Chapter 6 ends with a return to John Piper’s contention that the doctrine of justification must be included if the gospel is to be good news. (See two of my previous posts here and here.) Piper believes that those influenced by N.T. Wright’s view of “the gospel” will have a global scope, but will not deal adequately with personal human sin and the need for people to know how a person can “find rest in the gospel of grace (101).” (I hope to be a preacher that proves Piper wrong in this regard, always holding in tension the cosmic scope of the gospel while faithfully proclaiming salvation by grace for individual sinners.)
Though I agree with Piper (over against Wright) that the doctrine of justification actually establishes and does not merely declare our salvation, I agree with Wright (over against Piper) that when Paul speaks of “the gospel” in a specific sense, he is referring to a message about Jesus’ death, resurrection and lordship that has salvific implications for us.
Why does Piper insist that the doctrine of justification be included in the strict definition of “the gospel?” I do not want to assign incorrect motivations to Piper. I believe him to be a man who loves the Word and is ready to follow the biblical text wherever it leads. That is why I suspect something below the surface of this debate is driving Piper’s definition of the gospel, something more than the biblical witness. (In my previous posts, I pointed out Piper’s perplexing inconsistencies on this subject).
The real reason why, in Piper’s view, the doctrine of justification must be the very essence of the “gospel message” is because Wright’s definition (and I believe the apostles’ definition too) that “Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen for us, is the Lord of the world” is agreed on by Christians of all stripes. If we define the gospel message this way, then Roman Catholics are right on the gospel.
For those in the Reformed camp, it is unthinkable that we would share common ground with the Roman Catholics (or the Eastern Orthodox for that matter) on the very essence of the gospel of Jesus’ lordship. Out of necessity, Piper must bring justification into the center of the picture – otherwise, the ecumenical implications are too startling and controversial.
Let me conclude by stating my agreement with Piper on the doctrine of justification. I am as Reformed as can be regarding the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, justification by faith alone, all on account of Christ alone. I believe official Roman Catholic teaching to be in serious error on this matter. (So I am not advocating a return to the papacy!)
But while Roman Catholics are wrong on how the gospel works and how salvation is accomplished, I can stand shoulder to shoulder with them in affirming the very essence of the gospel proclamation: Jesus – the crucified and risen Savior is Messiah of Israel and the true Lord of the world.
written by Trevin Wax © 2007 Kingdom People blog