at Christ and Christ alone. We don’t now do well with the texts in the NT that teach the final judgment is based on works. Catholics, in their dealing with those texts (and developing a system out of them), have incorporated works more directly into their system of salvation but it can at times bewilder the Prot’s emphasis on faith alone in Christ alone. The book will I hope lead to some enlightened conversations.

  • Robin

    And the reason I focused solely on works in a discussion about double imputation is because I have been taught that the doctrine of infused righteousness is what led to the sole emphasis on works. It was our moral purity and participation in the sacraments that earned us infusions of righteousness, completely separate from actual faith in Christ. So because I get touchy about the salvific effects of works, I also get touchy about infused and imputed righteousness.

    I just know that the gap between Pre-Vatican 2 teaching and the biblical gospel is vast. I am more confused regarding current teaching, especially when you consider that Trent is still official teaching as well, regardless of what changes were made in Vatican 2.

  • Robin


    I don’t doubt that the Catholic you interact with have placed their faith in Christ, I am just telling you what you hear, sitting in the pews, in a Catholic church in rural America. Heck, we might have even got the worst priests because we were a backwater. Maybe in the cities the priests care about faith in Christ. But in my youth (1979-1997) they talked about being pure and keeping the sacraments…faith in Christ was either unnecessary or a complete afterthought.

    I have blamed Infused righteousness for the complete lack of emphasis on faith in Christ. If something else deserves my derision I will need to reconsider.

  • I’ll wait for the 5 views of the 4 views book. Liked that. 🙂

  • T.S.Gay

    N.T. Wright wrote a book on why character matters, a tutorial on after you believe. It is a framing of the Biblical way of being in accordance with works. To this reader it wouldn’t hurt if Protestants would closely look at the harmony between the beatitudes and the so called catholic seven virtues. Most importantly, not on the basis of them, which unconsciously becomes the opposite, but by living in accordance with them seems like a renewing of the mind approach. Then faith is not so much assensus as fiducia.

  • Kurt Peterson

    I am pretty sure the Pope could not care any less what John Piper thinks about anything. Carelessness and arrogance are not Christian virtues.

  • Rejoycingtoday

    Maybe I’m naive, but if you only had two minutes, why even try to address differences? I can’t really see it accomplishing anything. Perhaps pray for the downtrodden or talk about how cool Jesus is?

    But, I suppose that wasn’t really the type of answer the questioner wanted.

  • Michael

    If you have watched the video then you have to be appalled at the ignorance and arrogance demonstrated.

  • Scott Lyons

    The entire Catholic liturgy is a confession of our faith in Christ, and a participation in his Paschal Mystery. But faith cannot be divorced from love, so that the goal of our faith is theosis, sanctification – to be in Christ, to share in his life. At baptism we become saints. And it is our life’s purpose to become saints.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Mark Edward @ 1 has it entirely correct: Saved by doctrine is the real message.

    Furthermore, the beliefs of people like Piper and their cohorts induce [the wrong] disposition. Because you have to get all the doctrines in a row, they got into a row, and the implications are clear: Not only are you a heretic, you are stupid too. I’ve been backstabbed a couple of times by Christians in my life – and almost every time it was a Reformed Baptist (they also produce the worst church splits etc). Even if the pope’s doctrine is wrong, he comes much closer to the Spirit of the thing. If you get my drift.

  • Andy W.

    If one is right yet not loving, does it matter? To meet the Pope and call him a heretic is so wrong. It does not matter if Piper is theologically right! He’s already wrong because he displays a lack of charity, submission, humility…all the things that really matter!

  • Scott Lyons

    A little of what His Holiness Benedict XVI’s response to John Piper may have looked like:

    “it is [Christ] who makes us just. Being just simply means being with Christ and in Christ. And this suffices. Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life. And the form, the life of Christ, is love; hence to believe is to conform to Christ and to enter into his love. So it is that in the Letter to the Galatians in which he primarily developed his teaching on justification St Paul speaks of faith that works through love (cf. Gal 5: 14).” (

  • so maybe to be fair we can quote what the Catholic Catechism says: “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace” (number 2011).

    Fairness–what a concept, in inter-faith dialogue! 🙂

    But how about this?

    But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    I think I understand what the Catechism is saying, and agree with it as far as it goes, but is it possible that our merit before God has something to do with the fact that we are God’s creatures and were created good, and that is why He loves us and sent his Son? Who loved me and gave himself up for me? (Galatians 2:20)

    Why would God love me if I were sin?

    When Paul says that Christ “became sin,” is that a theological proposition offered in a treatise of systematic theology, or is it … something else? Like rhetoric used in the service of a big picture point he’s trying to make?

    How does Original Sin fit into all this? It’s clearly not a scriptural doctrine–neither Genesis nor Romans were intended to present OS as a doctrine. Is it the case that later (post Augustine) people are reading Paul through an Augustinian prism that was not Paul’s own?

    With all this talk about Paul, wouldn’t it be refreshing to discuss what Jesus had to say about justification? Or is that irrelevant to a discussion of Christianity, the religion founded (or so some would say) by Paul?

  • In response to Jon G (#4), the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and double imputation differs from Trinitarian doctrine in at least a few ways. The Trinity is easily read off the surface of the text and stands up to increasingly close readings of the text. It has stood the test of time and lies at the heart of the faith that churches from around the world all confess.

    “Imputation” and “double imputation,” however, is not read off the surface of the text and does not stand up to close scrutiny (Scot rightly points to Gundry’s excellent work on this). Few NT exegetes endorse it (outside of evangelical-Reformed circles) and only some systematic theologians endorse it. It’s a notion that pretty clearly comes from a singular strand of Reformed theology that works hand-in-glove with a certain type of covenant theology. If one doesn’t buy that system, one doesn’t need it. Not only is it dispensable, but it causes problems in other areas of theology. As N. T. Wright has noted, it’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s like a hyper-active child at a polite dinner party—once you let it into the room, it runs all over and causes all sorts of problems.

    Union with Christ, and what Mike Bird calls “incorporated righteousness,” lies at the heart of Paul’s talk about justification. That’s a notion that lies on the surface of the text and stands up to closer scrutiny. So, for one to insist on imputation’s centrality is to prefer one option among others, one that is problematic, and one that does not enjoy wide attestation in churches around the world.

  • @ Scott Lyons: all well put.

  • Alan K


    Perhaps you could give a review of Weigel’s “Evangelical Catholicism.” In it he speaks of “conversion to Jesus Christ.”

  • s.w.

    Your questions are rooted in the fact that you’re a scholar whereas Piper is not. You are focused on the actual differences, he is focused on the “gettin’ saved” differences.

  • While I appreciate and agree with your reminder that Roman Catholic pronouncements like those of the 16th century Council of Trent should not be taken as descriptive of contemporary Catholic attitudes or even articulations of these issues, I wonder if your selection of “limited NT texts” about the classic Reformed formultion of the ‘wonderful exchange’ isn’t a bit dismissive? For example, you don’t reference 2 Corinthians 8:9, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” While the context of that verse (urging generosity for the impending collection for the poor Paul is reminding the Corinthians of) suggests he is actually comparing the divine Son’s giving up his celestial circumstances to take on the ‘poverty’ of incarnate life on fallen planet earth, yet those who ascribe to “double imputation” often use this and other verses to build their case. It’s not as much of a stretch, theologically, as you appear to be suggesting.

  • Val

    I am learning about the EO and the early church view of Christ as the passover lamb, rather than an unblemished sin offering, and trying to reconcile that (which I agree with more or less) to the 2 Cor 5 verse that Christ became sin. Is Paul doing what a lot of the NT writers do, pulling random versus (or analogies) out of context to make a point? like Matthew does with some of the OT verses he quotes from.

    I don’t really think Jesus became “sin” when he died – His Father turning his face away cannot really be fully explained – besides, we all sin and God has never turned from us because if it. Yeah, I know, the Bible clearly says…. but the Bible is also pretty good at contradicting itself in many secondary areas, and Piper picks and chooses which ones he will make essential, everyone does this. If the early church viewed Jesus as the passover lamb, then he is not a sin offering, and therefor never needed to become sin, so that is just another of Paul’s comments to people that had a purpose that gets lost in the sands of time. I notice things can be God Breathed and yet completely lost on future audiences. That is something sola scriptura supporters neglect to mention (example: Genesis 1 -11 – it made sense to the ancients, causes nothing but trouble today).

  • scotmcknight

    I didn’t engage the texts because it would take us too far afield. I posed Carson’s rather clear conclusion when he was debating the very point over against Piper’s strong claim. Morna Hooker, as you know, spoke of exchange for the text you cite.

  • Jon G

    Scot @5 and Tim Gombis @ 23

    Thanks for engaging my question and I won’t push much further on the Trinity because that isn’t the point of this post. I would just quickly say that, Scot, I agree with your:
    1) (Deity of the F, S, S)
    2) (it begs the question of “how are they divine?”)

    but that doesn’t mean I would have to conclude – Trinity. That is, essentially, just the best way the Church has come up with to reconcile 1) and 2) so far, right? If there were other ways of explaining both (I think there are) or even if there was just an openness like “there is probably more to be said on this subject but this is as far as we’ve been able to go” then the centrality of the claim is lessened, no? It wouldn’t have to be a boundary marker for “Christian” or “not Christian”.

    I’m not trying to debate Trinity here, I just want to point out that, in my experience, this seems to be a virtually closed avenue of discussion and one of the biggest criticisms of Piper here is that he has closed an avenue of discussion. When it comes to God, the ultimate “I can’t get my head around this because I’m finite and He’s infinite”, I can’t imagine ANY conversation that should be completely closed…even God’s existence or goodness…and Trinity, to me, seems so hard to comprehend that I have a hard time understanding the conviction by which it is professed.

    Anyways, I look forward to seeing you both speak at the Wheaton Theology Conference next month…

  • Val says:

    Yeah, I know, the Bible clearly says…. but the Bible is also pretty good at contradicting itself in many secondary areas, and Piper picks and chooses which ones he will make essential, everyone does this.

    I agree with Scot’s specific argument here, but you’re making an important point. A big problem is that people want to treat the NT–often even the OT–like Catholics might treat the Catechism of the Catholic Church: like a huge treasure trove of authoritative theological statements. Of course it’s not like that, but it’s a way of thinking that’s hard to shake. That consideration also leads to further questions, like, what is or should be what you might call our “model” of revelation? As you so pertinently point out, neither Paul or Matthew exactly treated “scripture” with kid gloves–they sometimes bent it, folded it, spindled it or even mutilated it to fit their purposes. Jesus himself–speaking in his own voice, not in editorial comments of the evangelists–certainly expressed what we would regard as rather deconstructive views toward “scripture.” E.g., Moses gave you that command because of the hardness of your hearts, the rules regarding purification–contrary to what you might reasonably believe from reading the Torah–are traditions, etc. The entire Sermon on the Mount amounts to Jesus saying, You’ve heard that according to the scriptures God said such and such–now here’s what I say. We need to address those facts to develop a model of revelation and inspiration–and even of Church–that is true to Jesus.

    Genesis 1 -11 … made sense to the ancients, causes nothing but trouble today

    Interestingly, if you dig back in early Christian history these Genesis stories didn’t present such a problem to Christians until Platonic philosophy massively influenced Christian thought. That became especially true beginning with Marcion and Origen and accelerated with the later Fathers.

    My off the cuff theory is that at some point when earlyish fathers were engaged in controversies with Jews they more or less said, Well, if the Jews say the OT is directly inspired by God, our writings must be AT LEAST that. I’m not at all sure that does justice to Jesus as God’s self revelation.

    Interestingly, Catholic thought appears to be trying to come to grips with these issues, based on the realization that “revelation” in the true sense must refer to Jesus himself–not to a book and thus that Christians are not and cannot be “people of the book” in the sense that Jews and Muslims are. That was a recurrent theme at the 2008 Synod on Scripture (at which NTWright gave an interesting “intervention”). This trend is especially apparent in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 11-17.

  • It is one of the great realities of our time that the leading evangelical of our era, Billy Graham, and the leading Pope of our era, John Paul II, shared a depth of missional understanding such that Billy Graham was preaching the Gospel at John Paul’s cathedral in Krakow the very time that John Paul was being elected Pope. This may not fit easily into the categories that Piper constructs, but it is a truth.
    In a similar way the new pope has received a deep welcome to his pontificate by Argentinian evangelicals with whom he has shared profound spiritual friendship, particularly with Luis Palau.
    THe Graham/John Paul story is told here:

    The Pope Francis missional dimension is explored here:

    Argentinian reaction is discussed here:

  • Val

    Mark @ 31 – I never thought of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount that way before – great insight. I wonder if we need to learn from the Jews and take the rest of the NT and filter it through the first 5 NT books (Matt. – Acts), the way the Jews filter the rest of the OT, Apocrypha, etc. through Gen. – Deut. – but much of what Jesus was preaching on was from the first 5 books, so hmmmm, I wonder if CHristians then should take the NT’s first 5 books as more authoritative for all than the others (in the Jewish way). While the others were God Breathed for certain times and places and useful for us to see, but not as applicable – I think I am treading into hot water here, but we need some way to sort out seeming contradictions throughout the NT.

  • David Dollins

    Scot- #1 is where I would have started also. The greatest question ever asked was “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The greatest answer ever given was “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16)

  • Megan Green

    It says a lot about Piper that if he had two minutes with the Pope, he’d spend that time finding a reason to call the Pope a heretic.

    Also, I would definitely read “Five Views on Four Views Books.” 🙂

  • Val @ 33

    I think your idea of regarding the Gospels as especially authoritative has merit, as far as it goes. However … 🙂

    There are certain hard facts that have to be confronted.

    1. The Church existed for something like a generation (20-25 yrs) before any of the early Christian writings that are now regarded as “scripture” came into existence. Obviously, all authority flows from God through Jesus and it comes to the Church, which decided which writings were authentic. This must mean that the Church as body of Christ is the ultimate source of authority–not a book or a collection of books. This also means that we must re-evaluate the relationship of Jesus to the Israelite “scriptures.” IOW, we need a comprehensive theology of revelation: what does it mean, how is it effected, what does God intend to reveal (I say: his identity).

    2. Richard Bauckham, in a way, puts his finger on a a necessary distinction in The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, when he points out that “John has done what all early Christian writers did: he has understood Jesus better by relating him to the Hebrew bible.” The question, however, becomes: did Jesus himself relate himself to the Hebrew bible? The answer is, obviously, “Yes but …” i.e.e, but not necessarily in the same way that Paul or the evangelists did–for example, you will not find Jesus (when presented speaking in his own voice) offering proof texts for his messiahship as the evangelists do when writing in their own voices (editorially, as it were). In fact, the same is true of Paul, as Martin Hengel points out in Between Jesus and Paul: “nowhere does Paul advance a proof that Jesus is the anointed one and bringer of salvation promised in the texts of the Old Testament.” (67) Instead, Paul is professedly handing on what he received both in his vision of Jesus resurrected and confirmed by his consultations with Church authorities. But the controlling, authoritative fact is the fact of Jesus resurrected–not something written in a book.

    3. While these considerations obviously must affect our view of the degree of authority that we accord to these writings, the fact remains that in what the Compendium (see above) calls the “Apostolic Tradition,” these “New Testament” writings must–for obvious historical reasons–take pride of place when we speak of the traditions that the Church has handed down. The problem is one of discerning what weight to give to these “scriptures,” how to approach them. Paul, of course, on several occasions makes this distinction explicitly, and Peter also alludes to certain difficulties of interpretation (2 Peter 3:15). For this reason, the Church has always sought a scriptural basis for its doctrinal assertions–which are most conveniently summarized in the Apostles Creed and the liturgy.

    4. IMO, the Church is and has been for some time been wrestling with these questions, which have been raised in acute form by the doctrine of Original Sin. It is widely recognized that neither Genesis nor Romans propound such a doctrine (still less Jesus), and that certain Marian dogmas of recent definition rest upon this doctrine. Anyone who follows these matters will recognize that the traditional Augustinian doctrine of Original Sin is no longer held by the Church–thus Benedict’s pronouncement re the “theological construct” of “limbo.” The problem for ecclesiology is, How does the Church go about formally extricating itself from this doctrinal fix which has had such profound effects regarding Christian theology of grace /justification and human nature/freedom? My own suggestion is a recognition that the Church should be able to recognize that mistakes of historical interpretation have been made (e.g., interpretation of Romans was based on a Latin mistranslation of the Greek, Genesis was mistaken for historical narrative, etc.). This solution may seem fraught with peril, and yet I think the history of Biblical scholarship is proof that we can indeed come to grips with these issues and largely resolve them.

  • Hmph. I should have quoted the extended passage:

    14 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent x to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his z epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the a rest of the Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, c beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 d but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. e To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

    h/t Patheos eBible

  • Mike M

    ” The deity of the Father and the Son and the Spirit is taught clearly in the NT.” Pretty glib statement considering the violence needed to achieve belief in a “Trinity” and the dispute over this the first 350 years of Christianity. Even a super-powerful mind like Isaac Newton was non-Trinitarian despite being a minister of the Anglican church.